Very Low Calorie Diet For Weight Loss – Safety, Benefits, Side Effects, And Diet Chart

Reviewed By Merlin Annie Raj, MSc (Nutrition & Dietetics), RD
Written by Charushila Biswas
ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition

A very low calorie diet (VLCD) is a 500-800 calorie diet. This special diet replaces one or two of your meals with liquid shakes or smoothies.  According to NIDDK, a VLCD can help you lose 3-5 pounds per week (1). In fact, a breakthrough study conducted by scientists at the Newcastle University found that VLCD can help reverse diabetes type 2 (2)! And not only diabetes, supervised VLCD can help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol and protect the heart. But is VLCD meant for everyone? Is it healthy? How long should you be on a VLCD? This detailed article answers all your questions and includes a sample VLCD diet plan. Swipe up!

How Does A VLCD Aid Weight Loss?


A VLCD lowers blood sugar, detoxifies the body, and improves insulin sensitivity, thus doubling the flab loss in a short period. After the scientists at the Newcastle University proved that VLCD can reverse diabetes type II in human beings, scientists at Yale University used rat models to find out the way VLCD helps reverse diabetes type 2 (3). They found significant proof, and here are the details:

  • VLCD Lowers Plasma Glucose: Being on a very low calorie diet for a few days can help lower your blood glucose/sugar levels. When your blood glucose levels are low, the cells will be less likely to store the unused glucose as fat.
  • VLCD Improves Insulin Sensitivity: Improving insulin sensitivity can help the cells take up glucose from the bloodstream and use it as usable energy. This increases the satiety levels, lowers your food intake, and prevents you from gaining weight (flab).
  • VLCD Reduces Gluconeogenesis: Gluconeogenesis is the biochemical pathway that leads to the synthesis of glucose (sugar) from non-carbohydrate sources, like protein. By reducing gluconeogenesis, your body will lower the amount of sugar in your blood and prevent the accumulation of excess sugar in the form of fat.

Other Ways A VLCD Aid Weight Loss

  • Low In Calories: A very low calorie diet, as the name suggests, is very low in calories. When you consume fewer calories, the chances of storing the extra calories as fat are reduced. This leads to flab loss.
  • Consume Healthy Food: Say goodbye to junk food loaded with unhealthy refined carbs and trans fats. Healthy foods, cooked well (blanched, boiled, sauteed, baked, grilled or raw), are full of flavor and nutrition and will help you keep your calorie consumption low and lose weight without compromising your health.
  • Detoxifies The Body: When you follow a VLCD, you will replace a solid meal with a liquid meal. And the best part of this change is that this liquid diet will help detoxify your body by adding a powerful dose of antioxidants. These scavenge the harmful oxygen radicals and lower the stress levels in your body. And this, in turn, leads to weight loss.
  • Improves Gut Health: Replacing one or two meals per day can help improve your gut health. It will help clean your colon, improve digestion and absorption, and relieve constipation. When your gut starts to function normally, your metabolic rate will get a boost and help you convert the excess calories into energy.

So, it is clear that the VLCD works for weight loss. But is it for everybody who wants to lose weight? Well, here’s what you need to know.

Who Should Follow A Very Low Calorie Diet?


A very low calorie diet is NOT meant for everybody. It should be followed under the guidance of your doctor and a dietitian. And you can follow it if:

  • Your BMI is over 30.
  • Your obesity is threatening your life.
  • You are not losing weight anymore, i.e., your weight loss has plateaued.
  • You have already started following a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and working out regularly. And want to be on a “fast” once or twice a week.

If you fall into this category, the next question is, for how long should you be on a VLCD? Find out in the next section.

For How Long Should You Be On A VLCD To Lose Weight?

Depending on the amount of flab you need to lose, your doctor will recommend you to be on a very low calorie diet anywhere from 1-3 months to 4-12 weeks. A dietitian will work with you to see if you need to be on a VLCD for all the 7 days of the week, or 3-4 days per week will get you the desired results.

NOTE: Be careful about overdoing a very low calorie diet. If your doctor suggests following a 3-day VLCD for 2 weeks, adhere to your her/his instructions.

If you are on a very low calorie diet, how much weight can you expect to lose by the end of your VLCD term? Find out next.

How Much Weight Can You Lose On A VLCD?


As mentioned at the beginning, you will lose 3-5 pounds per week. If you adhere to eating healthy, working out regularly, and following a better lifestyle, by the end of 4 weeks, you will lose about 20 pounds. And by the end of 12 weeks, you will lose 60 pounds. But since the frequency of being on VLCD may change after a week or a month, you may lose an average of 44 pounds by the end of 12 weeks.

That’s a lot of flab you will lose in a short period. But what is it that you are allowed to eat? Here’s a sample very low-calorie diet chart for you to understand what you must avoid and what is considered healthy while you are on a VLCD.

Sample Very Low-Calorie Diet Chart

MealWhat To Eat
Early Morning

(7:00 – 7:30 a.m.)

1 cup warm water with juice of half a lime and 1 teaspoon organic honey

(8:00 – 8:15 a.m.)

Spinach and avocado smoothie


Oats smoothie

Pre Lunch Snack

(10:00 a.m.)

1 cucumber

(12:30 p.m.)

Tuna/tofu salad + 1 cup buttermilk
Post Lunch Snack

(3:30 p.m.)

1 cup green tea + 2 saltine crackers

(7:00 – 7:30 p.m.)

1 cup blended chicken/mushroom soup

Total Calories: 632

You will be replacing any of the two meals (breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, or breakfast and dinner) with a liquid diet. The very low-calorie diet chart includes all healthy foods like fruits, veggies, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, spices, and natural beverages. Avoid consuming high-sodium, high-sugar, and trans fats. Also, be careful with the hidden calories in packaged foods like ketchup, packaged drinks, sauces, etc.

After following this diet for a few weeks, you will notice a change in your appearance and energy levels. And that’s because when VLCD is followed under the guidance of a professional, you will reap the following benefits.

Very Low Calorie Diet Benefits


  • Lowers High Blood Pressure – Following a guided very low calorie diet can help lower high blood pressure.
  • Lowers LDL Cholesterol – Restricting your calorie intake can help lower the levels of bad or LDL cholesterol. This helps improve your heart health.
  • Helps Reverse Diabetes Type II – A very low calorie diet can help you lose weight by lowering your blood glucose levels. As a result, this improves insulin sensitivity, leading to reversing diabetes type II.
  • Makes Life Easier – VLCD is meant for morbidly obese adults and adolescents. After following a very low calorie diet for a while and losing a few pounds of fat, patients feel healthier and better. Life becomes better, and day-to-day tasks become easier.
  • Improves Mental Health – Being overweight takes a toll on your mental health as well. VLCD helps patients lose a lot of weight quickly, increasing their confidence and self-worth.
  • Increases Energy Levels – Once you start losing the flab, you will feel energetic and be active all day long. This, in turn, will help you lose more weight.

There is more to losing weight that just looking good. But, you should always be careful with these extreme diets. Let’s see the side effects of a very low calorie diet.

Very Low Calorie Diet Side Effects


  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Gallstones
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Malnutrition

Now, here’s the fact. If you are not supposed to be on a VLCD, but you still are, you will be in the soup. Check out the next section to find out who should avoid being on a very low-calorie diet.

Who Should Avoid A Very Low-Calorie Diet?

  • Pregnant and lactating women
  • Children
  • Women or men over the age of 50
  • Mildly obese women/men who can lose weight by eating right and exercising
  • Morbidly obese individuals who are not guided by a doctor/dietitian to go on a VLCD
  • Perfectly healthy individuals who want to lose weight without exercising or eating healthy

There you have it – everything you need to know about following a very low calorie diet. Talk to a doctor/dietitian before you start, and lead a happy and disease-free life. Cheers!

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Charushila Biswas is a Senior Content Writer and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition. She is an alumni of VIT University, Vellore and has worked on transgenic wheat as a part of her Masters dissertation from NRCPB (IARI), New Delhi. After completing her Masters, she developed a passion for nutrition and fitness, which are closely related to human psychology. This prompted her to author a review article in 2015. She has written over 200 articles on Fitness and Nutrition. In her leisure time, Charushila loves to cook and enjoys mobile photography.