Is it Safe to Eat Less Than 1500 Calories a Day?

Vegetables with calories marked

My second week

That’s my second week done and I lost 4lbs, bringing my total to 11lbs. I’m quite pleased with that!

I’ve actually found this week much easier than last. Running around looking after 3 toddlers all day is a great distraction!

In fact, I’ve found that I’ve been eating fewer than the 1500 calories/day that I had originally been aiming for. I have been using My Fitness Pal to track my calorie intake. Most days,  I have only been hitting around 1200 calories.  I seem to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ kinda girl!

Is it safe to eat fewer than 1500 calories a day?

So the question I have found myself pondering over is this: Is it actually safe to eat fewer than 1500 calories a day? I thought I would do a bit of digging to see what the latest views on this subject are.

Cutting Calories

Well, the first thing that I have managed to establish is that it’s bloody difficult to find a definitive answer to this one! As with most things there are such opposing views, depending on who you listen to.

The NHS states that men need around 2,500kcal  a day to maintain a healthy body weight, and women need around 2,000kcal a day. So that’s what you need to maintain your body weight. You need to eat less to lose weight, but the question is, how much less?

Fruit and veg and their calories

According to Erin Coleman, R.D, L.D, a safe but effective weight loss strategy, is to decrease your current energy intake by 500 to 1000 calories a day. This apparently leads to a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week.

How many calories in 1lb of fat?

In this article, Dr Nicol explains that 1lb of fat contains 3500 calories. So in order to lose 1lb in a week, you need to consume 3500 calories less per week than your body burns. That’s a reduction of about 500 calories a day. If you want to lose 2lbs, then you would need to double that and reduce your calorie intake by 1000 calories a day. But how low can you safely go?

Picture of fat

What is the safe minimum daily amount of calories?

Determining a safe minimum daily amount of calories can be difficult because we all have different baseline metabolisms and body composition. Factors such as age, sex and our level of physical activity also have a bearing on this. However, Dr Nicol goes on to say that, “extreme restriction of consumed calories can significantly slow the metabolic rate, and hinder your weight loss goals.”

She explains that the metabolic rate slows with prolonged dieting of less than 1200 calories a day because of the stress on the body caused by such a restricted diet. The body adapts to the diet by engaging in a “fight or flight” stress response. Over time, this stimulates the breakdown of muscle in order to supply the body with enough fuel, in the absence of sufficient dietary calories.  She says that eventually this “fight or flight” stress response wears out, causing the metabolism to slow down to compensate for what the body perceives to be starvation.

But in this post, Adrian Bryant offers an entirely different viewpoint. He says that “all the fat on your body is basically just stored energy and that when you go on a very low calorie diet, your body will just continue to burn all its fat reserves until they have run out. He poses these questions:

  • “Why would your body hold onto fat when it’s starving for energy when you are on a diet &/or exercise plan? And ….
  • Does it make sense to you or your body to hold onto fat and burn muscle instead of the fat it has stored up for backup energy?”

He goes on to say that :

  • “Just like it’s real easy for you to gain weight from eating 2000, 3000 or 5000 to 10000 calories per day.
  • You’ll just as easily lose weight eating only 500 calories, 800, 1000 or 1200 calories per day and
  • If you are eating less than 1200 calories per day, then your metabolism will never get SO SLOW that you’ll go into “starvation or survival mode” and not burn any fat.”

He is insistent that “survival or starvation mode DOES NOT MEAN your metabolism shuts down, while your body holds onto fat and burns muscle for energy.”

Instead he says it means “your body actually burns fat (all of your stored energy) to help you survive through a period of starvation (like when you don’t eat as much on a diet).

Burning Calories

Confused…!

So I’m confused!! I am no medical expert and to me both arguments are compelling. But in the interests of staying healthy, I think I will ere on the side of caution.

The University of Washington suggests consuming 10 calories for each pound of your desirable body weight on a daily basis in order to lose weight at a safe and healthy rate. My ideal weight for my height (5’6’’) is 126lbs (9 stone).  According to this, I should be consuming 1260 calories a day.

So on balance, I don’t think there is much harm in me reducing my calories to about 1300  a day, but I might be risking my health taking it any lower than that.

I’d love to know where you stand on this one. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. Have you found that low calorie diets work for you?  Or have you found a better way? If so, please share!

Until next time,

Nadine x

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