The low-calorie diet

The low-calorie diet is a diet. It is based on lowering the number of calories consumed daily to bring about weight loss. While it can be effective, it is not without its drawbacks.

What is a low-calorie diet?

I want to lose weight but I don’t know what diet to follow… This is a phrase that we often hear. It’s normal, there is a vast choice of possible diets and the differences between them are not always clear.

The low-calorie diet is often cited as a method of losing weight. But we don’t always know what it really is. Many questions arise. What exactly is it? What is its definition? How does it work? For what results? For whom is this type of diet made?

Let’s start with the basics: a low-calorie diet is a food programme in which the number of calories consumed per day is lowered. The calculation of calories to be consumed can vary from one low-calorie diet to another: 500 calories, 800 calories, 1000 calories… In all cases, the aim is to consume fewer calories to lose weight quickly.

It is sometimes confused with the high-protein diet, which often also provides for a reduced number of basic daily calories. But in a high-protein diet, the focus is on protein to lose, in theory, a lot of fat and no muscle.

Anyone can follow a low-calorie diet, but if you are pregnant or have health problems, it is best to discuss this with your doctor first.

Low-calorie diet: a typical day

How can I follow a low-calorie diet to lose weight? What to eat? There are too many excesses in the way low-calorie programmes are followed. Some people simply starve themselves! However, even if the aim is to reduce the number of calories per day, this does not mean that you have to do without everything.

The list of permitted foods is actually quite large, although it also depends on the type of method chosen. This diet is therefore suitable for almost everyone: men, women, vegetarians, etc.

A typical menu includes many foods: fruit and vegetables (bananas, tomatoes, apples, spinach, beans, etc.), dairy products, cheese, proteins (meat, eggs, fish, etc.), with starchy foods and a few sources of good fats (such as olive oil or certain oilseeds such as almonds or walnuts, which can be eaten as snacks).

Here is a sample menu for a typical day:

– Morning: coffee, herbal tea or tea (without sugar), a slice of bread, a knob of butter and a portion of 0% fromage frais.

– Lunch: grated carrots, steamed broccoli or beans, chicken fillet, fruit and a 0% dairy.

– Evening: a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes (with a little salt or olive oil if necessary), an omelette, a few starchy foods such as potatoes (no added fat), a portion of cheese and 0% fromage frais.

The calculation of the quantities for each of these foods should be based on your needs and your calorie limit. If your goal is to eat 1500 calories or less, you will not have the same amount of meat or starchy foods as someone who has set a limit of 1100 calories.

Also, choose foods according to your daily activity, to get the calories you need from useful foods. For example, if you are exercising, you will need more protein and carbohydrates.

Fat is essential for the body, but get it from healthy foods rather than from products that will turn directly into belly fat. Even if you want to lose belly fat very quickly, make sure that each meal has a good nutritional balance and covers your energy need

Which low-calorie diet?

Several low-calorie diets exist. They share the same basic principles, but differ in their structure or duration (1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 months…). Some promise incredible results in a very short period of time thanks to numerous restrictions, while others focus on a gradual loss over the long term, with fewer deprivations.

To choose the right one for you, you need to think about your goal.

Among the best known methods are the Cohen and Natman diets.

The Cohen diet owes its name to its creator, the nutritionist Jean-Michel Cohen, who has often been seen as an expert on slimming programmes.

The Cohen hypocaloric diet is based on a varied diet in sufficient quantities so as not to be hungry and not to starve the body. Its inventor presents it more as a simple question of common sense than a miracle programme. Everything is allowed, nothing is forbidden, even that chocolate fudge you’ve been dreaming of! But that doesn’t mean you can eat it all you want: you have to find a balance between pleasure and reason. You can indulge in a sweet treat or have dinner with friends without worrying, but you will have to compensate for these deviations by adjusting your subsequent meals.

Many menu ideas are proposed in this programme to adapt to the greatest number of people (vegetarians, lactose intolerant, organic food, small budgets…). The number of calories allowed each day varies between 1200 and 1800 cal depending on your profile (gender, age, weight…). When you sign up for the programme, you have access to the menus, a dietary follow-up, an application and many other things. It can be followed with or without sports.

The Natman diet works very differently. Here, many foods are forbidden and no deviations are possible. This diet must be followed to the letter to obtain results: up to 5 kilos in 4 days according to its creator!

The way it works is simple: for 4 days, you have a food programme to follow. You can neither add nor remove food, but you can eat as much meat and vegetables as you like. As far as drinks are concerned, you are allowed coffee or tea and water, so no alcohol and no soft drinks. It is a diet without carbohydrates, fats and dairy products, which aims to create chemical reactions in the body to burn fat in no time. This is why it must be followed closely.

The recommended rhythm in this method is to follow the Natman diet for 4 days and then continue with a stabilisation until the following month. You then start again on the 4-day diet, and so on until you reach your goal.

Low-calorie diet: what results?

Opinions are very divided on low-calorie diets. The before and after pictures are quite impressive, as you can see that you lose a lot of weight in a short time.

How much weight is lost? Some diets, such as Natman, announce a loss of up to 5 kilos in less than a week. The Thonon diet (which combines low-calorie and high-protein diets) promises to lose up to 10 kg in 15 days… The Cohen diet allows results of around 4 kilos per month, sometimes more.

A low-calorie diet generally gives good results for losing hips, getting a flat stomach or simply slimming down. In reality, the most difficult thing is not so much to lose weight with such a diet, but to keep it off.

The stabilisation phase must be taken very seriously, because a body that has been in a calorie deficit tends to want to make up for it afterwards. If the diet is too restrictive, the body will interpret the period of restriction as a risk of starvation and will then want to build up reserves.

This means that as soon as you return to a normal diet, with more calories, the body starts to store. Even if you don’t overdo it, it will be harder for you to maintain your weight, and then to lose it again. This is how you get the famous yo-yo effect, which ends up making you put on more weight.

Low-calorie diet and sport, compatible?

To boost the results of a diet, it is possible to turn to fat-burning drinks or tablets, but the most effective and most natural is without doubt sport. But is doing sport during a diet good or bad? The most important thing is not so much how many calories you burn during exercise, but the effect it has on your body. Regular exercise keeps your body healthy and also burns more calories. To build and maintain muscle, the body naturally burns calories, even when you are relaxing in front of the TV.

So it’s a good idea to exercise more. For example, after an activity such as HITT, where one session lasts 20 minutes, the body continues to burn calories for 48 hours. Small effort, big effect!

However, sport can sometimes be a problem when done in conjunction with a low-calorie diet. If the diet is too restrictive, it can become physically difficult to do regular physical activity. You may feel exhausted, your morale may be low, or you may be at risk from deficiencies… Your calorie intake should therefore be calculated according to your activity, because subjecting a starving body to sport never produces any health benefits.

In short, sport and a low-calorie diet can be combined, but only on condition that you maintain a varied and balanced diet, which provides your body with enough fuel to function at its best.

Low-calorie diet: possible drawbacks?

A low-calorie diet can be complicated to follow on a daily basis, and even more so in winter when you dream of dishes that fit your body. But that’s not the only drawback.

Following a low-calorie diet is not without consequences for your health. Among the most frequently observed disadvantages is the yoyo effect. To avoid this, you should follow your diet with a fairly long stabilisation phase (the kilos lost after a quick diet are generally regained within 2 to 3 years of the end of the diet).

There are other problems:

– The risk of deficiencies due to an overly restrictive diet. To live a healthy life, you need to eat everything in the right quantities. Banning starchy foods, fats or other foods can have dangerous effects in the long term. This will manifest itself in bloating, hair loss, feeling cold, irritability, fatigue…

– Melting of muscles: if your diet is not adapted, your body will first draw on the muscles before attacking the fat. So you see the weight drop on the scales, but you actually lose muscle mass.

– Risk of disease. People who diet too strictly can develop health problems, sometimes serious ones: inflammation, disrupted transit, risks for the liver, heart or brain… The list is long and should be treated with caution.

These disadvantages depend of course on how you conduct the diet. If you are cautious and use common sense, taking care to respect your body’s needs, the risks will be limited. It is advisable to talk to your doctor before starting a diet, especially if you are pregnant or have health problems.

To learn more about this type of diet or to discover other methods, consult our other dedicated articles!


Following a low-calorie diet to lose belly fat

If you have ever said to yourself “I can’t lose weight and I can’t lose my belly, even after intense physical activity”, then look for additional solutions to achieve your goal.



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