An average man requires between 2000 and 2500 calories each day. For a woman, the daily requirement is 1500 to 2000 calories each day. A 500 calorie diet is so far below these daily requirements that it is sometimes called a "very low calorie" diet. This diet is generally only recommended for people who are very obese with a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Because of the dangers associated with it, anyone on a 500-calorie diet should be monitored by a healthcare professional who understands nutrition.
Dangers of a 500 Calorie Diet
A 500 calorie diet can be dangerous if not monitored closely. Because there are so few calories in the diet, there are several dangers in following this diet:
- Nutritional Deficiency. When calories are cut in a diet, you will also cut some of the essential nutrients that your body needs. On a 500 calorie diet, you will almost invariably cut most fats, carbohydrates and fats from your diet. When you cut out these nutrients, you may develop digestive problems and have constipation or diarrhea. Cutting out carbohydrates and fats decreases the nutrients that provide energy. This may result in dizziness, inability to concentrate, and fatigue. If you limit the protein in your diet, you may notice changes in your hair, skin and nails.
- Eating Disorders. Any reduction in calories should be avoided in anyone with a known eating disorder. A 500 calorie diet may even cause a person without an eating disorder to develop one. Since this diet is NOT balanced, a person who eats a 500 calorie diet on a regular basis may develop eating habits such as those seen in bulimia and anorexia.
- Ketosis. The 500 calorie diet is basically a starvation diet. When your body recognizes that it is not getting what it needs, it begins to use stored fats to make up for the energy not being provided in the diet. As fats are burned, ketosis develops. Although not a problem in the short term, sustained ketosis can result in gout, kidney stones, and organ failure. Ketosis can usually be detected through a simple urine test.
- Other Serious Conditions. A 500 calorie diet can result in high cholesterol leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This diet is typically high in protein, which can cause loss of calcium leading to kidney stones and a risk of osteoporosis. A 500 calorie diet may also increase the risk of some cancers. This is due to the fact that many people do not eat enough fruits, vegetables and grains which contain vital antioxidants and other nutrients.
People Who Should Not Take a 500 Calorie Diet
Anyone who is obese should lose weight. However, it is critical that this weight loss Be monitored by a nutrition specialist so your health is not adversely affected. In addition, there are some people who should NOT go on a 500 calorie diet. These groups include:
- Pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant
- Breastfeeding women
- Children under the age of 18 (unless monitored by a Pediatrician)
- Adults over the age of 50 (unless closely monitored by a physician)
- Adults with heart problems
- Adults with kidney problems
- Adults with stomach or bowel problems
- Adults with anemia
- Adults with low blood pressure
500 Calorie Diet Plan
Any weight loss plan should be well-balanced and monitored by a nutritional expert. A 500 calorie plan, in particular, should be developed by a dietician and should include moderate daily exercise. The sample 500 calorie plan below should not be started without consulting your healthcare provider.
- Breakfast. Forget the idea of eating a hearty breakfast on a 500 calorie diet. A typical breakfast might consist of 8 ounces of skim milk or decaffeinated tea. If you need sweetening, use stevia or saccharin. A low calorie fruit (oranges, grapes, melons or grapefruit) can be eaten. No bread or cereal allowed. It is critical to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Lunch. Again, no breads or grains should be eaten. Your nutritionist may recommend a vegetable soup made with broccoli, cabbage, spinach and other leafy vegetables. Fish or boiled chicken in small amounts can be eaten. Salads made with uncooked vegetables can be added for lunch. Just be aware that salad dressings and oils are not allowed. Try a little lemon juice on your salad instead. Again, don't forget to drink about 16 ounces of water at lunch.
- Dinner. Dinner will likely be very similar to lunch. Soups, salads, and small amounts of fish or chicken will be the staples of a 500 calorie diet. Don't forget the water!
On a 500 calorie diet, it is very likely that you will get hungry throughout the day. Your nutritionist may recommend that you first cut your calories to 1000 per day. Cutting back gradually may help you change your eating habits enough that you will not feel the hunger pains as acutely. You can also try spreading out the 500 calories over the day so that you can have snacks throughout the day. A great snack is fresh fruit juice without sugar added. Of course, drinking water can also help ease hunger pains by stretching your stomach. If you simply have to have some "crunch" in your snack, try celery, a few peanuts, or some unbuttered popcorn.