Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Weight Loss by Limiting Calories
Losing weight safely means balancing protein, fat, and carbohydrate with every meal and snack. You'll feel fuller longer as your body takes its time digesting the food. There is no perfect method for weight loss, but it helps to have a guide.
If you need some help making your meals and snacks balanced, a dietitian can help you create a plan that fits your lifestyle. Also, you can look at the nutrition facts label to figure out the fat, carbohydrate, and protein in foods.
In the tables below, find your gender, age, and activity level.
*Pregnant or breast–feeding women have different calorie needs.
Use extreme caution with a very low-calorie diet (VLCD). You are starving your body. VLCDs
generally are not recommended. Regaining weight is
almost certain, which is damaging both
physically and psychologically. If you need to lose weight, it is better to
lose weight slowly. You will be more likely to lose the weight safely and keep
Although initial weight loss is
greater on a VLCD than on a low-calorie diet, in the long term about the same
amount of weight is lost in both types of diets.footnote 2
Diets this low in
calories (less than 1,000 calories a day) generally do not provide enough nutrients for good health unless the
diet is specially prepared. You will need the assistance of a health professional. A diet that does not have enough vitamins or
minerals can lead to serious, potentially fatal health problems.
These diets are not recommended if you have heart problems, blood
clotting problems, bleeding ulcers, liver disease, kidney disease, or cancer or
if you have had a
stroke. If you are older than 50, you will need
frequent monitoring by your health professional to be sure you are losing fat
and not muscle.
People on these diets often feel tired or have constipation, nausea,
or diarrhea as a side effect.
The most common serious side effect is developing
gallstones. People who are obese are more likely to
develop gallstones than people who are lean, and when a person who is obese
uses a very low-calorie diet, the chance that he or she will develop gallstones
becomes even greater. People who lose a large amount of weight quickly are at
greater risk than those who lose weight more slowly. But you
can take medicine that helps prevent gallstones from forming.
The following are the changes your body goes through during a
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans 8th ed. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Accessed January 12, 2016.
American Gastroenterological Association (2002, reapproved 2008). AGA technical review on obesity. Gastroenterology, 123(3): 882–932. [Erratum in Gastroenterology, 123(5): 1752.]
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Current as ofFebruary 16, 2016
Current as of:
February 16, 2016
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.