Reducing your calorie intake is the quickest way to shed those extra pounds. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the lowest amount of calories a woman can safely eat on a regular basis—without medical supervision—is 1,000 per day. The same source reports that overweight women who exercise regularly and women who weigh more than 164 pounds need at least 1,200 calories per day for safe and effective weight loss.
Very Low-Calorie Diets
If you’re obese and at risk for health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes, ask your doctor about starting a medically supervised weight loss program using a very low-calorie diet. Very low-calorie diets, or VLCDs, generally contain between 500 and 800 calories per day, and can lead to a rapid weight loss of 3 to 5 pounds per week, according to Weight-control Information Network. However, these diets need to be carefully planned and supervised by your doctor to help prevent malnutrition and reduce some negative side effects commonly associated with VLCDs—such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and gallstone formation.
Losing weight safely can help you keep those unwanted pounds off for good. A safe rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can achieve this goal by consuming 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than you usually eat. For example, if you normally indulge in 2,200 calories per day, shoot for 1,200 to 1,700 calories a day. If you feel hungry on your meal plan, slightly boost your intake.
VLCDs vs. Low-Calorie Diets
Although you can initially lose more weight using a very low-calorie diet of 800 calories or less, you don’t need to deprive yourself to see the pounds melt away. According to a study published in a 2006 edition of the journal “Obesity,” VLCDs aren’t more effective long term than low-calorie diets containing 1,000 to 1,500 calories per day. And, since you don’t require medical supervision when you eat at least 1,000 calories a day, you’ll save money as well.
After losing 10 percent of your initial body weight, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute encourages you to maintain your weight loss for 6 months before losing more weight. This means a 170-pound woman should aim for weight maintenance after losing 17 pounds or so. Include exercise in your routine; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-level physical activity each day to maintain weight loss. After a period of weight maintenance, you’ll likely have to readjust your calorie needs for weight loss, since your new and improved smaller body now requires fewer calories for weight loss than it did before.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: How are Overweight and Obesity Treated?
- Weight Control Information Network: Very Low Calorie Diets
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: American Dietetic Association Publishes Evidence-based Nutrition Practice Guidelines for Registered Dietitians
- Obesity: The Evolution of Very-Low-Calorie Diets: An Update and Meta-Analysis
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Aim for a Healthy Weight
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.