4 Health Complications Associated With Very Low Calorie Diet Plans

Over the years, morbid obesity can lead to the development of serious medical conditions, including diabetes, sleep apnea and coronary heart disease. When patients must lose weight fast to slow or reverse the disease progression process, doctors may suggest following an 800-calorie-a-day diet.

This very low calorie diet plan helps patients lose up to five pounds a week. For moderately obese or overweight individuals, on the other hand, the healthy weight loss rate is just two pounds a week. Tightly restricting calorie consumption and losing weight quickly can cause health complications to arise, which is why a restrictive diet is only used for individuals with serious obesity-related medical conditions. Here are four health problems commonly caused by very low calorie diet plans.

A man with a plate containing a paltry 3 pieces of food with a tape measure wrapped around his handsA Very Low Diet Plan


Constipation is a common side effect while on a very restrictive calorie diet. Although acute constipation that quickly resolves is fairly innocuous, it can continue long term and become a chronic condition. Chronic constipation often causes additional health complications, including hemorrhoids, rectal bleeding, incontinence, anal fissures and fecal impaction. The risk of developing urologic diseases, such as overactive bladder and prostatitis, increases as well.

A cartoon man on the toilet straining to go to the bathroom because he has constipationI gotta go but I just can't


When you lose more than three pounds a week on a heavily restrictive diet, your risk for developing gallstones skyrockets. If you do not consume enough calories each day, your gallbladder releases less bile, which allows crystallization to occur at an increased rate. The crystalized bile forms stones that grow in size before attempting to exit the gallbladder through the tiny ducts. Gallstones cause significant abdominal pain that can often only be rectified through surgical removal of the gallbladder.

A bunch of little rocks that are gallstones that are lined up that were removed via surgeryGallstones removed via surgery

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Very low calorie diets have been tentatively linked to the development of potentially fatal, abnormal rapid heart rhythms, or ventricular tachycardia. With this condition, patients feel like their heart is beating too fast and out of sync. Researchers discovered that these heart rhythms even occurred in patients receiving careful medical observation of their electrolyte balance and blood pressure readings. The link does not indicate whether the heart’s electrical signals malfunctioned due to the lack of daily calories or the rapid weight loss.

A picture of a man and his heart in his chest that is labeled abnormal heart rhythmVentricular tachycardia can develop which is when the heart is beating too fast and out of sync

Nutrient Deficiencies

Without eating an adequate number of calories for your body mass and activity levels, you cannot possibly consume the right balance of nutrients for sustained wellness. Over time, you are likely to become deficient in a wide range of nutrients, including B vitamins, iron and potassium.

Each deficiency can cause health problems to develop over time. Low B-12 and iron levels, for example, can both cause anemia or a lack of functional red blood cells. Low potassium throws your electrolytes off balance, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.

Avoiding Very Low Calorie Diet Plans

Doctors typically only utilize very low calorie diet plans for their patients when the benefits outweigh the risks. If you do not meet this criteria, there are many other effective diet plans to follow for sustained weight loss. You can try low-carb, low-fat or vegetarian diets paired with reasonable calorie restriction to lose weight at a healthy rate of one to two pounds a week. 

If you decide to follow a very low calorie diet plan, you must remain under close supervision by a medical professional in an attempt to mitigate health complications as they arise. Even with a doctor’s oversight, you remain susceptible to the development of health problems linked to this restrictive way of eating.

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