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Developed by the British Dietetic Association.


options for support finding the right approach for you

(Page 5 of 8)
Find the right approach
Your doctor's surgery
Commercial Slimming Organisations
Meal replacements
Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs) Other approaches
Medical approaches
Be Weightwise and webwise

Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs)

These are the most restrictive form of dieting where the total calorie intake is severely reduced (below 800 calories), and for which medical supervision is recommended.  VLCDs are scientifically proven to achieve effective weight loss and to be therapeutically effective in treating sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis.

However, VLCDs should only be a lsat option and should only be undertaken with the help of a halth professional.

Typical features of VLCDs:

  • These are nutritionally balanced formula foods designed to replace all meals.
  •  As a 'sole source' of nutrition, they provide a total daily calorie intake of between 400-799 calories
  • Organisations such as Cambridge Weight Plan offer a range of weight loss and maintenance programmes from 415 calories increasing to 1500 calories per day
  • At least 2¼ litres of water (4 pints) must be taken in addition to the formula foods to help maintain hydration
  • The product range consists of drinks, soups, porridge and bars
  • The programmes are provided with written information which gives detailed instructions about which foods to include on different plan options and recipe ideas
  • Customers are offered support from specially-trained consultants throughout all stages of weight care and weight maintenance

Important considerations

  • Ideally this approach (where formula foods are the 'sole source' of nutrition) should be followed under medical and/or dietetic supervision
  • Side effects such as headache, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea and dizziness can occur, usually as a result of inadequate water intake
  • May be helpful in very overweight individuals where other approaches have not worked, and when immediate weight loss is needed for medical reasons i.e. before an operation
  • To follow the VLCD approach, individuals need to be highly motivated
  • After the initial weight loss, support and advice are important in order to  avoid rapid weight regain
  • To ensure nutritional adequacy, people using this approach should only use branded products, rather than their own 'home made' drinks


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