Weight loss matters: Facts about VLCDs

September 16, 2013 - Health & Nutrition

76755839There are hundreds of theories around very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs), so how do we know what to believe? Here our experts answer some of your common weight loss queries…

Q: Is it true that if I lose weight quickly I’ll only end up putting it all back on again?

THE FACTS: There’s a common belief that rapid weight loss leads to rapid weight gain, particularly following a VLCD. But, studies show that this simply isn’t true.

When you start on any diet, your body first burns the food you’ve eaten recently. Then, your body uses your first reserve fuel, which is glycogen, stored in the muscle and liver. When this is used up, your body then starts to burn its stored fat as its main source of fuel. So, when you stop dieting, you’ll revert back to eating enough food so you won’t need to burn your reserve stores of energy.

This is the reason why, for example, you diet Monday to Friday and lose weight. Then, at the weekend, if you go back to overeating you can quickly regain what you’ve lost.The weight you’ve lost and gained is mainly your glycogen store, which carries a lot of water – three to four times the weight of the glycogen itself. If you eat a lot of carbs, which many do after a diet, your glycogen stores will quickly build up again.

There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that regaining weight is more common after a VLCD than any other type of diet. The rate people put weight back on has nothing to do with the type of weight-loss plan they’ve followed – it relates to the amount of food they eat after weight loss. Indeed, research has shown that people who do LighterLife are more likely to keep the weight off. This is because LighterLife has weekly group meetings to identify unhelpful patterns of behaviour around food. This, combined with a structured programme for reintroducing conventional food after a VLCD, all promote effective long-term weight maintenance.

Q: Is it true that losing weight quickly will result in a loss of muscle mass that will never recover?
THE FACTS: Again,this is a common myth that has been associated with dieting. When you lose weight you don’t just lose fat – you lose the lean body mass that you’ve gained, too. Lean body mass is defined as anything that isn’t fat and includes muscles, bones, water and all other non-fat tissue. When you lose weight you lose roughly 25% lean body mass to 75% fat – it’s the same ratio when you gain weight, too. So the important thing to remember is that you’ll lose some lean body mass whatever way you lose weight, and whatever diet you do – there’s nothing unusual about it, and as long as you stay well nourished while you’re losing weight, you won’t lose any additional muscle.

Q: Is it true that if I lose weight quickly my hair will fall out?
THE FACTS: A single hair follicle grows in three phases: the active phase (anagen), the resting phase (catagen), and the shedding phase (telogen). In the telogen phase the hair sheds because the root has returned to the active phase and the growth starts again, pushing the old hair out. At any one time most follicles are in the active phase, 3% in the resting phase and 11-15% in the shedding phase.

The growing phase requires lots of energy. So, when energy intake is reduced on a VLCD, the body prefers to shut down the growing phase in order to conserve energy. This means more follicles go from growing into resting – roughly 18-20%. When energy intake eventually increases, these same follicles go from resting to shedding and the resting hair falls out. In a small percentage of people the proportion of hair in the shedding phase exceeds 30%, and this is when hair loss becomes noticeable.

Not everyone will experience hair loss while on a VLCD, and for those who do, it’s a temporary condition – healthy hair will regrow.

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