Can You Survive On 900 Calorie Diet?
Can you lose weight and have enough energy to sustain you on a 900 calorie diet? How many pounds can you lose by consuming 900 calories a day? Is the 900 calorie weight loss eating plan worth trying out? These are questions anyone trying to kick-start their weight loss might wonder.
When it comes to shedding those extra pounds, many of us understand that food is the primary culprit in weight gain. In an effort to combat bad eating habits, or fit in those tight jeans in just two weeks, many people make drastic changes to their eating plan. A 900 calorie diet plan is one way that some people might consider.
What does a 900 calorie diet look like?
This eating plan is exactly what it sounds like. Anyone participating in it tries to limit their caloric intake to about 900 calories each day. You could either:
- Have 300 calories per meal, i.e., breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Try intermittent fasting and have two bigger meals a day – each consisting of about 450 calories.
- Some people can even go to extremes and try the OMAD diet (One Meal A Day), where they eat a 900-calorie meal at the end of the day.
To keep your energy intake low, you are advised to have either water or unsweetened coffee to curb your hunger. You could also have unsweetened black tea, green tea, or oolong tea. To keep track of how much energy you are ingesting, people are recommended to use a trusted calorie counting app to keep track of their food.
Is a 900 calorie diet safe?
No, it is not. The 900 calorie diet plan can be referred to as a very-low-calorie diet. Very low-calorie diets, aka VLCDs, are eating plans that restrict caloric intake to 800 to 900 calories per day. For an adult, such small quantities of food cannot give you enough energy to properly sustain you.
The recommended calorie intake for different individuals is determined by several factors, including their age, gender, lifestyle, level of physical activity done in a day, and even height. The more energy you expend, the more you can eat and vice versa. However, even without considering these factors, there are certain limits that one should not go below even while trying to lose weight.
For safe weight loss – about 1 to 2 pounds a week – women should not consume less than 1,200 calories a day, while men should limit their intake to at least 1500 calories (3).
Side effects of eating a 900 calorie diet
Going below the recommended caloric intake has multiple side effects. Some of them include fatigue, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, a dry mouth, cramps, headaches, and dizziness, as well as feeling of extreme hunger (21). While these symptoms may disappear in a couple of weeks, some people will have more severe side effects, such as gallstones.
- Gallstones. These are pieces of solid material that form in your gallbladder. When you do not eat enough, your body turns to burn fat as a source of energy. This forces the liver to secrete more cholesterol into bile, which then can form gallstones. Rapid weight loss puts you at a higher risk of gallstones (6).
- Nutrient deficiencies. They occur when the body doesn’t absorb or get enough vitamins and minerals from food. These nutrients are crucial for both body development and preventing disease. Without them, we are at a higher risk of health issues such as digestive and eye problems, skin disorders, anemia, stunted or defective bone growth, dementia, and more (13).
Participating in very-low-calorie diets such as this one puts you at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies. Since you are eating a very little amount of food, it is harder for you to eat many types of foods to give you all the nutrients that you require.
What to eat on a 900 calorie diet
If you are insistent on trying this eating plan, then here are some foods that you should ensure to add to your diet.
These include foods such as whole wheat, brown and wild rice, oats, and quinoa, among others. Not only do they have more nutrients than simple carbohydrates, but they also have more fiber making them more filling and great for digestive and heart health (14).
They are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals; they are high in fiber, and also provide a wide range of health-boosting antioxidants (18). Since some fruits are high in calories, something that the 900 calorie diet limits, you can try low-calorie fruits such as lemons, strawberries, grapefruits, black and blueberries, and pineapples, among others.
Dark leafy greens
Not only are they low in calories, carbs, sodium, and cholesterol, but they also have high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium (4). Popular examples of dark leafy greens include bok choy, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, and Romaine lettuce.
Lentils and legumes
They are naturally low in fat, are practically free of saturated fat, and provide fiber, protein, complex carbohydrate, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus (9).
Proteins are a big part of very-low-calorie diets. A high protein diet helps with weight loss by increasing the satiety hormones while reducing levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Proteins also boost your metabolism, making you burn calories faster (8). Lean proteins are better since they have less saturated fat.
Examples include trout, tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and pilchards. They are rich in protein and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and may help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
All kinds of vegetables
Dark leafy greens are not the only veggies that you should consume on the 900 calorie diet. It would be best if you tried to get your hand on as many vegetables and fruit as you can. A vegetables and fruits-rich diet can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and positively affect blood sugar levels, which can help keep appetite in check (19).
What does a 900 calorie diet look like?
If you would still like to try this eating plan, here are 1-day sample menus on what a 900 calorie diet would look like on 3 diets.
Sample of a 900 calorie diet menu
Meal 1 – Sausage potato pie (15)
340 g lean ground sausage, 28 g shredded potatoes, 1 cup shredded cheese, 2 cups shredded kale, 6 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1 and 1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.
Serve with 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk.
Please note that the pie recipe makes 6 to 8 servings.
Calories for one serving: 342. Fat: 14.4 g, Proteins: 28 g, Carbs: 21.8 g
Meal 2 – Tuna and Chickpea salad (12)
425 g canned chickpeas, 142 g chunky light tuna packed in water, 1 large red bell pepper, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 2 tbsp capers, 1/4 tsp salt, 8 cups mixed salad greens, black pepper to taste
The above ingredients make 4 servings.
Calories for one serving: 306. Fat: 15.9 g, Proteins: 14.8 g, Carbs: 28.5 g
Meal 3 – Tuna, egg, and asparagus salad
1 large egg, 100 g asparagus, 80 g tuna packed in water, 1/2 small red onion, 62.5 g cannellini beans, juice and zest from 1/4 lemon (half if you like lemons), 1 tsp chopped dill, 1/2 tsp olive oil
Calories: 279. Fat: 10 g, Proteins: 33 g, Carbs: 12 g
Total Intake for the Day: Calories: 927. Fat: 40.3 g, Proteins: 75.8 g, Carbs: 62.3 g
Vegan 900 calorie diet
Meal 1 – Tofu scramble with a blueberry smoothie
For the scramble – 225 g firm tofu, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, 1/8 tsp ground black pepper (17)
For the smoothie – 1 scoop plant protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 cup blueberries
Calories: 272. Fat: 9.7 g, Proteins: 32.3 g, Carbs: 18.1 g.
Meal 2 – Sweet potato and miso soup (16)
4 tbsp cooking oil, 6 finely chopped spring onions, 2 thumb-sized ginger pieces, 2 garlic cloves, 2 tbsp white miso paste, 500 g cubed sweet potato, 750 ml low sodium vegetable broth, 2 large handfuls of kale
Calories: 242. Fat: 6 g, Proteins: 10.1 g, Carbs: 33.3 g.
Meal 3 – Maple-Cumin Tofu With Farro (11)
1 cup farro, 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, 1 can black beans, 1 tbsp olive oil, 225 g cubed extra firm tofu, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1/4 tsp fresh minced ginger, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 medium-sized carrot, 1 tbsp maple syrup, 1 red bell pepper, 2 cups broccoli florets
Calories: 381. Fat: 6.9 g, Proteins: 18.3 g, Carbs: 62.4 g.
Total intake for the Day: Calories: 895. Fat: 22.6 g, Proteins: 60.7 g, Carbs: 113.8 g.
How much weight will you lose on a 900 calorie diet?
The information on how much weight you can lose on this diet differs. Some say that the average weight loss on a very low-calorie diet is 1 to 3 pounds a week (20), while others promise a loss of about 3 to 5 pounds per week (22). In reality it depends on several factors such as starting weight, usual eating habits, exercise, metabolism, etc. If you lost an average of 3 to 5 pounds a week, this would mean a 900 calorie diet weight loss of 14 to 16 pounds in one month.
While these 900 calorie diet results may seem exciting, keep in mind that this diet is not sustainable. Most of us would not be able to sustain a 900 calorie diet plan for more than a week, let alone for a whole month without medical support.
Rapid weight loss is also not healthy, and its results are hard to maintain over time. According to the CDC, a gradual and steady weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is easier to maintain (10). This is achieved through a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories a day – 3500 to 7000 cals a week – and exercising for at least 30 minutes a day.
How to sustain a 900 calorie diet
It is incredibly hard to maintain a 900 calorie diet plan. While you can get a calorie counting app to track your progress, the above mentioned side effects can make it hard to stay on track. This is why such an eating plan should be done under medical supervision.
If your doctor has advised you to go on this diet for medical reasons, it is easier to maintain this diet because:
- They can monitor your meals to ensure that they are nutritionally complete.
- You will have support to ensure that you do not fall back into old habits after the diet is over.
- They will make sure that you do not fall ill during this period.
With this reasoning in mind, please do not try this diet without first speaking to your doctor.
Who should eat a 900 calorie diet?
As stated above, this eating plan is not safe and should be avoided. However, certain exceptions can consume 900 calories a day, but only under a strict doctor’s observation. Doctors sometimes recommend very-low-calorie diets to obese and severely obese people who have diabetes, those going to have a surgery, or are preparing for fertility treatment.
For one to be eligible for this eating plan, your BMI has to be over 30 and 40. If your BMI is within the normal range, then you should not be looking to try this diet. A point to note is that even if you are obese or have weight-related medical problems, you should not rush to start eating 900 calories a day. This eating plan should only be followed under proper medical supervision (22).
Why am I not losing weight on a 900 calorie diet?
Here are some reasons why this eating plan is not giving you the results that you desire:
You are not eating enough
As we have mentioned several times above, this diet is incredibly low in calories for both men and women. When you do not eat enough, your body assumes that you are starving and goes into ‘starvation mode’. To protect you from this assumed starvation, your body holds on to fat to save you from wasting away (2).
Your metabolism has slowed down
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food and drink into energy. Anyone with a fast metabolism burns more calories when working out and even when resting, whereas someone with a slow metabolism burns fewer calories at rest and during exercise.
When you eat too few calories, e.g., a 900 calorie diet, it interrupts your metabolism. As stated above, your body thinks that you are starving, and thus, it signifies to your appetite hormones that something is wrong. They slow down your metabolism, which means that you will no longer be burning calories. Any food that is consumed from here on will not be turned to energy but will instead be turned to fat, possibly leading to weight gain.
Without enough food to turn into energy, your body turns to the muscle, which it starts burning to give you energy. Muscle uses more calories than fat at rest; thus loss of muscle means you will be burning fewer calories.
You are at a weight loss plateau
At the beginning of this eating plan or any other calorie deficit diet, your weight falls off quite fast, but it stops after a while. This is typically caused by muscle loss and a slower metabolic rate (7).
The Bottom Line: Is a 900 calorie diet worth it?
No, it is not. Despite the rapid weight loss that might be achieved on this eating plan, the side effects are not worth it. You will most likely end up risking your life while trying to shed off a couple of pounds.
Remember that the lowest recommended calorie intake per day for women and men is 1200 and 1500 cals, respectively. Any diet lower in calories than that should be done strictly under medical supervision. If you would like to try this eating plan or think that you are eligible for it, please first consult with a doctor for advice on the way forward. Supplement your diet with some exercise to double your results.