Weight loss journeys have always attracted attention, especially if it’s a celebrity’s. Case in point: Angel Locsin’s.
Early this week, the newly-married actress and philanthropist—looking cool in all-black athleisure—posted a photo of her visibly slimmer self on her Instagram account, @therealangellcosin. In less than an hour, celebrities and fans expressed their messages of support, inundating the post’s comments with countless “fire” emojis, while news outfits raced to report on this latest development on Locsin’s weight loss story.
And like other weight loss stories that went viral, this one prompted citizens of the Internet to ask the question, “What did she do?” The Google searches for her weight loss approach must have been intense. And they would have led to this one-time Darna talking about her 800-calorie diet, which is said to be strictly guided by a nutritionist. Now, the diet is the talk of the town.
What is it exactly?
The 800-calorie diet is a VLCD, or a very low calorie diet, which means consuming 800 calories a day, according to this story on Philippine Star. “It promises quick weight loss results and is an effective way to bring down raised blood sugars,” the report says. VLCD diets are made up mostly of lean proteins (fish, chicken), protein shakes and meal replacement bars.
A quick Google search on the 800-calorie diet would lead one to a site called thefast800.com. According to global food media brand BBC Good Food, the Fast 800 diet was developed by a Dr. Michael Mosley of Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, a show on BBC Two, a British television network. According to the site, the diet is divided into stages, and the first stage is the rapid weight loss phase which can last for 2 to 12 weeks.
The first stage, the site says, “involves following a daily eating plan that is restricted to 800 calories—either by using a VLCD [very low calorie diet] meal replacement product which supplies 600 calories (normally equivalent to three shakes) combined with 200 calories of vegetables; or you can choose to eat real food.” Real food may comprise of lean protein sources and vegetables. In a report by Philippine Star, this is what Locsin had on her first day of the diet. She started in early June.
The second stage entails intermittent fasting, “restricting calories to 800 a day for two days of the week, then eating a healthy, lower carb Mediterranean diet for the remaining five days.”
Once a person follows the Fast 800 diet and achieves his or her weight goal, he or she goes into the maintenance phase, the composition of which would depend on his or her lifestyle and fitness goals.
You need calories
We asked a nutritionist what an 800-calorie diet looks like, to give you a better idea of what you might be eating should you take more steps towards the program.
First, we discussed calories in our food.
Maria Christina S. Reyes, MD, MSCN, DPCMNP, a medical nutrition specialist at The Medical City, and assistant professor at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, says that, put simply, calories in the food we eat provide energy in the form of heat, so that our bodies can function—meaning, we all need a certain amount of calories to sustain us.
“Understand, however, that not all calories are the same,” Dr. Reyes says. “For instance, 100 calories of candies is equal to 1/2 cup of rice or 20 cups of lettuce. Calories and nutrients are not the same. Counting calories are good, but I think the nutrients you put in your food are more essential to maintain health.”
For the 800-calorie diet, Dr. Reyes says there’s much more that nutritionists and health experts have to understand than caloric count, such as timing and schedule of eating. She adds that the type of diet most appropriate for a person will depend on several factors, like underlying conditions.
If a person is obese, for instance, then medical experts often need to address the root cause of obesity, which may include genetics, metabolic and hormonal disorders (hypothyroidism, adrenal dysfunction, etc.), side effects of medications, chronic stress, or even behavioral issues.
For generally healthy people, it is best to follow the First Law of Thermodynamics: For weight loss, calories taken in should be less than calories burned. Dr. Reyes says, “Focus on regular energy expenditure and make sure it's more than the energy intake: Move more!”
What it looks like
Here’s Dr. Reyes’ sample of an 800-calorie diet:
Breakfast: 1 egg scrambled with 1⁄2 cup spinach, sautéed in a small amount of chicken broth, topped with 1⁄4 of whole avocado, pinch of sea salt, and pepper.
Lunch: About 3 ounces of cooked turkey or chicken over 2 cups of mixed baby greens. Add juice of 1⁄2 lemon and 1 tsp olive oil, and drizzle over greens and chicken. Add a pinch of sea salt and cracked pepper.
Dinner: About 3 ounces poached or broiled salmon and 1 cup steamed broccoli, drizzled with 1⁄2 tsp olive oil, juice of 1⁄2 lemon or lime, a pinch of sea salt, and fresh herbs of choice.
Is it for you?
The 800-calorie diet, needless to say, is not safe for everyone—especially without the guidance of a health expert.
Dr. Reyes warns, “Some people on a low-calorie, high-fat diet may develop dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol), increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease. A low-calorie, high-protein diet can induce kidney overload in patients with compromised kidney function. My suggestion, work closely with your physician and dietitian to monitor the effects of your diet on your body.”
She adds that prolonged caloric deficit may lead to micronutrient deficiencies, which can “alter mitochondrial function, decreasing metabolism and contributing to muscle loss.”
If it goes on for too long, she says, it can be dangerous: “The possible long-term consequence of a very restricted calorie intake includes hormonal changes, infertility, compromised bone health, and immunity—this is definitely a concern with COVID around.”
Diets are assessed based on four factors, Dr. Reyes says, citing this article on U.S. News: safety, health content (nutrient-rich), sustainability (easy to follow), and effectivity for weight loss.
For those who can’t even bear to think about an 800-calorie diet, here are quick reminders from Dr. Reyes that will allow you to live a healthy life:
1. Avoid processed food, fast food, bad fats
2. Take 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables that complete the colors of the rainbow—this will ensure that you take all the essential phytonutrients and micronutrients that your body needs
3. Limit intake of salt and simple sugars (cakes, candies, cookies, etc.)
4. Support gut health with probiotics and prebiotics
5. Exercise regularly
6. Get adequate, QUALITY sleep
7. Manage your stress and practice self-care
8. Cultivate positive relationships