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Can I lose weight on 500 calories a day?

Eating just 500 calories a day is an extremely low calorie diet. While it may result in quick weight loss, it is an extreme diet and comes with health risks. Most health professionals do not recommend consuming so few calories. However, some people may attempt this short-term under medical supervision for fast weight loss. This article will explore whether it’s possible to lose weight on 500 calories daily and the potential risks.

Is 500 Calories a Day Enough?

The recommended calorie intake for adults is typically between 1,600-2,400 calories per day for women and 2,000-3,000 calories per day for men. This varies based on age, size, and activity level. Consuming just 500 calories provides only about 25% of the recommended daily intake.

Such a low calorie intake does not provide sufficient nutrition. 500 calories per day does not meet the nutritional needs for most people. Consuming so few calories can lead to vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies over time. It may also cause fatigue, irritability, headaches, constipation, hair loss, gallstones, arrhythmias, and loss of muscle mass.

Potential Weight Loss on 500 Calories

Despite the risks, it is possible to lose weight consuming only 500 calories daily. Most adults need at least 1,200-1,500 calories per day to meet basic nutritional needs. Consuming 500 calories means creating a 1,000+ calorie daily deficit. This large deficit will result in rapid weight loss for most people.

According to the NIH, a reduction of 500–1,000 calories per day will result in 1–2 pounds lost per week. A deficit of 1,000 calories per day equals about 2 pounds lost weekly. At this rate, losing 10 pounds in a month is achievable on a 500 calorie diet. However, the risks likely outweigh the benefits of such rapid weight loss. Losing weight at a slower, steady pace with a less extreme calorie deficit is ideal for health.

Very Low Calorie Diets

The 500 calorie diet falls under the category of a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD). The Mayo Clinic defines a VLCD as consuming 800 calories or fewer per day. Most VLCDs provide between 400–800 calories daily from lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and grains. They require supplements to meet nutritional needs.

VLCDs allow for quick weight loss of over 3 pounds per week. However, they are only recommended for short periods under medical supervision. Potential risks include gallstones, electrolyte imbalances, and more. Dieters gradually transition back to a typical calorie intake after the VLCD period ends.

Who May Prescribe a 500 Calorie Diet?

Due to the health risks, most nutrition and medical experts advise against following a 500 calorie diet. The only exception is when medically prescribed and monitored by a health professional.

Here are instances when a doctor may prescribe consuming 500 calories or fewer per day:

  • People with severe obesity getting ready for weight loss surgery. Following a VLCD can help shrink the liver prior to bariatric surgery procedures.
  • Obese patients who need to lose weight quickly for a medical procedure like joint replacement surgery.
  • Under a doctor’s supervision for limited periods of 2-3 months. The patient transitions back to a regular calorie intake after the VLCD period.

For most dieters, even 800 calories a day under medical supervision is safer than consuming just 500 calories daily. Very low calorie diets lasting over 3 months are not recommended due to increased health risks.

Health Risks of 500 Calories Per Day

While the 500 calorie diet may result in dramatic short-term weight loss, it comes with the following risks:

  • Malnutrition – Too few calories makes it impossible to meet all nutritional needs. Micronutrient deficiencies can develop rapidly.
  • Muscle loss – The body breaks down muscle for energy when calorie intake is inadequate, resulting in lost lean body mass.
  • Gallstones – Rapid weight loss increases the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Electrolyte imbalances – Levels of sodium, potassium, and other minerals may drop.
  • Fatigue and low energy – Too few calories can lead to weakness, tiredness, and trouble concentration.
  • Long-term metabolic damage – Extreme calorie deprivation slows the metabolism long-term, making future weight loss harder and weight regain easier.
  • Nutrient deficiencies – Lack of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals can cause many negative effects on health over time.
  • Binge eating – Severely restricting calories often leads to overeating when dieting stops.

The risks of nutritional deficiencies, muscle loss, fatigue, and binge eating increase the longer someone eats just 500 calories per day. Healthcare providers carefully monitor patients on medically prescribed very low calorie diets for adverse effects.

Healthier Ways to Lose Weight

Losing 1-2 pounds per week on a balanced diet of 1,200–1,500 calories is safer and more sustainable than a 500 calorie diet. Healthier weight loss strategies include:

  • Cutting 250-500 calories from your daily maintenance needs for steady, gradual loss.
  • Increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
  • Exercising 150-300 minutes per week for fat-burning and health.
  • Drinking more water and limiting sugary beverages like soda.
  • Choosing minimally processed, whole foods over refined, packaged items.
  • Tracking calories with a food journal app without severely restricting intake.
  • Making dietary changes you can maintain long-term, not just short periods of extreme restriction.

With a balanced diet and active lifestyle, most people can lose weight safely at a rate of 1-2 pounds weekly without serious risks. Extreme diets like 500 calories per day are difficult to sustain and come with many potential health consequences.

Sample 500 Calorie Diet Menu

If consuming just 500 calories for a short period under medical guidance, the diet may include foods like:

Meal Foods Calories
Breakfast 1 hard boiled egg – 80 calories
1⁄2 grapefruit – 52 calories
132 calories
Lunch 1 cup vegetable soup – 100 calories
Garden salad with 1 Tbsp dressing – 68 calories
168 calories
Dinner 3 oz chicken breast – 140 calories
1 cup roasted broccoli – 55 calories
195 calories
Snacks 1 apple – 95 calories
1 Tbsp peanut butter – 100 calories
195 calories
Total Calories 690 calories

As shown in this sample menu, getting adequate nutrition on 500 calories is extremely challenging. The foods are very low calorie and portions must stay small. It would require supplements to meet vitamin and mineral needs.


In summary, consuming only 500 calories daily typically does not provide sufficient nutrition and carries significant health risks. However, substantial weight loss is possible at this low calorie level due to an extreme daily deficit. Very low calorie diets like 500 calories may be prescribed temporarily by healthcare professionals for obese patients who need to lose weight rapidly before surgery. For most people looking to shed excess weight, cutting 250-500 calories from a balanced diet of nutritious whole foods is a safer approach that promotes loss of 1-2 pounds per week without endangering health. Extreme diets should be followed cautiously under medical supervision due to the potential for long-term nutritional deficiencies and other complications.