What is it?
LighterLife has a number of diet plans including a very low calorie diet (VLCD) where, depending on how much you weigh, you consume between 600 and 1,200 calories a day. An average man needs about 2,500 calories a day and an average woman about 2,000 calories a day. The NHS defines a VLCD as containing 1,000 or fewer calories a day.
In the LighterLife VLCD meals are replaced with shakes, soups and bars and the diet is aimed at people who have 3 stone (19 kg) or more to lose.
There are weekly counselling sessions in small, same-sex groups to help you identify why you overeat and to help change your behaviour.
The amount of weight obese people following the diet lose, and the speed with which they lose it, has made the diet controversial and means it frequently makes the news, not always for the reasons the company which runs LighterLife would hope for.
Actress, Pauline Quirke – best known as Sharon in the comedy Birds of a Feather – endorsed LighterLife back in 2011, losing three dress sizes in 2 months on the diet plan. However, not all the weight has stayed off.
But, according to the LighterLife website, Loose Women star, Denise Welch lost 2 stone on the diet and has maintained the weight loss for over 3 years.
What you can eat
It depends on how much you weigh. If you have a lot to lose and have a BMI of 30 or above you will follow the LighterLife Totally Different or Total plan where all your meals are replaced with nutritionally-balanced bars, shakes and soups, and you have no conventional food whatsoever.
Before you can start this diet you’ll need to see your GP.
The NHS recommends a VLCD should be undertaken for no more than 12 continuous weeks. After 12 weeks on LighterLife Total, you increase your calorie intake to more 1,000 calories a day for one week only, before returning to the diet.
Adding milk is one way to do this.
If you are following LighterLife Lite, which is for men or women with a BMI of 25-29.9 with 1 – 3 stone to lose, you have three meal replacements a day, plus one healthy, conventional meal from a list of everyday ingredients.
You can drink black tea or coffee on either diet and you’re encouraged to drink up to two litres of water during the day, or flavoured water with added fibre.
LighterLife also has a fasting diet and a management plan for when you’ve reached your ideal weight.
How it works
You’ll lose weight quickly because the amount of calories you consume will have been cut dramatically. You have also stopped eating in the same way that lead to your weight gain.
The speed of weight loss and the fact people feel re-educated about why they overeat are reasons why people keep to the diet.
Once you’ve reached your agreed healthy weight there’s a 12 week programme which slowly re-introduces food, starting with proteins and then progressing to vegetables and carbohydrates.
What the experts say
The NHS says in a few cases following a full VLCD style diet, substituting normal diet for meal replacements, could be a suitable choice for someone needing to lose weight. However, it cautions these diets should only be followed for a limited time and you should talk with your GP before you start.
It says cutting calories significantly can cause health problems such as gallstonesand heart problems.
Sian Porter, consultant dietician with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) says: “I personally wouldn’t recommend [VLCDs] but they work for some people.”
She says you have to make sure you follow them to the letter and cautions that: “If you’re replacing meals with drinks and bars and stuff like that you are not re-training yourself to live with real food.”
For some people, removing the distraction of ordinary food is the key to success on a VLCD. VLCD diets should be followed exactly as recommended by the company, which includes drinking plenty of fluids, and ensuring your GP or your diet counsellor checks your blood pressure and pulse regularly.
Sian also says the diet may be socially isolating because you can’t go out to eat with your friends or sit down to a meal with your family.
Food for thought
During the first few days on the diet it’s possible you’ll experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache or dizziness. After a few weeks a small number of people may experience excessive hair shedding while on the diet. Others may have bad breath.
Sian Porter says the LighterLife weight loss counsellors are not necessarily health professionals and says the important thing while on the diet is to learn how to cope with food when you’ve stopped following the diet. Otherwise there is a danger of putting the weight back on.