Is it safe to follow the 800 calorie diet in Channel 4 programme Lose a Stone in 21 Days?

Is an 800 calorie diet safe to follow? (Photo: Channel 4)Is an 800 calorie diet safe to follow? (Photo: Channel 4)
Is an 800 calorie diet safe to follow? (Photo: Channel 4)

Channel Four programme Lose a Stone in 21 Days with Michael Mosley claims that it can teach viewers how to lose a stone in just 21 days.

There has been a renewed focus on weight loss and diet recently, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson launching a “new obesity strategy” to urge members of the public to “lose weight to beat coronavirus and protect the NHS”.

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Dr Mosley claims in the opening of the Channel Four programme that obesity can “massively increase your risk of becoming seriously ill should you get Covid-19”.

However, the programme has been criticised on social media for being harmful to those with eating disorders and promoting an “unhealthy relationship with food”.

But is the diet being suggested by Dr Mosley safe to follow?

What does the diet involve?

Dr Mosley asserts that people on a weight loss journey can lose a stone in 21 days by only consuming 800 calories per day.

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While the ideal daily intake of calories can vary from person to person depending on factors such as age, metabolism and activity level, the NHS recommends that the average daily intake of calories is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men.

On ITV’s This Morning, Dr Mosely told Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford that the methodology for the show is based on several recent “big randomised controlled trials”.

Dr Mosely added that he is also being assisted by his wife, GP Dr Clare Bailey, who recently ran a study where participants only consume 800 calories for eight weeks.

Participants on the show were provided with deliveries of healthy ingredients, meal replacement drinks and recipes from Dr Dailey to follow, which included meals like “mediterranean mozzarella chicken” and “portobello pizzas”.

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Is the diet safe to follow?

Very low calorie diets are not recommended for everyone and for people with a normal BMI, should not be the first course of action when it comes to losing weight.

The NHS states: “Very low calorie diets are for adults who are obese and severely obese, defined as having a BMI over 30 and 40, and need to quickly lose weight.

“They are not the first option to manage obesity and should not be routinely used.”

The NHS explains that very low calorie diets should only be followed under medical supervision and only for a maximum of 12 weeks.

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“Do not follow a very low calorie diet unless a GP has suggested it to you,” the NHS says.

Very low calorie diets can also come with a myriad of side effects, including:

  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling low on energy
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Cramps
  • Hair thinning

The NHS says that very low calorie diets are not suitable if you are:

  • Under 18
  • Pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Have had an eating disorder

“While very low calorie diets can lead to short term weight loss, it is likely that the weight will come back on after the diet ends,” the NHS explains.

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What backlash did the programme receive?

In response to the programme, Channel Four has received criticism from people branding the show as “irresponsible” and “damaging programming”.

Taking to Twitter, one person wrote: “The new Channel 4 show Lose a Stone in 21 Days recommends an 800 calorie per day diet, not far off what I was restricting myself to when I was in the throes of anorexia. Irresponsible & damaging programme - @Channel4 should be ashamed.”

Another tweeted: “When eating disorders are so prevalent and mental health so underfunded, should we not be promoting healthy relationships with food? #loseastonein21days”

“What is “lose a stone in 21 days”, why is it trending, & how would anyone promote that? That’s drastic weight loss that would be dangerous for anyone, even overweight people who do need to lose a stone (or several). What’s more, it’s incredibly triggering to just see pop up?!” wrote another.

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Beat, a UK eating disorder charity, tweeted: “In response to a lockdown diet programme on Channel 4 tomorrow night (Wednesday 5th), our services will be open until 11pm for anyone who needs to chat #EDsupport #eatingdisorders.”

When the first episode of the programme aired on Channel Four, Dr Mosley took to Twitter to reply to comments from those concerned about the content of the show.

Replying to one person, Dr Mosley wrote: “I do understand that eating disorders are complex, distressing and very dangerous. That said, the 800 calorie approach has been used in randomised controlled trials involving over 800 patients and the benefits for those who are overweight or obese are striking.”

In April, a BBC Two programme called The Restaurant that Burns Off Calories also received similar backlash and was accused of not being “remotely responsible” for those with eating disorders.

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When is the show on TV?

Lose a Stone in 21 Days is a three part series on Channel Four, with 45 minute episodes.

You can watch the first episode of the programme on the Channel Four website here.

The second episode will air on Channel Four on Wednesday 12 August at 9pm.