1200 Is NOT A Magic Number
I don’t know where this 1200-calorie target came from. But, for some reason, it’s very common.
Can you lose weight on a 1200-calorie diet? Absolutely you can, and you probably will. However, is it something that we would recommend, or is it the most optimal way of losing weight? Absolutely not. In this article, we will run through a couple of points about why 1200-calorie diets don’t work in the long run. Yes, a deficit is needed to lose weight, But going overboard on this will likely backfire on you. A 1200-calorie diet is far too low for most people and can have adverse effects like nausea, intense hunger, dizziness, micronutrient shortages, lethargy, migraines, and gallstones.
Furthermore, a 1200-calorie diet may do more harm than good if your aim is long-term weight loss.
So yes, aim for a deficit if you want to lose weight. But don’t go down to the lowest number of calories you can’t survive. Not only will that result in you not seeing any long-lasting progress, but it will also be very unpleasant and cause many other problems. Remember, Small deficit + good workouts = sustainable results.
What is a 1,200-calorie diet?
What is a 1200 diet, and is it actually a smart weight loss solution?
A 1,200-calorie diet is an eating plan that keeps your daily calorie intake to a maximum of 1,200 per day. This diet is regarded as low calorie since it contains a lot fewer calories than the majority of ordinary persons require to maintain their weight. Most adults are recommended to aim for a 2,000-calorie diet daily; what makes consuming 1,200 calories special? This restrictive diet has become more popular, especially for those wishing to lose weight quickly.
But for many adults, getting 1,200 calories daily is insufficient and can have negative effects.
- Slower Metabolism:
The big one that comes to mind when we talk about weight loss and low-calorie diets is adaptive thermogenesis, but you may have heard it referred to as a slow metabolism or metabolism slowing or even starvation mode. So, what is adaptive thermogenesis? Well, it’s actually pretty smart. Adaptive thermogenesis is the process your body will use to start lowering the energy it expends if you don’t provide it with the amount of energy that is needed daily.
Essentially, it’s your body’s reaction to receiving less energy than it needs. When you consistently eat fewer calories than your body needs, it starts to protect itself against starving when it realizes you are not consuming enough food or calories by slowing your metabolism and storing energy. Losing weight becomes more challenging if your metabolism slows down too much and makes it easier to gain weight once you start eating normally again.
- Nutrient Deficiencies:
Limiting your diet might make it harder for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. If you were to eat 1200 calories, there is a chance that you might start to lack certain nutrients in your diet that you might get if you just had a little bit more variety or more play in how many calories you are consuming a day or there is a possibility that you might start to restrict some of the food groups that are more calorie-dense such as let’s say dietary fats which are actually essential to have in your diet. Extreme calorie restriction might have negative consequences, and eating low-calorie plans rarely result in long-term weight loss and can cause weight cycling, which is terrible for overall wellness.
- Loss of Muscle Mass:
Consuming too few calories can cause your body to break down muscle tissue for energy, leading to a loss of muscle mass. This can slow your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight over time.
- Fatigue and Weakness:
Low energy from eating in such a significant calorie deficit can affect not just how well you exercise but also a variety of other aspects of your life, all of which will affect your ability to lose weight over the long term. Poorer focus, poor coordination, a lack of social desire, and irregular sleeping patterns are a few of these that you might observe. There are many, and they all ultimately make losing weight more difficult. Calories are what give your body energy, so cutting back on them might make you feel tired and exhausted and have more need for quick fixes to keep your body awake. Eating too few calories can cause you to feel tired, weak, and sluggish. This can make it difficult to perform daily activities and exercise, further slowing your metabolism.
- Increased Risk of Eating Disorders:
The first issue you’ll have to deal with is that you’ll be extremely hungry in the coming days. Likely, cutting back on your energy intake to 1200 calories a day may result in a noticeable decrease from how much you’re accustomed to eating if you’re trying to lose weight. On the other hand, when you’re in a calorie deficit, we expect that you’ll feel some degree of hunger. With such a drastic reduction in calories, you will feel much more hungry, and it can be pretty challenging to get past that. Restricting calories to an extreme level can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. This can have serious physical and mental health consequences.
- Binge Eating:
There really aren’t a huge amount of ways around this. Your body will send signals to your brain to tell you to eat because it expects more food and it needs more food, and it’s going to be very hard to fight that. Consuming too few calories can lead to intense hunger and cravings, resulting in binge eating. Because they wind up entering a loop of bingeing and restricting, most people find it impossible to maintain 1,200 calories of diet properly. This can make it harder to stick to a healthy eating plan and can cause weight gain over time.
To put that number in perspective, if you split 1200 calories a day into meals and snacks, you’re looking at 300 calories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then 300 calories for snacks or just 400 calories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which means there’s going to be absolutely no snacks and that means drinks are included as well. For that reason, if you want to still have some of the more calorie-dense and more enjoyable foods in your diet that you’re used to, which will ultimately help you stay on track in the long term.
Filling that into 300 or 400 calories a meal will be more challenging. In contrast, if you went the alternative route and completely cut those things out and opted for the higher volume, lower calorie foods, you may be restricting yourself a lot more. It will be hard to sustain that over a long period of time because willpower has its limits. For instance, many people will strictly follow their calorie restrictions throughout the week, but by the weekend, they cannot do so. They are starving and sick of depriving themselves. These dieters then overeat over the weekend, so they are not in a deficit when the entire week is considered.
Other Factors WHY 1200 Calorie is not RECOMMENDED
One of the reasons why it’s not recommended or will not be optimal for weight loss is multifactorial. It’s not just a physiological thing but also a psychological, if not more psychological than physiological. However, the first thing that I wanted to bring to your attention is something that needs to be remembered, especially when someone’s trying to lose weight. And that is that your body constantly burns energy, requiring a certain amount of energy every day to be alive.
The 1200-calorie diet can help you lose weight quickly, but sticking with it for longer than 2-4 weeks can typically do more harm than good. You can often feel exhausted, worn down, and unable to get through your day if you over-restrict and undernourish yourself.
Eating 1200 calories a day, It’s not a sustainable way of eating, it’s not an enjoyable way of eating, and while you may be able to find ways to make it work in the short term in the long term, it is going to be just draining. That’s why finding a more sustainable calorie level could help you reach your weight loss objectives more successfully since many people find a 1,200-calorie diet excessively restrictive.
Can I use a 1200 calorie diet to lose weight in a healthy way?
Yes, you can lose weight on a 1200 calorie diet in a healthy way. When followed correctly, the 1200-calorie diet can be an efficient method to start your weight loss journey and provide you with the drive you need to continue.
But remember, Weight loss is not a temporary fix. However, instead of merely doing it and then moving on, you need to give it some serious thought as a sustainable lifestyle that will last over time. Instead of treating it like a sprint, treat it more like a marathon.
Dare I say it? Losing weight can be fun. It may be thrilling. It doesn’t have to be as difficult as it’s made out to be when you’re learning about your body, trying new things, and discovering what works for you.
Remember: Good things take time, so what seems like an eternity now will soon only be a distant memory.
March is the founder and owner of The Barbell Beauties which she started in 2015. She is from the Philippines and currently lives in beautiful Thailand with her American husband and daughter. She is an avid Crossfitter and has just started her journey into Muay Thai (kickboxing).