Eating only 1200 calories per day is a very low calorie diet that is often undertaken for quick weight loss. But is it a realistic, healthy, and sustainable approach for the average person? Here are some key questions answered about eating 1200 calories daily:
What Does 1200 Calories Look Like?
1200 calories is the recommended minimum daily intake for toddlers aged 1-3 years old. For most adults, 1200 calories per day is considered extremely low and difficult to sustain. Here are some examples of what a realistic 1200 calorie day might look like:
– 1 cup oatmeal made with water (150 calories)
– 1 medium banana (105 calories)
– 1 cup skim milk (90 calories)
– Total: 345 calories
– Vegetable salad with 3 cups mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots (60 calories)
– 2 tbsp light salad dressing (60 calories)
– 6 oz grilled chicken breast (230 calories)
– 1 small apple (95 calories)
– Total: 445 calories
– 1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta (200 calories)
– 1/2 cup marinara sauce (60 calories)
– 3 oz salmon, grilled (150 calories)
– Total: 410 calories
Is 1200 Calories Enough?
For most adults, 1200 calories is below the minimum recommended daily intake. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend a minimum of:
- 1600 calories for sedentary women
- 2000 calories for sedentary men
- 1800-2200 calories for moderately active women
- 2400-3000 calories for moderately active men
1200 calories may be appropriate for some petite, sedentary women. But for most people, it does not provide sufficient energy and nutrition for the body’s needs and day-to-day functioning.
Benefits of a 1200 Calorie Diet
Despite being low, a 1200 calorie diet does have some potential benefits if followed in a healthy, sustainable way under medical guidance. Benefits may include:
- Promotes rapid weight loss at a rate of around 2 pounds per week
- May improve blood sugar control and reduce risk of diabetes
- Can lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reduces calorie intake which supports metabolic health
Risks of a 1200 Calorie Diet
There are also many risks associated with eating only 1200 calories daily. Potential risks include:
- Nutrient deficiencies over time leading to conditions like anemia
- Increased risk of gallstones
- Headaches, fatigue, dizziness from low blood sugar
- Muscle loss and reduced bone density over time
- Slowed metabolism as the body adapts to insufficient calories
- Increased risk of disordered eating patterns
Sustainability of 1200 Calories Per Day
The biggest issue with attempting to eat just 1200 calories daily is sustainability. Some major factors include:
- Difficulty meeting nutrition needs long-term
- Increased feelings of hunger and food preoccupation
- Higher risk of binge eating when calorie intake is severely restricted
- Difficulty staying satisfied after meals
- Social barriers to maintaining such a low calorie intake long-term
For most people, 1200 calories per day is not a realistic or sustainable approach. The below table summarizes the sustainability of a 1200 calorie diet based on different factors:
|Convenience and lifestyle fit
|Low for most people
Is 1200 Calories Enough to Lose Weight?
While 1200 calories per day can support weight loss at a rate of around 2 pounds per week, it may not be the healthiest approach. Here are some key considerations:
- Rate of loss may not be sustainable or ideal long-term
- May promote muscle loss in addition to fat loss when protein intake is inadequate
- Can slow metabolism over time as body adapts to insufficient calories
- Often leads to cycling between restriction and overeating
- Nutrient deficiencies are likely over time
A more modest calorie deficit of 500 calories per day from your maintenance level is recommended for healthy weight loss of 1 pound per week. This is more likely to preserve lean muscle mass while promoting fat loss. Smaller deficits are also more sustainable over the long run.
Example Weight Loss Comparison
Here is an example comparing weight loss on 1200 calories per day vs. a more moderate 500 calorie deficit for a 40 year old, 160 lb moderately active woman with a maintenance level of 2000 calories per day:
|Daily Calorie Intake
|Weekly Rate of Loss
|500 calorie deficit
As this comparison shows, a 500 calorie per day deficit can still support weight loss at a steady, sustainable pace without extreme restriction.
Healthy Alternatives to 1200 Calories Per Day
If you are looking to lose weight, there are healthier approaches than sticking to just 1200 calories daily. Some healthier alternatives include:
- Aim for a modest calorie deficit of 500 calories below your maintenance needs for 1 lb per week weight loss or 1000 calories for 2 lbs per week loss.
- Focus on nutritious whole foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to meet your nutrient needs.
- Incorporate regular exercise like cardio and strength training to boost your calorie burn.
- Work with a registered dietitian or doctor to create a personalized diet plan.
- Make behavioral lifestyle changes to support your goals like planning meals, prepping food ahead of time, and practicing mindful eating.
Who Might Benefit From 1200 Calories Per Day
While 1200 calories daily is too low for most people, it may be appropriate for some individuals in certain situations. Circumstances where this very low intake may be acceptable include:
- Petite, sedentary women with lower calorie needs.
- Nutritionally balanced meal delivery plans approved by a doctor or dietitian.
- Short-term usage for jumpstarting weight loss, if monitored carefully for health effects.
- Supervised medical weight loss programs.
- Under a doctor or dietitian’s care for obesity, diabetes, or other health conditions.
However, these cases should be considered exceptions. 1200 calories per day should not be undertaken by most people without professional medical supervision due to the health risks.
Tips for Success on 1200 Calories Per Day
If you and your doctor or dietitian decide that starting a 1200 calorie diet is appropriate for your situation, here are some tips to follow for best results:
- Plan out your meals and snacks to ensure you meet nutrient needs and divide calories evenly throughout the day.
- Weigh and measure food portions to accurately hit your 1200 calorie target.
- Focus on lean proteins, fiber-rich produce, and complex carbs to stay satisfied.
- Drink plenty of water and unsweetened beverages.
- Take a daily multivitamin to help fill nutrition gaps.
- Spread protein intake evenly throughout the day to preserve muscle mass.
- Exercise regularly to maintain calorie burn.
- Get enough rest and manage stress levels.
- Seek peer support like an online community or weight loss buddy.
While some people may be able to sustainably follow a 1200 calorie diet under medical guidance for a short period of time, it is very unlikely to be maintained long-term by most individuals. Attempting to restrict calories this severely can increase the risk of overeating and weight regain over months to years.
A more moderate calorie deficit combined with lifestyle changes and exercise is likely to provide better adherence and lasting results for weight management rather than extreme restriction.
The Bottom Line
1200 calories per day is an extremely low intake that may promote short-term weight loss but lacks sustainability and increases health risks for most people. While it can produce significant weight loss initially, it should not be undertaken without approval and monitoring from your doctor or dietitian.
A healthy rate of weight loss that balances fat loss with muscle preservation can be achieved via more modest calorie deficits of 500-1000 calories through nutritious eating and exercise. Though more gradual, this approach is more likely to keep weight off long-term without adverse effects.