Should I eat 1200 or 1500 calories a day?

Determining the right daily calorie intake for weight loss can be tricky. Many people find themselves debating between eating 1200 vs. 1500 calories per day to create a sustainable calorie deficit for shedding pounds. So which is better – 1200 or 1500 calories per day for weight loss?

Quick Answer

For most people, eating between 1200-1500 calories per day can support healthy weight loss. 1200 calories per day is the minimum recommended for most women, while 1500 calories may be more appropriate for men or very active women. The best calorie goal for you depends on factors like your height, current weight, activity level, and weight loss goals.

How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day. This calorie deficit forces your body to break down stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss. A deficit of 500–1000 calories per day is commonly recommended for losing about 1-2 pounds per week.

So your ideal calorie intake for weight loss depends on your maintenance calories – how many calories your body burns just performing basic life-sustaining functions. Maintenance calories are influenced by factors like:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Height
  • Current weight
  • Lean muscle mass
  • Activity level

Using your maintenance calories, you can calculate a calorie target to create a deficit for weight loss. Most adults need a calorie intake between 1200-2500 calories per day to safely meet nutrient needs while losing weight.

Calorie Needs for Weight Loss Based on Sex

As a general guideline:

  • Most women need 1200-1600 calories per day for weight loss.
  • Most men need 1500-2000 calories per day for weight loss.

However, calorie needs vary significantly based on individual factors.

Is 1200 Calories a Day Enough?

Eating 1200 calories a day can be challenging but safe for most petite, sedentary women. Pros and cons of 1200 calories per day for weight loss include:


  • Promotes fast weight loss at a rate of about 2-3 pounds per week
  • Allows for larger calorie deficits for petite, inactive women
  • Teaches portion control habits
  • Eliminates empty calorie sources


  • Increased risk of nutritional deficiencies
  • May compromise lean muscle mass
  • Difficult to sustain long-term for many people
  • May cause fatigue, irritability, and headaches at first

1200 calories per day is considered the minimum for women to get necessary nutrients. It may be appropriate for small, sedentary women but is too low for most people long-term. Very low calorie diets should be supervised by a doctor.

Is 1500 Calories a Day Enough?

1500 calories per day allows slightly faster weight loss than traditional guidance while being easier to sustain long-term. Benefits and drawbacks include:


  • Creates a calorie deficit for weight loss in many women and some men
  • Less restrictive than 1200 calories per day
  • Easier to get balanced nutrition
  • More satisfaction from meals and snacks
  • Allows for moderate indulgences in small portions


  • May not be enough of a deficit for petite women or men
  • Slower weight loss than very low calorie diets
  • Requires tracking intake and controlling portions
  • Not suitable for severely overweight or very tall/active people

For many people looking to lose weight at a modest pace, 1500 calories a day strikes a good balance of being easy to follow while still shedding pounds.

Determining Your Calorie Needs

Your personal calorie needs for weight loss depend on your health, habits, and body statistics. Here are some tips for setting your calorie target:

1. Calculate your maintenance calories

Use an online TDEE calculator or metabolic rate formula to estimate the calories your body needs to maintain your current weight. This provides your maintenance calories or “calories out.”

2. Determine your deficit

Subtract 500-1000 calories from your maintenance amount to determine your calorie deficit for weight loss. A 500-calorie daily deficit equals about 1 pound lost per week. A 1000-calorie deficit leads to about 2 pounds lost weekly.

3. Adjust for your stats and activity

Consider your current weight, height, body fat, and lean mass. Are you significantly shorter or taller than average? Very muscular or sedentary? These factors impact your needs. Also account for your activity level.

4. Consider your rate of loss

A more aggressive deficit of 750-1000 calories leads to faster loss of 1.5-2 pounds weekly but is harder to sustain. A smaller deficit around 500 calories per day equals slower but more manageable loss of about 1 pound per week.

5. Mind nutritional needs

When eating very low calorie diets, it becomes challenging to meet vitamin, mineral, fiber, protein needs. Prioritize nutrient-dense whole foods within your calorie budget.

Sample Calorie Goals Based on Height

Here are estimated calorie requirements for weight loss for different heights, assuming a sedentary activity level:

Height 1200 Calories 1500 Calories
4’10” May be appropriate Deficit may be too small
4’11”-5’1″ Likely sufficient deficit Reasonable goal
5’2″-5’4″ On the low end Recommended
5’5″-5’7″ Insufficient calories Likely adequate
5’8″-5’10” Extremely low May need smaller deficit
5’11”-6’1″ Too few calories Deficit may be too large
Over 6’1″ Not enough food Likely insufficient

These are just general estimates. Use a TDEE calculator for a more personalized calorie target. Activity level, current weight, and other individual factors also impact your needs.

Creating a Calorie Deficit Through Diet

To stick to your calorie goal for weight loss, focus on making strategic cuts:

Reduce added sugars and solid fats

Limit energy-dense baked goods, sweets, chips, fried foods, fatty meats, full-fat dairy, sauces, dressings, spreads. These provide lots of calories but little nutrition.

Portion out starchy carbs

Stick to 1⁄2 cup cooked grains, a small baked potato, 2/3 cup pasta, 1 slice of bread. Limit calorie-dense refined carbs and favor whole grains for fiber.

Bulk up on non-starchy veggies

Eat ample vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and other veggies. They provide volume and nutrients with minimal calories.

Pick lean proteins

Prioritize skinless poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, reduced fat dairy. Watch portions of red meat and limit processed meats high in saturated fat.

Don’t drink your calories

Skip sugary soda, juices, flavored coffees, and limit alcohol. Stick to water, unsweetened tea, black coffee.

Practice portion control

Measure servings to stay within calorie limits. Use smaller plates, weigh food, and resist going back for seconds.

Increasing Deficit Through Exercise

Along with your dietary deficit, increasing physical activity can help burn more calories to accelerate weight loss. Options include:

Aerobic exercise

Jogging, cycling, swimming, hiking, dancing, and vigorous housework or gardening. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

Strength training

Bodyweight exercises, weighted exercises, resistance bands. Build muscle 2-3 times per week to raise metabolism.

NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis

Take the stairs, walk, fidget, clean house vigorously, garden. Increase general daily movement whenever possible.

Other Tips for Successful Weight Loss

To make following a calorie-restricted diet easier:

  • Eat protein with each meal and snack
  • Hydrate well and drink before meals
  • Get enough sleep and manage stress
  • Plan meals and snacks ahead
  • Allow occasional small treats
  • Monitor portion sizes
  • Track your intake and progress

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, 1200-1500 calories per day can support healthy weight loss for many people. The best approach depends on your age, gender, activity level, current weight, and body composition. Use a TDEE calculator to determine your maintenance calories and ideal deficit.

1200 calories daily should be reserved for petite, sedentary women. For most other adults, 1500 calories can promote a modest calorie deficit for losing about 1 pound per week. Combine your calorie target with more activity and nutrient-dense foods for sustainable, effective weight loss.

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