Why eating 1,200 calories doesn t work?

Many people trying to lose weight attempt to stick to a daily calorie intake of 1,200 calories. While cutting calories can lead to short-term weight loss, consuming only 1,200 calories per day is not sustainable or healthy for most people. Here’s why eating just 1,200 calories per day often backfires.

It’s Too Low for Most People

The number of calories someone needs per day varies based on many factors like age, gender, height, current weight, and activity level. For most adults, eating only 1,200 calories per day would put them at a large caloric deficit, which can cause issues. Here are some problems that often arise from sustained low calorie intake:

  • Nutrient deficiencies – Eating so few calories makes it hard to get adequate nutrition. Not getting enough of nutrients like protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals can cause health problems.
  • Muscle loss – Severely cutting calories often results in the body breaking down muscle for energy. Losing muscle decreases metabolism, making it harder to lose weight.
  • Extreme hunger – Such a low number of calories leaves most people feeling hungry and deprived. This can lead to binge eating and giving up.
  • Fatigue and weakness – Without adequate calories, people often feel tired, dizzy, and weak. This makes daily activities difficult.

For most women, the minimum daily calorie intake should be around 1,200-1,500 calories. For most men, it should be around 1,500-1,800 calories. Eating below these thresholds should only be done under medical supervision.

It’s Not Sustainable

While it’s possible to lose some weight by eating 1,200 calories for a short time, it’s very difficult to sustain long-term. When your body is chronically deprived of calories and nutrients, it activates metabolic adaptations to hold onto fat stores and slow the rate of weight loss. Hunger hormones become disrupted, causing intense food cravings. This often leads to cycles of restrictive eating followed by binge eating. In the end, severe calorie restriction often backfires for these reasons:

  • Slowed metabolism – Metabolic rate decreases in response to calorie restriction. This makes continual weight loss harder and harder.
  • Increased cravings – Hunger hormones like ghrelin increase, while leptin decreases. This amplifies hunger and cravings for calorie-dense foods.
  • Binge eating – Deprivation often leads to overwhelming urges to binge eat. Consuming well over 1,200 calories in a single binge can sabotage weight loss.
  • Negative mindset – Feeling deprived, hungry, and obsessed with food promotes a negative mindset. This makes it harder to stick to healthy habits.

Ongoing calorie restriction takes a toll both physically and mentally. It’s not a pattern that can be maintained over the long run for most people without negative consequences.

You’ll Likely Lose Muscle

When calorie intake drops very low, such as just 1,200 calories per day, the body goes into conservation mode. Part of the body’s adaptive response to starvation is breaking down muscle tissue for energy. This leads to lost muscle mass, which is problematic for several reasons:

  • Decreased metabolic rate – More muscle burns more calories, so losing muscle slows metabolism.
  • Diminished strength – Less muscle mass means reduced strength for daily activities and exercise.
  • Increased body fat percentage – Muscle loss allows body fat levels to creep back up.
  • Greater risk of injury – Loss of muscle, bone density, and tissue elasticity raises injury risk.

Losing weight by losing muscle is counterproductive. It makes it very difficult to maintain a healthy body composition in the long run. Protecting muscle while losing fat requires an appropriate calorie deficit, adequate protein intake, and strength training.

It Can Lead to Binge Eating

When calorie intake is very low, the body responds by increasing hunger hormones like ghrelin. This intense physiological drive to eat makes stick to 1,200 calories very difficult. In many cases, severe restriction leads to binge eating episodes in which large amounts of food are consumed. This pattern of yo-yo dieting backfires by undoing calorie deficits.

Some reasons severe calorie restriction tends to result in binge eating include:

  • Increased ghrelin – This hormone stimulates appetite, which is already elevated by calorie restriction.
  • Decreased leptin – Low leptin increases hunger and food cravings.
  • Deprivation mindset – Feeling deprived of food makes binges more likely.
  • Urge to eat – Physically restricting intake fuels psychological urges to overeat.

Binging after prolonged restriction can lead to consuming thousands of calories in one sitting. Just a few binges can totally reverse weight loss progress. Restoring metabolic balance and reducing cravings is key to preventing this cycle.

You’ll Probably Quit

Attempting to survive on just 1,200 calories a day is difficult. Hunger, cravings, fatigue, irritability, and obsession with food are common. People attempting this severe calorie restriction often abandon their efforts within a matter of weeks. Quitting after an unsuccessful attempt to eat 1,200 calories per day can leave you feeling frustrated and hopeless.

Here are some reasons eating 1,200 calories a day is hard to stick to:

  • It’s below what your body requires.
  • It’s not satisfying nutritionally or psychologically.
  • Cravings and binges derail progress.
  • Metabolic slowdown makes weight loss plateau.
  • Energy levels are very low.
  • It’s socially isolating and restrictive of enjoyment.

For long term success, dietary approaches must be livable. Eating 1,200 calories a day is usually too difficult to be maintained. When people quit after trying and failing to stick to 1,200 calories, they often feel ashamed and discouraged about trying to lose weight again.

You’ll Likely Regain the Weight

Eating patterns centered around severe calorie deprivation result in short term weight loss at best. In the majority of cases, the weight comes back when normal eating is resumed. Here’s why extreme calorie cutting often leads to weight regain:

  • Loss of metabolically active muscle – A lower metabolic rate makes gaining weight easier.
  • Increased hunger hormones – Ghrelin and insulin are elevated after prolonged restriction.
  • Binge eating – Cycles of binging and restriction are common.
  • Psychological effects – Feelings of failure, anxiety, and guilt about food.

Studies show that more sustainable, modest calorie deficits lead to better long term weight loss results. Patterns of extreme restriction followed by overeating make long term success very unlikely for most people.

It Can Lead to Obsession

For many people, cutting calories to 1,200 per day leads to an unhealthy obsession with food and eating. Preoccupation with calories, portions, scales, and restriction dominates mental energy. This pattern increases anxiety and stress levels. Signs of obsession and disordered eating patterns include:

  • Obsessively counting and restricting calories
  • Strict avoidance of certain foods or food groups
  • Feeling anxiety about upcoming meals or events with food
  • Feeling out of control around food (e.g. binge eating)
  • Cutting out social functions that involve eating
  • Feeling guilt and shame about eating

While moderation and mindfulness about eating are beneficial, extreme restriction often backfires mentally. For those predisposed to disordered eating, it can trigger loss of control. Nutrition counseling may be warranted to develop a healthier approach to food.

It Can Cause Nutrient Deficiencies

Consuming only 1,200 calories daily makes it challenging to meet all of your nutritional needs. Over time, multiple micronutrient deficiencies can develop. Some of the key nutrients you may not be getting enough of include:

  • Protein – Important for preserving muscle mass and keeping metabolism high.
  • Iron – Needed for oxygen transport and energy levels.
  • Calcium – Critical for bone health.
  • Fiber – Helps keep you full. Also supports gut health.
  • B Vitamins – Important for energy production and nervous system function.

Deficiencies in key nutrients can cause symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, irritability, and increased risk of health issues. Getting sufficient calories from nutritious foods prevents this.

You May Feel Irritable and Depressed

Insufficient calorie and nutrient intake often impacts mood. Feelings of irritability, sadness, hopelessness, and depression are common with very low calorie diets. A few factors that can contribute to this include:

  • Blood sugar swings from inadequate fuel.
  • Neurotransmitter disruption from nutrient deficiencies.
  • Fatigue from lack of calories.
  • Social isolation and deprivation mindset.

Mood frequently improves when calorie intake is increased. If mood issues persist, speaking with your healthcare provider is recommended, as clinical depression may require treatment.

It Can Disrupt Your Social Life

Attempting to stick to just 1,200 calories a day makes dining out, holidays, vacations, and social events challenging. It’s very difficult to stay within such a low calorie limit when you aren’t controlling the ingredients and portions. As a result, people attempting this severe restriction often avoid social engagements centered around food. Withdrawing socially and isolating to try to control calories tends to backfire in these ways:

  • Increases feelings of deprivation, making binges more likely
  • Causes tension in relationships
  • Reduces enjoyment of special occasions
  • Results in anxiety about attending events with food

Avoiding celebrations and relationship bonding around meals interferes with quality of life. It also promotes an unhealthy relationship with food. Finding ways to participate in social eating within your plan is ideal for most people.

It May Cause Loss of Lean Body Mass

When calorie intake drops extremely low, the body responds by breaking down tissue to fuel itself. The greatest proportion of weight loss on very low calorie diets comes from lean body mass. Losing water weight, muscle mass, and even bone density are consequences of severe calorie restriction. This leads to a higher body fat percentage over time.

Some negative impacts of losing lean body mass include:

  • Decreased strength and mobility
  • Impaired performance of daily tasks
  • Slowed metabolic rate
  • Reduced resilience to stress and disease
  • Increased risk of bone fractures

Most weight loss methods that preserve or even increase lean body mass while reducing body fat are preferable for health and body composition.

It Isn’t Practical for Diabetics

People with diabetes face challenges managing blood sugar levels when calories are very restricted. Some reasons that 1,200 calories daily isn’t ideal for diabetics include:

  • Risk of hypoglycemia – Too few calories makes hypoglycemia more likely.
  • Nutrition deficiencies – Key nutrients help regulate blood sugar.
  • Binge tendency – Severe restriction increases urges to overeat carbs.
  • Carb cravings – Carbs help address low energy from inadequate calories.

A more moderate, consistent deficit with adequate nutrition and carb management helps diabetics lose weight while maintaining stable blood sugars.


Overall, attempting to sustain yourself on only 1,200 calories per day is inadvisable for most people. It often triggers reactive patterns of binge eating, metabolic slowdown, lean tissue loss, and nutrient deficiencies. Within a matter of weeks, severe hunger, cravings, irritability, and obsessiveness often develop. The majority of people cannot maintain such low calorie intake long term. The negatives of this restrictive approach tend to outweigh any initial weight loss seen.

A more moderate calorie deficit of 500-750 calories below your maintenance level allows for steady weight loss without causing the issues seen with extreme deprivation. Pairing this with increased activity, adequate protein, and nutritious foods helps preserve muscle and fuel your body properly while trying to lose weight. Patience, consistency, and self-compassion are also key to long term success. With support and smart strategies, effective weight management is possible without needing to resort to crash dieting on just 1,200 calories per day.

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