The 1200 Calorie Diet: The Truth Exposed!

2 March 2023

Ryan Pinto

My Muscle Chef Advanced Sports Dietitian

When we think about weight loss, instantly our mind goes into cutting calories from wherever we can. Often inspired by the weight loss influencers, some of us go to dramatic measures to shed the kilos quickly.

Many trending diets claim to be quick fixes and super speedy paths to weight loss. While following these trending diets can legitimately boost the ability for you to trim up quickly, the real question is can they actually be good for you?

Will they help you keep the weight off for the long run?

And what can you actually eat?

We answer the most asked questions about the 1200 calorie diet!

What is a 1200 calorie diet?

If you have tried to lose weight, or are currently looking for a weight loss solution, the chances are you have tried to reduce your calorie intake or have come across a 1200 calorie diet plan when doing your research.

But what is a 1200 diet and is it actually a smart weight loss solution?

Put simply, a 1200 calorie diet that is limited to a maximum of 1200 calories consumed per day. Most people will look to these approaches when trying to lose weight and achieve fat loss but don’t want to feel like they are ‘dieting’ for months.

For many, a 1200 calorie diet is a short-term solution to weight loss, for example to squeeze into that favourite pair of shorts coming into our Australian summer season or to slim down before a holiday or event. Whilst it can be effective it should only be used as a strategic weight loss option for an absolute maximum of 2-4 weeks.

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What does a 1200 calorie day on a plate look like?

So what does a day on a plate look like in a 1200 calorie diet? With only 1200 calories, your daily nutrient needs to be made up of nutrient-dense foods to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs. Doing so is necessary because with only 1200 calories there's no room for foods that aren’t totally nutritious! So where possible it is important to squeeze in wholefoods such as lean proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables so you can get all the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs!

Here is what 1200 calories per day looks like on a plate:

At the end of the day it is not a sustainable amount of food to be limiting yourself to for a long period of time, however by prioritising wholefoods like in the example above, you can still ensure you are not missing out on important nutrients each day.

What does science say about the 1200 calorie diet?

Whilst the 1200 calorie diet can get you fast results, extending it past 2-4 weeks can often result in more harm than good. Over-restricting and under-nourishing yourself can often leave you feeling depleted of energy, fatigued and unable to get through your day. A prolonged period of calorie restriction can also leave you craving all those foods you are limiting, which in some cases can result in binge eating on highly refined food and putting back on the lost weight and often more. This can create a vicious cycle, which can have a negative impact on your mood, energy levels and sleep patterns.

Over the long term this can have huge impacts on your physical and mental wellbeing, as well as imbalances in hormones and your immune function. It can also impair your ability to burn fat and can negatively impact your long term bone health. For females, consuming too little calories for an extended amount of time could also affect their ability to reproduce as they can lose their menstruation cycle. So for both short term and long term results your goal should be to have a sustainable approach to weight loss to assist with maintaining hormone and immune health.

Can I use a 1200 calorie diet to lose weight in a healthy way?

The short answer is yes -you can lose weight in a healthy way on a 1200 calorie diet. When done right, the 1200 calorie diet can be an effective way to kick start your weight loss journey and give you the motivation you need to keep going.

However, navigating this diet can be tricky. The aim is to focus on nutrient dense foods (not calorie dense) and aim to transition to a sustainable long term diet which meets your nutrition requirements. Initially, when starting a 1200 calorie diet, it is ideal to do so at a time when you’re not highly stressed or physically exerted, putting time aside to prioritise your health. When transitioning into a diet that meets your requirements it is recommended to use a calorie calculator to understand your daily nutrition requirements or speak to a dietitian to create a plan tailored to your needs.

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What does a sustainable approach to dieting look like?

In general, daily calorie requirements for a healthy Australian individuals ranges from 26-45 calories per kilogram of body weight per day. For healthy weight loss, reducing your calorie intake by around 500 calories per day can lead to ½ kg weight loss per week.

This number can be used as a starting point when planning and developing a sustainable intake for the long term. It allows each person to have an intake individualised for their body weight. This can be altered depending on how your day looks. For example, you may choose to slightly lower your total intake on rest days or less active days or increase it on days where you may be exercising.

There are a few key guidelines to follow when following a sustainable weight loss approach. These include:

  • Consuming smaller frequent meals to help increase your metabolism, stabilise your energy levels and keep you full throughout the day or during times when you typically do not feel hungry.

  • Something above anticipating time when you tend to feel hungry and planning protein rich, nutrient dense snacks to help limit unwanted snacking

  • Consuming more protein across the day to ensure your body keeps burning fat, to feed your muscles and assist in satiety and craving control. You should aim to have a source of protein in each main meal and snack to keep you full throughout the day.

  • Consuming more fibre to improve digestion and digestive health, and also keep you fuller for longer! Aiming for 30 grams of fibre per day is recommended.

  • Drinking more water to keep you hydrated and ensure you aren’t confusing thirst signals for hunger signals

  • Ensuring main meals are nutrient dense and when losing weight ⅓-½ of the plate filled with veg

Overall it is important to build a healthy habit around your approach to weight loss and overall health by prioritising nutritious foods, movement and finding a balance you can maintain consistently.

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