The 1200 Calorie Diet: The Truth Exposed!

WRITTEN BY RYAN PINTO

Contributer - Head Nutritionist & Sports Dietitian

Many diets can lay claim to quick fixes and super speedy paths to weight loss. While there are a few fad diets that can legitimately boast the ability to do this for you, are they actually good for you?

Can you keep the weight off? What’s a healthy amount of calories to consume each day? We answer all that and more.

In a Nutshell

  • Diets are an effective aid for weight loss, but they must be planned correctly if you’re looking to keep the lost weight off in the long term.
  • A diet with a calorie count as low as 1200 calories can adversely affect both your physical and mental wellbeing. It can also lead to hormone imbalances and negative changes in your immunity.
  • The 1200 calorie diet can result in feelings of uncontrollable hunger and after a 1-2 week stint undertaking the diet, can often reverse the results due to overeating.
  • If you’re putting less calories into your body than what it needs to exercise or even just perform daily tasks, this creates a calorie deficit. A severe calorie deficit often results in constant hunger, feeling lethargic and increased irritability.
  • For healthy individuals, each day they should be consuming between 26-45 calories / kg of body weight. For healthy eating, however, the consensus daily figure actually sits around 35-45 calories / kg of body weight.
  • Calorie counting can be important. However, the quality of food you eat and developing a routine that can be sustained for the long term is just as important as your daily calorie target. Do not underestimate this or you may pay a price.

1200 Calorie Diet Breakfast | My Muscle Chef

In Depth

What is a 1200 calorie diet?

A 1200 calorie diet is, quite simply, a diet limited to a maximum of 1200 calories consumed per day. Let’s have a look at what might actually comprise a day’s worth of eating in a 1200 calorie diet:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup (1 small cupped handful) of muesli with light milk
  • Lunch: A salad with 1 egg or 80g of chicken (the size of a deck of cards) with some hummus and a very light amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Mid-Afternoon: Veggie sticks with a tablespoon of light tzatziki dip OR a couple pieces of fruit.
  • Dinner: 100-150g of lean protein with non-carb based vegetables (no potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, corn).

That’s it? Yep. Makes for pretty depressing, slightly unappetising reading, doesn’t it?

Sure, for those looking to lose any unwanted and unfortunate Christmas weight, so they can squeeze back into those tight fitting office clothes, this diet can be effective. BUT, it should really only be used as a strategic weight loss option for an absolute maximum, a week or two.

The TRUTH about a 1200 calorie diet!

  • Is a 1200 calorie diet an effective way of losing weight? Yes.
  • Is a 1200 calorie diet an effective way of losing weight and keeping it off long term? No.
  • Does a 1200 calorie diet teach you how to construct a healthy diet? One that keeps you feeling full, energised and primed to take part in exercise? No.

Going on a diet can be an effective way to begin your weight loss journey when planned correctly. They help navigate you through the endless possibility of ways to lose weight by giving you a set amount of food to consume to get a result. Seems like the perfect weight loss tool, right? Most of the time, when done correctly, it is.

However, when it goes wrong, it can REALLY go wrong. Consuming a low calorie diet of, oh let’s say 1200 calories, can have huge impacts on your physical and mental wellbeing. It can even lead to imbalances in your hormones and can suppress your immune system.

Extending a 1200 calorie diet past 1-2 weeks can force you into feelings of uncontrollable hunger. This generally results in people gorging on highly refined foods and putting back on lost weight and often more. This can create a vicious cycle, which can have a negative impact on your food intake and behaviour over the long term.

The Results of Eating a 1200 Calorie Diet | My Muscle Chef

If you ever do consider undertaking a 1200 calorie diet in the pursuit of weight loss, make sure you understand what you’ll be eating AFTER the initial 1-2 weeks. This will go a long way to helping you maintain the weight you lost from this acute weight loss strategy.

Why don’t 1200 calorie diets work?

The main reason these diets don’t work long term is because they’re unsustainable. While it might effectively shed kilos in the early stages, it essentially wastes you away. Why is this?

A 1200 calorie diet falls very far below most people’s daily requirements. How far below? Well, 1200 calories a day is around the amount required for an active child between 4 or 5 years old. This means that, for most people, this severe calorie deficit means you are unable to consume enough calories and protein to maintain muscle mass which means your ability to burn fat is impaired.

For women, this is even more important to be conscious of, as a sustained and severe calorie deficit can lead to alterations in, and in some cases, a cessation of, your menstrual cycle. There’s logic within the physiology here. Quite simply, if a woman isn’t consuming enough food to meet their own nutritional needs, how could they have enough nutrients to grow a little bub inside of them?

Another common side effect of a calorie deficit is reduced bone health. This may result in a higher injury risk, such as repeated stress fractures due to overtraining syndrome (caused by an imbalance of calories in vs calories out).

Stress Fracture Caused by 1200 Calorie Diet | My Muscle Chef

These symptoms tend to have longer lasting effects, which can impact your long term health. Some people also unknowingly fall into this category, as they may be eating the same as they always have, but have recently upped their exercise regime. This change in caloric intake vs output can create a significant calorie deficit, which over time may result in these outlined issues.

How many calories should I consume?

Daily calorie requirements for healthy individuals can range anywhere from 26-45 calories per kilogram of body weight per day. The consensus for healthy eating, however, seems to sit between 35-40 calories per kilogram of body weight per day.

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 bodyweight. 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 increase it on training days or when you may be stressed or sick to cope with the added strain on your body.

Wholefood Ingredients You Should Be Eating | My Muscle Chef

How many calories do you need to lose weight?

For healthy weight loss, if your current diet is maintaining your weight, individuals can lower their daily intake by around 250 calories per day to achieve a ¼ of a kilogram of weight loss per week. That is, if the following pillars of nutrition for healthy eating are followed:

  1. Consume enough protein to ensure your fat burning machine, muscle mass, is primed and ready to burn fat. Fat gets transported to healthy muscles to be metabolised and used for energy. This process can be impaired if you're not consuming enough protein to maintain your muscle mass.
  2. Consume enough fibre to feed your helpful gut bugs, which will, in turn, keep you feeling fuller for longer and provide you with a sustained amount of energy throughout the day.
  3. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and ensure you aren’t confusing thirst signals for hunger signals (this happens more often than you'd think!).

Calories are important, they help provide you with an objective number to help you gain or lose weight. However, food quality and developing a sustainable routine for the long term is equally important as a daily calorie target and must not be underestimated.

Ben Seymour Enjoying a My Muscle Chef Meal

The quality of food within a meal plan should be based around wholefoods as, apart from macronutrients such as protein, fat and carbs, they are generally packed full and vitamins, minerals and fibre to help keep you healthy and vibrant.

For a healthy, low calorie diet, find a plan that suits you and your lifestyle here.