1200-Calorie Weight loss plan: Is It Reasonable?

Reviewed by Brian St. Pierre, MSc, RD, CSCS

If Jerry Seinfeld have been into well being and health he’d ask, “What’s the take care of the 1200-Calorie food plan?”

(Thanks for the joke, Dad.)

However critically: In case you have a look at the caloric suggestions of many widespread weight reduction diets, you’ll discover that 1200 Energy is commonly the “very best goal” for ladies. (For males, it’s typically 1500.)

The 1200-Calorie food plan can also be an especially widespread subject on Reddit, TikTok, and Instagram. Allegedly, even Kim Kardashian adopted this prescriptive food plan.

There’s nothing particular about 1200 Energy particularly. 

Nonetheless, all this hype makes an individual—or a involved coach—surprise about low-calorie diets usually.

Most significantly: Is such a low caloric goal protected and sustainable?

Within the following article, we’ll deal with that query, in addition to:

  • Why some folks don’t shed extra pounds on 1200–Calorie diets. (Trace: It has nothing to do with their thyroid or metabolic adaptation.)
  • The day by day calorie goal that tends to stimulate weight reduction—and never insufferable cravings or deprivation.
  • 4 science-supported methods that assist regulate urge for food and starvation—so people can observe their meals plan for the long run.

However first…

The place did the 1200-Calorie food plan come from, anyway??

It’s thought that the 1200-Calorie Weight loss plan dates again to 1918, when Lulu Hunt Peters, MD, launched a ebook titled Diet and Health with Key to the Calories.

Dr. Peters writes in an entertaining method, which can be what led to the ebook’s lasting reputation. In 2005, the ebook was reprinted digitally, greater than 80 years after its preliminary launch and lengthy after Dr. Peters’ dying.

For instance, inside its pages, you’ll discover a number of messy stick and circle figures, together with recommendation to “skip this chapter. It won’t curiosity you within the least.”

Among the many ebook’s prescriptive recommendation, readers are cautioned towards consuming an excessive amount of animal protein, because it “makes the disposition extra vicious.” For train, Dr. Peters encourages ladies to brush their hair vigorously, “not less than 200 double strokes all around the head.”

(Not all the things from this ebook survived the take a look at of time.)

Embedded all through is encouragement to devour 1200 Energy. (Says the ebook: “You’ll be shocked how a lot 1200 Energy will likely be if the meals is judiciously chosen.”)

Dr. Peters’ considering—in addition to the considering of at this time’s 1200-Calorie food plan proponents—goes like this:

  1. Most girls want about 2200 day by day Energy to take care of their weight.
  2. A pound of fats comprises 3500 Energy.
  3. In case you devour 1000 fewer day by day Energy than you want, you’ll lose about two kilos of fats every week. (As a result of math.)

Factor is, whereas the arithmetic is easy, fats loss is something however.

As a result of—fast truth test—not all ladies’s whole day by day power expenditure (TDEE) will likely be 2200 Energy. A lady’s calorie wants will depend upon many elements, together with her physique dimension, lean mass, age, weight-reduction plan historical past, and exercise ranges.1

TDEE is likely to be a lot larger than 2200 for some ladies and far decrease for others.

In different phrases, 2200 Energy is a median—and never a common quantity that applies to all ladies.

Why some folks don’t shed extra pounds on a 1200-Calorie food plan

Very low calorie diets can and do result in fats loss—in case you follow them, persistently.

For a lot of ladies, 1200 represents about half the energy they should preserve their weight. That’s sufficient of a deficit to result in weight reduction for most folks, together with people with thyroid issues.

It could even overcome adaptive thermogenesis—or the “slowing” of the metabolism after an prolonged interval of caloric deficit. (Colloquially, that is what some people name “the hunger response.”)

We learn about this due to analysis performed nearly 80 years in the past.

How your physique fights again towards the 1200-Calorie food plan

Within the mid-Nineteen Forties, College of Minnesota researchers printed a examine known as “The Minnesota Hunger Experiment.”

On this examine, 36 males voluntarily semi-starved themselves for six months—all within the identify of science. The boys ate 1570 day by day Energy from meals fastidiously portioned by dietitians. The meals added as much as half their regular consumption.

Apparently, their basal metabolic charges did drop—by a whopping 40 p.c—nevertheless it didn’t cease them from dropping pounds. After six months, each single one of many males had misplaced about 25 p.c of their weight—no exceptions. 2, 3

Downside is, semi-starvation is brutal. 

The longer you maintain such a extreme calorie deficit, the extra your biology fights you, turning down metabolism and turning up starvation and cravings.

(Your physique desires you to outlive the famine!)

In consequence, you might discover—as the lads within the Minnesota hunger examine did—meals turns into all you discuss, take into consideration, and dream about.

Meals preoccupation turned so intense for the Minnesota males that they would typically lick their plates clear after meals, and even rummage via the trash for meals scraps between meals.

(Many of those behaviors endured even after the examine ceased. Examine alumni reported needing to maintain snacks with them always, so they might by no means have to fret about starvation once more.)

Throughout sustained caloric deprivation, many different organic chemical compounds get out of whack, too, resulting in extra complications, despair, nervousness, and chilly intolerance.

Plus, your means to pay attention drops, principally as a result of you possibly can’t deal with something apart from “WHEN’S MY NEXT MEAL???”

At this low calorie quantity, it’s additionally troublesome to devour sufficient meals to fulfill all of your nutrient wants, too. So, the chance of malnutrition goes up.

How the 1200-Calorie food plan typically fails

Due to all the things we talked about above, it’s troublesome to devour 1200 Energy day after day.

As a substitute, what normally occurs: People nail their calorie targets some days, and wildly exceed it on others.

“Shoppers say ‘I’m consuming 1200 or 1300 Energy a day.’ That’s normally true-ish,” says Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, Precision Vitamin’s Director of Vitamin. “They’re within the ballpark 4 to 5 days every week.”

On the opposite days, nonetheless, dieters discover themselves drawn to extremely indulgent, calorie-dense meals like…

  • A complete pizza, plus two beers (2200+ Energy)
  • A burrito, two margaritas, chips, and guacamole (2000+ Energy)
  • A gourmand burger with fries and a cola (1500 Energy)
  • Pasta with rooster and roasted garlic from The Cheesecake Manufacturing facility (1910 Energy)

Even in case you’re following your common low-cal food plan for many of the day, simply one of many above meals can push your day by day whole effectively above 3000 Energy.

A so-called cheat day also can add a number of hundreds of energy to your weekly whole. Sure, you consumed 1200 Energy on many days—however your day by day caloric common could also be north of 1800.

Relying in your physique dimension and exercise degree, which will imply no—or simply very sluggish—fats loss.

Even when weight reduction is taking place, folks’s expectations—particularly after they’re acutely depressing consuming 1200 Energy 4 or 5 days every week and assume weight ought to be free-falling off—can set them up for disappointment.

(Speaking to shoppers who’re pissed off with their outcomes regardless of claiming to eat a low-cal generally is a tough, delicate dialog. For assist, take a look at the 5 steps outlined right here: “Assist! My consumer’s not dropping pounds regardless of claiming to observe a low calorie food plan!”)

3 sorts of shoppers who would possibly do effectively on a 1200-Calorie food plan

We simply made very-low-calorie diets sound like the massive dangerous wolf.

However the fact is, they can be applicable for some folks like:

Small ladies: Somebody who stands 4 ft, 10 inches tall, weighs 110 kilos, and doesn’t train would possibly devour 1200 Energy to take care of or lose a small quantity of weight.

Shoppers adept at superior diet protocols: “In case you receives a commission to look a sure approach throughout a selected timeframe, you’re typically extra snug with the tradeoffs,” St. Pierre says.

These shoppers—like weight-classed athletes, determine rivals, or celebrities—have a tendency to make use of extremely low-calorie diets as a short lived device.

Together with water weight manipulation (and perhaps some spray tanning/contouring and good lighting) excessive “cuts” can get these shoppers competitors or photo-shoot prepared.

After the massive day is over, they return to a extra sustainable calorie goal.

Bariatric sufferers: The 1200 Calorie goal may also make sense for somebody who must shed extra pounds quickly for well being causes. Dr. Nowzaradan—one of many stars of the TV present “My 600-Lb. Life”—famously recommends 1200-Calorie diets for his sufferers.

On this case, the particular person ought to endure the food plan underneath the course of a medical skilled.

(There’s a number of misconceptions round low-calorie diets. In case you’re excited by understanding how they actually have an effect on your physique, learn: Can consuming too little harm your metabolism?)

A greater solution to lose fats—and maintain it off.

One resolution to the 1200-Calorie dilemma is counterintuitive: Bump your day by day goal as much as round 1500 Energy, says St. Pierre.

(For males: Go larger, to round 1800, relying in your exercise degree and physique dimension.)

You would possibly surprise: ‘If I (or my consumer) wasn’t dropping pounds on a 1200-Calorie food plan, how may I probably shed extra pounds by consuming… MORE? Shouldn’t I eat even LESS?’

Right here’s why it really works: By including only a few hundred day by day energy, you’ll cut back the extraordinary starvation, cravings, fatigue, and meals obsessions that make it so troublesome to stay constant.

“It feels as in case you’re consuming extra as a result of, on most days, you’re,” says St. Pierre.

“But, whilst you’ll eat extra every day with 1500 Energy, you’ll possible devour much less every week.” The chart under exhibits how.

(Be aware: As a result of nobody consumes the precise calorie quantity—day after day—we’ve different the day by day energy to make them extra life like.)

Aiming for 1500 Each day Energy Aiming for 1200 Each day Energy
Monday 1520 1205
Tuesday 1480 1180
Wednesday 1510 1215
Thursday 1490 1900
Friday 1515 3200
Saturday 1485 2800
Sunday 1505 1180
Weekly whole: 10,505 13,280
Each day Common: 1500 1811

Nonetheless, even after bumping up day by day calorie allowances, some folks should still wrestle with intense starvation and cravings.

So, listed here are 4 methods that make sustaining a calorie deficit slightly extra snug, and make fats loss extra sustainable.

1. Embrace lean protein at each meal.

Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates or fat. It additionally stimulates the discharge of starvation and appetite-suppressing hormones like cholecystokinin (CCK) in addition to drives down ranges of the starvation hormone ghrelin.

In line with a scientific concept referred to as the protein leverage speculation—also known as “protein starvation” in lay circles—the human physique will maintain starvation and urge for food fired up till primary protein wants are met.

(Be aware: There’s conflicting analysis on this speculation… which is why it’s nonetheless termed a speculation—and never, say, a regulation.)

Eat principally low protein meals and also you’ll possible stay frustratingly hungry, though you’ve consumed a whole lot of energy. 4

(See our “What Ought to I Eat?!” infographic for the perfect protein sources.)

▶ Learn how to do it:

Intention for not less than 4-5 palm-sized parts of lean protein day by day.

Attempt to unfold your consumption out comparatively evenly, consuming 1 to 2 palm-sized parts throughout each meal and snack.

Excessive protein sources embrace fish, shellfish, rooster, turkey, beef, eggs and egg whites, cultured cottage cheese, unflavored Greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and protein powders.

2. Improve your consumption of non-starchy veggies.

In case you ate a whole head of cauliflower, you’d possible really feel as in case you have been strolling round with a brick in your abdomen.

But, you’d solely have consumed 146 Energy, give or take.

Evaluate that to the half slice of pizza you’d get for a similar variety of energy and you may perceive why non-starchy veggies might help with fats loss.

Loaded with water and fiber, veggies supply tons of quantity for only a few energy.

In line with the Nurses Well being Examine, which tracked the well being outcomes of 133,000 folks over a number of a long time: Each extra day by day serving of veggies (and fruits too, for that matter) was related to a drop in weight. 5

▶ Learn how to do it:

Regularly improve your day by day veggie goal over time, aiming for not less than 4 fist-sized servings a day (together with 2-3 cupped handfuls of fruit). This will increase the amount of meals you eat with out spiking caloric consumption, so you possibly can really feel extra happy with much less.

After all, generally an order of fries or a slice of pizza is price it—sure, even as a substitute of carrot sticks or a salad entree.

Possible, the perfect meals are constructed with loads of greens and lean protein that can assist you really feel full and happy and small to average quantities of the actually scrumptious mouth-happy meals that deliver you pleasure.

3. Gravitate towards minimally-processed complete meals.

When folks cut back energy, they often lean onerous into pre-packaged meals which are marketed for weight reduction, akin to sugar-free pudding cups, packaged food plan bars, fat-free scorching canine, low-carb bread, and food plan shakes.

“These sorts of meals aren’t normally satisfying,” says St. Pierre.

First, they don’t style significantly nice, in order that they typically go away you craving for the actual, full-fat, full-carb, full-sugar deal.

On high of that, they lack key vitamins—particularly protein and fiber—that assist maintain starvation and urge for food in test.

By shifting away from highly-processed meals and “food plan meals” and towards minimally-processed complete meals, you’ll robotically devour extra fiber, protein, nutritional vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Finish outcome: You’ll really feel much less hungry and extra happy.

▶ Learn how to do it:

Begin by making small swaps.

For instance, perhaps you’re a chip-lover, and also you have a tendency to achieve for them (and attain once more) once you’re hungry between meals.

Now assume: What’s a minimally-processed meals that you simply like and would even stay up for consuming, that you may maintain accessible throughout these snack-attacks, so you’ve gotten a substitute for chips?

Chances are high, that alternative can also be going to finish up being extra nutritious and satiating—whereas additionally being lower-calorie, partly as a result of it’s more durable to overeat minimally-processed meals. (Not like chips! [shakes fist])

Sounds easy, however we’ve seen folks dramatically rework their food plan over time with this method—with approach much less effort than individuals who merely attempt to limit their meals consumption.

If you’re prepared, you are able to do different swaps, steadily rising your consumption of minimally-processed complete meals till they compose most of your food plan.

(For concepts on the right way to make these comparatively painless swaps, take a look at this piece: Meal plans normally suck: Listed here are 6 higher methods to remodel your food plan)

In our expertise, most individuals can discover a superb steadiness between well being and pleasure when minimally-processed meals comprise roughly 70 to 80 p.c of their total food plan.

(In case you’re curious in regards to the many different causes highly-processed meals make you’re feeling such as you at all times want MORE, take a look at: Why you possibly can’t cease overeating junk meals.)

4. Add resistance coaching.

Normally, weight reduction comes from a mixture of fats loss and muscle loss.

Muscle loss, nonetheless, is related to a rise within the starvation hormone ghrelin and the urge for food hormone insulin-like progress issue (IGF).

Principally, your physique is attempting to take care of muscle mass, so it’s turning up starvation and urge for food in an effort to nudge you to eat its constructing blocks.

Although energy coaching doesn’t 100% get rid of muscle loss throughout weight reduction, it could protect most of it.

That’s key as a result of, in line with latest analysis, preserving lean mass might assist blunt not less than among the urge for food and starvation will increase people expertise as they shed extra pounds. 6

▶ Learn how to do it: In case you’re not doing it already, add a twice-weekly energy coaching session to your routine, following a program that targets all your main muscle teams.

(In case you’re simply getting began with energy coaching, take into account downloading our FREE 14-day at-home exercise program.)

The sincere fact: Some starvation is inevitable.

Anybody who tells you you could “shed extra pounds with out starvation” is probably going attempting to promote you one thing.

In case you observe the 1200 Calorie Weight loss plan—or simply devour fewer energy than your physique is used to—your physique goes to toss up a starvation flare.

That mentioned, in case you…

  • Barely bump up your total calorie consumption
  • Optimize your consumption of lean protein, veggies, and complete meals (whereas nonetheless permitting some “only for pleasure” treats so that you don’t really feel disadvantaged)
  • Incorporate common energy coaching

… You’ll have the ability to lose fats with out feeling exceptionally hungry and disadvantaged—and even maintain it off.

“You’ll really feel extra happy, you’ll mentally really feel higher, and also you’ll bodily really feel higher,” says St. Pierre. “You possibly can nonetheless make progress, simply in a approach that sucks lots much less.”


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