Is 1,200 calories needed to lose weight: The 1,200 calorie diet.

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Today’s article on the 1,200-calorie diet is not written to persuade you to eat or not to eat 1,200 calories.

I intended to look at it in a science-backed and research-driven way so that you understand why or why not it could be helpful or unhelpful.

If I did not do this please contact me and let me know.

The TL;DR version of this

Is 1,200 calories effective?

  • For most women, 1,200 calories is a significant deficit that can lead to weight loss, even if their metabolism has slowed due to dieting.
  • 1,200 calories may be helpful for those with a small frame or sedentary lifestyle.
  • It can be very challenging to stick to and often leads to significant hunger.
  • The majority of people do not need to at 1,200 calories to lose weight.

Potential downsides of 1,200 calorie diet:

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Getting enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is difficult with such a low-calorie intake.
  • Muscle loss: Along with fat, you may also lose muscle mass, which can negatively impact metabolism and long-term health.
  • Sustainability: It’s hard to maintain this level of restriction long-term, increasing the risk of rebound weight gain.
  • Negative impacts on health and well-being: Fatigue, irritability, and decreased energy levels are common side effects.

Alternatives to a 1,200-calorie diet:

  • Consider a higher calorie intake (around 1500-1800 calories for women) to ensure nutrient needs are met and promote sustainable weight loss. If weight loss is a goal look to increasing your daily steps/movement.
  • Consulting a registered dietitian for guidance on a higher calorie intake while focusing on weight loss is a good idea.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go…

Is 1,200 calories needed to lose weight?

To lose weight a calorie (energy deficit) is needed. This is not negotiable. A 1,200-calorie diet for most people guarantees that this is happening.

Calorie requirements to lose weight vary from person to person and depend on various factors, including age, gender, weight, height, activity level, and overall health.

The commonly recommended daily calorie intake for weight loss is often around 500 to 1,000 (aggressive) calories below your maintenance level.

However, as you’ll read later creating a massive calorie deficit may not be in your best interest.

So for most people, 1,200 calories are NOT needed to lose weight.

For those with a small frame or sedentary lifestyle, it may be needed.

It’s important to ensure that you still get essential nutrients and maintain a balanced diet. Very low-calorie diets should be done under medical supervision to avoid potential health risks.

How much weight can you lose by eating 1,200 calories per day?

Rates of progress
Credit: Precision Nutrition

I wrote an article dedicated to how much weight you can expect to lose here.

As a general guideline, a deficit of 500 calories per day can lead to a weight loss of about 1 pound per week.

If you consistently maintain a daily calorie intake of 1,200 calories and it represents a significant calorie deficit for you, you might expect to lose weight at a faster rate initially.

However, it’s important to approach weight loss healthily and sustainably. Very low-calorie diets, such as consuming only 1,200 calories per day, may not provide enough nutrients for some individuals and could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Additionally, rapid weight loss can sometimes result in the loss of muscle mass, which can affect metabolic health.

What happens if I only eat 1,200 calories per day?

Consuming only 1,200 calories per day can have various effects on your body, both positive and negative.

Weight Loss: A daily intake of 1,200 calories is considered low for many adults and often leads to a calorie deficit, leading to weight loss. However, the rate of weight loss can vary between individuals.

Nutrient Deficiency: Restricting calories to 1,200 per day may make it challenging to get all the essential nutrients your body needs. It’s important to ensure that your diet is still well-balanced and provides an adequate amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Focusing on building balanced plates can help with this.

Energy Levels: A low-calorie diet can result in decreased energy levels, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Your body may not have enough fuel to perform daily activities optimally.

Muscle Loss: Consuming too few calories can lead to the loss of muscle mass along with fat. This is especially true if the diet lacks sufficient protein, which is crucial for muscle maintenance.

Metabolic Adaptation: Prolonged low-calorie intake may cause your metabolic adaptations as your body tries to conserve energy:

  • less movement
  • increased hunger

Hormonal Changes: Extreme calorie restriction can impact hormone levels, affecting menstrual cycles in women and leading to hormonal imbalances.

Nutritional Imbalance: A very low-calorie diet may not provide the necessary balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) for optimal health.

Why am I not losing weight by eating 1,200 calories per day?

Most likely because you’re not eating 1,200 calories per day.

Underestimating Calorie Intake: Research has shown us time and time and time and time and time and time and time again that we’re not good at estimating our calorie intake.

If you are weighing and tracking your food or calories make sure you’re doing so accurately and consistently. Or using alternative methods that work for you.

Workweek dieting: Eating in a calorie deficit during the week and eating back enough calories on the weekends to balance out your caloric intake


Metabolic Adaptation: As mentioned in the previous section. If you’ve been on a very low-calorie diet for an extended period, your body may have adapted to the reduced calorie intake through metabolic adaptations. This can make weight loss more challenging over time.

Inconsistent Exercise Routine: Physical activity is a crucial component of weight loss. If your exercise routine is inconsistent or not challenging enough, it may impede your weight loss progress.

Water Retention: Changes in sodium intake, hormonal fluctuations, stress, or other factors can lead to temporary water retention, masking actual fat loss on the scale.

Stress and Sleep: Nobody wants to eat well and exercise when they’re stressed and exhausted all the time.

Medical Conditions: Hypothyroidism or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can affect weight loss.

Muscle Gain: If you’ve incorporated strength training into your routine as a beginner or after a long time away you may be gaining muscle mass. While this is generally positive for overall health, it can offset weight loss on the scale.

Plateau: Weight loss doesn’t always occur linearly. It’s common to experience periods of plateau, where your weight remains stable even with continued efforts. Patience and persistence are essential during these times.

Weight loss chart 3 months

Is 1,200 calories starving?

1,200 calories is generally considered low for many adults and may be below the recommended daily caloric intake for some.

Whether it is considered “starving” can be subjective and depends on various factors, including individual needs, body composition, metabolism, and activity level.

While some people may be able to meet their nutritional needs with 1,200 calories per day, others may find it challenging to get all the essential nutrients their body requires for optimal functioning.

Very low-calorie diets can potentially lead to nutrient deficiencies and may not provide enough energy for daily activities.

Is it possible to be in a calorie deficit and not lose weight?

How diets work

Not that I’m aware of.

However, you can think you’re in a calorie deficit and not be in one. That is most often the case.

We already covered most of this so I will spare you from me beating a dead horse. But if you’re in a calorie deficit and not losing weight. It’s probably because you’re not actually in a calorie deficit over an extended period.

Commons reasons for this:

  • Muscle Gain
  • Water Retention
  • Medical Conditions
  • Metabolic Adaptation
  • Underestimating Calorie Intake
  • Overestimating Caloric Expenditure
  • Workweek dieting (deficit during the week, eating it back on the weekends)

If you believe you’re in a calorie deficit and not losing weight try accurately tracking your calories for 2-4 weeks.

Who is a 1,200-calorie diet for?

A 1,200-calorie diet would not be recommended for most people but there are some situations where a 1,200-calorie diet might be considered:

Small Frame or Sedentary Lifestyle: Individuals with a smaller body frame or those who have a sedentary lifestyle may have lower calorie needs.

Medical Supervision: Very low-calorie diets (VLCDs) are sometimes prescribed under medical supervision for certain medical conditions, such as obesity or obesity-related health issues. These diets are closely monitored to prevent nutrient deficiencies and other health risks.

Bariatric Surgery Preparation: Some healthcare providers recommend a low-calorie diet before bariatric surgery to reduce liver size and improve surgical outcomes.

Meal Replacement Plans: Certain meal replacement plans or commercial weight loss programs provide pre-packaged meals with around 1,200 calories per day. These plans are often used as short-term solutions for weight loss.

I am not suggesting anyone follow a 1,200-calorie diet. I am simply outlining the cases which it be used.

Who is a 1,200-calorie diet not for?

Pretty much everyone. Particularly these folks:

Active Individuals or Athletes: People who engage in regular intense physical activity or have high energy expenditure due to their occupation or lifestyle may require more calories to support their energy needs.

Growing Adolescents: Particularly those in periods of rapid growth and development, have increased nutritional needs. Severely restricting calories can interfere with proper growth and development during these crucial stages.

Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased calorie and nutrient requirements to support the growth and development of the baby. A 1,200-calorie diet is not appropriate during pregnancy and lactation and could negatively impact maternal and fetal health.

Individuals with Certain Medical Conditions: People with certain medical conditions, such as eating disorders, metabolic disorders, or other chronic health issues, may have specific dietary requirements that are not met with a 1,200-calorie diet.

Individuals with a History of Nutrient Deficiencies: Or are at risk of deficiencies due to medical conditions, medication use, or dietary restrictions may not obtain adequate nutrients from a 1,200-calorie diet.

Older Adults: May have different nutritional requirements and may need more protein and certain nutrients to maintain muscle mass and overall health. A 1,200-calorie diet may not provide sufficient nutrients for this demographic group.

People with Hormonal Imbalances or Menstrual Irregularities: Extremely low-calorie diets can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to menstrual irregularities in women. Women experiencing hormonal imbalances or menstrual issues should consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Why does a 1,200-calorie diet often fail?

There could be several reasons why a 1,200-calorie diet fails.

I’d say the primary one is because it’s not a lot of food for most people and you may want to eat your own arm off.

Some of the reasons we’ve already discussed:

  • Muscle Loss
  • Nutrient Deficiencies
  • Metabolic Adaptation
  • Hormonal Imbalances

My apologies for the repeat. I’ll include a few others.

Binge Eating and Overeating: Drastically reducing calorie intake may trigger intense hunger and cravings, leading to episodes of binge eating or overeating when individuals feel they can no longer adhere to the strict calorie limit.

Lack of Sustainability: The calorie restrictions may lead to feelings of deprivation, making it difficult for individuals to stick to the plan over an extended period.

Social and Emotional Impact: The social and emotional aspects of food and eating are important factors. Extremely low-calorie diets can impact social interactions and may contribute to feelings of isolation or deprivation.

Psychological Impact: Constantly focusing on strict calorie counting and restriction can hurt mental health. It may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and potentially contribute to disordered eating patterns.

Limited Food Choices: A 1,200-calorie diet may limit food choices, making it challenging to meet individual taste preferences and cultural dietary practices.

What is a better way to lose fat and keep it off than the 1,200-calorie diet?

The best way to lose fat and keep it off is to be in a moderate calorie deficit combined with behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Create a Moderate Calorie Deficit: Instead of severely restricting calories, aim for a moderate calorie deficit. This can be achieved by consuming slightly fewer calories than your body needs for maintenance. A deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day can lead to a gradual and sustainable weight loss of about 1-2 pounds per week.

Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods: Choose nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet to ensure you meet your nutritional needs.

Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water is important for overall health and can also support weight loss. Sometimes, feelings of hunger can be confused with dehydration.

Include Protein in Your Diet: Protein is essential for muscle maintenance and can help you feel fuller for longer.

Incorporate Strength Training: Include resistance training or strength training exercises in your fitness routine. Building muscle can increase your metabolism and help with fat loss.

Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This can include activities like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Additionally, include muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week.

Practice Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, and try to eat slowly to give your body time to signal that it’s satisfied.

Get Adequate Sleep: Lack of sleep can negatively impact metabolism and hormonal balance, affecting weight management. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Manage Stress: Chronic stress can contribute to weight gain. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to help manage stress levels.

Set Realistic Goals: Focus on realistic and sustainable goals. Rapid weight loss may not be healthy or maintainable in the long term. Aim for gradual and steady progress.