1200 calorie diet
Staying in a calorie deficit is what leads to weight loss. This means that a person needs to eat fewer calories than they burn; doing so forces their body to make use of fat stores as a source of energy.
Eating 1200 calories a day will create a calorie deficit and lead to weight loss, but it may not be ideal for everyone. For example, someone who exercises strenuously multiple times a week will find it very difficult to get through the day on just 1200 calories. A lot of people will be able to eat more than 1200 calories per day and still lose weight.
The calculator below uses your gender, age, weight, height and activity levels to estimate how many calories you should be eating to lose weight.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 40 year old man who weighs 80 kg, is 180 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week would need to consume approximately 2150 calories to start losing weight.
If he wanted to lose weight at a faster pace he could consume even fewer calories. In general however, given his body size and activity levels, he would be advised not to consume fewer than 1600 calories per day.
If you want to go on a 1200 calorie diet, you should speak to your doctor first so that he or she can confirm it is fine for you to do so. Eating a low calorie diet for a few days should be okay for most people, but doing so unsupervised for longer periods of time can lead to a variety of health problems such as fatigue, nausea, vitamin & mineral deficiencies, loss of muscle mass and electrolyte imbalances.
If your doctor says it is fine for you to do so, following the tips below will make it easier and more achievable.
Vegetables should be a big part of your diet
Vegetables are weight loss friendly foods. A large part of them is made up of water, which means that most vegetables are very low in calories. For example, a large carrot only has 30 calories and a cup of kale has 33.
Despite this, vegetables are high in fiber. Some noteworthy ones are artichokes, parsnips, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. A cup of cooked collard greens provides you with 21% of your daily fiber requirement.
Vegetables also contain large amounts of various vitamins & minerals. For example, carrots and sweet potatoes top the list when it comes to foods high in vitamin A. And when compared weight for weight, kale and broccoli have more vitamin C than many fruits do.
Eating lots of different coloured vegetables will reduce the changes of you becoming deficient in a number of vital nutrients such as magnesium, the B vitamins, vitamin K and potassium.
Vegetables can be eaten in lots of different ways, either on their own or in a wide range of delicious recipes.
Fruits can help to reduce sugar cravings
Like vegetables, most fruits are nutrient dense and low calorie foods. They have the added benefit of being rich in naturally occurring sugars, making them an ideal food to snack on if you are craving something sweet. Some low calorie fruits that are very sweet include grapes, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, tangerines and apples.
Dried fruits such as dates, raisins and prunes can also be eaten, but you should do so in moderation. Because of their high sugar content, they tend to have many more calories than other types of fruit.
Aiming to eat 2 – 3 pieces of fruit a day would be ideal. Fruits such as bananas and mangoes can be frozen to make homemade versions of ice cream or used in smoothies to make them more palatable.
Increase your protein intake
Out of all the 3 macro-nutrients, protein has the highest satiety, which means that it is the most filling. Because of this, eating plenty of protein can help to satisfy your appetite and reduce overall calorie intake.
Lots of studies have been carried out to determine how protein affects weight management. In most cases, it has proven to be beneficial. For example, in this study, it was found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of total calories resulted in 441 fewer calories being consumed per day.
Another study involving obese men found that a high protein diet reduced obsessive thoughts about food and desire to snack late at night.
Protein eaten at breakfast time can help to regulate appetite hormones and suppress subsequent food intake, as seen in studies such as this and this. Foods such as eggs and egg whites are low in calories but rich in protein, making them an ideal food to eat for breakfast.
Besides eggs, there are lots of other protein rich foods, including meat, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy and some vegetables. You should aim for a protein intake of 25% – 30% of total calories.
Carbs and fat are important
It is true that reducing carb intake can help with weight loss. This is why a lot of people try to completely avoid carbs on low calorie diets, but eating them in moderation is important because they are a vital source of energy. That being said, eating the right types of carbohydrate and fat rich foods is crucial.
Not all carbs are the same. Many foods that people consider as carbs are highly refined and processed. Things like cookies, cakes, pastries and doughnuts have large amounts of sugar and fat, which means that they are also very high in calories. For example, a medium sized doughnut has 255 calories.
These types of foods are also sources of empty calories; they provide a lot of energy but very little nutritional value. All eating them does is cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise and fall dramatically, causing you to crash and feel hungry again, thanks to their low fullness factor. For this reason they should be avoided.
The carbs that you eat should come from nutrient dense foods. These are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, and include sweet potatoes, oats, beans, brown rice and quinoa.
Fat is also required in the diet and should not be feared. Eating fat does not make you fat, eating more calories than you require does. It is true that fat provides more then two times the calories per gram that carbs and protein do, so on low calorie diets it should be eaten in moderation.
Good sources of fat include nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish. Coconut oil is also very good and studies have actually shown that eating it can help with fat loss.
Water should be your primary beverage of choice
Water has 0 calories, which means that you can drink lots of it on a low calorie diet and not have to worry about gaining weight. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that drinking sufficient amounts of water is highly beneficial to weight loss.
This study for example involved 48 adults between the ages of 55 and 75 who were split into two groups, both of whom followed a calorie deficit diet. One group also drank 500 ml of water before each meal. After 12 weeks both groups ended up losing weight, but the water drinking group lost an average of 2 kg more.
Another study found that adults who drank water before breakfast consumed 13% fewer calories. Additionally, water consumption has been shown to slightly boost metabolism in obese and overweight individuals.
Unlike water, the consumption of beverages that have been sweetened with sugar should be minimized or avoided completely. This is because they are usually a source of empty calories. For example, a can of cola has 136 calories but provides your body with virtually no vitamins or minerals. If you drink a lot of these types of beverages, swap them out for water instead.
If you don’t like the taste of ordinary water all the time, you can infuse it with fruit to make it taste better. You can also drink coffee and teas every now and then, provided they don’t have added sugar or cream.
Eating 1200 calories a day
Depending on what you feel most comfortable with, you may decide to eat 3 large 400 calorie meals a day or 6 smaller 200 calorie meals a day. The choice is entirely up to you and you can decide exactly how you want to divide things up. Eating smaller but more frequent meals might help to keep your energy levels up and reduce food cravings.
With regards to what you should eat, there a large number of options:
- Eggs – as mentioned above, eggs are high in protein and low in calories, making them an ideal weight loss food. This study found that an egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Eggs are very versatile and can be cooked in many different ways.
- Soups – made out of vegetables, beans, fish and lean meat are filling and low in calories. They can be eaten for lunch or dinner, either on their own or with a small side.
- Smoothies – they come in handy because they are very simple to prepare and you can use all kinds of ingredients in them. Adding powders such as whey will help to boost the protein content and make them even more filling.
- Dips and nut butters – things like hummus and almond butter are convenient snacks. They can be eaten with vegetables and fruits such as celery and apples. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also great snack food options.
- Grilled meats & fish – both are highly filling, and if prepared correctly, fairly low in calories.
1200 calories a day meal plans
Here are some examples of 1200 calorie meal plans to give you an idea of how to set out your meals. You can refer to websites such as nutritiondata.self.com or use an app like myfitnesspal to determine the calories in different foods.
Snack: a handful of almonds – 162 calories
Dinner: 1 cup of cooked lentils – 230 calories
Total calories: 1253 calories
Snack: 1 avocado – 322 calories
Dinner: 1 cup black turtle bean soup – 218 calories
Total: 1222 calories
Example 3 (3 meals, no snacks)
Total: 1210 calories
Eating 1200 calories over a long period of time should only be done if you have been advised to do so by your doctor. Eating low calorie but nutrient dense foods will help you to achieve this.