Laura Schmidt, RD, LDN

Why 1200 Calories Won’t Cut It

Why 1200 Calories Won’t Cut It

Im sure you’ve all seen the magazines while in line at the grocery that headlines a magic diet to help you get bikini ready in a matter of weeks. You flip to the “diet” and it lays out a plan where you get 1200-1300 calories a day. Or maybe you use an online calorie tracker to estimate your needs and it tells to eat 1300 measly calories. You try it for a few weeks and maybe lose a few pounds initially. If you continue on the low calorie diet below what your body needs to run effectively you will eventually start gaining weight as a form of survival for your body.

I am not sure where the magic 1200 calorie diet came into play but it has caused more harm than good. I see clients so frustrated because they try to stick to a 1200 calorie diet and are gaining weight or are upset because these trackers are telling them they need this few of calories and they “fail” the diet because they feel so hungry.

It frustrates me that this information is out there for consumers. It sets people up to believe they are failing when really its the diet industry in our country that is failing us. The diet industry is a multi billion dollar industry filled with gimmicks and quick fixes while our population has never been bigger. Something doesn’t add up. Other than fad diets and gimmicks don’t work!

Lets look at why it doesn’t work

  1. You are STARVING. Most people burn 1200-1300 calories a day at rest. Meaning if you lay in bed all day long watching Netflix you will burn that many calories. So when you cut your diet down to this few calories your body kicks in to survival mode and holds on to fat. So instead of losing weight you will start to gain weight over time. I am willing to bet most people who are not “dieting” eat way more than 1200 calories a day so there is no reason to go to this extreme.
  2.  It goes against intuitive eating. If you only have 1200 calories for the whole day you may choose a crapy bowl of Special K in the morning over the eggs and toast you really crave because it fits into your calorie allowance. You leave the meal unsatisfied and hungry because that is not what you were wanting and the low protein highly processed bowl of cereal has caused your blood sugar to drop making you hungry again. I don’t care what anyone says if you are eating something just because its on your “diet” and you don’t like it please stop eating it, life is too short and there are so many good foods to enjoy.
  3. You are not getting adequate nutrients. To stick to a very low calorie diet you would have to limit important nutrients and macronutrients most commonly fat and carbohydrates. Our bodies need fat to absorb nutrients and it plays a very important role in hormone production. (hello avocados, butter and nut butters) We also need carbohydrates for energy production and to fuel our brains that run off glucose. Have you ever tried a very low CHO diet and felt foggy? Brain fog is real.
  4. Its not sustainable. Say you do make it for a few weeks sticking to a very low calorie diet. You will eventually get hungry and more than likely binge on all the things that you have eliminated and “blow your diet”.  And heres where most people throw the in the towel. They think because they can’t lose weight by following the latest fad diet that they might as well go back to their old eating habits and maybe in a few weeks they will try another “diet”. It is a diet rollercoaster that terrible for your body and metabolism. Quick fixes simply don’t work.

What does work

You don’t have to become some calorie counting queen to lose or maintain weight. There are things in life way more important than counting calories, believe me I’ve been down that road and it can be exhausting and become obsessive. When you are fueling your body with more plants like fruits and vegetables, lean quality protein and healthy fats every 3-4 hours you will feel better. You will want to continue this lifestyle change because your energy levels increase, you may naturally lose weight if needed, your cravings decrease and you will never have to start another “diet” again.

When it comes to meals think about incorporating some form of quality protein like eggs, healthy fat like avocados and complex fiber filled carbohydrate like sweet potato hash. Pretty simple and filling right? For a snack try to get at least two food groups, for instance maybe an apple with peanut butter. The protein from the peanut butter will help satisfy you a little longer than just an apple alone.

Leave the 1200 calorie diets on the magazine racks and try something that your whole family can do together.