The 1200 Calorie Diet Plan – is it for me?

If you’re in the weight loss game at the moment, you’ll probably have come across the 1200 calorie diet plan already. In a market absolutely saturated with various plans that promise the world, it can be difficult to know which will deliver the results you’re looking for and how to pick the best diet plan for your goals and body. Today we’ll be looking at this popular choice and how it can work for you.

So, what’s the concept behind the 1200 calorie diet plan?

The most notable thing about the 1200 calorie diet plan is it’s not actually a plan or a diet per say- it’s a goal and a guideline. Before we look a little more closely at the concept behind the 1200 calorie diet, there are a few important things you need to understand about human metabolism and weight loss.

Firstly, we’re always told that the only way we will lose that annoying extra weight is to make sure that calories eaten are less then calories expended during the day. Roughly 500 calories in deficit will equal a pound of weight lost. That simple equation is the core of every successful weight loss program! With that in mind, it can seem tempting to take it to the extreme- obviously if we really eat very little food; the weight will fall off even faster, right?

Not quite. Our bodies and our metabolisms haven’t quite caught up with modern society. Sure, we know we’re carrying those extra pounds of lard around because we haven’t done much in the last year other then waddle to our desk jobs and back, but genetically the human body is still expecting the worst- it’s quite happy to have the extra padding as insurance against bad times and food shortages! So when we severely limit our intake of food [past a certain point], the body doesn’t interpret this as you trying to lose the blubber in order to fit into your best outfit for Auntie Jane’s wedding- it thinks there’s a real problem. In fact, it will likely decide you’re entering a period of scarce food and facing starvation rather than simply trying not to stuff that last slice of cheesecake into your face, and it will prepare accordingly. Your metabolism will actually slow down, and weight loss will become harder. There can be other downsides too, as muscle will break down ahead of fat and other undesirable side effects can occur.

So you don’t want to eat too much, and you want results, but you don’t want to eat too little either. So how do you find that balance point?

1200 calories is the charm.

You find the balance point pretty much at 1200 calories. The body takes a certain amount of calories each day just to run- to produce heat, move blood and keep the heart beating- and eating less than it needs to maintain your Basal Metabolic Rate [or BMR] is the most sure-fire way to trigger your body into starvation mode. For an average woman, 1200 calories represents a safe and decent minimum calorie intake to support the BMR whilst still severely throttling the consumption of excess calories, so results are fast without being counterproductive or dangerous. The recommended maximum calorie deficit a day is 1000 calories, so this covers people who regularly ate [and required] up to 2200 calories a day.

It’s important to note, though, that the figure of 1200 calories is recommended for adult women. Men do have higher pound-for-pound BMRs and require more calories per day simply to maintain their basic functions. A reasonably healthy man looking to practice the ideals of this diet should aim instead for 1500 to 1700 calories per day. Teenagers, the elderly and children also have different requirements, and should not use the 1200 calorie figure for their weight loss but rather seek a goal calorie target more appropriate for their unique energy requirements.

There’s one other thing it’s important to remember. The 1200 calorie figure is based on a fairly sedentary lifestyle. If you incorporate a lot of sport into your daily life, or you’re actively beginning or following a heavy gym program, you will need to revise the calorie figure accordingly and make sure you are fuelling your body correctly for these extra demands. Remember- you don’t want the body to decide it’s underfed and begin to cool down your metabolism. It’s the last thing you want!

A 1200 calorie diet will see you losing about a pound to 2 pounds a week- the maximum recommended rate of weight loss for fast yet healthy and ultimately sustainable results.

What the 1200 calorie diet plan should and can achieve.

Remember that the 1200 calorie diet plan is taking calorie intake to the minimum. This is great for fast weight loss results that are still safe and nurturing to the female body [guys, remember you need to eat more than the ladies, at least 1500 calories a day], but you may want to revise it upwards when you reach maintenance or when your goals change, especially as you incorporate more exercise and strength training.

One of the best things about the concept of the 1200 calorie plan is that no food is forbidden or off limits- and that mentality has been proved to be a major diet fail over and over again. We’re not mentally designed to deny ourselves everything we ‘love’, and trying to do so will soon cause a lapse and probably overeating to boot. What matters most in the 1200 calorie diet plan is calories taken in, not specific foods. That said, of course, there’s a lot of difference in satisfaction, fullness and sustainability between 500 calories of donut and 500 calories of delicious, fibre filled vegetables and lean protein! You won’t get through your day blowing all of that 1200 calorie allowance on sugary sodas and cheap, unsatisfying refined carbohydrates.

This is another thing the 1200 calorie diet seeks to teach- how to begin eating better for life, not just the diet. The 1200 calorie diet needs you to consider your balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to make sure you are receiving enough. You need to make certain you’re eating slow-release, satisfying foods [these are inevitably healthy ones too]. It teaches moderation in your treats. These are all life lessons that will help you not only shed those extra pounds, but to keep them off too, and will assist in developing a healthy mindset towards food.

One of the best facets of the 1200 calorie diet plan, is that it can easily be worked around dietary restrictions too, whether they’re from health concerns or religious needs. There are no set foods being prescribed. You can follow a 1200 calorie diet if you’re ea vegan, vegetarian or need to eat Kosher or Halal.

So, what exactly should I eat on the 1200 calorie diet plan?

When you’re restricting your calorie intake, especially as busy adults, it’s simpler to have a fixed meal plan to follow. Having a plan of some sort is absolutely essential- if you approach any diet in a disorganised and scattered manner; you are setting yourself up for failure. There’s many great 1200 calorie meal plans, both for 1 week and for months, out there for you to follow if you’re lacking inspiration or just want some guidance but they all share some important characteristics:

o   Small meals spaced through the day, with allowances for healthy snacks.

o   Smart food options

  • Small Meals:

Most plans will aim for 3 small, satisfying meals and 2 snacks a day. Not only does eating small meals frequently help stop you getting hungry, it also assists in keeping your blood sugar balanced and level so insulin spikes don’t happen. You’re probably familiar with that ‘carbohydrate daze’ feeling after eating a load of carbs in one sitting- and the resultant crash in blood sugar later. Eating small, balanced meals will help prevent this rollercoaster ride with your blood sugar. Small regular meals are also a great way to avoid overeating due to hunger when waiting a long time between meals. It’s usual to break the daily calorie ‘budget’ up into 3 meals of 300 calories each and 2 150 calorie snacks per day.

  • Smart food selections:

Foods like proteins and healthy fats help you feel full longer then refined carbohydrates and sugars. In the 1200 calorie diet plan you’ll be incorporating high protein lean meats, fish and plant protein sources like nuts, legumes and seeds. These will also contribute to keeping insulin levels steady and avoiding the highs and crashes mentioned above. Incorporating fats into a weight loss plan seems counterproductive, but getting sufficient levels of healthy fats in the diet is in fact an absolute must for the body. But they need to be ‘good’ fats like those found in nuts, and not the hydrogenated fats in fries and doughnuts.

Thoughts for building a 1200 calorie plan you’ll enjoy.

Remember, this diet isn’t about ‘bad’ foods and ‘good’ foods- it’s about making the best of a limited calorie ‘budget’ to achieve your goals in a healthy and safe manner that respects the body. If you have favourite meals you can’t bear to be without, consider how you can tweak them to better suit your aims and the diets- you can, for example, swap a morning omelette or scrambled egg to egg white only, cutting out a substantial amount of calories whilst still getting the taste you love. Substitute a banana with a drizzle of chocolate sauce for the chocolate-rich desert you adore. Simply swapping out cooking mediums like butter and oil for cooking sprays and other calorie-friendly items can make a big difference too. And remember to search for ‘hidden’ sources of calories, like high- calorie sodas and fatty salad dressings you may be consuming without consideration. Watch out for hidden sources of sugars too- many tinned goods and cereals have hidden sugars, and it may be best to discount them from your plan.

  • A recommended guideline for making your own 1200 calorie plan

The leaflet ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2010’ makes a great suggestion for structuring your 1200 calorie diet if you’re not keen to follow those offered online. It suggests building your plan around 4 oz of grains, 3 of protein-rich foods and meats, 2.5 cups of dairy, 1.5 of vegetables and 1 of fruit, 4 teaspoons of healthy oils and a 120 calorie ‘extra’ budget.

Getting into the swing of things.

If you’ve regularly been eating over 2000 calories a day, making the sudden switch to this minimalistic diet plan may make it harder on your body then is necessary. Remember, suddenly convincing your metabolism there’s a food shortage can severely hamper your goals, not help them! You may want to let yourself down easily by reducing 500 calories a week until you reach the 1200 calorie level.

Remember to monitor how your body feels, too. Weakness, dizziness and excessive fatigue are signs that you’re probably consuming too few calories per day. You may need to revise the figure you’re using to suit your needs and body- 1200 calories is an estimate, and may not be right for you. Use it as a good ballpark figure, not an absolute.

 

The 1200 calorie diet plan is a great way to stay safe and yet get fast results in your weight loss. It’s also a super way to begin to change from the ‘diet’ mindset to one that embraces healthy eating and sensible hunger and insulin management; which is the way to develop a healthy lifestyle with sustained weight loss results. Remember that it may not be for you if you undertake heavy physical work or training and sports.

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Kelly is a personal fitness trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with clients all over the world. With over 15 years in the health and fitness industry she will be sharing her knowledge with the Fitness Fixation community.