Weight Balance

Is The 1200 Calorie Diet Safe?

Written By: Kripa Jalan

Is The 1200 Calorie Diet Safe?

If you look at the recommendations of most popular weight loss diets, you’ll often notice that 1200 Kcal appears to be a standard recommendation for women and 1500 Kcal for men.

Other than being widely popular on Reddit, TikTok, and Instagram – allegedly, a bunch of celebrities have followed this prescription.

So, what’s special about 1200 Kcal?

The short answer? Absolutely nothing.

Where did this all start?

Back in 1918, Lulu Hunt Peters released a book titled ‘Diet and Health with Key to the Calories’.

In there was an encouragement to consume 1200 Kcal per day.

The book says – “You will be surprised by how much 1200 calories will be if the food is judiciously selected.”

Dr.Peter’s thinking as well as that of many modern 1200 Kcal diet proponents is as follows:

  • Most women need approximately 2200 Kcal (daily) for weight maintenance.
  • A pound of fat roughly contains 3500 Kcal.
  • If you consume 1000 Kcal less than you need, you will lose weight.

But….You Are Not A Car

Math is straightforward, you are not.

Quick fact check.

  1. Not every single woman’s daily expenditure is 2200 Kcal. 
  2. Everyone’s needs vary depending on several factors. Body size, muscle mass, age, diet history, and activity levels are a few determinants.
  3. There’s a lot that happens between consuming energy and expending it. Calorie estimates only look at the extremes.

Most importantly, your fuelling system doesn’t work like a machine. 

Metabolic adaptation

When ‘energy in’ goes down, ‘energy out’ goes down to match it.

That’s how our bodies avoid unwanted weight loss and starvation. It’s how humans have survived for 2 million years. The body fights to maintain homeostasis.

Likewise, when ‘energy in’ goes up, ‘energy out’ tends to go up too. 

Unfortunately, because of this adaptive response, someone who has dieted down will often require 5-15 percent fewer calories per day to maintain their weight than someone who has always been that weight. 

This is extra relevant for people who have repeatedly dieted. Who find it extremely hard to lose weight, after trying multiple diets! 

Look, the laws of thermodynamics remain put. And, “Eat less, move more” may be a widely recommended start. But that advice alone isn’t enough.

Why this recommendation often fails

Often restrictions of this kind will cause you to fixate on food, be hungrier, more tired, and put on weight quicker—all to save your life.

Simply put, it’s difficult for grown adults to consume 1200 Calories day after day.

So what happens? You nail your calorie target on a few days and widely exceed it on others.

Even if you’re following your regular low-calorie diet for most of the day, just a single pizza and a few beers can push your daily total well above 3,000 Calories.

A “cheat day” can also add multiple thousands of calories to your weekly total. Yes, you consumed 1200 Calories on many days—but your daily caloric average may be north of 1800. Depending on your body size and activity level, that may mean no—or just very slow—fat loss.

A better way to get leaner

Eat a little more.

Yes, you heard that correctly.

Let’s say you eat more each day with 1500 Calories, you’ll likely consume less each week.

By adding just a few hundred daily calories, you’ll reduce the intense hunger, cravings, fatigue, and food obsessions that make it so difficult to remain consistent.

Most importantly, you won’t be miserable while at it.