The 1200 Calorie Diet: What You Need To Know

by Chris 'The Kiwi' Ashenden - 2 years ago

It’s true, a 1200 calorie diet can, potentially, have you dropping pounds pretty fast.

But there are some things you might want to know before jumping in.

For example, there is little to no scientific evidence to support that it is at all healthy or sustainable, unless implemented by a medical professional who has a detailed knowledge of your body composition and its nutritional requirements.

Here at Athletic Greens we’ve taken an interest in the 1200 calorie diet, because we want you to get the sort of information that will help you reach your weight goals, safely and happily.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, I’m of the belief that it is not how much you eat, but what you eat.

1. When Is The 1200 Calorie Diet A Good Weight Loss Plan?
2. Why The 1200 Calorie Diet?
3. Feeling Full-Filled—Dieting Pointers And Nutritional Tidbits
4. Kiss The 1200 Calorie Diet Goodbye

When Is The 1200 Calorie Diet A Good Weight Loss Plan?

Here’s the thing, there may be instances when subjects are guided through calorie restrictive diets (like the 1200 calorie diet), but this would be preceded by legitimate medical assessment.

And such a program would include assistive therapy, micronutrient supplements, or other medication.

For example, it is being considered as a treatment for obesity in older adults and as a potential, short-term, solution for trained athletes seeking a certain weight goal.

A 1200 calorie diet is not a light undertaking and it should not be attempted alone, using only commercial advice, which could have you experiencing symptoms of semistarvation.

Semistarvation is not just a matter of feeling hungry, just as losing a pound a day is not simply a matter of self-control. To deprive our bodies of nutrients can have very serious repercussions.

Every organ system is affected by semistarvation. Resultant conditions may include anemia, leukopenia, hypoglycemia, electrolyte deficiencies, loss of subcutaneous fat tissue, orthostatic hypotension, bradycardia, impaired menstrual function, hair loss, and hypothermia.

Developing a weight loss plan requires careful consideration of your individual body needs and comprehensive lifestyle adjustments. Losing weight in a healthy, sustainable way takes more than counting calories.

Caught Up With Numbers—The Weight Loss Equation

Food-related information tends to come at us in numbers, which can be intimidating and misleading.

For example: “Nearly 40% of American citizens are overweight”; “The FDA claims 2,000 calories/day as a standard health requirement”; “Lose 5 pounds in 5 days”; “4% of Australian citizens consumed enough vegetables in 2016”; “Squirrels fail to recover up to 74% of the nuts they bury”.

One problem here is that averaged numbers often blanket complex realities.

Take the FDA: You’ve probably wondered how a standardized calorie count was even possible, what with all of us being of different shapes and sizes, some of us expending a lot of energy, others of us preferring to take life a little slower.

Well, it’s not really. In fact, the FDA’s recommended 2,000 calories per day is only enough to sustain children and post-menopausal women.

Here’s how they arrived at that number: To list a broader range of numbers for different persons would have taken up too much space, they claimed. So, a standard was proposed.

The first option of 2,350 calories per day was rejected as too high—surprising, since clear evidence showed it to be below average for both men and women.

Apparently, nutrition educators rejected the number, because they were concerned it would encourage consumers to overeat. And so, 2,000 was the number applied to children from 4 years on and all adults, including pregnant women.

With women reported as consuming between 1,600 and 2,200 cal/day (without being pregnant) and men 2,000 to 3,000, that reduction set as standard might seem a little… Extreme.

Despite the fact that this calorie count was reportedly confirmed in 1990, and a good deal of nutritional information has since come to light, the number reappeared, only this March (2018), on The Dietary Supplemental Database of the National Institutes of Health.

Does The 1200 Calorie Diet Work?

Simplification Smorgasbord

The human body is pretty complicated and there is so much information available to us nowadays, it’s hard to know where to look and what to think.

This is the fodder of dietary marketing, whose job it is take something complicated and make it digestible…

For example, to tell us that calorie counting is the key to weight-loss is a severe oversimplification.

Diets like the 1200 calorie diet target one, powerful incentive: Weight-loss.

However! The 1200 calorie diet does not address a lot of factors that contribute to weight-loss/gain, including those complicated and individualized physical requirements, as well as psychological and behavioral adjustments.

Without the whole picture, you’re bound to lose out. In other words, no, the 1200 calorie diet is not a sustainable solution to weight loss. In fact, it may actually work against you.

For an example, let’s take a look at the story of Paul S. Grewal, MD, who’s spent his medical career focusing on metabolic health and other factors that contribute to weight gain/loss.

You’ve probably noticed that the most common piece of advice offered to those of us trying to lose some weight is, “Eat less, exercise more”.

Grewal points out that this method is not realistically sustainable for those of us who’ve been overweight for an extended period of time or whose bodies are predisposed to gaining weight.

He tells us his own story to illustrate how calorie counting is not the core of the issue.

Grewal struggled with his weight all throughout his life, “obsessing” over diet and exercise for a time. He engaged in the 1200-1500 calorie diet in addition to running 6 miles a day.

And though he was able to keep the weight off, it only worked so long as he could spend the majority of his time and energy maintaining that routine. When he went to medical school and had to focus his attentions elsewhere, all the weight came back.

It was then he began to realize the complexities of weight fluctuation. A 1200 calorie diet is an uphill battle, because it does not take into account the inevitable metabolic adjustments and their underlying implications.

When your metabolism has established a rate with the body at a certain weight, it begins to treat that rate/weight as normal. This means, when you eat less, the metabolism likewise slows down.

Because the excess weight had already caused the metabolism to fix itself at a dysfunctional rate, that is the relative foundation by which the metabolism makes its changes. Meaning, the new, reduced metabolic rate will be equally disproportionate to the new weight as it was to the old one.

For example, Grewal says, “If you go from 270 pounds down to 200 pounds, you now have the metabolism of somebody who is 170 or 180 pounds.”

It follows that many people find low calorie diets very disheartening and risk giving up on dieting altogether, because it seems impossible.

In order to reach the metabolic dysfunction at its roots, he suggests targeting insulin resistance, rather than focusing on weight.

Paul suggests a diet that drops insulin levels and encourages insulin sensitivity, which would encompass:

  • Low carbohydrates
  • High fiber
  • Unprocessed foods that help regulate natural hunger mechanisms

As your body relearns to absorb nutrients and process them successfully, cravings for food in response to hyperinsulinemia will subside. The goal is to regulate the processing of glycogen.

If this is combined with resistance training, the additional muscle mass will also help to lower glucose levels.

If you are interested in this option, ask your healthcare provider to help you orchestrate an action plan.

What You Think And Feel Matters

Not to sound like a broken record, but reducing complex conditions to pounds and calorie-counts is a real problem. This kind of oversimplification leads to stigmas.

Americans, give yourselves a break and just say it: Thank you, dear country, for being my home, but it was super uncool of you to normalize refined, acidic, sugar-filled diets that have made “30%” of us overweight and at risk of type II diabetes.

Oh, and to then encourage weight shaming and make beautiful people feel like poo was really… hypocritical and crummy. (Feel free to insert other countries and embellishments.)

Now, there’s a social psychologist, named Ellen M. Granberg, who’s published materials on how to liberate yourself from stigmas and labels surrounding weight. Incidentally, she is also a professor at Clemson University (Go Tigers!).

Granberg reminds us that one reason why weight is stigmatized in Western culture is because we are taught to think it is under the control of the individual. Negative biases build from this, which materialize in personal abuse and systemic cultural behaviors, ultimately, creating a very toxic environment.

A culturally pervasive stigma, like this one, has great power and can cause its subjects to adopt the identity that is projected on them.

Understandably, a primary motivator for someone wanting to lose weight, is often to escape stigmatized identity.

And, though it is perfectly natural to rely on our peers for understanding and validation, the process of liberation from stigmatized identity is peaked when we learn to rely on our own understanding, internal resources, and self-validation.

This is a very difficult task, developing our own identity apart from social affirmation. It means denying internalized hierarchical structures that have been encouraged throughout civilization.

We’re brought up to believe that certain physical characteristics make us more or less valuable as people. This doesn’t have to be your reality.

Long-term Effects Of Weight Stigmas

Some of the most crushing outcomes of weight related stigmas are eating disorders.

This is another condition often judged as a conscious decision of the individual. A highly damaging assumption, since eating disorders are, in fact, the mental disorder with the highest mortality rate.

Someone contending with an eating disorder needs support, affection, and a recovery plan. Because—and this is the good news—recovery is totally possible!

Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

For full definitions and symptoms, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

An indication that you might have an eating disorder is simply that preoccupation with weight and appearance.

If you find you are feeling shame or guilt about eating, if you are restricting your diet, have a fear of weight-gain, or have developed digestive troubles that exacerbate your food anxieties, consider the following…

Eating disorders are not always obvious—sometimes, we don’t even detect them in ourselves. So, if you are at all concerned at the possibility of you or a loved one having an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorders Association, scroll down the page, and use the “Eating Disorder Screening Tool”.

Why The 1200 Calorie Diet?

Maybe ask yourself why you’re interested in the 1200 calorie diet. It’s an important question, because extreme dieting means partaking of a long legacy of chemical madness. Do you really want to associate yourself with that?

If you are concerned about your health, please, seek the advice of a medical professional. If you are concerned about how you look or what’s tasty and healthy, then we can talk about that.

Less Please! A Kooky History Of Dieting

Well, at least we no longer think that white bread causes promiscuity (circa 1827).

It was Sylvester Graham who said that, by the way. Graham believed that diet and morality were intertwined. So, he created the first recorded “fad” diet, which he claimed would stave off the bad feelings.

He predicted he would live until 100 years old and died at 57.

It was somewhere between 1849 and 1919 that Horace Fletcher, “[A] lecturer of singular charm”, prescribed 70-100 chews per mouthful. After having completed the required number of chews, the participant could swallow the liquified food, but was instructed to spit out solids.

Some bigwigs, including John Rockefeller and Franz Kafka, pursued Fletcher’s diet with great spirit, but were forced to give it up due to time constraint, boredom, and constipation.

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794), The Father of Modern Chemistry, tried consuming nothing but milk for a time. The regime was not sustainable.

There you are, some of the forefathers of dieting for admiration and giggles together.

You’ll notice that chemistry and ethics both played roles in food curiosities, which might also lead you to wonder where beauty came in.

Where Does “Beauty” Come From?

It turns out that, due to philosophies produced by our beloved Greeks, ideas of virtue, goodness, and physical beauty have been an endless source of confusion.

Does symmetry indicate goodness? Does goodness create beauty? Why do we care?

And it all comes of the scholars’ struggle to find a decent translation for the Greek word, “kalon”. Amazing, right? You never know what kind of mischief can come of the simplest things.

The debates are ongoing, but the point is this: Contradictory Western ideas of formal and physical beauty were born of… an inability to translate one Greek word.

Since the issue is up for interpretation, I think we can decide this nonsense, right now: Beauty is what is harmonious with nature and authentically engaging with the problems of the universe.

All of us have beauty, because we are alive. When we embrace life and its limitations, we are the most beautiful and at our happiest. And you know I’m all about happiness.

All beautiful things come first from limitations, because all of life is governed by limitations and we couldn’t create anything without it.

Without the limitation of gravity we wouldn’t have stars or a universe, at all.

The only reason we are able to build lasting, long-span bridges and skyscrapers is because we realized they had to bend with the wind.

You get it.

Just as you cannot build rigid, sustainable structures or live on a planet in a universe where there is no gravity, you cannot force your body to be something it isn’t.

Respect your body’s limitations and listen to what it needs. Everything else is silliness. Health and beauty are not in competition; they are one and the same.

Feeling Full-Filled—Dieting Pointers And Nutritional Tidbits

Listening to your body can be difficult and here’s why: Human beings have a way of eating and drinking for pleasure, as well as necessity. This is not condemning—we all know how awesome ice cream is—it’s just that this tendency of ours has caused some metabolic confusion.

What should be an automated sense of when we need to eat or drink has been somewhat diminished by our diet habits.

Our bodies can tell us what we need, but we have to relearn how to read them.

Individual nutritional requirements are varied: Some of us need more bananas to supplement our potassium; some of us hate carrots and should check out mangoes, so we get our vitamin A, etc.

If you really want to know what foods are best for you, keep a detailed record of your meals and daily energy expenditure (i.e., how much you exercise) and, with that, have a doctor assess your needs and help you adjust your diet accordingly.

Although, be careful not to continue this practice past the point of having reached an understanding of where you stand in regards to your health. It can, in excess, perpetuate unhealthy mental patterns.

As your body regains balance, you’ll become much more sensitive to when things are not quite right and you’ll learn how to adjust.

Eat And Sleep

We have support, across the board, for eating in rhythm with our circadian cycle.

Countless studies show that nighttime eating damages quality of sleep and increases the risk of unnecessary weight gain.

Our metabolism and sleep cycles are linked. Our bodies produce a hormone, called melatonin, that registers darkness as a cue to sleep. Our metabolic processes are then restricted as we enter into what is known as the “fasting” state.

So, it’s encouraged to eat earlier in the day, in order to maximize our metabolism.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

An anti-inflammatory diet is uncontested. You cannot lose out from designing a diet that reduces inflammation.

Many, if not all, major diseases have been found to involve chronic inflammation: Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Neurodegenerative disorders, Arthritis, Cancer, etc.

It is also quite possible that if you have been experimenting with different diets, like the 1200 calorie diet, your digestion might be feeling a little irritated. An anti-inflammatory diet can help rebalance your system.

Some basic anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and collards
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges

Foods that cause inflammation:

  • Refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pastries
  • Fried foods
  • Soda and other foods and beverages with refined sugar
  • Red meat and processed meat
  • Margarine, shortening, and lard

There are numerous anti-inflammatory diets online to choose from, depending on your taste or if you’re treating a particular condition (again, it’s best to confirm with your doctor that your chosen diet is reputable and right for you).

And if you prefer a book, there is Calimeris’ and Bruner’s The Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Action Plans: 4-Week Meal Plans to Heal the Immune System and Restore Overall Health.

There are many anti-inflammatory diet cookbooks, of course, but this one boasts 130 “delicious, affordable, easy-prep recipes”; “4 diet plans, including Vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, and Time-Saving diets”; and “Helpful food lists and nutritional information”.

Nutrition For Teens

Did you know that our brains are still developing up to the age of 25?

Did you know that if you can maintain a steady metabolism till you’re 30, chances are you’ve set yourself up nicely for the rest of your life?

People often say, “Oh, you can eat anything when you’re 15”, but that is categorically untrue. As you are still growing and developing, it’s that much more important that you get all the nutrients you can.

Forcing your body to comply with the 1200 calorie diet during this time of life can lead to numerous health complications.

Tips For Teens—Healthy Eating Habits

The Canadian Pediatric Society provides the following recommendations:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods, every day
  • Eat breakfast, every day
  • Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full
  • Drink water instead of soft drinks
  • Choose high fiber foods and whole grain wheat products

If you’re not eating enough, you may feel distracted and tired, unmotivated, sad, cold, and dizzy.

If you experience negative emotions when thinking about or eating food, have low self-esteem, or are experiencing social or familial alienation, consider speaking to someone you trust (like a doctor or therapist) about how to move forward.

Nutrition For Men

When men are looking to lose weight, it‘s important to keep in mind hormonal particulars.

On a whole, nutritional requirements between men and women are not so very different. However, prevalent conditions, like Prostate Cancer (PC), call into question what men could be including in their diets to help prevent diseases particular to them.

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to combat Prostate cancer.

Once again, metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance play a part in PC. So, reducing carbs and refined foods and partaking of anti-inflammatory foods will be helpful.

To kick things off, we’ve created a free download for you which contains anti-inflammatory, as well as low sodium recipes complete with nutrition facts. You can grab your copy below.

Animal proteins, like chicken and fish are good, but should be prepared on low heat.

Omega-3 fatty acids and fish protein, in particular, show potential for preventing PC.

Other foods containing Omega-3s are flaxseed oil, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.

Dairy products are inconclusive and more research is being done. However, it has been suggested that diets high in calcium may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Substances that are high in antioxidants, like green tea, are great. Definitely drink green tea and eat blueberries.

Nutrition For Women

Diets for women should take into consideration that a woman’s metabolism rises during menstruation (sometimes to the point of hyperthyroidism).

It’s Getting Hot In Here

We know that metabolism is responsible for “burning” up our food, turning it into energy and then waste. But did you know that the center of that heat production is the thyroid gland?

Normal function of the thyroid is very important to a healthy metabolism, but due to hormonal shifts during menstruation, a woman’s thyroid can go on the fritz.


Another way to term this is, “overactive thyroid”, and it means your thyroid is producing an excess of the hormone thyroxine.

Thyroxine regulates our metabolism, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development, and maintains bone health.

Symptoms of an excessive thyroxine secretion include:

  • Sudden weight loss, regardless of eating habits
  • Rapid heartbeat (arrhythmia) or pounding heart (palpitations)
  • Increased appetite
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
  • Tremor—usually seen in hands and fingers
  • Sweating
  • Changes in menstrual pattern
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Swelling in the base of your neck, which may indicate an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Skin thinning
  • Hair thinning or becoming brittle

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are sometimes similar to other health conditions and, so, can be hard to pin down for some women. For example, aspects of the above are also associated with iron deficiency.

If any of these symptoms seem applicable to you, definitely bring it up to your doctor. And, regardless, it might be worth asking how you might enhance your iron intake.

Anemia is not at all uncommon among Western women. Studies have shown that increasing your intake of iron-rich foods or taking a weekly iron supplement can have great benefit (not just during menstruation, but all year-round). That being said, I’ll reiterate the importance of having your intake guided by a medical professional.

Iron and vitamin C have a very specific threshold of tolerance for each other. Therefore, your body chemistry, your diet, or any environmental/lifestyle factors, at all, should all be taken into consideration before the any dietary changes are made.

It’s also important to remember that when a woman’s belly swells during menstruation, this is not a sign to eat less. Quite the opposite, as the metabolism is higher.

Your belly is swelling because of water retention, due to hormonal shifts, and increased blood flow to the uterus. This can be quite painful and ways to combat the former is by eating less salty food and instead consuming diuretic foods, like beets, asparagus, celery, and ginger.

A way to reduce the discomfort of increased circulation and inflammation is to eat high-fiber, anti-inflammatory foods, like whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and certain fruits.

You’ll notice Midol contains Acetaminophen and caffeine, the first acting as an anti-inflammatory and blood thinner, and the second as a diuretic. This can be a relieving quick-fix, but if you’re someone for whom Midol is ineffective or prefer to find a routine that is more preventative, then the dietary options might be very useful to you.

Kiss The 1200 Calorie Diet Goodbye!

If you are determined to try the 1200 calorie diet, it’s best to discuss it with your doctor.

But, without speaking for medical conditions that require professional assessment, it is safe to say that weight is relative, beauty is subjective, food is delicious, and eating well should come before eating less.

Don’t forget that we have a free download!