When you put aside the fad diets, macronutrients and meal plans, weight loss comes down to one simple rule: Eat fewer calories than you burn. This is the main premise of the 1,200 calorie diet, an eating pattern that is designed to help boost weight loss by restricting your intake to no more than 1,200 calories per day.
Whether you accomplish this by filling up on low-calorie foods or simply scaling back your portion sizes, there’s no doubt that decreasing your daily calorie consumption can help promote weight loss. However, there are also some risks and side effects to consider as well, as reducing your intake too much could tank your metabolism and increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
So is the 1,200 calorie diet an effective strategy for sustainable weight loss? Keep reading for everything you need to know about the plan, including a comprehensive food list and meal plan to help get you going.
What Is the 1200 Calorie Diet?
The 1200 calorie diet plan is an eating pattern that involves limiting your daily caloric intake to no more than 1,200 calories per day. Typically, most people cut calories looking to lose weight and burn extra body fat. However, some research also suggests that low-calorie diets could also protect against chronic disease and extend longevity as well.
There are several different variations of the diet, including the Dr. Nowzaradan 1,200 Calorie Diet Plan or the Weight Watchers 1,200 calorie diet.
Some of these specific eating plans restrict certain foods or set guidelines for which macronutrients should be included in your diet. Generally, however, a basic 1,200 calorie diet focuses primarily on cutting calories without placing any limitations on which foods should be included in your diet.
1. Increases Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you need to use more calories than you consume throughout the day. This can be done by either fitting more physical activity into your daily routine or cutting back on your calorie consumption.
For most people, scaling back your daily intake to just 1,200 calories per day can create a caloric deficit, which can help promote weight loss. According to one study out of Montreal, following a low-calorie diet short-term can help decrease belly fat and reduce body weight by an average of 8 percent.
Although the exact amount of weight loss can vary based on your metabolism and nutritional needs, following a nutrient-dense 1,200 calorie diet can lead to 1–2 pounds of weight loss per week.
2. Extends Longevity
Promising research suggests that decreasing your daily calorie consumption could help slow signs of aging, decrease inflammation and extend longevity. For instance, one study in Journal of American Medical Association found that restricting calories for six months altered several biomarkers of longevity in 48 adults.
Not only that, but decreasing your calorie consumption may also reduce inflammation and oxidative damage, both of which are believed to be tied to the aging process and disease development.
3. Reduces Risk of Chronic Disease
Some studies have found that following a 1,200 calorie high-protein, low-carb diet could reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve overall health.
In one small study conducted by the Department of Pathology at the University of California, following a well-balanced, low-calorie diet for two years led to significant reductions in levels of blood sugar, insulin, blood pressure and cholesterol for participants, all of which are risk factors for conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Not only that, but other research indicates that caloric restriction could also protect heart health by decreasing the resting heart rate, blood pressure levels and inflammation, which could potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
4. Simple and Flexible
Many people prefer following a 1,200 calorie diet over other eating plans because it’s incredibly flexible and easy to follow. While many other plans place restrictions on which foods you can eat, you can still enjoy your favorite foods as part of a low-calorie diet by adjusting your other meals and snacks throughout the day.
In fact, even foods that are not typically considered “diet-friendly” can be included on a low-calorie diet by decreasing your portion sizes or reducing your intake of other high-calorie foods later on in the day.
While a 1,200 calorie low-carb diet can definitely be beneficial for some people, it may not be right for everyone. In fact, depending on your body weight, activity level and health status, 1,200 calories may not be enough for you.
Decreasing your calorie consumption too much can lead to fatigue, weakness and increased cravings. Without proper planning, a 1,200 calorie diet meal plan could also potentially increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to serious side effects over time.
Additionally, although cutting calories as part of a 1,200 calorie high-protein diet will most likely lead to weight loss, it may not be sustainable in the long-run. Because the diet focuses solely on reducing your caloric intake, it doesn’t involve making any behavioral or lifestyle changes that could contribute to weight gain.
For this reason, it’s best to pair a balanced diet rich in whole foods with regular physical activity to promote long-lasting weight loss instead of focusing on calorie consumption alone.
For those with any underlying conditions like diabetes, it’s important to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet. It’s also crucial to listen to your body and adjust your intake as needed; if you follow a 1,200 calorie diet plan for a month and find that you’re not feeling your best, consider increasing your intake to find what works for you.
For most people, the 1,200 calorie diet should be followed only for short periods as it can slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight. Slowly increasing your intake after a few weeks can help boost your metabolism to sustain weight loss over time.
Following a well-rounded and nutritious 1,200 calorie diet menu plan is also important to ensure that you’re meeting your daily nutrient needs. Be sure to prioritize healthy, whole foods whenever possible to squeeze all the vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that your body needs into your diet.
Here is a simple 1,200 calorie meal plan with some ideas for low-calorie and delicious meals that you can enjoy as part of the diet:
- Breakfast: 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup strawberries and 1/2 cup blueberries
- Lunch: 4 oz grilled chicken with 1/2 cup cooked quinoa and 1 cup roasted broccoli
- Dinner: 1 cup zucchini noodles with 2 tablespoons pesto, 4 oz meatballs and side salad
- Snacks: sliced apple with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- Breakfast: medium banana and omelet with 2 eggs, spinach, mushrooms and onions
- Lunch: 4 oz baked salmon with 1 cup sautéed kale and 1 cup baked sweet potato wedges
- Dinner: stuffed zucchini boat with 4 oz ground turkey, tomatoes, onions, garlic and 1 oz mozzarella
- Snacks: 1 cup carrots with 2 tablespoons hummus
- Breakfast: 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon chia seeds and 2 sliced kiwis
- Lunch: 3 ounces marinated tempeh with 1/2 cup cooked brown rice and 1 cup roasted asparagus
- Dinner: 4 ounces garlic chicken breast with 1 cup cauliflower and 1/2 cup herbed couscous
- Snacks: 1 cup fruit salad and 1 ounce almonds
A healthy 1,200 calorie diet food list should contain a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are also relatively low in calories, including fruits, veggies, whole grains and protein foods.
Here are some foods that can be included on a well-rounded 1,200 calorie diet plan for weight loss:
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, plums, melons, apricots, grapefruit, berries
- Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, arugula, spinach, zucchini, onions, garlic, mushrooms
- Meat: beef, venison, veal, lamb
- Seafood: salmon, anchovies, trout, mackerel, tuna, sardines, codfish
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter
- Eggs and egg whites
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds
- Whole Grains: quinoa, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, farro, couscous, oats
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans
- Healthy Fats: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, MCT oil
- Beverages: water, unsweetened coffee, tea, bone broth
- Herbs and Spices: turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, black pepper
Caloric needs can range based on your age, gender, body weight, health status and activity level. For some people, 1,200 calories may not be enough to meet your daily needs, which could contribute to side effects like low energy levels and fatigue.
Additionally, when you follow a 1,000 to 1,200 calorie diet long-term, your body can start to adapt to the decreased caloric intake and switch into starvation mode, which can cause your metabolism to slow down to conserve energy. Gradually increasing your calorie consumption by around 100 calories per week can be an effective strategy to help boost your metabolism.
For those with underlying health conditions like type 2 diabetes, it’s best to talk to a trusted healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet. Following a 1200 calorie diabetic diet could interfere with some of your medications and may cause dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Finally, although nearly just about any foods can fit into a low-calorie diet, it’s best to fill up your plate with mostly nutrient-rich whole foods. These foods can supply your body with the vitamins and minerals that it needs while also protecting against nutritional deficiencies that can be detrimental to overall health.
- The 1,200 calorie a day diet is a low-calorie eating plan that involves limiting daily caloric consumption to just 1,200 calories.
- In addition to increasing weight loss, some research suggests that following a healthy 1200 calorie diet menu could also protect against chronic disease and help slow signs of aging.
- On the other hand, cutting calories too low can lead to fatigue, weakness and an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies. It may also not be sustainable long-term and is not a good fit for everyone, including those with underlying health conditions.
- A balanced 1,200 calorie diet food list should include a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains and protein foods as well as healthy fats, nuts, seeds and legumes.
- By making a few simple modifications to your menu, however, just about any food can fit into a low-calorie diet, making it easy to follow a 1,200 calorie meal plan on a budget.