When losing weight, the first thing you need to address is your calorie intake. The key to weight loss is being in a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume.
Whether 1,200 calories is the right amount for you to eat to lose weight depends on a number of factors, including your height, weight and activity level.
Eating 1,200 calories a day can produce weight loss in most women. Talk to your doctor before you embark on any weight-loss diet.
Weight Loss Basics
Losing weight requires you to be in a calorie deficit. How many calories you need to eat depends on how many you burn on a daily basis. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that most women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day to maintain weight.
The more active you are, the more calories you need, but as you age, your calorie needs drop slightly. A moderately active 19- to 20-year-old woman, for instance, needs around 2,200 calories per day for weight maintenance, while a moderately active woman of 51 or over needs around 1,800.
Creating a Deficit
Getting into a calorie deficit means eating less than your maintenance intake, which will result in weight loss. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a daily deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories will lead to 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss each week, as it takes a deficit of 3,500 to lose 1 pound. If your maintenance calorie intake is 2,000 calories, a 1,200 calorie diet will be a deficit of 800 per day, or 5,600 each week — enough to lose just over 1 1/2 pounds.
The Standard Guidelines
Eating 1,200 calories per day is low enough for most women to lose weight. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute actually give a basic recommendation that eating 1,200 to 1,500 calories each day will help most women lose weight safely. This does depend on your lifestyle and current weight though. These figures are just a guide and need to be adjusted to fit individual needs.
Nutrition in Every Bite
While 1,200 calories is an acceptable calorie level for women who want to lose weight, when you're only eating 1,200 calories a day you need to make sure every bite is packed with nutrition. So, cut out processed foods and sugar-laden snacks, and fill your diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, nonfat or low-fat dairy foods and healthy sources of fat.
If you have concerns about meeting your daily vitamin and mineral needs, talk to your doctor about a whether you should add a supplement.
A Word of Warning
Rather than just dropping straight to 1,200 calories per day, take a minute to look at your actual calorie needs. If you're highly active, younger and have a larger build, you may be able to lose weight eating a much higher calorie intake, and dropping too low could lead to lethargy, energy crashes and hunger pangs. Going down to 1,200 calories when you don't need to can lead to muscle loss, a slowing of your metabolism and could leave you deficient in certain nutrients.