A 1,200-calorie diet results in weight loss for most people. However, the weight loss you can achieve with this diet is dependent on a variety of factors, including how long it goes on. This amount of calorie restriction can be healthy for some people but might be a crash diet for others.
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Calorie intake should not fall below 1,200 per day for people assigned female at birth or 1,500 per day for people assigned male at birth, except under the supervision of a doctor, per Harvard Health Publishing. That's because eating too few calories can deprive you of essential nutrients.
Accordingly, only follow this low-calorie diet under the recommendation and supervision of your doctor.
Healthy Daily Calorie Consumption
A standard diet involves the consumption of around 2,000 calories per day. However, the exact amount of calories you should consume is based on three factors: age, sex and activity levels.
As you might expect, men typically need more calories than women. Similarly, people who are extremely active need more calories than those that are sedentary. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a standard diet can range between 1,600 and 3,200 calories. In fact, certain people, like Olympians, have been known to consume up to 12,000 calories per day at times.
If you're extremely active, consuming more calories than average won't make you put on weight. However, most people aren't active enough to consume more than 3,000 calories each day. In fact, most Americans consume more calories than they should, which contributes to weight gain and obesity.
If you're consuming large amounts of calories, reducing your daily intake can easily support weight loss. However, there are also limits regarding minimum healthy calorie intake. Harvard Health Publishing recommends that women consume no less than 1,200 calories per day, while men should consume a minimum of 1,500 calories per day.
Following a 1,200-calorie diet usually results in weight loss, but the exact amounts may vary. Your weight loss depends on several factors, including your sex, age, metabolism and activity level.
Consuming a 1,200-Calorie Diet
Consuming a 1,200-calorie diet results in weight loss for most people, regardless of age, sex or activity level. A 1,200-calorie-a-day diet results in most people operating at a calorie deficit, which is why weight loss is highly likely. The exact amount of weight loss you'll achieve will depend on your original diet's calorie count. However, be aware that this level of calorie reduction is not suitable for everyone.
Fewer calories than the minimum recommended amount could prevent you from consuming the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to stay healthy. If you choose to consume fewer calories than the minimum recommended amount, you may need to consider taking vitamin or mineral supplements. If you're consuming fewer calories than the recommended minimum over the long term, be aware that you may experience muscle loss, rather than fat loss.
However, Harvard Health states that moderate calorie reduction can be a healthy part of weight loss. A 1,200-calorie diet could be perfectly healthy for a sedentary woman, for example, as it would result in gradual weight loss.
Read more: Easy Ways to Burn 100 Calories
Some 1,200-Calorie Diet Results by Week and Month
According to a February 2014 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, your exact calorie needs are based on your total daily energy expenditure, which involves factors like your metabolism and activity levels.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans not only recommends calorie consumption based on activity, but on age and sex too. According to these guidelines:
- Sedentary adult males need between 2,000 and 2,600 calories each day.
- Sedentary adult women need between 1,600 and 2,000 calories each day.
- Moderately active adult males need between 2,200 and 2,800 calories each day.
- Moderately active adult females need between 1,800 and 2,200 calories each day.
- Active adult males need between 2,400 and 3,200 calories each day.
- Active adult females need between 2,000 and 2,400 calories each day.
If you're a sedentary adult woman consuming 1,600 calories a day, ingesting 1,200 calories per day — 400 less than you normally would — can result in minor weight loss. If you're a moderately active woman consuming closer to 2,200 calories a day, ingesting 1,200 calories is likely to result in the loss of around 2 pounds per week, or about 8 pounds per month.
Every 500 calories you reduce from your daily diet can result in the loss of a pound per week. This means that consuming 1,500 calories less is the equivalent of 3 pounds of weight loss each week, or 12 pounds per month.
However, the sudden reduction of more than 1,000 calories per week isn't recommended. Gradual weight loss is more likely to produce long-lasting results. That being said, if you're consuming 1,200 calories a day and results aren't what you're hoping for, there are other strategies you can try. Even low-calorie diets like a 1,200-calorie diet can be supported by exercise and other daily activities.
Exercise and Calorie Restriction
If you're interested in using a combination of diet and exercise to support your 1,200-calorie diet's results, you should be aware that loss of a single pound means that you have to burn about 3,500 calories. Harvard Health estimates this to be the equivalent of around 35 miles of walking at a moderate-to-brisk pace (3 to 4 miles per hour).
Based on the Dietary Guidelines standards, a moderately active person is probably burning about 140 to 280 calories each day on exercise-based activities, like walking 1.5 to 3 miles. A very active person is likely burning a minimum of 280 calories per day. This is the equivalent of walking 3 to 4 miles.
According to the USDA, many standard day-to-day activities and household chores can contribute to your activity level. For example, an hour of gardening or yard work can help you burn 330 calories, while an hour of heavier chores, like chopping wood, could allow you to burn around 440 calories.
Sports are also a great way to burn calories. An hour of basketball can help you burn around 440 calories, while swimming can burn 510 calories. Running, jogging or cycling quickly can burn 590 calories per hour. This means that an hour or hour and a half of exercise on most days could contribute to an additional pound of weight loss per week.
However, keep in mind that this diet and activity level would be best suited to a woman who would otherwise be consuming 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day. Active adult men should consume 2,400 to 3,200 calories, which means that this amount of activity and calorie restriction could be unsustainable and unhealthy.
Although a man could very likely consume 1,200 calories a day for weight loss, it's unlikely that person would be able to maintain such weight loss over the long term. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study says that rapid weight gain — usually in the form of fat — is common once a diet ends, even among athletes.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Metabolic Adaptation to Weight Loss: Implications for the Athlete"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Tips to Help You Reach Your Exercise and Weight Loss Goals"
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: "How Many Calories Does Physical Activity Use (Burn)?"