Why the 1200 Calorie Diet Plan is Bogus and What to Do Instead
As an experienced training and nutrition coach and fitness instructor, I was absolutely amazed when I discovered how many articles were out there advising women to use a 1200 calorie diet to lose weight. Allow me to break down all of the reasons why you SHOULDN'T follow this plan and how to pursue your weight loss goals instead.
Nutrient and Caloric Needs
First off, a little background information you need to make an informed decision about this plan: your body uses calories even when you're just sitting on the couch or sleeping. Calories aren't just burned from physical activity. Your body requires calories (energy), just to complete its normal daily processes, such as digestion. It also requires a certain amount of nutrients to perform these processes smoothly and regularly.
The magic number here is 1200. Your body NEEDS 1200 calories just to ensure its getting the bare minimum number of nutrients it needs in order to survive and function properly.
I never ever take clients' calories that low. If calories are that low or lower when they begin working with me, we actually INCREASE their calories gradually... and they STILL lose weight.
The point is, if you're on a 1200 calorie diet you are testing your body's limits for performing optimally.
Your weight loss comes from the combination of 2 factors: your calories consumed (your diet) and your calories burned (your exercise routine.) Of course, to perform in the gym, you need to have at least average energy levels. If you aren't eating enough, it's hard to give your workouts the effort they truly need to be effective.
So now, not only are you suffering because you're probably very hungry, but you're miserable and ineffective during your workouts. You would see better results from raising calories and performing better in the gym due to higher energy levels. Plus, you would feel a whole lot better mentally and emotionally.
Your Body is Unique
Any diet that advertises _____ number of calories to lose weight is bogus right off the bat. This also applies to any diet that prescribes a specific meal plan with specific portions to a large group of people. It's ineffective.
This is because your body is special and different from every other person's body! Your metabolism, dieting history, age, activity level, medical history, and genetics all come into play when it comes to how much weight you will lose on a certain amount of calories, if any.
If you've been eating 1,000 calories a day for the last month (which I strongly advise against), you're not going to lose any weight on the 1200 calorie diet with all other factors remaining the same.
Additionally, you will see different results from someone who works out more or less than you do, even if you have had a similar calorie intake until now.
Sustainability and Effectiveness over Time
Even IF you do lose weight on the 1200 calorie diet, there is a more effective way to pursue your weight loss.
Let's say prior to the 1200 calorie diet, you were eating 2000 calories per day. It's counter intuitive but you would actually be better off lowering your calories more gradually.
With the 1200 calorie diet, you might lose more weight within the first couple of weeks than you would if you took your calorie deficit slower. BUT over time, it's highly probable that you would lose more weight overall and maintain that loss better if you lowered calories more gradually.
Your body adapts to your calorie intake over time. If you start feeding it less, it catches on. It wants to make sure it has what it needs to stay healthy so it will learn how to burn less to do the same amount of work. This means it takes more exercise and less food to see the same magnitude of results over time. This is how weight loss plateaus happen and why you need to manipulate your diet or training to keep results coming.
Therefore, if you take your calories dramatically lower right off the bat, your body will adjust to that new intake and you will plateau at significantly lower calories than you had to. You could have lost the weight (and more) without suffering so much.
Everyone has a threshold of how low they are willing or able to take their food intake and how frequently and intensely they are willing to exercise. Once you hit this, there's no more weight loss.
The goal is to change your training and diet in smaller increments over time to continue weight loss and lower your chance of even needing to hit that low calorie/high activity threshold.
Slow and steady wins this race every time. It's not the sexy answer most people want. But it's the answer that will get your PERMANENT results without a nasty weight rebound at the end.
What to Do Instead
Instead of following a cookie cutter diet plan that simply wasn't designed for your unique body, spend some time getting to know how YOUR body reacts to different factors and what it has adapted to over time.
Track your normal intake for a week or two to understand what your current maintenance level looks like or the calories it takes to sustain your current body weight at your current activity level.
Use that to create a small to moderate calorie deficit. 1200 calories may be incredibly aggressive for you based on your current habits.
I personally recommend a flexible diet to women looking to lose weight. My clients have seen the most success with it and have had the easiest time maintaining the weight loss post diet because they've been able to manage cravings and enjoy their favorite foods through the whole process.
Remember that you are unique! Your dieting regimen should be unique as well.
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