Does The 1,200-Calorie Diet Work? Here's What You Need To Know

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
So, Will The 1,200-Calorie Diet Help You Hit Your Healthy Weight?

Illustration by Jenny Chang-Rodriguez

One of the many diets that caught people's attention in 2019 was the 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. It came in at No.4 in a report of the most Googled diets of the year, and it's exactly what it sounds like: restricting calories to 1,200 per day to help aid in weight loss.

So, how does it work? Does it even work at all? And what do doctors have to say about it? We looked into it so you don't have to, and like any diet, it's not necessarily black and white.

What is the 1,200-calorie diet?

If you've ever checked a nutrition label, you've probably noticed they're based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. But how many calories you consume should take a few factors into account, like your height and weight, age, sex, and activity level.

That said, the number 1,200 comes from the idea that adults need anywhere from 1,300 to 3,000 calories per day for maintaining a healthy weight (1,600 to 2,400 calories for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for adult men), so less than that will result in weight loss.

That's quite the deficit for those used to eating 2,000 or more calories. With that in mind, it isn't recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, larger people, men, or athletes to restrict to that degree.

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What do functional medicine doctors have to say?

To get a functional doctor's take, we turned to Wendie Trubow, M.D., and Leah Johansen, M.D., both of whom had some key points to keep in mind when it comes to calorie restricting.

"I am not personally a fan of markedly restricted diets," Trubow says, "one, since it implies a temporary change, which will end, and two, because people often rebound when coming off it. In the Blue Zones, the calorie restrictions are focused on eating in moderation, and eating to 80% full, and tend to be less marked and more sustainable."

She highlights that this diet is difficult to sustain, so if long-term health and weight management are more of a priority for you, this diet may not make sense for you.

Johansen had similar thoughts, mentioning the importance of quality over quantity. "One must consider that not all calories are created equal, and the quality of the nutrients on a 1,200-calorie diet must be derived from nutrient-dense, low-glycemic foods to ensure adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals."

The bottom line?

The bottom line is, we know the quality of the food we're eating is more important than the number of calories. In fact, Megan Fahey, R.D., shared with us why she thinks 2020 should be the year of giving up counting calories.

But if weight loss is your goal, this simple approach cuts right to the chase through simple restriction. If you're going to try this diet, remember that a restrictive diet may make it more difficult to get all your necessary vitamins and nutrients. And, as Trubow pointed out, a diet like this may result in a rebound when you start eating normally again. It's always a good idea to check with your doctor before trying a new diet.

No matter your approach, we should always aim to fuel our bodies with quality, whole ingredients, with the objective of feeling our best. Anything less is less than we deserve.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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