1,200 Calorie Diet: What You Need to Know

The 1,200-Calorie Diet: What You Need to Know

Dieting for weight loss

So you’ve decided to drop a few pounds. Perhaps it’s because your doctor’s suggested it, or perhaps it’s because swimsuit season is just around the corner. There’s no shortage of diets out there, but you might want to consider a simpler path. You can try packing your diet with nutrition-rich foods and lowering the number of calories you consume. 

A good place to start is a low-calorie diet plan that provides about 500 calories less than you need in a day, which may help you lose about a 1/2 pound to 1 pound per week. For some, this would be a 1,200-calorie diet plan. As always, you should check with your doctor first. This plan involves consuming no more than 1,200 calories per day. Liz Weinandy, M.P.H., R.D., L.D., from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center says, “1,200-calorie diets are great for the right person, especially women over 50 who are generally sedentary, since that’s not too far below what they would normally eat to maintain weight.”

What’s so great about a 1,200-calorie plan?

In short, this diet works. Eat fewer calories than you burn and your body can resort to burning your fat stores. You lose weight as a result. Weinandy encourages some caution, however. “It is not recommended that a person go under 1,200 calories a day, since it is very hard to get enough nutrients like calcium, protein, and magnesium on a calorie level less than 1,200.” Add some strength training and get the right amount of protein in your diet so you don’t lose lean mass as well as fat, which can lower your metabolism and make regaining weight more likely.

Planning your day

Food is fuel, but many of us eat for reasons other than hunger. We eat when we’re bored or nervous. We eat because something’s so delicious we just can’t get enough. Sometimes, we just eat because the food is right in front of us.

Many people call this kind of eating “snacking” and consider it a bad habit. Snacking, if done mindfully, can actually be healthy and play an important role in a 1,200-calorie diet plan.

The biggest challenge you’re going to face with a limit of 1,200 calories is hunger, which can undermine your determination. One way to combat the hunger pangs is to parse out your calories. Don’t limit yourself to just three meals. Give yourself at least one snack between meals. Be sure to include a lot of high-volume foods that can help make you feel full for fewer calories. Salads, vegetables, soups, and fruit with high water content, such as watermelon or grapefruit, can help increase fullness while helping to limit calorie intake.

Creating a meal plan

You’ll find tons of meal plans for the 1,200-calorie diet online. Our plan is below. You should take a couple of things into consideration before you implement this plan, though.

When are you most hungry?

Consider the times of day when you’re hungriest. Don’t save all your calories for the end of the day just because a diet plan says so. Is breakfast not your thing? Factor that into the plan you make.


Fluids won’t satisfy hunger, but they’ll forestall it. They’re an important part of a healthy daily regimen. People often eat because they’re thirsty, not hungry. Drink first, wait a few minutes, and then go ahead and eat if you’re still hungry.

Monitor your behavior

Your goal is to reach a healthy weight, not starve yourself. Don’t under-hydrate or over-exercise. Extreme behaviors could indicate you’re at risk for an eating disorder. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your relationship with food.

Suggested 1,200-calorie menu


  • 2 slices of fresh mango
  • 1 hardboiled egg
  • 1/2 of a whole-wheat bagel or 1/2 cup of unsweetened oatmeal


  • 2 cups of salad with avocado, carrots, tomato, and leafy greens with flavored balsamic vinegar as the dressing
  • 1/2 cup of black bean soup
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened Greek yogurt that you can add to the soup
  • 1 corn tortilla


  • 1-2 cups of steamed broccoli or kale, seasoned with Asian mustard and rice vinegar
  • 3 ounces of wild salmon
  • 1/2 cup of miso soup
  • 3/4 cup of brown rice


Enjoy these throughout the day:

  • 1/2 of a baked apple with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries or raspberries
  • 1/4 ounce of walnuts
  • 1ounce of low-fat cheese
  • 2 cups of popcorn

Enjoy unlimited water, tea, and coffee, but be careful with how much caffeine you have. Limit artificially sweetened drinks to one per day, if at all. Liberally season your meals with calorie-free lemon or lime juice, and flavored vinegars.

A 1,200-calorie meal plan will help you lose weight and keep it off. “The key to making the weight loss permanent is to make sure 1,200 calories is not too low for any individual,” says Weinandy. “For health reasons, make sure no food groups are being cut out to reach the 1,200 calorie mark.”

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