Have you ever gone online to find out how many calories you should be eating to lose a certain amount of weight and the calculator spits out something like “you should be eating 1200 calories a day to lose 10 pounds by… ” whenever? The fact that a 1200 calorie per day diet is healthy is an evil myth.
The idea behind the 1200 calorie diet is that it is enough calories to allow your body to keep up with all its essential functions while allowing you to lose weight in the fastest possible amount of time. It’s the lowest you can go without your organs shutting down and your body becoming very ill. The only problem is that 1200 calories per day actually is starving for many, many people. The methodology is so fundamentally flawed, yet, somehow, that number became magic in the diet world.
A long, long time ago, when I was still dealing with lot of my own disordered eating, I saw a nutritionist who asked me how much I was eating. I told her that I made sure I got 1200 calories each day. She said to me, “The World Health Organization defines anything under 1500 calories per day as starvation.” I can’t find that statistic anywhere in the literature. I’ve been looking for it for years, but it’s not findable. If anyone finds it, please point it out to me.
I’ve had lots of clients come in who have been bingeing, who have lost their periods, who have lost hair, who all have physical symptoms of anorexia from living on a 1200 calorie diet for multiple months or even a year or more. Here’s the way the pattern usually goes. A client comes in and tells me she can’t stop bingeing, that she feels hopeless and out of control because she has been bingeing uncontrollably for months. She then tells me that she got her weight down very low by following a 1200 calorie diet. But then something happened, she fell off her diet, started bingeing and has now desperately been trying to get back on her 1200 calorie regimen.
Now here’s the thing, given how many reputable sources recommend a 1200 calorie per day diet for weight loss, you wouldn’t expect that someone who has been following these recommendations would be suffering symptoms of anorexia such as amenorrhea, hair loss, food obsession and binge eating, Yet they do. The problem is, when you eat a very low calorie diet, you will lose weight initially but your body will adjust and your metabolism will slow way down to compensate for the lack of calories. Because your metabolism is so slow, the 1200 calories per day will level out and your body will stop losing weight after an adjustment period.
Because you will be starving, you will start to eat more and probably start bingeing. Then, rather than blame the diet, you will blame yourself. You will tell yourself that you are to blame because you couldn’t stay on your diet. You will try again and again to get back to that 1200 calorie per day diet. Because you’ve had the initial “reward” of weight loss, you will believe that you can replicate it by getting back to the 1200 calorie per day diet and getting your body back to where it was when you originally lost the weight. It will be difficult though because your body will be afraid of starvation and when you are tired, or emotional or your defenses are down, you will binge again. You will beat yourself up for it saying that it’s all your fault and that you can’t understand why you were able to do it once but you can’t do it again. I see this happen again and again and again. If it weren’t a typical pattern, people would have gone on one 1200 calorie diet once in their life and never had to do it again. It’s almost like an addictive drug cycle. You repeat the same behavior again and again to achieve that initial high, but it’s unattainable now.
Low calorie dieting creates adrenal fatigue, high stress issues (which can trigger emotional eating) and food obsession. It can also create additional stress for those who feel that they cannot do things socially because they are afraid of the food. In fact, studies have shown that a 1200 calorie per day diet leads to weight gain by increasing cortisol levels and emotional distress.
Eating 1200 calories per day is not sustainable in the long run, though you will lose weight initially, will wind up gaining more weight than you lost.
- because your metabolism will slow down in order to sustain your low calorie intake
- because you will most likely binge
If you are even a little bit active (that means doing more than just laying in bed all day), this low calorie amount will lead to increased hormonal stress levels and there is a good chance that you will lose your hair, lose your period, and lose bone density.
There are 30 year old women who sustain themselves on low calorie diets and wind up with the bone density of 80 year old women. I know, I see them in my practice all the time.
A 1200 calorie diet is not sustainable. In fact, when I went online to find more information about it, I found tons and tons of forums with people talking about how much weight they lost on their 1200 calorie diets, but they gained the weight back and needed to get back to it. That should be a red flag for everyone. You are not alone. This kind of caloric restriction works for almost nobody.
So how to find a comfortable weight for your body in a healthy way?
Don’t restrict your calories.
Make sure that you are eating more high density nutrition foods than low density nutrition foods
Don’t let yourself get very hungry nor very full.
BE PATIENT Finding your body’s healthy weight is a game of patience and loving kindness. The 1200 calorie game is tempting because it’s quick weight loss but it can set up years of dysfunctional eating and body distress. When you allow yourself to slowly let yourself settle in to the body that your body wants to be, the body that feels wonderful and healthy, you will find peace.
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