As upsetting as this reality is, almost every woman of our generation has heard of, flirted with or diligently tried the 1200 calorie a day diet. The premise is simple. Count your calories and try not to go over 1200 calories for the day. Few people even challenge it, and some people even wear this 1200 calorie/day diet with pride.
Where did this concept originate? In 1918, a doctor named Lulu Hunt published Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories and popularized the diet. Beauty standards around the world were changing. World War I and a time of rationing was considered patriotic for some, and this was the first time the concept of calorie counting made its way into the modern world. While we have abandoned so many health concepts from our past, this 1200 calorie/day diet trend (that originated over 100 years ago) is still accepted and practiced by many.
While it is TRUE, you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, to say 1200 calories a day is FAR TOO steep of a caloric deficit is an understatement. In the short term, anybody attempting this type of steep calorie restriction will face HANGER, hormonal imbalances, low sex drive, interrupted sleep cycles and other negatively impacted biofeedback measures. In the long term, women typically end up heavier and farther away from their desired body composition goals. Why is this? Simply put it cannot be sustained.
If you’ve tried this diet and failed, hear me out. You are NOT a morale failure. You do NOT lack will power or mental fortitude. Your body simply cannot be properly nourished eating the same calorie allotment veteranarians would assign an 80 pound dog. What we’ve seen in our data is that some women may be able to maintain this low calorie diet for 3-4 days, however the remaining days of the week will consist of a steep calorie surplus which means the client is eating back all deficit calories… and then some. Furthermore, in a severe calorie restricted diet weight loss typically comes from the loss of bone density and muscle.
If that’s not enough to deter you from the 1200 calorie/day diet, know this, severely restricting calories is a recipe for an eating disorder. In order to maintain that kind of severe calorie restriction entire food groups must be eliminated. This is where stigmas for “bad” foods and “good” foods begin, and when the “rules” are inevitably broken, the feeling of guilt and shame cut deep. Guilt is the LEAST motivating way to success. The guiltier we feel, the worse we do, and all it takes is a few days to feel the uncontrollable urge to eat it all back (and then some) for this toxic cycle to repeat itself.
There is good news, though. Great news. You can still see incredible results. Trade an inconsistent, unrealistic severe calorie restriction for a moderate calorie deficit that you can be 100% committed to. Read about the process of Diet Periodization to learn when you should be eating maintenance calories and when you should be cutting calories.
Let’s do our future sisters and daughters a favor and spread the word. We are not 80 pound dogs. We are women and our bodies are begging us for adequate nutrition that sustains the life we were born to live.