Why You Should Not Eat Less Than 1200 Calories A Day
The majority of my clients know that eating an apple is better than eating a bag of chips. I bet you know this too. People have a remarkable ability called common sense.
When it comes to nutrition, common sense is not so common.
The general population does have common knowledge in certain areas. A couple of examples are:
- water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit
- Barack Obama was the first elected president of mixed race
One key factor of common knowledge is it’s used by a particular community.
In the case of water, you might from the community known as the Midwest. If you know who Obama is you are part of the human race (probably over 8 years old).
If you are reading this, I will consider you a part of the health and fitness community.
1200 calorie diets have made their way into the common knowledge of the average woman trying to lose weight.
While debatable, I’m making the claim that calorie restricted diets rarely lead to healthy weight loss. I’ll also explain why.
Free Download ===> “Calorie Counting Debunked” Infographic (<==Click Here)
Most Common Knowledge About Nutrition is False
False knowledge, unlike “common sense” or “common knowledge,” is harder to define. Technically, it is debatable whether or not knowledge can be false. For something to be “knowledge” it must be “a justified true belief.”
However, I am making a case that false knowledge is real, specifically regarding nutrition and calorie restriction recommendations like 1200 calorie meal plans.
People, with transformation stories and degrees, support the existence of the 1200 calorie diet. They believe it works while I think it is not justified.
An example of false knowledge that everyone would know is: humans believed the world was flat. At one time in history, this was common sense. Everyone knew this as fact.
False knowledge is not logically sound. It can be replaced by new information, causing the previous thought, considered truth, to become false.
Many people provided different evidence to support the claim that the earth was flat, making it true. Eventually, new information was supplied by Pythagoras (and many others) causing the old idea to become “false” knowledge (sorry not sorry B.o.B.)
Why am I saying all of this?
Because I find the same thing in the field of diet and nutrition. Old ideas, which a justified at one time, but are now outdated, are marketed to women as the answer to losing weight.
The 1200 calorie diet is one of these ideas I want to lay to rest.
1200 Is NOT A Magic Number
I do not know when this number became common.
In over a decade of coaching people, I have had high school students, young professionals, and seniors bring up a 1200 calorie diet to me.
Even before I became I certified Precision Nutrition coach, I could remember warning my female clients: NEVER drop your daily calorie intake below 1200 calories.
One piece of coaching advice I used as a scare tactic was the idea that 1200 calories are a number of calories people in comas need to stay alive. I would tell them if they planned to lie in bed, doing nothing, not even blinking an eye, they might consider it.
That always got their attention.
Now, I say 1200 is a popular limitation because your body will go into “starvation mode” if you go below it.
Watch Out for Starvation Mode
When your body realizes you are not eating enough food or calories, it begins to protect against starvation by slowing down your metabolism and store energy.
If you were starving this would be a good thing, increasing your chances of survival. However, since most people on diets are not starving what happens is your body stores more calories as fat when you do eat because stored fat is excellent for energy.
Besides gaining weight (the opposite of your goal), when you stay on a calorie restricted diet for too long, you may experience:
- Dizziness or fatigue
- Inability to tolerate cold weather
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Loss of bone mass
- Loss of muscular strength
- Swelling of hands and feet
Stubbornly believing this diet works, people assume they are not working hard enough and increase their amount of. Women can unknowingly bring on a hypothyroidism condition when calorie-restricted diets are paired with long steady-state cardio.
Note: if you are on a 1200 calorie diet and perform cardio to burn more calories — STOP. Not only will you not lose weight, but you will surely be damaging your health as well.
While women are told they can lose weight through low calories and more cardio — there is another way.
Calories Are Not Your Enemy
Most common knowledge about nutrition is propagated by advertising.
When you look at ads it is easy to get the following ideas about calories:
- You must eat fewer calories
- You must burn calories (and cardio is the best way)
- If you do not burn (bad) calories after you eat them, they will turn into fat
I have written about calories and body fat:
- What You Need to Know About Body Fat
- Top 8 Diet Mistakes for Fat Loss
- The Negative Consequences of Skipping Meals
You can read those articles or do this quick exercise: Do a Google search for fitness magazine covers.
Does the cover have keywords like “drop,” “lose,” and “burn”? Or do you see taglines using terms like “build,” “strength,” and “power.”
In general, men’s fitness magazines will be more geared towards building strength and power. And women’s covers typically have more focus on burning, dropping, and losing than men’s.
Note: I am not saying that publications do not interchange these terms among both genders. I am specially anecdotally.
What you need to know about calories, as it pertains to health and fitness is:
- Body weight is just correlated with health. Meaning a lower body weight does not cause you to be healthy, nor does gaining weight cause you to be unhealthy. Health is not only a measurement of body weight.
- Proper nutrition is more than weight loss (or gain). Both are just indications of energy balance. Your weight changes based on your energy balance daily. Diets are not meant to be long-term therefore by definition, aren’t considered good nutritional practice.
Somebody Explain What It Means to “Tone Up”
I hear this term all the time — tone up.
Most of the time when someone says they want to tone up, it means they are afraid of gaining muscle. (They can’t even say the word).
When you say you want to tone up, what you are saying is that you want to build muscle. Fat does not turn into muscle any more than muscle turns to fat.
When putting women through my assessment process, I have them rank eight different goals. The goal to “increase muscle mass” is typically picked 6th in front of “sport-specific” and “weight gain.”
- Ladies, when you want a cute butt — that is muscle.
- If you want arms like Michelle Obama — you want muscle.
- That flat stomach in that two-piece — yup, muscle.
A false knowledge that I still hear: muscle weighs more than fat.
No. Muscle is more dense than fat. One pound of gold and one pound of Cheetos is still one pound. However, one pound of gold takes up less space that one pound of chips. See the difference?
This is why I write about body fat and body composition instead of pounds on a scale.
Women must become aware that losing weight is not always good. The goal should be to lose body fat while maintaining or increase lean muscle mass.
Muscle is not a dirty word. Moreover, it is earned, not given. Usually, be lifting heavy things up and putting them down.
More Women Should Train (more) Like Men.
While you cannot control the messages being targeted to you, you can control how to train.
I should say this topic is debatable. There are significant differences between the biology of men and women.
I am only going to touch on a few here because this post is mostly about nutrition:
- Women should lift more weights and not be afraid to go heavy (Note: women do better at the endurance end of the strength spectrum than men).
- I think women focus too much on cardio. (Note: women do respond to steady-state cardio better than men).
- Women can and have to train harder than men. Because they have 10x less testosterone than men on average and recover a lot faster too.
So, I am not saying women should train just like men. I am saying “more.” By “more” I mean using strength training as the foundation to performance, health, and good body composition (after good nutrition of course).
Stop Dieting: you do not have to skip meals to reach your goal
- Eating less energy than you expend, you lose weight.
- Eating more energy than you expend, you gain weight.
To stay alive, you need a certain amount of calories (which gives you energy). And you need even more energy to exercise. This is where the number 1200 comes in. It’s an estimated minimum amount of calories.
Under the law of energy balance (physics), your body will get calories from food or stored energy (fat tissue).
Ideally, when working to lose weight you will tap in body stores of fat. But, the energy stored in the body could be muscle, organs, bone, or something else.
The Energy Balance Equation is the relationship between “energy in” and “energy out.”
It’s also the most popular model for determining someone’s energy balance and how much weight they can expect to lose over a certain time.
It does not give you much knowledge of your body composition. Body composition is influenced by
- Exercise intensity
- Exercise style
- Exercise frequency
- Genetic makeup
- Macronutrient intake
- Sex hormone levels
When people follow a calorie restricted diet and become frustrated that their energy in (1200 calories) and energy out (exercise) does not add up to weight loss, it makes sense.
Their reality is not matching their expectations.
If this is true for you, you must start with your expectations, because the science is law.
While the Energy Balance Equation isn’t common knowledge yet, it’s the truth. And no one defies the laws of physics.
While moving more and eating less is a good place to start, that advice alone is not enough to finish.
There are many complex factors.
Want more nutrition sense?
As you know by now, proper nutrition isn’t as simple as bloggers and diet pushers like to make it seem.
You are going to have to unlearn and relearn.
Here’s a free infographic pak to get you started: