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1200 calorie myth

For as long as I can remember, 1200 has been the golden number of calories women should eat when they want to lose body fat. I don’t know where it came from but it has stuck. I still see popular trainers releasing meal plans with 1200 calories (or 1600 calories for men), even though there is more and more information out there debunking this myth. 

The reason they still use it is because anyone will lose weight when they eat so few calories. And it’s not because this is a magic number, it’s that it’s so low it will put pretty much any grown adult into a significant calorie deficit and, ta-da – weight loss. 

But over time, your body adapts to getting significantly less energy input and will down regulate your bodily functions to conserve energy wherever possible. Meaning, your digestion will slow down, your energy will be lower, you’ll feel colder, your sex drive will decrease, you won’t fidget or move around as much, your menstrual cycle will become irregular (or stop completely), testosterone can tank, and you’ll experience brain fog. 

Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun does it?

It’s not, which is why people generally don’t stick to these meal plans for long, or they follow them during the week and then hugely increase their calorie intake over the weekend with alcohol, take-away, and high calorie snacks. This fluctuation in calorie intake wreaks havoc on their energy and digestive system and will often take them out of a calorie deficit so their fat loss efforts are stalled. They then feel like they need to reduce calories further or stick to a more restrictive meal plan and the cycle begins again. 

The stigma of weight gain prevents people from consciously eating at maintenance level calories, let alone in a surplus, and they end up spending years in a cycle of dieting, calorie restriction, “falling off the wagon” and eating more calories, gaining weight, and then starting again, thinking if they just diet harder or cut their calories lower, they’ll achieve their goals this time. 

Firstly, dieting harder is not the answer if you’ve never spent any real time out of a calorie deficit and spent time training and building muscle. As I stated earlier, when you’re in a calorie deficit, your body conserves energy wherever possible so that it can keep you alive. Increasing calories and improving your nutrient intake will give your body the energy it needs to function optimally and build muscle. This can take months, or longer if you’ve been in a deficit for most of your life. 

Rather than jumping into another super restrictive diet and slashing calories, spend some time getting your body back to maintenance mode and enjoy the benefits that come with this. Once your energy, sleep, sex drive, cycle, and testosterone are back to normal ranges, then you can look at dieting for fat loss. 

To achieve fat loss, you need to be in a calorie deficit (calorie input is lower than calorie output). What constitutes a deficit will depend on your current intake. You could be in a deficit at 2500 calories if you’re currently eating more than that. So if you can lose fat at 2500 calories, why slash them all the way to 1200?? Start by making small changes to your current intake to achieve a small calorie deficit and create sustainable fat loss without reducing your calorie intake to that of a toddler.

 

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