“Is this healthy?”
It was a text that buzzed in on my phone over the weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this over the years, and it’s also not the first time I’ve seen what followed just this year alone.
Consuming 1200 calories a day, while exercising, to lose weight. ONLY 1200 calories, total.
The answer I give? No. It’s not. It’s extreme calorie restriction and it’s far from healthy. It’s also definitely not sustainable.
With the rush of New Year’s resolutions to drop pounds, or the rush of new moms trying to drop those pounds they gained during pregnancy, the 1200 Calorie “Diet” is definitely not uncommon.
And there are fitness companies that are multi-level marketing driven that really tend to push the extremes. As was the cause behind that particular day’s question.
1200 calories a day, all in all, meaning deducting those active calories from the 1200 and not replacing them is a very dangerous game to play with your body and your health.
Let’s take my day on Sunday into account for this post… I ran with my son down to the harbor, but we walked back. Later in the afternoon, I did the back and chest day for the Bigness Project. Total calories burned between those three activities? 502. Then, added to it, another 77 calories were burned just based on the flux in my heart-rate and additional steps throughout the day (I put my watch on around 10:30 a.m. and took it off at 7 p.m. for the night, so my calories burned is based on just the hours I wore the watch, so a snapshot of my day). Grand total of my active calories? 579.
Deduct that from 1200 calories, if that’s all I was going to eat for the day. What does that leave my body with to use outside of my active calories?
621 calories. That’s right, only 621 calories left for my body. What do you think is going to happen if that’s the daily occurrence?
My metabolism is going to slow. My body is going to start to go into what is called “starvation mode”, and my thyroid is going to go all wonky on me.
Then, when I can’t sustain this 621 calories a day “diet”, I’m going to start consuming more foods. Then what will happen? My slowed, damaged metabolism isn’t going to be able to process and handle what I’m taking in. I’ll retain water. I’ll gain the weight back that I lost, and most likely more.
In women, it can even make conceiving a child difficult.
Calorie restriction is a dangerous game in other ways too. Calorie restriction to this extent can trigger types of disordered eating, including orthorexia.
Okay, so you still want to lose weight, but you don’t want to do it in a damaging way… what DO you do then?
Ditch the extreme “diet”, and approach it with a sense of moderation, creating sustainable habits.
The 1200 calorie a day for women, isn’t the overall total of what to consume, it is essentially the baseline, or starting point of what your body needs to work and function properly without causing any damage to your body’s health. An absolute minimum.
From there, based on your activity level (what kind of job do you have? What kind of non-intentional movement do you get in during the day?), you need to calculate your total daily energy expenditure.
To do that, you’re going to have to do a little bit of math:
Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
Men BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)
TDEE= BMR x Activity Factor
There are 3500 calories in 1lbs. (0.45kg) of fat. So, in order to lose weight, you need to create the calorie deficit from the TDEE. One pound a week is roughly 400-500lbs of a deficit each day.
So, from my snapshot of Sunday…
My body, in order to maintain what I currently have for weight, no compromise my muscle gains, etc… would need to consume a grand total of 1779 calories for the day (most likely more, because, as I said, this isn’t my entire day Sunday. So it doesn’t account for chasing my son around that morning, or buzzing around my kitchen that morning getting my oats set up and making proat bars).
Now, to lose weight, this is the number I would want to create the deficit from. NOT 1200.
My TDEE (full day) is roughly 1900 calories a day to maintain. In order to drop a few pounds over the course of a month, I’d want to be looking at roughly 1500 calories a day to consume through foods. In moderation. That’s right. I’m going to eat whatever the hell I want, but in moderation. Because that’s really what wins this for everyone. Eating what they want, in moderation. We should enjoy the journey, it should excite us and be fulfilling. Not a task, or a chore.
Go out and eat the damn food. Don’t starve your body for those end results.
If you’re struggling with proper nutrition, don’t ever be afraid to ask questions from someone with the education and certifications. Someone who has put in the time and money to learn human nutrition. Not someone who picked it up from this program or that program from *insert marketing company here* (we all know them). Almost everyone has access to a nutritionist that holds a BS in nutrition. If you have access to one in your area, go to a registered dietician.
(The point I’m trying to get at here is: talk to someone who studied the proper subjects, took the proper courses, did the proper work, was taught by educators whom have vast knowledge of nutrition from their own long educations, degrees, etc. Don’t take someone’s word for it who just started selling DVDs, did a few exercises and now calls themselves a coach. This is how people get hurt, get sick and/or damage their bodies. I’ve had so many clients come to me over the years that have led me to strongly encourage: use an educated, degree holding and certified professional when it comes to your health and fitness, please).
My door is always open too. I didn’t put put all of those years of my life into college, and continuing educations to just twiddle my thumbs and waste money.