How to Plan a 1200 Calorie a Day Diet


A 1,200-calorie diet requires a strict limit on the amount of food you consume combined with careful consideration of which foods to eat. Starchy foods such as bread and pastas, sugary foods and foods high in fat should be avoided because they are high in calories and cause weight gain. The recommended daily allowance of calories to maintain weight per day is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. Dieting allows you to cut your calorie intake by a few hundred, but 1,200 is considered unhealthy due to the lack of calories needed for energy throughout the day. Speak with a dietitian to determine the safety of the diet before starting.

Slices of white bread
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Step 1

Eat non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Non-starchy vegetables and fruit are low in calories and carbohydrates, and high in vitamins. Because of the low calorie content, you can consume more non-starchy vegetables than other foods. Non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, beets, asparagus, peppers and mushrooms. Fruits such as bananas, plums, apples, cherries, grapes and peaches are some of the healthier choices to eat. To accurately count your calories visit websites like The Calorie Counter or Free Dieting as they offer calories per serving, serving size and other valuable nutritional information.

Basket of fresh vegetables
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Step 2

Avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated and trans fats cause weight gain due to high levels of calories and fat levels. Saturated fat is found in margarine, butter, eggs, milk, cheeses and red meats. Red meat should be avoided entirely due to the high caloric levels. One serving of beef equals 275 calories and 12 grams of fat. Because you are severely restricting calorie consumption, you should eat foods that are filling without being calorie heavy. Switch your margarine and butter to olive oil or peanut oil to reduce saturated fat and caloric intake. To reduce calories, switch from red meat to fish or poultry. Remove the skin from chicken to reduce saturated fat and avoid fried foods at all costs.

A bottle of olive oil with a some black olives and tomatoes
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Step 3

Limit simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates can be found in fruit juice, milk, yogurt, sugar and refined foods. Simple carbohydrates provide little nutritional value and digest faster than complex carbohydrates, and leave you hungry after eating. Instead of consuming simple carbohydrates, eat more complex carbohydrates as they digest slower and keep you full longer. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole-grain bread and pasta, bran and corn.

Step 4

Portion your meals. Reduce three large meals to five or six small meals and spread them evenly throughout the day to avoid hunger. Due to the low amount of calories, you may feel slightly hungry toward the end of the day. If so, balance your meals so that your dinner is slightly heavier in calories than your previous meals, and save calories after dinner for a late-night snack. Your meal plate should be divided into four sections that consist mostly of protein and non-starchy foods, with the remaining portions designated for starchy foods and dairy.

Grilled chicken with a side salad
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Tips & Warnings

  • Plan your meals ahead of time to reduce overeating.
  • Contact your dietitian immediately if you notice any side effects from calorie reduction, including nausea, headache or dizziness.


  • The CR Way: Using the Secrets of Calorie Restriction for a Longer, Healthier Life; Paul Mcglothin and Meredith Averill; April 2008
  • Mayo Clinic
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