Weight Loss Support - The "1200 calorie limit" rule




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Betony
05-03-2009, 08:38 PM
Does anyone else get irked a little bit when people say, "Whatever you do, don't go below 1200 calories or you'll starve" in response to requests for diet help? No offense to those here who have said it, or say it regularly, but I keep thinking that nutrition and a healthy diet are SO much more than just a single number of calories.

The 1200 limit is a guideline, but it's also a movable guideline depending on a lot of of factors, not the least which is size (bigger people tend to need more calories to keep things running), metabolism rate (some people's metabolism runs "faster" or "slower" and consequently need more or less than recommended calories), other health factors (there are times when it's more important to get the weight off quickly, and the risk of a low-cal diet is a smaller risk than what is posed by the additional weight), variability of diet (i.e. you're likely not going to starve or slow your metabolism down permanently by eating at 1150 or 1000 for a few days and more other days), mental factors (are you eating low-cal because you have an eating disorder, or because you're on a doctor-supervised very-low-cal-diet), and so on.

I understand that people want to help, and it's an easy ruler to pull out and measure against a person's diet, but I'm wondering if we do more harm than good by adhering to the "1200 calorie or starve" mentality as THE basis for a good diet. Perhaps if we concentrated more on "make sure you're getting all the vitamins, minerals, and macro-nutrients your body needs to keep running," the 1200 calorie advice would be moot, since it's quite likely that a person is going to be eating more than 1200 calories in order to make sure their nutritional requirements are met rather than just their energy requirements.

I may be the odd one out here, so if I am, please feel free to ignore this posting! ;)


avamarie1987
05-03-2009, 08:56 PM
I've thought about this some.

My doctor has told me not to go below 1000 calories to lose weight (due to my height and small frame size). She said this is because it is close to impossible for me to get all the nutrients and vitamins my body needs to function properly at a caloric level lower than that.

For those who are new to dieting and healthy eating, I think 1200 is a good number to use as a "benchmark" and not to go below. But, no, I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all number. How could 1200 be the low point for a 5' person and also a 6' person?

So, I know some people here would say I'm "starving" myself by using 1000 calories as my low limit but as long as I feel good, it's supported by my doctor, and I still have energy to exercise... I sure don't see that as starving. :)


ETA: And, no, I don't eat 1000 calories a day every day. It's usually over 1200 when I exercise and hopefully I'll be able to maintain at an amount higher than that.

LittleMoonRabbit
05-03-2009, 09:02 PM
Betony,

You are right. going below for a few days isn't going to cause any damage. However, I have been one to push that rule and here's why:

It's a simple number to concentrate on. A lot of people just starting out with changing their eating habits may get overwhelmed with too much information. Throwing out an easy number gives them something easy to digest.

Another reason I use that number is because too many people have gotten the impression that the less you eat, the more you will lose... this kind of mentality can lead to eating disorders. I can't tell you how many posts from people say things like "I have been eating 500 calories a day. why am I not losing weight??" By giving them an "absolute" number like 1200 is an easy way to protect these people from a damaging "less calories= better" mentality.

You are right, there is so much more to losing weight and to getting proper nutrition than "you have to eat at least 1200 calories"... but many times it's too complicated to try to explain, especially to newcomers.

however, that being said, most doctors adhere to the same rule of "don't go below 1200 calories"... and as an average, it's still a good number to go by.


mamaspank
05-03-2009, 11:01 PM
I am not sure why this is a topic one would be "irked" by.

Betony
05-04-2009, 12:05 AM
Because it seems to be a very common answer that doesn't address health at all. Yes, you can lose weight at 1200, or 1500 or even 1800 calories, but it doesn't mean you're doing it healthy just because you're making sure you hit a certain number. I can eat 1500 calories per day worth of rice cakes and water, and lose weight but make myself sick in the process. I can eat 1000 nutrient rich calories and be healthier. I just think it oversimplifies things.

And because it's not necessarily true. Depending on a lot of physiological factors, a person could be just fine on 1200 or 1000 calories -- doesn't meant they'll necessarily starve or do themselves harm. It depends on the person.

junebug41
05-04-2009, 12:21 AM
Because it seems to be a very common answer that doesn't address health at all. Yes, you can lose weight at 1200, or 1500 or even 1800 calories, but it doesn't mean you're doing it healthy just because you're making sure you hit a certain number. I can eat 1500 calories per day worth of rice cakes and water, and lose weight but make myself sick in the process. I can eat 1000 nutrient rich calories and be healthier. I just think it oversimplifies things.

In response to this point specifically, there is something scientific to the 1200 calorie rule. People get so hung up on "less is best" and I think this helps guide people from the dangerous territory of undereating.

It really is an important componant (consuming sufficient calories).

Is it important to consume food with high nutritional value? Yes.

Is it important to have a balance of macros that suits your needs? Yes.

And it is also important to make sure your body is getting the calories necessary in order to properly function and for whatever (scientific) reason, 1200 is that number. It's not set in stone, but it is a guide.

Betony
05-04-2009, 12:26 AM
I understand that you need enough calories to run the body, but if you're paying attention to the nutritional needs of you're body, you're very likely going to get enough calories to run things. I'm talking specifically about people who treat 1200 calories as absolute minimum limit. For some people, their minimum needs to be higher than that as well.

I guess I'm either a minority in thinking it's not the greatest idea to use one number to fit everyone, or I just shouldn't have brought it up. Sorry guys.

junebug41
05-04-2009, 12:36 AM
I understand that you need enough calories to run the body, but if you're paying attention to the nutritional needs of you're body, you're very likely going to get enough calories to run things. I'm talking specifically about people who treat 1200 calories as absolute minimum limit. For some people, their minimum needs to be higher than that as well.

I guess I'm either a minority in thinking it's not the greatest idea to use one number to fit everyone, or I just shouldn't have brought it up. Sorry guys.

I think (at least on this board) when you see the 1200 argument come up it's usually suggesting to someone that they should probably be consuming more calories.

I've actually never seen it referred to as a "one size fits all" number until now. I don't think you will find anyone who thinks it's a one size fits all number... just the minimum of what most people need to function- and no, it doesn't take into account other things like macros. As I said before, consuming an adequate amount of calories is incredibly important to losing and maintaining a weightloss.

I don't know why you are apologizing and saying you shouldn't have brought it up. Just because people are trying to learn where you are coming from doesn't mean it won't make for a good discussion :^:

rockinrobin
05-04-2009, 01:31 AM
I do find that people here are very frightened, almost aghast by the fact that people would choose to consume 1200 calories. And I always here the term starvation mode in connection with it. Not sure why. I consume 1200 calories and have been for many, many months. I never, ever, not once went into starvation mode where my body would hold on to my fat in order to protect me. And there is not one correct number for each and every person out there. I am not your "average" person. I'm a former morbidly obese person. I'm a mere 5 feet. Post menopausal. 45 years old. This old body just doesn't require any more to run efficiently.

I am getting more minerals, vitamins, protein, fiber, etc. on those 1200 calories then *most* people get eating twice that. I for sure am getting more good nutrition now on those 1200 calories then I was when I was eating triple and quadruple that. My hair has never been thicker or shinier, my nails never stronger, my skin never smoother, my blood work never better. I am rarely, if ever hungry. I am full of energy.

I must say, I too am irked, not sure if that's the correct term, when I hear people say to not consume 1200 calories as if it is LAW. As if they can guarantee that something dreadful will happen to anyone that does. Because I can assure you that nothing dreadful has happened to me. Just the opposite, in fact. Just the opposite. :D

Tommy Europe
05-04-2009, 04:29 AM
well the 1200 rule is so your stored body fat does not kick in because the body will respond by storing new fat making it seem like you are not get off the ground the trick is to find a balance so the body does not get shocked in to defending its self

yoyoma
05-04-2009, 05:40 AM
As the OP mentioned, advice to eat 1200 calories/day (or more) provides no sort of guidance on eating healthy.

My calorie target is 1500 calories. And it's a balancing act for me to pack the all the nutrients I feel are appropriate into that limit (with 80 calories left over for may daily Reece's, lol). I need to have good nutrition within my calorie limit because I am in this for the long run.

When someone posts that they are trying to restrict calories to a worrisome level (say 800 calories), it raises lots of red flags. Folks who focus on a low calorie level are almost certainly thinking of the diet as a short-term measure that they want to get over as soon as possible. And it really isn't possible, even if you are eating all healthy calories, to pack the nutrition that I am convinced your body needs into that few calories.

When faced with someone who posts a potentially unhealthy plan, I think a simple (and consensus) message is best if you want to have any chance of convincing the poster to rethink their plan.

Advice to eat at least 1200 calories is necessary (in most cases) but not sufficient to steer someone towards a healthier lifestyle. If the person can be convinced to take a slower path to weight loss, then maybe they can realize that they should also focus on eating healthy foods. It's easy to think you can skip nutrition if you think your diet will only last a few weeks or months.

But once someone buys into a "slower may be better" approach, then they are probably more receptive to looking at the nutrition content. Discussions about healthy eating are a lot more complex and nuanced, but there is no doubt that good nutrition requires enough calories.

Jacquie668
05-04-2009, 06:31 AM
There are health experts that are advocating that lower calorie intake is not unhealthy and that means below the "generic" amounts. That it depends on the individual, their diet, and their activity levels. The generic numbers are a good guidelines to shoot for. I myself am shooting for 1200 a day, raw food vegan. That is a lot of food lol. That is where I struggle. When I eat cooked vegan foods, I tend to reach my calorie intake quickly and actually feel hunger because I'm not getting enough food. When I eat raw, I actually struggle getting food in my mouth! A lot of the time I find myself not hungry and struggling to get the calories in lol.

I think there are people who think that they KNOW what everyone should be doing in terms of calories. In fact I've been lectured by another poster on here who, I swear, had a cut and paste response as to why my 1200 - 1500 calorie target was bad for me.

I think often times people assume a calorie is a calorie, but that simply is not true. If you look at a person who is eating 1200 calories or even as low as 900 calories a day, but it is empty calorie foods with little nutritional value well that person is not only going to be hungry, but I don't think they will be getting much from their food. However, someone who is eating healthier foods, vegetables, whole grains, etc, is getting nutrition from their food.

I believe it is really up to the individual. It isn't just about calories as people have to stick to a diet plan and make it a lifestyle change. If lowering the calories make someone hungry, moody, and unhappy then the chances of them sticking with it probably isn't high. So, I think it all is a balancing act, as another poster mentioned.

Jacque9999
05-04-2009, 06:51 AM
Okay, so now I am TOTALLY confused. I am using an iPod app called Lose it. I put in my starting weight, put in what I weigh each day and what my goal weight is. It tells me that I can lose 1.5 lbs a week (I would like to lose 2 lbs a week) and tells me that I should get about 1150 calories in a day all based on that information.

So throughout the day, I put in what I eat and it deducts the calories. If I exercise, which I do 6 out of 7 days, I put those in. I am averaging a burn of about 400-600 calories on those workout days.

If your still with me, is that okay? Or am I supposed to eat MORE calories since I am burning so many? Now I am worried that even though the weight loss is consistent that I am doing it all wrong. Help!!!

Jacquie668
05-04-2009, 07:40 AM
Okay, so now I am TOTALLY confused. I am using an iPod app called Lose it. I put in my starting weight, put in what I weigh each day and what my goal weight is. It tells me that I can lose 1.5 lbs a week (I would like to lose 2 lbs a week) and tells me that I should get about 1150 calories in a day all based on that information.

So throughout the day, I put in what I eat and it deducts the calories. If I exercise, which I do 6 out of 7 days, I put those in. I am averaging a burn of about 400-600 calories on those workout days.

If your still with me, is that okay? Or am I supposed to eat MORE calories since I am burning so many? Now I am worried that even though the weight loss is consistent that I am doing it all wrong. Help!!!

A lot of times those calorie calculators are based on your current weight and what they think the rate of loss should be. I find that often they over calculate for most people and base the loss on a slow rate, but that is not to say that your iPod app is doing that.

So, for my weight, height, gender, and age, I've seen calculators or apps say I should be eating around 2500+ calories a day! One even said like 3,000 and I can't possibly eat that much lol.

If you feel good and your weight is coming off, then I don't think you have anything to worry about. If you're concerned though, why not run it by your doctor or nutritionist?

My doctor was totally on board with my calorie intake and diet choice. She told me I needed to make changes, which I am, like getting enough nutrients and good fat. So, they'll tell you what's what if they feel they need to. My issue was that I'm lacking in a few things, but that is common with my choice of diet. :carrot:

rockinrobin
05-04-2009, 07:53 AM
Okay, so now I am TOTALLY confused. I am using an iPod app called Lose it. I put in my starting weight, put in what I weigh each day and what my goal weight is. It tells me that I can lose 1.5 lbs a week (I would like to lose 2 lbs a week) and tells me that I should get about 1150 calories in a day all based on that information.

So throughout the day, I put in what I eat and it deducts the calories. If I exercise, which I do 6 out of 7 days, I put those in. I am averaging a burn of about 400-600 calories on those workout days.
!

I eat what I eat and I burn what I burn. I keep the two totally and completely SEPARATE. Those calories burned calculators are HIGHLY inaccurate. There's no way on earth for them to accurately predict what any one individual is burning. So, I keep the two separate. Any calories that I burn through exercise - intentional or unintentional is an added bonus in the calorie deficit department. I track and monitor my calories consumed. That's where my issue is. That's what I need to count. Keeping those in check is what is most essential to me.

As an added side note, I do believe the larger a person is, the higher amount of calories they need to consume in order to get the required nutrients - as a general rule. Again, there is no one across the board LAW. If only there was. But there isn't. Luckily, good old fashioned trial and error CAN take care of that.

JayEll
05-04-2009, 08:04 AM
I have recently seen information about how the resting metabolic rate (RMR) fits into this. You might want to do some web searching, say, at Mayo Clinic or some other medical website.

Resting metabolic rate is how many calories your body burns if you do nothing but lie in a bed for 24 hours. I believe that the general guideline of 1200 calories comes from this concept. I have read that if a person eats fewer calories than their RMR, it does cause the body to try to conserve resources. This is the "starvation mode" that people refer to. But also seems to be true that for many people, RMR is higher than 1200. Someone who is physically active and younger has a higher RMR; someone who is completely sedentary and older may have a lower RMR.

There are lots of calculators on the web, but the actual tests to determine these values for an individual are pretty elaborate. Most calculators give you an estimate of calories burned in a day, which is more than RMR.

Calculators just add and subtract numbers, so an iPod program or even FitDay will give you numbers under 1200 if you have an aggressive weight loss goal. However, FitDay warns you that you are setting calories too low according to that "1200 limit."

We get a lot of response on the 3FC boards when someone is saying that they just can't eat more than 900 calories a day. This is often a case where people start waving the 1200 flag.

I think it's best for people to figure out their own resting metabolic rate in some way, and use that as their lower limit. My own RMR at my current weight is estimated to be around 1275. What I have found by experience is that if I try to eat fewer calories than that for more than a few days, my weight loss is going to stall and I'm going to feel really hungry.

So, Betony, take everything with a grain of salt and find out on your own!

Jay

Jacque9999
05-04-2009, 08:38 AM
There's no way on earth for them to accurately predict what any one individual is burning.

rockinrobin: I do agree that these calculators may not be totally accurate, however, just for my ease of mind, I have been keeping track of it anyway. I have compared what a machine at the gym says and what the iPod says and it is ALWAYS within a few calories. So even though they might not be accurate completely, I still sort of have a base to go by....again this is to ease my mind. Just one of the games I play with myself on this journey.

Resting metabolic rate is how many calories your body burns if you do nothing but lie in a bed for 24 hours.

I think it's best for people to figure out their own resting metabolic rate in some way

JayEll: I understand what RMR is but how do you figure it out?

I guess what I was trying to ask in my original post is....If I am eating 1100-1200 calories a day is that enough if I am burning off 400-600? At the end of the day, I am really only ending up with maybe 600-800 calories. Does that make sense?

Heather
05-04-2009, 08:57 AM
I guess what I was trying to ask in my original post is....If I am eating 1100-1200 calories a day is that enough if I am burning off 400-600? At the end of the day, I am really only ending up with maybe 600-800 calories. Does that make sense?

Jacque -- If your are eating 1100-1200 calories, then that is what you're eating. You aren't eating 600-800 calories. I think this is part of what Robin meant when she said she keeps these numbers separate. My advice: don't eat less.

As for the calorie burn estimates, just because the online calculator and the machine are similar doesn't mean they are accurate. When I use an elliptical and wear my heart rate monitor, my hrm generally says that I burn only about 70% of the calories that the elliptical estimates. Now, the hrm is also an estimate, but it's at least based on what my body is doing, rather than general estimates, which is what the others are. Message: don't believe those calorie-burn estimates!

Jacque9999
05-04-2009, 09:40 AM
Jacque -- If your are eating 1100-1200 calories, then that is what you're eating. You aren't eating 600-800 calories. I think this is part of what Robin meant when she said she keeps these numbers separate. My advice: don't eat less.

As for the calorie burn estimates, just because the online calculator and the machine are similar doesn't mean they are accurate. When I use an elliptical and wear my heart rate monitor, my hrm generally says that I burn only about 70% of the calories that the elliptical estimates. Now, the hrm is also an estimate, but it's at least based on what my body is doing, rather than general estimates, which is what the others are. Message: don't believe those calorie-burn estimates!

Thanks for your help. You answered my question...I think. I still will do what I am doing since it is working for me!!!

Looking4Change
05-04-2009, 09:53 AM
You know I've heard over and over again about counting calories. I have not once counted my calories. It will work for some but not for others. You have to do what works for you. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm not I don't. I make healthy choices and exercise. This needs to be something I can live with. Counting my calories every single day...not for me :)

Lori Bell
05-04-2009, 09:57 AM
I eat 1200 calories a day simply because I needed a starting place. I added up the calorie value of my most successful weight loss attempt using the old WW exchange program and came up with the number of 1200 calories. When I later discussed it with my doctor he agreed that as long as I ate no empty calories, (100 calories packs of cookies or crackers, or other "diet" junk food) I would be getting enough nutrition. I admit there were days at the beginning where I was full at 1000 or 1100 calories so I stopped eating. I had no ill effects. Later into my plan I started adding calories for the weekend...not really because I needed them, but because I wanted them. SO FAR, I have never had a plateau, I feel better than ever, blood work is great, heart & BP is great. I hope that eventually I can add calories to maintain, but if not I have lived on 1200 calories for many months and am used to it, and am comfortable with it. Some people take an opposite approach and eat large amounts at the beginning and lose very slowly and keep restricting until they finally have to learn at maintenance to live on WAY less than at the beginning of their journey. I guess that is okay too if they want to keep taking away. Seems more like punishment than reward, but whatever works.

rockinrobin
05-04-2009, 10:00 AM
You know I've heard over and over again about counting calories. I have not once counted my calories. It will work for some but not for others. You have to do what works for you. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm not I don't. I make healthy choices and exercise. This needs to be something I can live with. Counting my calories every single day...not for me :)

Oh yeah. We all have different things that work for us. Understatement.

The thing is, many, many overweight people, myself included and now even that I'm not overweight - we tend to eat even when we're NOT hungry. I know some people can't imagine that, but that is the case. Counting calories, tracking them - keeps me in check. Forces me to eat the "proper" amount to sustain myself and keep to a healthy weight. I personally don't find it a chore or a burden. Not even one iota. What I did find burdensome was the extra weight I was carrying around. Another understatement. ;)

Luckily, there's more then one way to keep to lose weight and keep it off. :)

Jacque9999
05-04-2009, 10:19 AM
Oh yeah. We all have different things that work for us. Understatement.

The thing is, many, many overweight people, myself included and now even that I'm not overweight - we tend to eat even when we're NOT hungry. I know some people can't imagine that, but that is the case. Counting calories, tracking them - keeps me in check. Forces me to eat the "proper" amount to sustain myself and keep to a healthy weight. I personally don't find it a chore or a burden. Not even one iota. What I did find burdensome was the extra weight I was carrying around. Another understatement. ;)

Luckily, there's more then one way to keep to lose weight and keep it off. :)

Well said...I TOTALLY FEEL THE SAME WAY!!!!!!:wave::wave::wave::wave::wave:

JayEll
05-04-2009, 12:53 PM
Just my personal belief here--if you keep exercising to the point where it becomes a way of life, I think it raises your RMR. I'm talking years. At that point, it can be harder to lose more weight because without knowing it, you're going below RMR in your calories eaten.

Of course, if you slack off on exercise, RMR may drop after some time, in the same way.

So, I believe that weight loss is 80% what you eat, and 20% exercise--but the exercise part cannot be skipped. The reason is that in maintaining weight, continued exercise is critical.

No, I have no science to back this up with, but if anyone knows of any studies, I'd like to see links.

Jay

JulieJ08
05-04-2009, 01:03 PM
You know I've heard over and over again about counting calories. I have not once counted my calories. It will work for some but not for others. You have to do what works for you. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm not I don't. I make healthy choices and exercise. This needs to be something I can live with. Counting my calories every single day...not for me :)

Works for me too. I actually find listening to my hunger and satiety signals to be quite a challenge, and actually harder than calorie counting. But for me, much more satisfying.

Meg
05-04-2009, 01:10 PM
Jay, I've seen several studies that say that exercise is the biggest predictor of maintenance success, which may kind of what you're saying. Ann Fletcher cites one such study in Thin For Life, though I don't have the book in front of me right now to give you the details. :)

The kind of exercise that raises RMR is muscle-building exercise. Muscle is the calorie furnace in our body so the more we have, the more calories we burn in a day just by keeping our bodies alive. The statistics I've seen are that we burn 50 calories per kg of lean body mass/day, so adding a kg of LBM will result in being able to eat 50 more calories per day and still maintain and so on. The calories that a pound of fat burns in a day are negligible.

This is the reason why maintaining and increasing our muscle masses is key to successful weight loss and maintenance. Pounds lost in a traditional diet without muscle building exercise are typically about 40% muscle and 60% fat, which results in a decrease in RMR. The only way to sustain and increase our RMR is by preserving and increasing muscle. And we inevitably lose muscle as we age, which is why we older women must, must, must work out with weights! And weightlifting helps to prevent osteoporosis, so it's a win-win situation.

I don't believe that aerobic exercise has the same impact on RMR because it doesn't change your body to enable it to burn more calories the way that adding muscle does. Aerobic exercise is a fantastic calorie burner and of course it strengths our cardiovascular systems, so it too is an essential component of our exercise programs. But I'm not aware of it elevating RMR the way that muscle building exercise does.

My two cents on exercise and maintenance. :)

Mrs Snark
05-04-2009, 02:08 PM
Meg,

I thought the "1 pound of muscle burns ~50 calories" estimation turned out to be high and that the real number was more like 7 to 11 calories.

I'll try to find the study.

Meg
05-04-2009, 02:13 PM
Tyler, I agree that 50 calories per pound of muscle is ridiculously high.The number I used was 50 calories per kilogram of lean body mass. ;)

I got that number from a lecture I attended given by a obesity researcher from Columbia University's School of Medicine, Dr. Rudolph Leibel (if you've read Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin, he's cited a lot). I know that the numbers are all over the ballpark but figure his are grounded in science. Who knows? I think it's safe to say that pound for pound, muscle burns a lot more calories than fat. :)

Mrs Snark
05-04-2009, 02:51 PM
Err, kilogram of lbm, yes. I didn't even see that, so sorry!

The data I saw quoted scientific studies (I haven't had a chance to look for them yet) and said a pound of fat burned ~4 calories and a pound of muscle burned ~7-11 calories, an equation very different from what people commonly believe.

But of course the benefits of weight training are, as you pointed out, great (minimizing loss of lean body mass, etc.)