Ever notice how 1,200 calories seems to be the magic number for so many women who are looking to lose weight?
While it’s unclear exactly why 1,200 become such a go-to calorie count for dieters, it may be because it’s the absolute lowest you’d ever want to go if you’re counting calories. If you consume any fewer calories than that, you risk depriving your body of the nutrients it needs and throwing your body into starvation mode, which will ultimately backfire and slow down your metabolism, says Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of NutritiousLife.com and author of The New You (and Improved) Diet.
“I would say about 1,200 to 1,500 is what you’d want to aim for if you’re trying to lose weight,” Glassman adds. Of course, how many calories you need depends on how active you are—and your unique metabolism. That’s a big part of why Glassman actually discourages people from counting calories at all.
“I’m more about thinking about proportions, eating the right types of foods,” she says. “When you listen to your body and pay attention to proportions, you don’t really need to count calories.”
That said, we know that a lot of women find calorie counting helpful for getting to and staying at a healthy weight. And calorie counts can look very different, depending on which eating plan you’re following.
Take the Mediterranean diet, for example, which is inspired by the way Mediterraneans eat: “lots of fish, lots of healthy fat, wine [in moderation], lots of olive oil, lots of vegetables and fruits, very little packaged, processed foods,” says Glassman. Rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants and healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet is consistently linked to health benefits. For example, while research shows that the Mediterranean diet significantly improves health, one study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the diet is also better than low-fat diets at spurring weight loss.
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If you’re thinking about trying the Mediterranean diet, use this 1,200-calorie one-day eating plan that Glassman put together as a baseline for the absolute minimum amount of food you would want to eat in a day.
Start your day with 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt (276 cal), mixed with 1 cup blueberries (85 cal) and 2 Tbsp chopped pistachios (88 cals).
Total: 449 calories
Note: Getting full-fat yogurt here is important because it will help you feel satiated, says Glassman.
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Serve up a salad with 4 cups spinach tossed in 1 tsp olive oil (80 cal), with 1 tomato (11 cal), 1/4 cup sliced cucumber (4 cal), 3 Tbsp crumbled feta (75 cal), 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette (45 cal), and 5 large roasted shrimp (40 cal).
Total: 255 calories
Note: You can overdo it with ingredients like oil and feta, so just be sure to be conscious of your portion sizes when you’re trying to lose weight, says Glassman. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)