The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you consume 1,600 to 2,800 calories per day, depending on your age, gender and activity level. A 1,200-calorie diet thus provides 75 percent of the lowest USDA-recommended daily caloric intake, and is the lowest number of calories the U.S. Committee on Dietary Allowance recommends for women who are not medically supervised.
If you’re going to restrict your daily calorie intake to only 1,200 calories per day, eat a balanced diet to ensure you get all of the nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals) you need each day.
NOTE: If you’re going to exercise on a particular day, you can add more calories to your diet, since you’ll be burning more calories that day. Your low calorie number (say, 1,400 or 1,500) will offset by the hundreds of calories you burn.
Meet with your doctor or a registered dietitian to discuss if you have any specific nutrition needs. For example, women might need more iron or calcium. If you have high cholesterol, you might want to eat fish that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Let your doctor or dietitian know you plan on eating only 1,200 calories per day.
Research which foods contain any specific nutrients you need. Nutrition labels on foods in your home might be the best way to start. There are many Internet sites which will help you do this or you can use a general search (for example, type, “foods high in iron” into a search engine). Get at least half of your calories from healthy carbohydrates, then split the rest evenly between lean protein and healthy fats or oils.
Write a daily eating plan, including the number of meals and snacks you want to eat, the calories per meal and specific food items. Consider four 300-calorie meals or three 400-calorie meals, rather than two 600-calorie meals. Long fasts in between meals, such as eating dinner but then not again until lunch the next day, cause hunger reactions that lead to overeating.
Review your plan to see if your meals and snacks give you the calories and nutrients you want. You do not need to balance every meal; just make sure your total nutrients are balanced by the end of the day. For example, you might have a carb-heavy breakfast and a protein-rich lunch.
Write notes in a food journal to track how you feel at the end of each day, as well as how satisfied you feel after each meal, and which foods you enjoyed or did not enjoy. This will help guide you in future meal planning.