Is It Safe to Only Eat 1200 Calories a Day?

Reviewed on 6/11/2021

Consuming at least 1,200 calories per day has often been touted as the minimum for basic bodily functions and to stay out of starvation mode, but the amount is actually too low. A healthy amount of calories for adult women ranges from 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day and for men it's 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day.
Consuming at least 1,200 calories per day has often been touted as the minimum for basic bodily functions and to stay out of starvation mode, but the amount is actually too low. A healthy amount of calories for adult women ranges from 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day and for men it's 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day.

The notion that adults need a minimum of 1,200 calories per day is actually an old one — Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters published Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories in 1918, and suggested women count calories to lose weight with 1,200 calories per day being the ideal.

It is often repeated that adults require at least 1,200 calories per day for basic bodily functions and to stay out of starvation mode, but that is a low amount. It is not necessarily healthy. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services every five years, estimates calorie needs for adult women range from 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day and 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day for adult men. 

There are a number of factors that determine how many calories per day adults need. 

  • The low end of the range may be sufficient for adults who are more sedentary, while active adults may need calories at the higher end of the range
  • Younger adults need more calories than older adults
  • People who are taller generally need more calories than people the same age who are shorter
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more calories

For weight loss, 1,200 calories per day is still often touted as a goal, and for most people, weight loss will occur at such a low caloric intake. A 1,200 calorie per day diet is considered a low-calorie diet and is generally not recommended for the long term. Low-calories diets must be carefully planned in order to ensure dieters get the necessary nutrients their bodies need. 

When done properly, a low-calorie diet may offer some health benefits, such as weight loss, management of blood sugar levels in diabetics, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced risk of some cancers. 

A prolonged 1,200 calorie-per-day diet can slow metabolism, so it is best to only do it short-term. There are risks to consuming too few calories, including: 

If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor or a dietitian to determine the right caloric intake for your age, height, activity level, sex, weight, and desired weight loss. 

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Reviewed on 6/11/2021
References
https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/how-many-calories-do-adults-need

https://www.fda.gov/media/112972/download

https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/calories.htm

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/calorie-restriction-and-fasting-diets-what-do-we-know

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/it-safe-eat-1-200-calories-day-a7346656.html

https://archive.org/details/dietandhealthwi00petegoog