1200 Calorie Diet: How to Start, What to Eat & Meal Plan

Updated in July 2023

A 1200 calorie diet is a type of low-calorie diet that can be used for weight loss. Decreased calorie ingestion in this type of diet forces the body to use stored body fat as an energy source, leading to weight loss. 

When adhering to a 1200 calorie diet, it is important to maintain 6 meals per day and to prioritize healthy foods like whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. 

Because it is a restrictive diet, you should only adhere to this type of diet under the monitoring of a registered dietitian or doctor. It is also important to perform light exercise during this diet. 

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How to start 

To maintain a 1200 calorie diet, it is important to eat small portions of food, divided into 6 meals throughout the day. This will help to manage hunger. It is also essential to prioritize healthy foods, like whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. 

During this diet, you are advised to perform light exercise, like walks, stretching, light weight training or yoga. Intense exercise during a low calorie diet may lead to weakness, general malaise or dizziness.

It is also essential to sleep 7 to 9 hours per day to help to regulate hormones that are responsible for hunger and satiety, which can directly affect weight loss. See our tips for how to fall asleep fast and get a good night's sleep.

A 1200 calorie diet should be monitored by a registered dietitian or a doctor, as it can lead to deficiencies in important vitamins or minerals. Be sure to check out other weight loss tips that can help to achieve your goals.

Food to eat

Food and snacks that are low in calories and help to manage hunger should be priorities. Examples include:

  • Fresh fruit that is low in calories, like strawberries, melon, peaches, tangerines, papaya, apples or pineapple (read more about the best fruit for weight loss)
  • Fresh vegetables, like cucumber, eggplant, spinach, chards, arugula, broccoli, cauliflower or squash
  • Lean protein, like tofu, white fish, seafood, chicken or eggs
  • Whole grains, like whole grain rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa or corn
  • Legumes, like beans, lentils, chickpeas or soybeans 

It is also important to drink at least 1.5 L of water per day, as the body by confuse thirst for hunger. Water can also fill up the stomach more, helping to promote satiety and manage hunger. 

What to eat in moderation

Some foods, like olive oil, dairy, flaxseeds, peanuts, pumpkin or chia seeds should be consumed on a daily basis, as they provide the body with essential nutrients, like calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E. 

However, these foods are high in calories and should be consumed in moderation so that weight loss is not compromised. 

Food to avoid

To lose weight, it is important to avoid foods that are high in calories or can increase hunger, such as: 

  1. Refined grains, like white rice and white flour, which are present in foods like white bread and white pasta. These foods stimulate increased glucose and insulin levels, which can increase hunger and lead to weight gain. 
  2. Sugar, which is present in sweets, ice cream, candy, chocolate and juices. Excess sugar can dysregulate insulin and glucose levels, leading to hunger and weight gain. 
  3. High-fat foods, like margarine, butter, bacon, chocolate milk and fried food. These are rich in calories which can make weight loss more difficult.
  4. Processed foods, like ready-made sauces, soda, cookies, pizza and fast food. 

It is also important to avoid alcohol when adhering to a 1200 calorie diet, as alcohol is high in calories and can interfere with weight loss. 

1200 calorie meal plan

The following table outlines a 3-day meal plan for a 1200 calorie diet: 

 

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Breakfast

1 cup (200ml) of skim milk + 1 teaspoon of cacao powder without sugar + 1 tablespoon of oats + 1 medium banana (70g) 

1 cup of black coffee + 1 scrambled egg + 1 small orange (90g)

1 cup of black green tea + 2 corn tortillas + guacamole made with 2 tablespoons of avocado, smashed with pepper, 20g of onion and 30g of tomato

Calories

226.5 Kcal

223 Kcal

173 Kcal

Morning snack

6 small strawberries (72g) + 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

1 small pear (110g) + 1 square (25g) of dark chocolate (70% cacao)

½ a small papaya (135g) + 1 tablespoon of oats 

Calories

126 Kcal

118 Kcal

115 Kcal

Lunch

100g of grilled chicken breast + ½ cup of cooked quinoa + 1 sideplate of salad with lettuce, arugula, spinach, seasoned with 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 medium slice of pineapple (75g) 

90g of grilled salmon + 2 tablespoons of whole grain rice + 80g of steamed asparagus, seasoned with 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 small slice (100g) of watermelon 

1 squash (250g) stuffed with 3 tablespoons of stir-fried minced meat (90g + 100g of baked sweet potato + 1 teaspoon of olive oil 

Calories

400 Kcal

459 Kcal

431.2 Kcal

Afternoon snack

1 small apple (90g) boiled and baked with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon 

100g of skim Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds 

1 medium banana (70g)

Calories

50 Kcal

86 Kcal

72.8 Kcal

Dinner

1 eggplant (250g) baked and stuffed with 100g of tofu and fresh herbs + 4 tablespoons of red beans with 2 tablespoons of tomato (30g) 3 tablespoons of chopped onions (30g), fresh herbs and 1 tablespoon of olive oil + 1 small slice of melon (70g) 

1 omelet, made with 1 egg, spinach leaves, 1 tablespoon of chopped tomato (15g), 1 tablespoon of chopped onion (10g) + salad with 3 okras (45g) and 1 carrot (100g), boiled and seasoned with 1 tablespoon of olive oil 

Salad made with 100 g of grilled chicken breast + 1 side plate of lettuce, chards, arugula + 1 tablespoon of olive oil + 25 g of toasted whole grain bread 

Calories

291 Kcal

222,2 Kcal

302 Kcal

Evening snack

100 ml of soy milk + 1 small tangerine (100g) 

1 small guava (130g) + 100 ml of skim milk, unsweetened 

100 ml of almond milk, unsweetened + 1 small kiwi (76g) 

Calories

99.5 Kcal

105.4 Kcal

109 Kcal

Total calories for the day

1193 Kcal

1213 Kcal

1203 Kcal

This meal plan is solely a suggestion, as food choices can vary depending on each person’s personal preference, age, health status and basal metabolic rate. You are advised to see a registered dietitian to create a more personalized meal plan that meets your individual needs. 

The sample meal plan above indicates the calories for each meal, which can be used to plan for other diets with more or less than 1200 calories. It is possible to add or remove specific foods depending on the calories needed for each day.