Sticking to the 1,200-calorie diet is no easy task

The trick to keeping your calorie count low is to load up on fresh vegetables and stick to small amounts of lean protein. — Filepic

I joined a gym to lose weight. My trainer said that I should stick to eating 1,200 calories a day if I want to lose weight within a certain time period. I started counting calories with a fitness app on my phone, but now that I realise how many calories each meal contains, I find it very difficult to stick to 1,200 calories a day. What shall I do?

Many people find the 1,200-calorie diet very difficult to stick to.

You see, an adult woman generally needs 2,000 calories a day.

An adult man needs 2,500 calories a day.

But that is just a general rule. How many calories you need a day depends on your age, metabolism and level of physical activity.

If you are a growing child or teenager, you will need more calories.

If you are extremely active, you definitely need to replenish those calories that you burn.

Your height and weight will also determine how much energy you burn.

Medicines that you take, such as steroids, can also affect how your burn your calories.

What exactly is the 1,200-calorie diet?

The diet is pretty easy to calculate. (Easy to calculate, yes. Easy to follow, no!)

You have to count every calorie that you consume diligently. You cannot go over 1,200 calories a day.

If you are active, you may be allowed to go up to 1,500 calories a day.

Many diets are based on this 1,200-calorie rule, such as the Weight Watchers diet.

Some diets go by a point system or use colour codes (such as the Noom diet), but they all actually revolve around this 1,200-calories rule.

Is the 1,200-calorie diet realistic?

Many of us who have tried to diet, especially women, would have tried the 1,200-calorie diet at least once in our lives.

I myself have tried to live by it as my metabolism is extremely low.

I find it is the only way I can lose weight, and that only if I diligently stick to it.

However, many people cannot stick to it.

They find themselves hungry all the time, and they tend to binge-eat when they get too hungry, resulting in them feeling guilty and miserable all the time too.

The 1,200-calorie diet requires extreme control and force of will.

According to most nutritionists, a 1,200-calorie diet is unsustainable, and ultimately, unhealthy.

Think about it: A full fast food meal with burger, fries and a soft drink is already more than 1,000 calories.

Can you only eat one meal a day?

A nasi lemak with chicken can go up to 1,000 calories, and you are only having that for breakfast!

What about your lunch? Say a plate of mee goreng that can come up to 800 calories.

And what about that teh tarik you are having to go with it, which can come up to 300 calories because of the sugar content in it?

Then for dinner, you might have economy rice.

You have a bowl of white rice, which may be 200 calories.

Then you add meat and fish, which can come up to 400 calories.

Your vegetables are cooked in curry gravy, which adds another 150 to 200 calories.

For one day on a Malaysian diet, you are already consuming 3,000 calories!

Not very sustainable for someone who eats out all the time as many Malaysians do, right?

How did the 1,200-calorie diet come about?

The 1,200-calorie diet is actually quite old, dating back to the 19th century.

Back then in the late Victorian period, they were doing a lot of research on calories in Germany.

The research was based on the concept of calories in and calories out.

Many Europeans were sceptical, but it really took off in America, where calorie counting became a very big thing.

Then in 1918, around the first World War, beauty ideals were changing.

Curvy women with large bosoms and thin waists in corsets were no longer in vogue.

Society preferred their women thin and slender so that they could wear the loose clapper dresses nicely.

As it was wartime, it became unpatriotic to “hoard food in your bodies” when so many people were uncertain of their futures.

So calorie counting became popular again.

By mid-1920s, this 1,200-calorie diet became the bedrock of diets, thanks to a popular book.

Our grandmothers possibly grew up in that era, then passed it on to our mothers, and so on and so forth.

How do I sustain a 1,200-calorie diet in Malaysia?

Well, some people have done it, so it is obviously sustainable.

I have tried it many times myself when I want to lose weight.

It is very difficult, and you might have to give up things you love, like cakes, cookies, sweets, and definitely all types of sugary drinks.

You can semi-skip one meal – preferably lunch – or eat very little for it.

I did it by eating one apple for breakfast, which is 60 calories.

It sustains me until lunch as apples release sugar slowly.

For lunch, I have a plate of wanton noodles, which is 450 calories for the dry version and less for the soupy one.

Then for dinner, I have a salad, with dressing on the side so that I can control how much is on my salad.

The meat or fish I take (grilled chicken or salmon) is no larger than the size of my palm (3oz or 85g, around 200 calories).

Half my plate is full of fresh veggies (very low in calorie content) and I may allow myself a slice of bread (80 calories).

So there you go, less than 1,200 calories!

The trick is to fill your plate with vegetables, preferably ones that keep you full like broccoli and cauliflower.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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