What you can do instead of starving yourself on 1200 calories a day – part 2


So last week I talked about how practically no one requires as little as 1200 calories a day. If you are bigger than 50kg and if you do more than lie in bed all day, you’re going to need to consume more than 1200 calories a day. It’s impractical to try and stick to this low, low limit and you might actually be doing your body a disservice by eating so little. You should go check it out.

I ended the post with a suggestion that there is something else that you can try instead of aiming for 1200 calories, or any particular number of calories a day for that matter.

So what can you do instead of trying to stick to a *number* of calories per day? I have two suggestions for you. I’ll cover one of them in this post and I’ll follow up with the other next week. I’m not trying to string this out – I promise! I want to make sure I cover both of these suggestions in as much detail as possible so you get the most out of them!

I really don’t like to count calories. For me personally, I find it quite triggering to measure, count, weigh and track what I am eating. I tend to get a bit obsessional with numbers so find I do a lot better when I don’t count calories. You might be different, but my main argument against calorie counting is this:

It takes the focus off you and your body and it places control of your eating on an external factor.

Your body came equipped to know how much energy it needs to thrive. This really is a topic for next week (part 3) however because I realise that not everyone is ready to stop tracking their food intake, and that’s okay. It’s scary letting go of control of your eating.

A gentler way

What I’m going to suggest as an in between step from sticking to a certain number of calories to letting your body guide your intake is to keep a food journal.

*groan* how un original of you, Courtney! A dietitian recommending a food journal, who would have thought.

This isn’t to track, but rather to observe. I was reminded of this when I was looking through Rick Kausman’s website the other day. He has some fantastic resources, including a template for a food journal that you can download.

You are still going to write down what you eat during the day, but we’re going to add some extra information to this journal, because I think a few things are missing. I think we’ve all gotten pretty good at the what of eating but we aren’t so good at the how and why of eating. After all, food is much more than the nutrients that it contains. Maybe you had a burger and a milkshake because that brings back a specific childhood memory. I think it’s really important to consider the why of eating to really capture the whole picture when it comes to eating.

So, before you eat you are going to take a second to consider how you feel. Are you tired? Happy? Stressed that none of the housework is done? Write it down.

Then you are going to write down what you ate but I don’t want you to include quantities.

Example: steak with pepper sauce, mashed potato, broccoli and carrots.

When you finish eating I would like you to consider two things:

  • How satisfied you are
  • How full you are

How satisfied you are refers to how content you feel after a meal. When you finish your meal, do you feel like you need to eat… more? … something specific to round out the meal?

You can think of how full you are by how your stomach feels after a meal. Being full can be thought about in terms of a hunger and fullness scale. Using this example, it’s really up to you as to where you’d like to sit on the scale after a meal. Ideally, you’d want to be somewhere that is going to keep you going for a few hours.

These two are important because it is possible to be full, but not satisfied, something that can lead to non-hungry eating.

And then the last bit of your food diary is like a feedback section for yourself. You could call this ‘next time I would like…’ or ‘next time I want to try…’

Here’s an example

My food journal: Lunch

Before I ate I felt: stressed, it was busy day at work

What I ate: chicken sandwich, strawberries, chocolate

Was I satisfied: not really

Was I full: reasonably

What I would like to try next time: Something warm. It was cold day and I think I would feel more satisfied with warm food. Next time, I would like to try a bowl of soup before my sandwich and I might have a hot chocolate instead of my chocolate bar. Hopefully those things will warm me up and be more satisfying.

After you do this for a while, you might notice some patterns emerging- maybe you eat a different way when you are stressed, or actually, you might notice that your eating patterns are a bit sporadic! Just noticing these patterns might help you move towards a way of eating that is right for you- and remember that that is going to look different to everyone!

photo credit: Nick Stanbridge


2 thoughts on “What you can do instead of starving yourself on 1200 calories a day – part 2

  1. Becca says:

    Hi Courtney,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It is so important as a professional in the nutrition field to end these myths of the “1200 calorie diet”. Like you mentioned, we are all different and different people require a different amount of energy to get through their day depending on their daily activities. As you said, someone who is laying in bed all day may will need much less calories than someone who is up and moving all day. A 1200 calorie per day diet is not universal because nutritional needs are so individualized. I like your alternative to counting calories, which directs people away from focusing on numbers, like calories and body weight, and focuses more on how you feel before and after you eat. I think this is definitely a big step toward intuitive eating, which is something everyone should understand. Tracking how satisfied and how full you are over time may really help in understanding what foods and portions are right for you and your body. Thank you for sharing!



    • Courtney says:

      Thanks for your comment Becca! What sort of nutrition work do you do? I like your comments about intuitive eating – part three of this series is due out soon and its going to focus just on that!


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