Debunking the “1200 Calorie” Myth

CaloriesJust when I think it’s going out of style, the “1200 calorie myth” crops back up – that is, the idea that 1200 calories is the magic “baseline” number for calorie consumption, or that it is the ideal “weight loss” number, or that it’s the “minimum daily” number.

None of that is true.

But, here’s where I think it comes from.

ASSUME (uh-oh) that the average adult female needs around 2000 calories per day.  (Why?  That is “the amount of calories per day that a moderately active, 132-pound adult female” would need, according to these folks.)   It’s also an easy number to use on nutrition labels.

IF you needed 2000 calories per day…

…AND you cut out 800 calories per day by dropping down to 1200…

…AND in this strange world our weeks still have 7 days…

….THEN you would have a weekly deficit of 5600 calories, or about 1.5 pounds’ worth of calories.

That’s about the highest rate of weight loss most non-obese adults can shoot for without sacrificing muscle, and it also sounds really great to talk about losing 6-8 pounds a month.

However, you might not weigh 132 pounds.

You might be more active than their “moderately active woman.”

You might not be in a situation in which losing 1.6 pounds per week is a good idea, or even possible.

You might not even be a woman.

So how do you figure out a daily calorie goal?

Very carefully.


Ok, you calculate your BMR and then multiply by your activity factor.

For more accuracy (what I do for my clients), you calculate your BMR, choose the “sedentary” activity factor, then accurately track your workouts along with your food intake so that you can see an accurate weekly picture of your energy balance.

That is higher than the number of calories recommended by MyFitnessPal.

Correct – MyFitnessPal calculates your BMR, but it does not take into account your activity factor.  So, unless you are literally (and I do mean literally) comatose, the calorie goal set by MyFitnessPal is too low.

They could totally amend the app to be more accurate, but then they couldn’t let you set outrageous goals like LOSE 11 POUNDS IN THE NEXT 4 DAYS so there’s some level of personal responsibility in all this, too.

Calorie counting is far from a perfect science.

But it can be a good start to getting a handle on your personal ideal balance of energy in vs. energy out.

Always consult a professional before modifying your fitness or nutrition plan!


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