Debunking the 1,200 Calorie Myth

Debunking the 1,200 Calorie Myth

Are you trying to figure out how much to eat a day?

I have a newsflash for you. Most calorie counters you are referencing are INSANELY accurate. And when I say insanely, I mean the caloric recommendations they provide are often dangerously low for your body. If you are on an online calorie counter that is telling you to eat the famous 1,200 a day for weight-loss, or even weight-maintenance, close that page immediately. I’m telling you this as someone who battled a 10-year eating disorder and body dysmorphia.

In this blog post, I’m going to provide some general guidelines on SAFE caloric requirements as well as debunk very common, diet-culture calorie myths. 

So let’s break down some common misconceptions about calories in versus calories out.

1. The way to weight-loss is calories in versus calories out:

Okay so yes, generally that is true. If you expend more calories than you eat, your body will lose weight. But, you typically do not want to be in a caloric deficit of over 500 calories, otherwise, your body might panic and end up storing fat. This happens when the body senses that it is not getting consistent amounts of energy - in an effort to protect you, it will store fat, leading to increased weight gain. Our bodies have learned this throughout evolution. In the early days, when food wasn’t readily available and when we were dealing with famines, human bodies learned to protect their organs by storing fat. The same concept applies if you severely undereat.

2. 1,200 calories a day is the golden number to lose weight.

WRONG WRONG WRONG. When you go on a calorie counter, most of these are only taking into account your current height and weight, nothing else. So when the calorie counter comes up with that 1,200 number based on only height and weight, that number actually represents survival calories, scientifically known as your basal metabolic rate. More specifically, the basal metabolic rate is how many calories you would burn simply by existing. If you were in a coma, with nothing else to do but breathe, digest, etc., your body would still burn an average of 1,200-1,400 calories a day. Picture eating that amount when you are exercising, walking, thinking, working, sitting down, standing up etc. YOU NEED MORE! Unless you are stuck in a hospital bed, 1,200 just doesn’t suffice.

3. If you eat more calories than you burned in one day you will gain weight.

Somewhat true, but highly unlikely. Here’s why. Scientifically, you need to eat 3,500 calories MORE THAN your required daily needs in order to gain weight. That’s a lot of calories. If the average active woman requires 2,300 just to sustain her weight, then she would need to eat 5,700 a day to gain 1 lb in one day, or 2,900 calories a day to gain 1 lb a week. That’s highly unlikely. Furthermore, if you overeat one day, chances are you might not be as hungry the next day, and might naturally eat a little less. Therefore, weight gain becomes even more unlikely if you are truly listening to your body’s needs.

Ultimately, the best and most natural way to figure out how much your body needs to eat a day is to eat intuitively. This means simply, to eat when your body is hungry and stop when your tummy feels full. However, if you are not there yet and still feel more comfortable with a calorie guide, the most accurate one I have found is The Body Weight Planner on the official website of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases. This was recommended to me in my recovery, before I took the leap into intuitive eating. This calorie counter takes into account the following:

  • your BASAL METABOLIC REQUIREMENTS, aka your “coma” bodily requirements,
  • Your lifestyle activity (what kind of job you do/what kind of general movement your day-to-day consists of)
  • Exercise Intensity: How often and how intensely you exercise.

Most people I see utilize this calculator are surprised with how much more their bodies require daily. It might be scary or unbelievable that your body could eat so much daily, and it might deter you. But don’t forget we have been trained by diet culture to believe one magic number can help us reach our weight goals. Also, how many calories we need a day is not only about weight. It’s about having energy, strength, healthy hair, glowing skin, a functioning digestive system, thriving organs, brain function, etc. I can personally tell you that when I started eating 2,000+ calories a day, my weight stayed the same (I eventually even lost weight) and I felt more alert, less dizzy, and more myself. When our bodies are fed more appropriately, they function more efficiently ;)

Our next post will be about intuitively eating and developing a fullness scale so you can comfortably and confidently listen more to your body and veer from the number prison.

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