What do 1200 calories look like?

Calorie confusion and portion distortion are rampant.  Nutrition experts blame the obesity epidemic partially on consumers’ lack of knowledge about calories:

  • how many calories are in a portion of food
  • how many does an individual need everyday
  • how many calories can someone eat to lose weight

A report from the Institute of Medicine recently recommended that food labels show calories per portion on the front of the label, in a format that consumers understand, instead of marketing catch-phrases like “low carb!” or “high fiber!”

Despite the confusion, we’re stuck on the 1200 calorie diet as the Gold Standard for weight loss.  Dieters expect to be handed a 1200 calorie meal plan when they sign up for a weight loss program, regardless of whether that’s the right amount for them.  Who does need 1200 calories?  Based on one calorie requirement calculator, a 40 year old female, 5 feet tall and 100 lbs, who spends 22 hours/day resting and 2 hours of very light activity (in other words, practically bedridden) needs 1200 calories to maintain her weight.  If you’re any taller than that, or weigh more or are more active or are male or are younger, you need more than 1200 calories per day.

But what about weight loss?  Well, if you’re a 40 year old 5 foot 4 inch female weighing 150 lbs, and you do 8 hours of light or very light activities, 1200 calories per day would represent roughly a 500 calorie/day deficit.  In other words, a reduced calorie diet, which would cause an average 1 lb weight loss every week.  If you’re taller, or male, or weigh more or are more active, you could lose weight by eating more than 1200 calories.

Lots of diet plans are based on 1200 calories.   When canned formula diets became popular in the mid-20th century, it was easy for the manufacturers to create drinks that contains 300 calories per can.  Drink 4 of those a day and Voila, you’ve got a 1200 calorie diet.  The Slim Fast 3-2-1 Plan provides about 1200 calories, using shakes, bars and one actual small meal.  But what if you’d rather eat real food, instead of processed bars and canned formulas?  It’s certainly possible, as long as you stick to your calorie limit.  As reported previously, a professor from Kansas State is losing weight on a daily 1800 calorie limit — of junk food.  So technically, if you wanted to limit yourself to 1200 calories, you could pick any food as long as you knew what 1200 calories looked like.  So, in the interest of dieting humor and calorie awareness, here are some photos of what 1200 calories of certain foods actually looks like.  I’ll post more periodically.

1200 calories apples - 4 and 1/2 lbs

1200 calories potato chips - 8 oz.

1200 calories of butter - 11 tablespoons

1200 calories chocolate chips - 1-1/2 cups

1200 calories raw broccoli - almost 8 pounds

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