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Weight Loss NHS
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Is 1200 calories too few?

I've been comfortably eating 1200 calories this week without feeling the need to eat any more. I've been making an effort to have more fruit, veg, soups and salads. But, I'm wondering if 1200 might be too few. Will my metabolism be impaired or will my body go into starvation mode? (If it helps, i'm 15' 3" and weigh 15 st 3lb). Any advice gratefully received :)

3 Replies

I think you're right to be cautious. It depends how many times you've been through this cycle before too.

Essentially, I wouldn't go too low with your energy intake from a number of view points. If your weight-loss comes to a halt, for instance, where do you go from here when you're already eating a minimum?

I think it's better to consider how much you can eat and still lose weight, not least because you want to eat healthily, and get used to those healthy eating habits for the long-term.

Periodically (every month or so) up your intake a little, (not so much that you gain weight) so that your body doesn't get used to being on a lowered energy intake.

As importantly, your body is not a calorimeter, and burns foods with differing efficiency. If you eat foods that don't raise your insulin levels you will have an easier time of losing your body fat.


Hi ch4rly2002,

The weight loss thing isn't superbly mathematically exact - mainly because there are just too many variables and factors that impinge upon it.

I would suggest for women going nearer to the 1400 kcal recommended. I know that is an averaged out figure and a bit of a 'one size fits all', but it is a good guide.

What you want to avoid is losing weight too rapidly, so if your weight loss is about 1 to 2 lbs a week (averaged out) then that's fine. The maximum recommended is 1 kg a week (2.2 lbs) but again that is averaged out and we all have our blips and spurts on our weight loss journeys.

However, what I strongly recommend, is that you avoid taking you calorie input down too low, unless you are on a Very Low Calorie Diet, in which case you should be under medical supervision, as keeping you calorie intake low for a significant period can cause a number of medical issues and that's leaving aside the simple fact that it will probably leave you feeling like @%it!.

This thing about "starvation mode" seems to me to be a bit of a mis-understanding about what happens when a human is starving and this term has perhaps come to be used by some for a couple of reasons.

One is that when a human being is starving - and I do mean that literally, I'm not talking about a bit of reduction in food intake to shift a bit of body fat - at first the human body uses its glycogen stores and some of its fat, like it normally does, but when the glycogen stores run out, as not all of the body's organs can use fat as fuel, it uses protein (from muscle/tissue) to fuel the body. So even if there is fat still available to it, it will use protein in such extreme situations.. It also shuts down non-essential functions and goes into a sort of mininal functioning "safe-mode".

This human starvation response usually starts on about the fifth day of no food. Extreme exercisers, like marathon-runners, can hit the same issue, which is why the eating regime around such sports is important, but they eat again and so re-instate their glycogen, even if they have little body fat.

The second probable reason for this "starvation mode" being talked about, is that in some parts of the world, where people are dependent for their livings on "the body beautiful", an increasing number of people cause themselves serious harm and even death, through excessive dieting and exercise - and I do mean excessive/obsessive. These are often people in occupations such as modelling, the film and TV industries and similar.

In the final analysis, your body does need nourishment and nutrition or it ceases to functiion optimally, which is why I constantly bang on about people ensuring they get the FULL range of nutrients from their food intake.

But let's not muddle up losing excess body fat over a reasonable period of tiime at a reasonable rate with people at death's door from starvation.

Just to clarify, it's after a starving body starts using up its protein, that you eventually get to the point where it's used up all the non-essential protein and then has to break down the protein from essential organs to stay alive, which causes death.


Depends how active you are and what you weigh, and age. I use a BMR calculator which calculate how many calories you burn at rest and what you need if you are active. At 44 and 8st 4 to maintain my weight, if I dont excercise i only need about 1300 but if i do i can have more I find about 1500 is my limit to maintain my weight. I would say though my bmi was healthy when I was a stone heavier too, I just prefer being this weight with a bmi of 19.9.


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