There’s one important thing you should keep in mind if you’re considering cutting your daily calorie allowance back to 1,200 in an attempt to lose weight, though: “This would be the lowest you want to go,” says Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of NutritiousLife.com and author of The New You (and Improved) Diet). “I would say about 1,200 to 1,500 is what you’d want to aim for if you’re trying to lose weight.” (Consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and it’ll be nearly impossible to get the nutrients and energy you need—and you risk slowing down your metabolism, says Glassman.)
That said, Glassman typically encourages people not to get too caught up with counting calories—even when they’re trying to lose weight.
“I’m more about thinking about proportions, eating the right types of foods,” she says. “When you listen to your body and pay attention to proportions, you don’t really need to count calories.”
Granted, the subreddit above is proof that plenty of people swear by calorie counting to get to (and stay at) a healthy weight—and that lots of dieters are curious about 1,200-calorie meal plans in particular.
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Start tuning into calorie counts, and you’ll quickly find that some foods are way more calorie-dense than others. That’s why some research indicates that a vegan diet—which is typically built around lots of low-calorie vegetables—can be such an effective meal plan for weight loss.
If you’re thinking about trying a vegan diet, this one-day 1,200-calorie plan, courtesy of Glassman, is a good reference point for the minimum amount of food you would want to eat.
Sip a smoothie with 1 scoop vegan protein powder (130 cal), 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (40 cal), 1 cup spinach (10 cal), 1/2 banana (53 cal), and 2 tsp peanut butter (63 cal).
Total: 296 calories
Note: Remember that not all protein powders are vegan—you’ll want to avoid ingredients like whey and casein since they contain dairy. (Try this organic peanut butter protein powder from the Women’s Health Boutique.)
Serve a salad with 4 cups spinach (40 cal), 1/4 cup chickpeas (53 cal), 1/4 cup almonds (152 cal), 1/4 avocado (77 cal), and 2 Tbsp red wine vinaigrette (60 cal).
Total: 382 calories
Note: “Make sure you’re getting enough plant-based proteins and that you’re also loading up with enough vegetables and healthy fats so you’re getting enough nutrients,” says Glassman. In this salad, the chickpeas and almonds provide protein, while the avocado and dressing add healthy fats.
So easy, yet so good. 10 Mary’s crackers (108 cal) with 2 Tbsp vegan guacamole (40 cal).
Total: 148 calories
Note: Many people who go vegan make the mistake of loading up on vegan processed foods, thinking they’re all healthy. In reality, a vegan cookie is still a cookie. “The most important thing is not to think, ‘Oh, I’m not having animal food—let’s drink Diet Coke and have processed everything,’” says Glassman.
Get your burger on: Try 1 veggie burger (115 cal) on a whole-wheat bun (114 cal) with 1/4 avocado (77 cal), 3/4 cup baked squash (62 cal), and 1/2 cup broccoli (22 cal).
Total: 390 calories
Since 1,200 calories is the lowest you’d want to go, you can eat this—or a couple hundred calories more!—when you’re trying to lose weight on the vegan diet, says Glassman, who adds that focusing on eating healthful foods in appropriate portion sizes is way more important than super-strict calorie counting.