“I firmly believe that eating only 1,200 calories is not healthy or sustainable in the short and long term”

Text by and photos courtesy of Sara Tan

Ever since I was a child, I’ve almost always been overweight. Being the tallest and biggest girl in school wasn’t easy as I became a victim of bullying. Prior to making an a fitness and diet overhaul, I would view exercise as a chore rather than something to look forward to. However, I was fond of walking and climbing the stairs (I could walk for several hours without getting tired!). In terms of diet, fads were my go-tos—those trends where you eat a specific type of food per day or take some sort of magic pill or when you replace your meals with some sort of nutritional shake. I had done all of them.

Although I managed to lose weight, the results didn’t last long. Eventually, my weight would go back to its original number due to feelings of deprivation I would usually experience.

The time when I realized the severity of my weight was when I saw a photo of myself during my junior-senior prom. When I saw my photos, I was disgusted and ashamed of how I looked. Shortly after, I committed to exercising at least 30 minutes a day at home. Implementing that habit worked in the short run but eventually, I plateaued as the months went by. That was when I realized that I must also incorporate fitness and healthy eating in order to gain maximum results.

In particular, I set my goal to lowering my weight down to a certain number, which is considered ideal in BMI standards. On an unrelated note, the time when I committed myself to eating healthier was also the time I committed myself to cooking my own meals.

In order to achieve my goal weight, I researched and eventually stumbled on the advice of lessening calorie intake. The research I found advised readers that 1,200 calories is the magic number to achieve weight loss. With that information, I took a jump and decided to eat just 1,200 calories worth of food. In a few months, I was able to hit my goal weight. At first, I felt good that my jawline got sharper and that I can buy clothes with more confidence. I felt energetic, smashing all my calories through vegetables and animal protein while indulging once a week. I arrived at my goal weight, and went beyond it. It came with a price, though.

As more months went by, instead of feeling that surge of energy that I would expect from eating “healthy,” a wave of lethargy drowned me. I didn’t look forward to my workouts as compared to before, and my daily meals would make me feel deprived instead of satiated.

The 1,200-calorie diet is like a commercial that promises all the wonderful things any overweight person aspires to—a slim body with newfound confidence

Physically, I get tired easily just by climbing a few set of stairs, and I felt that I don’t give it my all during my workouts. Mentally, there seems to be a cloud of fog constantly shrouding my mind. This lethargy impaired my physical and mental health to the point that it affected my everyday interactions inside and outside school. As much as I would like to give my full effort in class, I just couldn’t.

I recall a time when I was in Quiapo with my mother. It would have been considered a typical day if it were not for what had happened. Something inside me made my legs go jelly-like. I had to put extra effort just to force myself to move forward.

Then, it slowly ate away my vision, leaving a trail of darkness in the corners of my eyes. Within seconds, all I can see was pure black (No kidding, I was really scared!). Before I knew it, I fainted in the streets, and I was being dragged to a nearby sidecar as the driver let me sit inside until I got back to my senses. My mother wondered how that happened. I thought about it as well; there was this inner voice that told me this restrictive lifestyle could be the possible cause.

If one were to set their goals of losing weight, that person must ensure that this goal does not only last for a few weeks or months, but rather a lifetime

The 1,200-calorie diet is like a commercial that promises all the wonderful things any overweight person aspires to—a slim body with newfound confidence. Being a naive person who was desperate for a quick fix, I thought that this must be the solution I needed.

As mentioned, it worked for the first few months, but the good feelings I experienced vanished quickly as more months went by. I felt weaker. My mind was fuzzy. And it wrecked my concept of healthy eating and food in general. I had this notion that eating less is better for weight loss. While this may be true in certain instances, such as a slight calorie deficit, the fact that I had a severe calorie deficit is what wrecked my overall health. In the end, I knew that I had to end this madness by not following it at all.

Now, I firmly believe that eating only 1,200 calories is not healthy or sustainable in the short and long term. Whether someone is sedentary or active, that person can’t just eat just 1,200 calories. That amount is not enough for your bodies to function and grow properly.

As someone who has experienced the horrors of this diet, I would not recommend this diet to anyone at all. What’s more important is to fuel our bodies with enough nutrient-dense calories such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. I would choose that over some super restrictive, low-calorie diet with intense and vigorous exercise just to be “lean” and shredded.

If one were to set their goals of losing weight, that person must ensure that this goal does not only last for a few weeks or months, but rather a lifetime. More importantly, the optimal diet is not just a diet that promotes weight loss or is only done in the short-term, but a diet that can promote longevity, good health, and enjoyment as well.