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The Dangerous Online Cult of 1,200 Calories

On r/1200IsPlenty, thousands of people discuss their diets of consuming only 1,200 calories per day. But for almost everyone, that’s not nearly enough.

Nutrition labels are designed according to a standard of 2,000 calories per day. Maybe that would be appropriate for everyone if we were all the same size, performing the same level of physical activity per day, but we’re not. Some people need far more calories per day, while others would slowly gain weight eating 2,000 calories a day. The Department of Health’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states that the average adult woman requires between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, while men require between 2,000 to 3,000. But some fitness and diet-focused people on Reddit assert that they actually require far less — only 1,200 per day. 

r/1200IsPlenty touts itself as, “A sub for recipes, memes and support related to low-calorie diets, targeted at people who have low TDEEs,” or Total Daily Energy Expenditure, a fancy word for how many calories a person burns per day. The subreddit currently has 384,000 subscribers. 

A person’s TDEE will vary according to sex, weight, height, exercise level and age. Hypothetically, a person who is short, thin and largely sedentary could indeed have a relatively low need for calories per day. For example, according to this online calculator, at 5-foot-1 and 127 pounds, my Basal Metabolic Rate (basically, my TDEE if I did absolutely nothing all day, or the calories I’d need to consume just to keep my body functioning at its current weight if I sat on the couch 24/7) is 1,236 calories. With even a light exercise routine involving one to two workouts per week, my TDEE jumps up to 1,743 calories. 

Seems like salads get some hate but I think there’s nothing better than a flavorful salad!! 342 for a GIANT “taco” salad and yogurt! from 1200isplenty

There are few adult people both small and sedentary enough to only require around 1,200 calories per day, unless they’re trying to rapidly lose weight. Per the CDC and Healthline, the average person should only reduce their calories by around 500 per day in order to safely lose weight. Further, men shouldn’t consume fewer than 1,500 calories per day, while women shouldn’t consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day. 

I’m so close to seeing the 160s I hope less than 160 by new year even if it’s 159.8 lol from 1200isplenty

Yet, as the subreddit demonstrates, quite a few people attempt to abide by this measure. People regularly post photos of their meals or entire day of food with ultra-specific calorie counts, or use the group to share their week-to-week weight loss. While the group may provide support and encourage safe dieting practices for some, others see it as promoting a toxic mentality. 

This sub damaged my mental health and leaving it is what led to my real weightloss from 1200isplenty

“I found this sub sometime last year, looking at the amazing transformations and supporting community, I convinced myself that I needed to use this method,” a recent post by someone who has now left the group explains. “1200-1300 maximum, weighing and tracking every single gram of food that entered my body… It became a war with myself, forcing myself to track everything and restrict pretty much every type of food save for raw vegetables. I remember getting panic attacks at the supermarket, reading and analyzing every label just to see that no, I can’t eat that. I was driving myself crazy.” 

As of this writing, the post has only been up for nine hours but has over 770 upvotes. A comment on it highlights part of the issue of the group: “This subreddit is 50 percent target audience (sedentary short women), 50 percent crash dieters.” 

Despite the fact that the group’s alleged target audience is petite, inactive women, its popularity suggests that its reach has expanded beyond that demographic, potentially encouraging disordered eating. The subreddit currently is currently 941 in popularity among all subreddits — not insignificant, considering there are around 2.2 million subreddits, total.

For those of you that LOVE peanut butter, here’s a little trick. Stir a teaspoon of peanut butter into yogurt. The flavor goes a long way, and you get to eat a 1/4 cup of peanut butter flavored dip! And you better believe I lick the sides of my bowl completely. — 230 calorie meal (see comments) from 1200isplenty

Still, as further comments state, many people who utilize it understand that they need to consume more calories per day, but use the group for low-calorie meal ideas and community. Nevertheless, the problem with r/1200IsPlenty is apparent right in its name: While 1,200 calories might be enough for a small person to survive without exercise, it could be classified as “plenty” for almost no one.