Why you can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day and how to fix it.

Why You Can't Lose Weight on 1200 Calories a Day

Why you can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day and how to fix it.

If you’re doing everything right but still struggling with weight loss, this article is going to help you figure out why you can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day.

Maybe you’re not eating 1200 calories a day exactly. You might be eating in a calorie deficit or simply restricting your food intake.

Bottom line is you want to lose weight but you’re not seeing results.

Rather than getting advice from your friends, jumping to another diet or giving up, let’s troubleshoot it together.

I’m going to go through a number of common scenarios I find amongst my online coaching clients who come to me struggling with weight loss.

The good news is that there is a solution for every one of them which I’ll share.

No matter who you are and how stuck you feel, you can lose weight. You just haven’t found the right solution yet.

Ps. I’m going to assume you already know how much food you need to eat for weight loss and how to track your food intake. If you’re unsure, you should read this first. 



Troubleshooting the main causes.


Scenario #1: WEEKEND BINGES.


  • You track your food during the week and are very strict.
  • On the weekends you relax knowing that you’ve been good all week.
  • You go out a lot on the weekend and forget to track things or underestimate portion sizes.
  • You have big cheat meals or cheat days on the weekend. 
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re not being consistent.

If you track strictly all week but relax on the weekend, it’s very likely that your daily calorie intake is a lot higher than 1200 calories when you average it out over the week.

For example, say you need to eat 1500 calories a day to lose weight. On the weekend you end up eating 3000 calories both days. That means your average daily calorie intake for the week is around 1900 calories each day.

You might think that there’s no way you’re eating that much on the weekend, but it’s easy to go overboard without realising it. Especially if you go out for some of your meals or have a few drinks. 


Give yourself a challenge to be strict with your tracking for 30 days. This means sticking to your calorie target and not exceeding it by more than 5%, even on the weekend.

Make sure you overestimate portion sizes if eating out, or don’t eat out for 30 days. If you’re consistently sticking to your calorie target then you’ll lose weight. If not, continue reading.


Scenario #2: TOO MANY BREAKS.


  • You’ve been aiming to eat in a large calorie deficit each day.
  • You stop your diet when you have special events like birthday parties or dinners out (these happen every week)
  • You’re always stopping and starting a new restrictive diet.
  • You give up after a week of not seeing any progress and have a week off before trying again.
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re not being consistent.

If you’re eating 1200 calories a day some days but taking breaks frequently, then you’re reversing any progress you’ve made when you take that break- whether your break is just for a weekend or for a few weeks. 

You need to be eating in a calorie deficit overall for the entire week to lose weight. You need to repeat this for weeks in a row to see changes in your body weight that translate to physical changes in your body.


Consistency is key for weight loss.

That’s why it’s important to choose a calorie deficit that isn’t too large and hard to stick to.

Choosing a 15% deficit that allows you some more flexibility with your diet might be better than a 25% deficit, if it means you can stick to it for longer without taking a break.

Remember a lot of this is mental too.

If your calorie deficit is so large that it’s impossible to enjoy your life, then you’ll feel the need to make excuses to take breaks. A smaller deficit should allow you to enjoy your life a bit more whilst staying on track.

You need to stick to your calorie deficit for 30 days without having a break. If your body weight hasn’t gone down after this, then keep reading.




  • You use cups to measure your food.
  • You eyeball portion sizes for things like honey, oil and peanut butter.
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re not eating 1200 calories a day.

Cup measurements are not an accurate way of measuring your food.

If you’re using heaped cups or packing your food tightly into the cup, and logging it as a standard cup, then you’re eating more than you think.

If you’ve never tracked your food before, eyeballing portions sizes accurately is extremely difficult. It’s likely you’re underestimating how much food you’re eating.

As a result, what may look like 1200 calories a day based on your food diary, is actually more like 1700 calories a day. Let’s say your calorie requirements for weight loss are 1400 calories. If you’re really eating 1700 calories a day, that means you’re not in a calorie deficit and you won’t be able to lose weight.


Start tracking your food using a digital scale to weigh everything. This will help you keep your portion sizes more consistent. Use the scale to measure everything including peanut butter and drinks.


Scenario #4: FOOD RECALL.


  • You fill in your food diary at the end of the day based on what you can remember.
  • You’re constantly having little nibbles of food when you’re cooking.
  • You take bites out of other people’s meals when they offer it to you.
  • You don’t track oils used to cook your food, or sauces and dressings.
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re not eating 1200 calories a day.

If you haven’t been tracking all bites, tastes and sips of your food and drink, you’re consuming a lot more calories than you think.

They may seem small and insignificant, but the foods you choose to have little portions of are often calorie dense foods. This means they have a lot of calories for a tiny amount of food.

Once you start tracking these too, you’ll find that they quickly add up to a significant amount of calories.


Everything that goes into your mouth counts and needs to be counted.

It’s very easy to forget small portions of food and drink, especially if you log the food you’ve eaten for the day at the end of the day.

Start tracking everything that goes into your mouth as you eat it! 

You should overestimate portion sizes of tastes of food and sips of drink. Or even better, weigh them just like you would any other food. If you can’t weigh them, then avoid having them altogether until you’ve reached your weight loss goal.


Scenario #5: DIET FATIGUE.


  • You’ve been dieting for awhile.
  • You’re bored of your diet.
  • You have started to get more relaxed with tracking.
  • You’re allowing yourself more treats than usual.
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re no longer eating 1200 calories a day.

Dieting gets boing pretty quickly.

It’s common to start to get slack after awhile, especially if you’ve been making progress. You think you’re doing ok so you make room for some extra treats and you stop tracking bits of food. Before you know it, you’re eating enough to bring you out of a calorie deficit.


You have two options here.

You can decide to get strict again with your tracking.

Or, you can have a diet break. This is where you bring your calories back up to what you’d expect your maintenance calorie intake to be for a period of time.

Usually you’d have a diet break for 7-14 days but if you want to take a whole month off, that’s fine too. Diet breaks allow you to have a mental break from dieting without ruining your progress.

As long as you stick to your maintenance calorie needs during your break, you won’t gain weight back.

Remember though, you need to re-calculate your new maintenance calorie target as it won’t be the same as when you started your diet, especially if you’ve lost a significant amount of weight.



Troubleshooting the advanced causes.


Scenario #6: MUSCLE GROWTH.


  • You started weight training recently.
  • You are skinny fat.
  • You’re eating in a consistent calorie deficit.
  • Your body weight isn’t going down.
  • You’re not measuring any other form of progress.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re measuring progress the wrong way.

There is a difference between weight loss and fat loss.

To get a better looking body, you want to lose body fat and not just body weight (which could be fat, muscle or water).

If you’re new to weight lifting and also eating in a calorie deficit, you might be losing fat without any change in scale weight. This is because you’re building muscle at the same time.

If you’re skinny fat, then it’s likely that to get the body you want you don’t even need to lose weight. You need to focus on losing fat and building muscle.

This process of losing fat whilst building muscle is called body recomposition and I’ve written a whole article on it which you can check out here.


You need to make sure you’re measuring progress correctly. Don’t just rely on your body weight.

You should take your body measurements and progress photos too. If your weight is staying the same and your waist circumference is going down, that is a sign you’re making fat loss progress.

If you need help with measuring fat loss progress the right way, you can check this out here.




  • You’ve been consistently eating in a calorie deficit.
  • You’re measuring everything accurately.
  • You’ve hit a point where the scale and your waist measurement have both stopped moving or have gone back up.
  • You often feel bloated or puffy especially around your stomach, back of arms or upper legs.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re missing the progress you’re actually making.

Water retention can make it look like you’ve plateaued in fat loss when you haven’t really. The progress you’re making is hiding.

Holding onto extra water may cause the scale to stay the same, even if fat loss is occurring. Body waist measurements are usually a better indicator of fat loss, but these can also stop going down if you’re bloated due to water retention.

You’ll find that once you get rid of your water retention, the scales and your waist measurements will go down by a significant amount.


The best way to deal with this is to stay consistent and be patient.

Don’t change your plan or increase your calorie deficit- that could make things worse. Keep doing everything you’ve been doing until the water retention goes away. You need to remind yourself that you’re holding onto extra water and it’s not fat.

How do you know that you’re holding onto water?

Water retention and body fat feel different. Learn to understand what water retention feels like so you don’t freak out when it happens.

Also, with water retention, you’ll wake up bloated overnight and the scales will be up by a pound or more. Unless you’ve eaten way over your maintenance calorie needs the day before (around 3500 calories over), it’s not possible for you to have gained a pound or more of fat over night. 

You can do things to minimise water retention but it’s not always something you have control over.

Your menstrual cycle is a common cause of water retention at certain times of the month. In this case, it can be helpful to learn how to track progress better around your cycle so you don’t get discouraged every time you see your measurements go up. You can learn how to do that here.

Water retention is also related to stress and increased cortisol. A common cause of this is combining a large calorie deficit and excessive exercise.

Making sure you’re eating in a moderate calorie deficit and not overdoing it when it comes to exercise can obviously help reduce this type of stress.

If you’re stressed as a result of life circumstances, then it could be a good idea to have a diet break whilst you deal with that stress first. 


Scenario #8: ADAPTATION.


  • You’ve been eating in a calorie deficit for weeks or months.
  • You’ve been consistent with your diet and tracking everything accurately.
  • Your non-exercise activity has either stayed consistent or decreased.
  • You’re not seeing any changes to your body weight, waist measurement or progress photos.


You can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day because you’re no longer in a calorie deficit.

Your body has adapted to what it’s been doing and plateaued.

If you start your diet with a 500 calorie deficit per day, your body adapts to this in various way so that over time your energy requirements are reduced. The 500 calorie deficit is no longer a deficit. It becomes your new maintenance calorie intake.

If you’re no longer in a deficit then progress will stop because your body no longer has a stimulus it needs to adapt to.


You need to make some small changes to your plan. Check out my article here for 5 ways to overcome a weight loss plateau.

If you’re really eating 1200 calories a day and have plateaued, then it might be necessary to have a break from dieting for a period.

In most cases, I would recommend doing a reverse diet to bring your calorie intake back up without gaining fat back. You can read more about reverse diets and how to set one up here.

Once you’ve spent some time eating at a higher calorie intake you can start your diet again. Your body should respond well because it’s no longer used to being in a calorie deficit.




Here’s what you need to do if you can’t lose weight on 1200 calories a day:

  1. Don’t freak out or get down on yourself. It won’t help you lose weight.
  2. Don’t listen to your friends advice, jump to another diet or give up. There’s nothing wrong with you and you can lose weight.
  3. Go through the main troubleshooting scenarios in this article and see if any apply to you. It’s very very likely one of them does.
  4. If not, then go through the advanced troubleshooting scenarios.
  5. If you’re still unsure about your specific situation reach out to me here.