Losing weight is about calories in versus calories out. To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day through exercise and general living. How much you need to eat each day varies based on your height, weight and activity level. (Find out how many calories you should be eating each day for weight loss by using this formula: [Your weight x 12] – 500 = Your daily calorie goal.) But most people will lose weight on a 1,200-calorie diet, which is also the lowest you really can go calorie-wise each day while still getting all the nutrients you need.
So what does a 1,200-calorie day look like?
Here’s a meal plan I created for EatingWell Magazine. Along with specific meal and snack suggestions, I’ve also provided a calorie goal for you to shoot for at each meal. Follow it and you should be on your way to losing the weight you want.
Breakfast: Aim for 250 to 300 calories.
Think about getting some dairy and fruit at breakfast—the protein from the dairy and fiber in the fruit will keep you feeling full longer. This creamy Banana Spice Smoothie clocks in at 283 calories.
Lunch: Aim for 300 to 350 calories.
Lunch is a great time to get in healthy, fiber-filled, low-calorie vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Try this Mediterranean Plate: assemble a 4-inch whole-wheat pita bread, 1 ounce of feta cheese, a cup of grape tomatoes, 6 Kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons hummus and a cup of raw spinach with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice drizzled on top. That's 346 calories.
Dinner: Aim for 400 to 500 calories.
Serve this Clementine & Five-Spice Chicken with 2 cups of bok choy sautéed in 2 teaspoons olive oil with garlic and 1/2 cup brown rice. The whole meal delivers 455 calories.
Snacks: Aim for 50 to 100 calories.
Fill the rest of your calorie allotment with 1 to 2 snacks. To round out this day, have a small apple as your morning snack and in the afternoon 1/2 cup of raw sugar snap peas with a wedge of light Laughing Cow cheese. (Want some snack inspiration? Check out these 100-Calorie Snacks.)
Want to go all week? Follow this: 7-Day 1200-Calorie Diet Meal Plan to Lose Weight
What are your favorite low-calorie meals and snacks? Tell us what you think below.