Eating Well on 1,200 Calories a Day

Here's what a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can look like

Looking to trim a few extra pounds, lose some body fat, lower your cholesterol—or all three? There's no shortcut to reaching any of these goals—no magic pills to pop or extreme workouts to sweat through. There are, however, some very simple lifestyle changes you can make to reach a healthier weight.

Smoothie in blender
Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

One of these is, of course, cutting calories in your daily diet, and reducing the amount of unhealthy fats and cholesterol-boosting foods you eat. Doesn't sound fun, or easy, does it? Treat it like a game, however, and you may find you enjoy the challenge of coming up with menus that are as delicious as they are healthy.

Before you make any changes, figure out how many calories you should eat each day to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you try to shed too much at once, your body may get the idea that you're starving and will slow down your metabolism in order to conserve energy or even draw from your lean tissue for energy rather than turn to the fat you're aiming to obliterate. Obviously, this will be counterproductive.

Your ideal calorie count will be based on factors such as your age, height, current weight, and how active you are. The more you move, the more you should be able to eat, for example. Ultimately, though, your doctor or a dietitian will be your best guide. Before you start changing up your eating habits, consider consulting one of these experts, especially if you have any chronic conditions that could have an impact on your health.

A Sample Low-Cholesterol 1200-Calorie Meal Plan

Let's say you and your doctor or dietitian determine you can safely and effectively lose weight by eating around 1200 calories a day. Here's an example of what that might look like:


  • 1 (8-ounce) cup coffee. If you like milk in your coffee, splash in as much as 2 ounces (a quarter of a cup) of skim
  • 1 peach smoothie: Blend a handful of peaches with a handful of raspberries, half a cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt, and low-fat milk
  • 2 slices whole-grain bread (make sure the first ingredient listed is 100 percent whole wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoons butter


  • 8 ounces nonfat yogurt with 2 teaspoons honey


  • 1 serving tomato soup
  • 1 serving light chicken Caesar salad
  • 1 (8-ounce) cup seltzer with a generous squeeze of lemon or lime (if you desire)


  • 10 red or green seedless grapes


  • One 3-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast
  • A half cup of cooked quinoa
  • 5 asparagus stalks, grilled or roasted with 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 strawberries dipped in dark chocolate
  • 1 (8-ounce) cup iced tea
  • Optional beverage: 1 glass (5-ounces) of red wine

Nutrition Information 

1,200 calories, 230 calories from fat, 25.8 g fat (8.1 g saturated fat), 108 mg cholesterol, 1445 mg sodium, 197 g carbohydrate, 25.2 g fiber, 78 g protein. A glass of wine will add 127 calories and 5.5 g carbohydrate.

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  1. Maclean PS, Bergouignan A, Cornier MA, Jackman MR. Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regainAm J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011;301(3):R581–R600. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010

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