Busting the “1200 Calorie” Weight-Loss Myth + Clean Lasagna


In a previous post, I briefly touched on the point that consuming 1200 calories per day is a big, big mistake if you’re trying to lose weight and want your results to last. I promised to elaborate at a later date, but I realized earlier this week that I never delivered on that promise. THE TIME HAS FINALLY COME, FRIENDS. Bonus: I’m pairing it with a healthy, protein-packed lasagna recipe that is way easier than any other lasagna recipe I’ve ever made.

The topic of severe calorie restriction has come up about a million times in the last 2 weeks of my life, and I realized that this specific approach to dieting is where the majority of the population screws themselves over with the best of intentions. I did it for years. One of my friends shared a blog post on Facebook a week ago that might officially be my favorite read of all time (thanks, Courtney!), and after reading it, I felt compelled to write out my perspective on this warped approach to nutrition.

1200 to 1800+ and 50 Pounds Lighter

I didn’t lose almost 50 pounds by “dieting.” Actually, I lost the weight by eating 50%+ more calories on a daily basis than I consumed when I was actively “dieting.” I honestly am not a fan of the d-word, but it’s kind of a necessary term in my vocabulary because people ask me about my diet on a daily basis. I guess I don’t hate the word itself — I just dislike what it means to most people. If I were to tell you that I was “going on a diet” a year ago, I’d have meant that I was going eat food that either a.) I didn’t like or b.) was limited to ridiculously small portions for about a month or two. Once the “diet” was done, I’d be straight back to my unhealthy habits. Sometimes, I’d lose 10-20 pounds on a “diet,” but reverting to old ways afterward would always wind me up worse off than when I started. Lasting weight loss doesn’t happen in a healthy matter if you attempt to do it by starving yourself or changing your habits in a way that is not maintainable in the long run. Plain and simple.

Last week, my wonderful coach sent me a link to a really interesting YouTube video about why typical “weight loss” diets tend to make people GAIN weight. The guy speaking legitimately knows what he’s talking about. For all of you science-y folks who want to hear a detailed explanation about why you probably won’t lose weight by severely restricting your calories, watch the video. Now. Seriously. It’s about 30 minutes long (I’d skip the first 5-6 minutes), but it’s full of great stuff. He even busts out a whiteboard to help illustrate the flaws in calorie restriction for us visual learners. To complement that, I came across an article by The Journal of American Medical Association that basically says the same thing based on findings from a study conducted on several overweight men and women over a 2-year period. This stuff isn’t new, and it doesn’t only pertain to people that are already in shape. It’s proven science — but somehow, we still aren’t hearing the message.

I know several people (myself and some of my closest friends/family members included) who’ve tried restrictive diets that are “backed by doctors,” cost an ass-load of money, and ultimately are a miserable failure. The main point: you hurt your metabolism and create a huge energy gap by practicing severe calorie restriction. When you return to eating a normal amount of food, you balloon back out almost instantaneously. All of your hard work is undone. But what’s going on inside of your body? Your metabolism is wrecked, and your body doesn’t know how to effectively use the food that you put into it. You won’t see the results you’re wanting to see, and you’ll be hungry/crazy throughout the whole “dieting” process. What sane person would want to do that to themselves for no results?

Most publicized diet plans are focused solely on calorie restriction (think Nutrisystem or whatever else you see advertised on TV as a “quick weight loss” solution) which is only half of the story. Slow and steady progress is what you should be looking for. The “quick fix” isn’t ever going to stick. Trust me. I’ve tried nearly every quick weight-loss method (short of the Lap Band) and failed with every single attempt. There is nothing as successful as 1.) maintaining a clean diet filled with whole, nutritional, as-God-intended-them-to-be foods, 2.) eating enough to maintain a functional metabolism, and 3.) regular physical activity.

We’re All a Little Brainwashed

If you’ve been restricting your calories for a long time, look up reverse dieting. This is what I did in June. Essentially, I had to slowly increase my calorie intake (50-100cal/week) to get my body used to eating an adequate amount of food because my metabolism was so jacked up from years of restrictive dieting. Every weight loss program that I’d ever followed in the past told me that I shouldn’t eat over 1200-1400 calories per day. ALL BULLSHIT. I starved myself, and the scale didn’t budge. When I started on my meal plan this summer, Kristina had me eating around 1700-1800 calories daily. I didn’t understand how increasing my caloric consumption by 50% would lead to weight loss, but I went with it, and here I am today almost 50 pounds lighter (and a hell of a lot stronger).

I don’t know how the 1200 calorie myth came about, but I do know that most people need to eat more than that. People are all different shapes, sizes, and body types, meaning our bodies all “need” a different amount of fuel (food) to adequately run. The 1200 calorie blanket statement is a generalization that only works for a SUPER small percentage of people. You wouldn’t fill up a Prius with as much gas as an F-350 needs. In that same vein, I can’t function on 1200 calories. I 5’1″, 100-lb woman who is in her sixties probably could. That ain’t me. This girl needs to eat. A lot.

8 weeks after I started eating more (by August), my pants started to get roomier. Yes, it seemed like some weird, backwards, black magic shit  was going on (eat more and lose weight didn’t match up in my brainwashed perspective), but I finally witnessed considerable progress in my body.

Fast-forward another 8 weeks to October and add another 100 calories to my daily total, and was starting to notice ab definition. On top of the visible changes, I was killing my workouts and lifting more weight. Mind=blown. The science of the human body is crazy. What’s even crazier: the power of advertising. The diet industry makes bank off of leading people to believe that calorie restriction is the way to go, then sell them packaged “meals” (which, in my opinion, shouldn’t even be considered food) for an unwarranted high price. The second people go back to eating a normal amount, all of the weight comes back (plus a few extra pounds) because they’ve ruined their metabolism. Consumers go back to the program to lose more weight, and the diet industry makes more money. It’s a vicious cycle that drains people of their physical well-being AND money all at once, and it’s extremely profitable.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

My metabolism took about 8 weeks to repair itself from years of abuse and restriction. I damaged my body when all I’d wanted to do was get in better shape. Food was the “evil” in my old life. Think about how jacked up that statement is. Food is NOT evil. Food is amazing, delicious, and we need it to survive.

The sad part: it’s not just women who’ve been brainwashed. Both Ryan and my brother thought they needed to cut their calories to trim up. Brad (my brother) asked me to help him build out an extensive meal plan to help him lose 10 pounds. I told him that he needed to eat at least 2016 calories per day (based on his RMR). His first response was “Let’s make it around 1800.” I immediately told him “No, you’ll eat 2000-2100 calories per day, and you’ll exercise 4x each week.” Sure, cutting calories might make the weight come off faster, but it’ll layer right back on (exponentially) once he goes back to eating more food, and it’ll be harder to lose it again in the future. Ryan had the same mentality. He’s not a small person by any means , and he wasn’t even eating 1500 calories a day before he started caring about his nutrition. He had to reverse diet to reset his metabolism, and he’s down about 30 pounds since August while eating around 2500 calories a day. We both eat WAY more than we used to when we were much heavier and less healthy than we are now.

The misinformation needs to stop, and people need to quit thinking that being hungry is a sign of success in the realm of weight loss. Monitoring calorie intake is really only half of the equation — the food that you eat needs to be high-quality, nutrient-dense food. Your body will reward you with RESULTS if you feed it with enough of the right things.

Clean Lasagna

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Italian for dinner tonight? DUH. I found a zucchini lasagna recipe on one of my favorite blogs (heandsheeatclean.com) and decided to make my own version of it. What I love about this recipe (aside from its nutritional greatness) is that my recipe yields 4 servings, so I always have leftovers for lunch or dinner later in the week. I’ve made this a few times, and what I’ve learned so far: it doesn’t matter if you use a mandolin slicer or sharp knife to slice up the zucchini and it always ends up more like a soupy casserole than traditional lasagna. (Zucchini contains a lot of water, so it cooks out into the casserole dish.) Serve this in a bowl, and top with Parmesan and fresh parsley. YUM!

Nutritional Overview
Calories: 307
Carbs: 17
Fat: 7
Protein: 44 (!!!)

Serves: 4
Cook time: 1 hour 25 minutes (20min  prep + 1hr 5min baking)

 Ingredients

  • 1-2 large zucchini (depending on how “large” they are)
  • 1 pound 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup fat free cottage cheese
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup low-moisture, part-skim shredded mozzarella
  • 3/4 cup marinara sauce (I used Prego Heart Smart)
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cook oil, onion, turkey, each of the spices, and tomato paste in a skillet over medium heat until turkey is browned. Let cool
  3. Slice zucchini length-wise into thin strips
  4. Spray a baking dish (I use either an 8×8 or a loaf pan) with cooking spray
  5. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of zucchini
  6. Top zucchini layer with 1/3 cup cottage cheese
  7. Top cottage cheese layer with 1/3 of the turkey mixture
  8. Top turkey layer with 1/4 cup of marinara sauce
  9. Repeat these 3 layers until you run out of stuff. End the pattern with zucchini, then top with marinara sauce and mozzarella
  10. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour
  11. Remove foil; sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top and bake for another 5 minutes
  12. Serve in individual bowls and top with fresh parsley

Note: If you want more carbohydrates in this dish, you can easily add pasta to it. I’ve made it with 2 whole wheat lasagna noodles layered in between the zucchini, and it turned out deliciously. Just cook the noodles as the package instructs and throw them somewhere in the middle of everything else. The nutritional details will change, but it’s still a healthy dinner dish even if you add this in. :o)

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7 thoughts on “Busting the “1200 Calorie” Weight-Loss Myth + Clean Lasagna”

  1. Hi Mackenzie! I Love your blog!! I have just started trying to improve my fitness/lose some weight! I have started the Shaun t t25 programme but not sure if I need to be doing weights training as well? I’m a novice with this kind of stuff! What do you think? Xx

    1. Thank you!!! :o) I’m not a personal trainer, nor have I tried T25, but here’s my (relatively uninformed) opinion: weight training will help you build lean muscle more than a strictly cardio-focused workout will, and when you have more lean muscle mass, your body will burn more fat while at REST. This is why I think strength training is super, super critical — up your weights –> build more muscle –> burn more fat at rest. Since you’re just starting out, you might want to get used to the T25 workouts, make them a habit in your daily routine, then add on the weights once you feel ready to do a little more. (This really depends on your starting fitness level and what your ultimate goals are, though.)

      I’m all for weight training. Recently, I started adding in 30 minutes of weights after the 45-minute HIIT boot camp workouts that I do each evening, and I can see more muscle definition as a result. Any exercise is good exercise, so the fact that you’ve started an intensive program is GREAT regardless of what you add onto it. :o)

  2. Hi Mackenzie, I watched this video and everything you posted which was great. I am going to try your recipes now. But how do you know how many calories do you knw what to enter in the fitness pal? Any websites? Thanks!Lizzy

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