What a 1,200 Calorie Day Looks Like (Paleo Edition)

Danielle Omar, RD
by Danielle Omar, RD
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The Paleo diet encourages us to eat like our ancestors, with a focus on unprocessed food and the elimination of grains, legumes, dairy and heavily processed foods.

Paleo-style eating has plenty of benefits — emphasizing whole foods, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats — and can certainly make a big improvement in your health. The weight-loss benefits of Paleo eating have held up in several research studies, making it a promising choice.

However, eliminating entire food groups like whole grains, legumes and dairy can mean cutting out nutrients known to be healthy and have plenty of scientific backing. Even if our ancestors didn’t eat tons of beans, research done on the Blue Zones (places in the world where people live the longest) shows the healthiest people on earth eat beans regularly — and whole grains have been linked to decreased cardiovascular risk and lower risk of mortality in numerous studies.

Whether or not you follow an entirely Paleo diet, focusing on unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is a great idea for anyone looking to boost their health. Eating nutrient-dense foods that are packed with protein, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals also allows you to feel full and satisfied while cutting back on calories. While 1,200 calories is a pretty steep calorie cut, filling your day with nutrient-packed foods makes it doable and satiating.

Here’s an idea of what your day would look like eating 1,200 calories on the Paleo diet. Pro tip: Click on the image for a link to the recipe.






> What Lunch With 30 Grams of Protein Looks Like
> What a Breakfast With 30 Grams of Protein Looks Like
> What 1,200 Calories Looks Like [Infographic]

About the Author

Danielle Omar, RD
Danielle Omar, RD

Danielle is an integrative dietitian, culinary nutritionist, author and consultant, frequently lending her love of creating to high-profile food and nutrition media outlets. She’s a regularly featured blogger and founder of foodconfidence.comwhere she inspires men and women on their journey to become their healthiest self. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.


72 responses to “What a 1,200 Calorie Day Looks Like (Paleo Edition)”

  1. Avatar SirSpaceFace says:

    Yeah, because our ancestors ate poached eggs..

    • Avatar Sheila says:

      No, they lived in caves (if they were lucky), drank ditch water, and ate whatever didn’t eat them first.

    • Avatar Keithpup says:

      They could have, put a pot with water by the fire get the water hot stir the water crack eggs into the stirring water … 3 minutes later put egg on greens

  2. Avatar durpdurp says:

    1200 calories a day isn’t enough for any active person by any means. My FITNESS pal, not my diet pal!

    • Avatar Kevinarnold says:

      Yes it is. I run 6 miles every other day & lift heavy weights 5 days a week on a 1200 cal diet. I’m 5’11”, 175 lbs Just bc it isn’t enough for you doesn’t mean it isn’t enough for everybody I know many people with similar lifestyles who it works just fine for

      • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

        So, you’re running and lifting and maintaing your weight on 1200?
        Your metabolism must be slow as a snail.

      • Avatar Rebecca Arbery says:

        Just doing some rough numbers, your basal metabolic rate – the calories your body uses at rest to keep vital functions going like breathing and keeping warm for your stats (assuming a 40 yr old male) is almost 1700 calories. That’s not factoring in all the lifting and running. I 1200 is barely recommended for the most petite females, let alone for a man your height/weight.

      • Avatar Serhad says:

        Oh wow. You must have really damaged your metabolism then. I am 170 lbs 8% body fat. Lift 6 days a week do HIIT cardio 1 time. I eat 3000 calories a day for maintenance. Sorry to say but I think you should seek immediate assistance with a certified nutritionist.

      • Avatar J-Doggz says:

        Just on BMR alone you are in starvation mode. I am literally in the same shape as you and activity levels as you (probably more so) and a 1200 calories a day would devastate my health.

        The running alone would ruin any compositional benefits gained. There is no amount Anaerobic fitness in the world that could offset that kind of lack of calories in a day.

        Either you are trolling or you are hurting yourself.

      • Avatar crystalrowan says:

        I’m about the same height/weight and while I don’t do heavy lifting (I do strength training, but lower weight/high repition) and I do cardio every day. I eat between 1200-1500 and with the calories I burn I would supposedly be in starvation based on the standard BMR calculation (if I eat 1700 a day I start to gain weight). I have multiple hormonal issues (PCOS and Hashimoto’s) that I believe have impacted my BMR and I have a hard time believing that EVERYONE has a BMR that matches the standard formula. I think that’s why so many people have a hard time with calories in/out.

      • Avatar zale123 says:

        You are either

        1. being sarcastic
        2. lying
        3. not counting calories correctly

        Running 6 miles will burn off about 1,000 calories. Since your body also burns another 1,000 calories on its own, you are at a caloric deficit and would continue losing weight until there is nothing left but bones.

      • Avatar Ade80 says:

        That doesn’t seem physiologically possible. You must be taking some sort of supplement to give you the energy to perform that much activity and maintain muscle to have the ability to strength train like that.

    • Avatar Veggielover860 says:

      1200 calories is what I have to eat to lose weight. The article talked about the paleo diet providing successful weight loss results! I didn’t see anywhere above talk about maintenance! Back off guys – if its not for you, you don’t have to be so negative!!

    • Avatar deesselisa says:

      when you are 5 feet tall and 40 years old and sit at a desk 8 hours a day for your job, it totally is.

    • Avatar julia cain says:

      For extremely obese people my fitness pal suggests 1200 calorie diet to lose weight and I at 240 pounds at first could not stay at 1200 calories but I kept trying to get lower and lower and exercise more to bring up amount of calories I could eat and still lose weight and I am finally losing weight I am down to 232 lb in the last 2 months and feeling great and have so much energy now it is awesome , however I could not eat this paleo diet it just sucks lol oh btw I walk over 18000 steps a day too.

  3. Avatar runlikeananna says:

    I would love to see a plant based version of this.

  4. Avatar Nancy Grundhauser Dupont says:

    My metabolism is like a rocket ship, I would starve on this! I do like the ideas, I am a carb lover, so I am having a hard time getting enough protein because I don’t like meat very much!

    • Avatar Serhad Ketsamanian says:

      Add milk, eggs and peas to your diet. As well as beans. These are good protein sources. YOu can also supplement with Whey Protein or Vegan Protein.
      Whey+ is a whey protein and Thrive is a Vegan Protein. Thanks

    • Avatar melodyweast says:

      eggs nuts,cheeses,nut butters,

  5. Avatar IFontes says:

    yes, this is wonderful if you are home and have time to make all these meals. What about the working moms that have to get kids, lunches, homework and the kids out the door early in the morning before heading to work.

    • Avatar Scott says:

      So, it’s not for you. Find something that works or keep making excuses.

      • Avatar IFontes says:

        Believe me I’m not making excuses. I’m in great shape. I work out 5 days a week. I’m just saying it’s not easy to make those meals daily. So don’t speak for me unless you are a working mom.

    • Avatar daNanner says:

      Working mom here — the snacks get made on the weekend. Roasted sweet potatoes last a few days, so can also be made on the weekend. Almost every meal here takes less than 30 minutes to make. You can also buy pre-made zoodles and chopped veggies at most grocery stores these days, greatly cutting down on prep time.

  6. Avatar disqus_z0QHnkPJ5Y says:

    This makes me incredibly sad to see MyFitnessPal promoting 1,200 calorie diets. This is so, so low. If you’re an athlete (or, even if you’re just a casual walker), you should be eating more than this to sustain yourself. There’s no need to starve yourself to achieve health/fitness success. I used to be paleo and eat 1,200 calories a day, but realized the harm I was doing to myself. I now eat clean much like paleo, but include more foods and carbs to fuel my body. I eat no less than 2,200 calories a day (eating around 2,500 on my high macro days) and have lost weight and repaired my metabolism.

    • Avatar . says:

      You get that not everyone is an athlete, right? I’m a 5’0 disabled woman capable of very little exercise, 1200-1400 calories a day is what my doctor recommends. If I ate 2500 a day I’d be the size of a house.

    • Avatar violet1551 says:

      I do wonder if you actually use MFP after this comment. When you log your exercise, the app adjusts your calories. For example, if I burned 700 calories in a work out, my daily limit would adjust from 1200 to 1900 and so on. Also, for people who are trying to lose weight, 1200 is the standard low calorie day. If you weren’t trying to lose weight, but maintain, you can set your own daily goal to something closer to 2200. Don’t knock the website and their food suggestions because you don’t have the same needs as others.

      • Avatar jessie says:

        Agreed that this 1200 stuff is terrible!!! Of course if someone is smaller framed and doesn’t exercise, 1200 calories might be their target, but this is just not the case for most people. And most people do not eat back those burned calories that I’ve talked to. They eat 1200 calories and that’s it, no matter what exercise they did. They are hungry and miserable all the time and most end up “falling off” and completely binging and going back to old habits. I think it is absolutely horrible that myfitnesspal does this!

        • Avatar AmberPT says:

          Just don’t add the exercise into MFP – that’s what I do and then the calorie allowance doesn’t alter. My target when I want to lean out or lose body fat is 1200kcals a day but my starting point is that I only weight 55kg (8 S 9lbs). Your calorie needs are dependant upon your activity level, starting weight and what type of work you do as well as your gender.

  7. Avatar Diane Barbara Bianconi says:

    I have done very well on 1200 calories

  8. Avatar Matthew Seal says:

    The article seems to argue that eating beans is good for you. And yet in the recipes provided there are no beans

  9. Avatar Mark Weber says:

    Some would call it a starvation diet, for sure!

  10. Avatar Jess Lovejoy says:

    The comments are so hateful… this article is written by a woman (not by Arnold Schwarzenegger), for people who want to adhere to a 1,200 calories/day Paleo diet. The author even begins the article with a detailed explanation as to why Paleo isn’t even a very good diet! Still, there are people who are dead set on Paleo, so she’s giving health and nutrition tips to get those people a healthy and well rounded daily diet. It’s a GOOD thing!

    If you are a male who lights weights almost daily, why are you even reading this lol??? And stop hating on the men who can survive off of a 1200 calories/day diet, that’s so rude. You don’t know their lives. But go ahead and tell them “Oh honey… no… your metabolism :'( *cries*, it’s non existent!”

    • Avatar Nye79 says:

      Written by a woman for a fitness website, not for herself. Also, I’m a woman and I’m six feet tall, kind of rude to assume all women are tiny little waifs that should be eating 1200 calories per day otherwise we’re Arnold Schwarzenegger. She could have indicated that 1200 calories a day is for extreme weight loss (which MyFitnessPal does not promote) and not sustainable, instead she calls it a steep calorie cut but doable like it’s for everyone. You end up being the only one coming off as rude telling other people what they should and shouldn’t say or what they should or shouldn’t read because you don’t agree with their opinions. If you don’t like other peoples opinions then don’t read the comments since that’s the only thing you have control over.

      • Avatar Jess Lovejoy says:

        Actually I never assumed every woman is a tiny waif… I know from personal experience that’s not true, so don’t assume my assumptions maybe?? The only thing I did assume was that this article is written for people who want a low calorie paleo diet… Also MyFitnessPal DOES promote 1200 calories as the minimum daily. Less than that, MyFitnessPal doesn’t promote and alerts the user to the issues of under eating. You can’t just say things that are not true and expect me to believe them.

        FYI – read again. I didn’t tell people to stop reading or whatever you think. The only thing I told people to do is stop hating. The others are rude, but you think I am being rude because I called out nasty behavior?? Interesting.

        You don’t have to tell me to not read the article and it’s comments. I actually like the article, and I wanted to know what people thought. So yes, I am going to read it lol, that’s how it works. It’s some of the others here that need a chill pill, I’m perfectly good @Nye79, thanks.

  11. Avatar Bill Cooper says:

    I briefly considered a Paleo diet …. right up to the point where I read they don’t eat dairy

    no cheese?

    • Avatar Mango says:

      Have you looked into the Keto diet? It has a lot in common with Paleo but dairy can be a big component. I’ve been doing it for a few months and it’s worked wonders.

      • Avatar Bill Cooper says:

        I’ve been on a Dr’s program for the past 10+ months — I eat 20-30 net carbs per day, plenty of protein, etc —- I’ve lost 160 lbs and I am probably about 5-6 lbs off my goal

        I am going to start slowly bringing back higher quality carbs into my diet … just looking at long-term options

        • Avatar Mango says:

          Wow, that’s amazing! Strict Keto isn’t necessarily a preferred long-term way of eating, but in reading about it I’ve come to find that there is leeway in the guidance, especially once you reach your target weight, and a lot of it depends on you personally and how you feel and what other health or fitness goals you may have. Then there’s the science behind it all, which usually just makes perfect sense and has always resonated with me. And that’s true of Paleo too. Actually, some Paleo dieters will follow the 80-20 rule, meaning Paleo 80% of the time, and incorporating some quality grains and dairy the other 20%. I mean, that’s kind of subjective, but you get the idea. I just started reading a book called, “The Primal Blueprint,” by Mark Sisson. It doesn’t necessarily advocate for strict Paleo or Keto, but goes into teaching you how our primal ancestors ate and lived and why mimicking that, at least most of the time, leads to optimal long-term health. It’s kind of like a textbook, but easy to read so far.

        • Avatar 11Invader says:

          Hiya. May I ask how would you introduce carbs back? I am in the same boat, and looking for as much info as possible as to how introduce carbs back.
          Thank you and have a great day. Well done to you!

          • Avatar Bill Cooper says:

            first, I book everything in MFP —- I will gradually start increasing my net carbs from the 20-30 range up to 30-50 and see how my body reacts — but i am also planning to do it with low-glycemic foods

            I only weigh myself 1x per week because I have focused more on “the process”

        • Avatar Betty says:

          Wonderful May I ask what is the name of your diet? I need to lose the same amount you can email me the info if you want Thank you.

          • Avatar Bill Cooper says:

            there is not a name, per se — it’s run by a local Dr here in the Tampa Bay area

      • Avatar PurplexedPug says:

        Ive been on keto TO- A -T for the last 6 weeks- I have lost ZERO.

  12. Thank you for sharing the Blue Zones research. There is no fad diet that can stand up to historical eating patterns of the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world!

  13. Avatar zale123 says:

    These kinds of diets never last. You will lose weight and then gain it all back because in the long run you will be craving normal food and at least 1,000 more calories per day.

    Choose a diet that you can see yourself adhering to for a long, long time. You are not going to make yourself baked potatoes and eggs for breakfast every day or herb chicken for lunch. You need a diet that lets you grab a bagel with cream cheese for lunch as well if need be, and enjoy a slice or two of pizza every once in a while.

    Stop promoting fad diets.

    • Avatar Mango says:

      You can adhere to a Paleo diet most of the time and eventually grab a bagel if that’s something you really need once and a while. Does your body want that kind of processed grains? Absolutely not. But mimicking how our primal ancestors ate is not a fad diet. If it is, then what kind of diet includes Pop Tarts, pizza, and bagels?

      • Avatar Nye79 says:

        We are not our primal ancestors. Their lives revolved around survival and if somebody handed them bagels and pizza they would’ve eaten it, so lets not put them on some weird pedestal and pretend they “ate clean” because it was good for their bodies or that they lived long lives because they were so healthy. This is a fad diet through and through, we aren’t hunter-gatherers, we live in a modern society where our lives are generally focused on other things besides food.

        • Avatar Mango says:

          Looking to reverse our health problems by returning to the pure, clean, unadulterated, not-processed food supply available to our primal ancestors has nothing to do with putting anybody on a pedestal. Our bodies are literally exactly the same as our primal ancestors’ and they weren’t eating anything that came out of a lab or factory. Their bodies were designed by evolution over millions of years to thrive on what nature provided – same is true for our bodies because we haven’t evolved in any significant way since. It is a scientific fact that refined carbs, sugars, and processed grains are detrimental to our health over time, and the more of it we eat, the worse it can be. Our bodies aren’t equipped to handle the processed garbage that we’re feeding ourselves today. If our modern lives and modern food industry were superior to the diets of our ancestors, then we would not be getting fatter and sicker by the day as a country, but we are and that’s indisputable.

          • Avatar Nye79 says:

            Yes it is putting them on a pedestal because it is a scientific fact that they weren’t healthier nor did they live longer than we do today, so why eat like them? And what you’re claiming is scientific fact is actually not, some of the longest lived and healthiest people in the world consume processed grains with every meal as is stated very clearly in the article. People aren’t getting sicker they’re getting fatter which has it’s own health issues, and they aren’t getting fatter because they’re eating any of the things you listed, they’re getting fatter because of the way our culture has changed, less activity and more consumption.

          • Avatar Mango says:

            Obesity related illnesses have been on the rise for decades and that’s easily verifiable. You don’t even have to be obese to have type 2 diabetes which is basically an epidemic at this time. Why is that? It’s not because of an overconsumption of plants and animal protein, that’s for certain. If you’re claiming that a diet heavy in processed carbs and sugars is somehow superior to, or even just as healthy as, the diet of ancient humans, that is simply incorrect. Coke, Pop Tarts, bagels, convenience foods, candy, and Doritos, etc. are man-made food-like substances that your body doesn’thave a use for and trigger all kinds of inflammatory processes like insulin and other hormonal spikes. Even if you don’t overeat, they still are inferior sources of energy and devoid of nutrients. This is all easily researched.

          • Avatar rosiegirl says:

            I agree, the cave man did not live a long life, only roughly 25 to 30 years is he was lucky. Do not agree with cutting out entire food groups, we need to eat a varied diet, consume less and and be much more active. Walking is normal, it is what our body was designed to do, if we were meant to drive everywhere, we would have wheels, instead of feet

        • Avatar Blake Romig says:

          This is consumerism at work.

  14. Avatar greg d says:


  15. Avatar KG says:

    Is she just using a for example if you were on a 1200 calorie a day diet?? Generally people who follow Paleo frown on calorie counting from my history with it.

  16. Avatar Dave says:

    Let me see, there was the low fat, low sugar, low carb, paleo, gluten free. What’s the next gimmick diet someone will be making money from, the “no food diet”? Calories in calories out is the only thing that has ever worked for me. If I make anything forbidden I just want it more.

    • Avatar Mango says:

      If that works for you, great. But all calories are not created equal and that’s been proven time and time again. If I eat 1700 calories of pizza and ice cream I am not losing weight, but 1700 calories based on the Keto diet has done the trick because those foods don’t trigger hormone responses that work against weight loss. Paleo and Keto diets closely mimic what our Primal ancestors had available to them at that time. Our bodies are identical to theirs and therefore the food available to them is what we’re still supposed to be eating. These are not gimmicks, they are just antithetical to the Standard American Diet, which is based mostly on crap science and garbage food.

  17. Avatar Fr0ntSight says:

    So does your body NOT go into ketosis if you eat dairy products. Or is this strictly regarding Paleo. Maybe because dairy is kind of proccessed? I honestly don’t know why dairy would be off a paleo or keto diet.

  18. Avatar jessie says:

    Shame on you people (myfitnesspal) for this 1200 calorie bullshit!! And such low carb too. This is NOT healthy at all (except for the plant food choices). Dangerously low calories for pretty much anyone and definitely terrible macro ratios! I’ve spoken to so many people who think they’re supposed to be eating 1200 calories thanks to you people and end up completely miserable and usually end up binge eating their way back up to whatever weight they lost.

  19. Avatar Laura Christine says:

    Well, seeing this blog post title in my inbox was enough to finally get me to click “unsubscribe” to these emails. Great job, MyFitnessPal! 😛

  20. Avatar Ade80 says:

    The recipes are great, however, to suggest a 1,200 kcal example of a dietary plan is misleading. Every person’s needs are different and in order to figure out the best caloric restriction for an individual, there’s a formula called the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation. Look it up……This site should be promoting more credible and realistic information.

  21. Avatar AJRGale says:

    lets see, can I do this on a $50/week grocery budget? nope, still need to buy toilet paper..

    Lets look at the 1st one:

    Avacardos: 2.50 each, picture says 2, link into the picture says 1..

    Eggs: picture shows 2, doesn’t mention in heading, link says 4, not just any eggs, “Eggland’s Best” eggs, woolworths doesn’t have them, looks like its USA only, so i have to import them, Lovely. (can anyone say “advertise out product” here?)
    So bog standard 12 pack, $7, divide that by 2 = 6 days, or 4 = 3 days.. need to buy more to last the week.. so that ether $14 or $28.

    link says: “1 sweet potato” so 1 whole sweet potato. get 3 in a kilo bag, need 7 of them, so that 3.90 each bag, so that $11.70

    Microgreens? wut? Sea salt, Red pepper flakes? let me just skip them. rocket salad $5 for “fresh bag” with salt’n’pepper.

    so, that $5+14+11.70+5= $35.7, thats just for the 1st Meal for a week! not going to finish this, i don’t think $14.30 is going to cover the 4 other meals there.

    I think 3x wheat biscuits is enough for me in the morning. that 204 Calories, LESS then the 294.

  22. Avatar Cyndy-loo says:

    I made the almond snack and it is awesome. Because I am a fitness instructor I need small meals during the day to keep me focused, full of energy and stamina. The recipes here are great .

  23. Avatar dp2014 says:

    This is great eye candy, but frankly, when I put the stats into MFP, I don’t come out with ANYTHING like these numbers. Chicken and vegetables for 212 calories and only 8 grams of carbs? The onions would have more carbs than that alone, and cauliflower has 5 grams. And chicken alone has 230 calories. Something doesn’t add up in these pictures.

  24. Avatar :^) says:

    lol @ all these people bitching for petty reasons. many people eat differently. this is most definitely not unhealthy or too little (to me). fun fact: sedentary people below 5 ft. exist. people who NEED (or just want) to do a paleo-like diet exist. if stuff like this doesn’t suit your taste, then back off and look at something that actually suits your own needs. this menu looks good and sustainable to me, because it is made for people like me

  25. Avatar Eric says:

    Mastodon is so hard to find. I prefer a more Archaic Diet and have the flint tools to kill, skin cook and eat any tasty animal I can catch.

  26. Avatar jemcd says:

    A doctor and a nutritionist told me to never eat a 1200 cal diet because the body goes into starvation mode and makes loosing weight impossible. Perhaps you should warn people of this.

    • Avatar Faith R. says:

      Depends on height, gender, age. At 5 ft tall and 100 lbs, my recommended caloric intake is around 1200 exactly! I won’t be starving, I’d get fat if I ate more.

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