What it's like to eat only 1,200 calories for 5 days
MANILA, Philippines – No word strikes quite as much fear in the hearts of indulgent foodies like the word “diet.” The mere mention of the word can conjure up images of repetitive meals, harsh restrictions, and food that looks like wrinkly body parts and is blander than that kiss between Rose and Finn in The Last Jedi.
As scary as the prospect of dieting was, however, I was more afraid at how bad my eating habits have become – and also afraid of the prospect of having to buy myself a whole new wardrobe because I no longer fit in my existing clothes. And so I volunteered to try a calorie-counted diet, which seemed like the most painless choice to me, because there are no strict food restrictions, only calorie limits.
Luckily, there are many diet delivery services out there that take the guesswork out of calorie counting. I tried Delicious Diet, which serves a menu created by the incredibly innovative Privatus chef AJ Reyes, and registered nutritionist-dietitian Daryl Julian. I received their 5-day weight loss plan, which includes 3 meals a day and a snack totaling to 1,200 calories, delivered to the client’s address of choice at preferred times. They promise meals that are cooked with as little oil as possible, and with controlled sugar use, to help curb hypertension and diabetes, which are common among Filipinos
The diet service offers a range of meal plans from 1,200 to 1,800 calories, depending on your needs. Its founder says that the 1,200 calorie plan was designed with working professionals in mind who have little time to exercise, and are prone to stress eating. Those who are more active are probably better suited to the heavier meal plans.
With dishes like creamy mussels & squid in pasta, charred shrimp, and baked crusted fish, I looked forward to trying this diet out. When my Monday meals were delivered the night before, I peered into every container, and realized I’d never been more excited to start a diet.
Before starting, I weighed 153 lbs – which I could feel because my jeans were tighter and I was more sluggish. I didn’t set a weight goal because I was only trying the diet out for a week and couldn’t exercise either (I was recovering from a nasty ankle sprain). Instead of weight loss, my goal was to answer these questions: Will I lose weight by just cutting calories and not exercising? How much weight? And will the diet experience be worth any weight loss it results in? This is what happened:
On the menu:
- Breakfast – Cheesy breakfast quesadilla
- Lunch –Classic roast beef with creamy mushroom pepper sauce and mashed potato Dinner – Crisp Asian seafood salad with sesame dressing
- Snack – Spinach quiche
Favorite meal: Lunch! The beef was soft, and the potatoes were so creamy and indulgent, I only wished I could have more.
Cheats: I cheated a lot on the first day! Aside from my regular morning coffee, I had two servings of mushroom chips and a butter cookie.
Thoughts: The portions were smaller than I expected, but only because I was so unfamiliar with what calories look like relative to portion size. It was really challenging to stick only to the meal plan and to not crave for more, especially because the food was delicious.
On the menu:
- Breakfast – Panini of Mediterranean roasted vegetables and egg
- Lunch – Poached salmon in lemon herb sauce with roasted vegetables and brown rice
- Dinner – Charred shrimp with cauliflower & grilled potato
- Snack – Beetroot and mango streusel
Favorite meal: Everything was so good, but I loved dinner. Aside from being flavorful and filling, all the different textures – the soft but firm shrimp, the crumbly cauliflower, and the bite of the potato – gave the entire meal an extra edge.
Cheats: I managed to get through the workday without cheating, but an after work meet-up with friends proved to be my downfall. I had 3 small pieces of paneer, a spoonful of gulab jamun, some pistachio kulfi, and two glasses of wine.
Thoughts: I found myself saying “I’m hungry” a lot during the day, but in hindsight I realize I wasn’t really hungry. My stomach wasn’t empty, I was just craving – something a drink of water could fix. Also, even if I had really good meals, I definitely felt the diet fatigue on day 2, and if I hadn’t been subscribed to a 5 week plan, this may have been the point where I quit. That’s another point for subscribing to a diet delivery service – most of them are weekly subscriptions, so you’re committed to trying it for at least 5 days.
On the menu:
- Breakfast – Smoked salmon omelette with cauliflower hash
- Lunch – Grilled chicken in quinoa and mushroom rice
- Dinner – Sesame crusted tuna with stir-fried vegetables
- Snack – Red velvet cupcake (yes, a full-sized one!)
Favorite meal: Dinner! I loved the tuna.
Cheats: After being so determined not to cheat the day before and still caving, I decided to take a more relaxed approach on day 3. I told myself there’s no pressure to stick to the plan, but it’d be nice if I did. Guess what – it happened. I had nothing off-menu except for a glass of milk at night. Apparently, I don’t diet well under pressure.
Thoughts: Sticking to the diet has gotten easy and I generally felt lighter, but at this point I also started missing the spontaneity of deciding where to eat on a daily basis.
On the menu:
- Breakfast – Chicken sausage and egg bagel sandwich
- Lunch – Grilled chicken cobb salad with lemon and basil dressing
- Dinner – Baked crusted fish with light tartar sauce and brown rice
- Snack – Vegetable bread lasagna
Favorite meal: Dinner. The fish was soft and surprisingly flavorful. Paired with the brown rice, it was really filling.
Cheats: Just coffee. It took all of 4 days to really get a hang of the diet!
Thoughts: My jeans were starting to feel less like a torture device, and more like a piece of clothing. I also felt more energetic – which probably could be owed to a lot of other factors, but I’m sure the fact that I was eating healthier food had something to do with that?
On the menu:
- Breakfast – Vegetable quiche and mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette
- Lunch – Creamy mussel and squid in creamy pasta
- Dinner – Slow cooked beef and vegetable creamy curry and brown rice
- Snack – Lemon pecan pie
Favorite meal: Dinner. Everything about this meal was great – from the tenderness of the beef, to the flavor of the sauce, and the doneness of the rice. The perfect way to say goodbye, perhaps?
Cheats: Coffee, 3 sticks of tofu, and a full glass of red wine to celebrate making it through the diet week!
Thoughts: I was proud of myself for making it to the finish line, and honestly relieved that I could have more freedom with what I could eat again. I was also nervous. I know the diet had benefited me health-wise – I could feel it in the way my clothes fit, and the way I moved. I was afraid that once I got off it, I’d instantly spiral back, and become even worse than I was before. Then I figured, it was all up to me if that happened, whether I stayed on the diet or not.
I definitely prefer the freedom of not being on a diet, but I am still glad I went on one – if only for a week. The diet not only jumpstarted my weight loss in a major way, but more than just shedding pounds, it helped me redirect my eating habits towards an altogether healthier direction.
After finishing the diet, I weighed in at 145 lbs. I lost 7 whole pounds! It isn’t apparent yet in how I look, butI definitely FEEL it, which has always been more important to me anyway.
The weight, of course, could come back with a vengeance. So while I am off the diet now, I’m trying to practice some habits I learned during my diet week. Some of these include:
- Drinking a lot of water
- Taking a moment to think about whether I’m actually hungry, or just craving
- Eating 3 square meals a day, at roughly the same time each day
- Portion control
If you’re thinking of going on a diet, or have already started, here are a few tips:
- Choose one that best suits your needs.
- Exercise accordingly – don’t over-exert yourself if you’re running on just 1,200 calories a day.
- Social events are a dieting minefield – attend them with caution, and go prepared. (as in, full)
- Your alcohol tolerance will be compromised. Drink less than you usually do.
- Finally, pay attention to how you feel, more than how you look. As with any diet, physical results won’t show for a while, but its effects on your mood and general feeling of wellbeing are almost instant.