When I was growing up, food didn’t come with information about calories or salt or sugar content. You just used a bit of common sense, a bit of guess work and left a bit to chance.
Now it’s a legal requirement for any supermarket food to have nutritional information attached. Look at any label and you’ll see rows of numbers and descriptions – but do you actually know what they mean?
The term ‘calories’ is now ubiquitous, with diets urging you to consume fewer of them and apps available to count them. But one thing I’ve learned working with clients at No1 Fitness is how little people really know about calories, and how quickly they can get results when they’re better educated.
When people are trying to lose weight, calories are the most important metric. The simple fact is, if you consume more calories than you expend, you will put on weight. If you burn more than you eat, you will lose weight. In this respect, it doesn’t matter what form those calories take: low fat, no carbs, gluten free, sugar free, organic, ready meals – it all comes down to one number. People associate bad food with overeating, but just because someone eats chocolate every day, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re eating more.
I’m not suggesting you should eat your daily calorie allowance in sweets and chocolate, because calories aren’t the be-all and end-all (you’ll end up with rickets and rotten teeth for starters), but if you want to drop a belt notch or two, you absolutely need to pay attention to how calorific your diet is.
I often hear people saying something like: “I don’t need to pay attention to calories, I only eat healthy foods”. But ‘healthy’ doesn’t necessarily mean low in calories. Just because your diet consists of avocados, hummus and cashew nuts, doesn’t mean you’re not over-consuming (these are three of the most over-consumed calories in our studios). Remember: if you’re otherwise healthy and struggling to lose weight, you’re eating too much.
Here are example food diaries from two of our clients. One you would typically label as ‘bad’ and one ‘good’. This should help you understand how diet is all about calories, and how being ‘healthy’ won’t stop you putting on weight.
Granola, honey, fruit
Home made chicken salad, avocado, olive oil, walnuts, spinach tomatoes, figs
Grilled fish, green veg
Almonds, hummus and carrots
Bar of chocolate
It’s like the age-old question, “What weighs more, a tonne of feathers or a tonne of lead?” Obviously they both weigh the same. In the same way, 200 calories of broccoli will have the same impact on weight-loss as 200 calories of chocolate. I would love my clients to eat more broccoli and less chocolate, but 200 calories is still 200 calories. It’s worth bearing in mind that foods like fresh veg are less calorie dense than carby or sugary foods, so 200 calories of broccoli will leave you feeling pretty full, whereas a Snickers might leave you with room for another Snickers.
Everything we consume has an energy value, including drinks. In fact, alcohol and coffee are often key factors for people who achieve results, and people are shocked when they realise how much they are consuming from their liquids. Let’s take a look at coffee:
Medium Americano 5
Medium Cappuccino 120
Flavoured latte 250
Hot Chocolate 290
Starbucks double chocolate chip frappuccino blended crème – 420 (!)
For those of you with a three-a-day latte habit, that’s 750 calories right there, before you’ve eaten a single mouthful.
Alcohol is another big reason people struggle to lose weight. In an ideal world, I would recommend going tee-total, which can work wonders. City clients in particular tend to drink a huge percentage of their calorie intake, and this has a big impact on potential weight-loss. But cutting out booze altogether is often unrealistic, with many of you drinking while entertaining clients or as a central part of your social life. So let’s take a look at how many calories you might be consuming through alcohol:
Gin and tonic 90
Glass of red wine 125
Glass of white wine 121
Pint of beer 250
Bottle of wine 555
Pina Colada 490
Wine and beer are pretty high on that list, and I don’t know a single City client who stops after one pint so that’s a big old chunk of your daily allowance. This is okay if you account for it and reduce calories from somewhere else – I have a few clients who will go out for drinks but will skip breakfast a few days a week to compensate for the over-consumption. If you think of it in terms of a simple energy game, you won’t have to remove anything from your diet right away.
Gluten free and organic vs “normal” foods.
When it comes to weight loss, eating gluten free or organic makes no difference. I’m not saying one is better or worse – although the health benefits of non gluten-intolerant people going gluten free are debatable – but for weight loss purposes they’re the same. The marketing on these types of foods can be powerful, giving you the idea that you’re eating something healthy, when in reality the organic/gluten-free option may in fact be more calorific.
I encourage using the MyFitnessPal app to keep track of calories. If the only thing you do over the next month is to pay more attention to your calorie intake, I guarantee you will start seeing some positive results.