Every Calorie Counts!

NaomiHow aware are you of the energy contained in the food you eat? Our Health Strategy Manager, Naomi O’Farrell, takes the blog reins this week to offer you a closer look at calories and their impact on weight-loss. Naomi lost 7 lbs last year on our Change your Health Direction programme and is the project manager for the campaign.

I agreed to coach a friend of mine on his journey to go from 20 stone to 13 stone (it won’t be a short journey!). We met for a coffee to start discussing the plan. I ordered a small skinny chai latte (I felt had earned the 120 calories or so after walking the 20 minutes to the coffee shop). He ordered a hot chocolate. It took him by surprise when I said ‘he’ll have a skinny one’. Does it make that much difference? YES! Yes it does. When we started discussing how we’d tackle the weight-loss, it became immediately clear what a lack of awareness he had about just how much energy he was consuming and using every day.

There’s more to proper nutrition than calories, we know. You need a suitable balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and veg/fruit to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients and energy you need. And not all foods high in calories are necessarily bad for you. However, when taking the first steps to weight loss, calorie-awareness is an easy place to start. For more advice on nutrition, check out our blog archive for information about Weight-Loss, Sugar, Protein, Fat, Superfoods, Healthy Eating on a Budget, and lots more general advice. This week though, we’re going to focus on calories and take a look at just how many calories are contained in everyday foods*.

1200 calories a day for weight-loss*

I’m currently in the middle of an effort to lose 7lbs. To do so, I’m working towards a daily calorie intake of 1200, comprised of 3 meals and 2 snacks (as recommend on the free LloydsPharmacy Change your Health direction programme – ask in any branch for details), with each meal containing carbohydrate, fat and protein. Let’s take a look at what that looked like yesterday:

Figure 1

That wasn’t bad going. And I didn’t feel hungry or low in energy all day. With a walk at lunchtime and another after dinner, I managed to get 10,000 steps in too, which used up approximately 343 calories. Remember, calories mean energy – what we eat contains energy and when we move we use energy. To lose weight, we need to take in less energy than we use

Thinking about that whole day’s intake above, at 1200 calories, let’s take a look at the calories contained in some everyday drinks and foods, and how they contribute to our daily target.

What we’re drinking

I hope there are no surprises here. An awareness of the calories contained in liquids is crucial for anyone trying to lose or maintain weight. You can very easily drink away a day’s allowance without eating anything!

figure 2

So, that 1 pint of beer is about the same as what you should be having for your entire meal at breakfast. And three glasses of wine is well over your allowance for dinner. For soft-drinks, there is much debate over whether the diet versions are actually more harmful for you, despite the lack of calories. You should aim to reduce your intake of either if you can. Store-bought fruit juices can also contain way too much sugar and should be avoided. Water flavoured with some lemon or lime and mint is very refreshing and much better for you. Try fruit teas or freshly squeezed fruit juice if you’re craving a sweet drink.

What we’re eating

I remember reading this article in The Irish Times and gasping as Indian food is probably my favourite. I don’t mind taking the time to cook healthier versions at home but sometimes, I just love a take-away. This article made me think twice and nowadays, I make myself earn the calorie-splurge, by going for a hike or a run, and making sure I eat only small portions by sharing single portions between -two. 1500 for a chicken tikka masala and rice – is it worth it?! That’s not even counting bread, starters or wine (which I would usually include!).

The rule of thumb for regular meals is to cook it yourself and cook it from scratch; the less boxes, packets and jars, the better. When we’re on-the-go and stressed, it’s harder to plan ahead and we go for the handy option rather than a healthy one. Or we let ourselves get so hungry by not eating regularly that all we want is sugar and fat. The table below lists some foods we might choose at work or after a stressful day, when we’ve not planned in advance:

figure 3

I haven’t even gotten started on chocolate bars and crisps, which can be a regular accompaniment to your chicken roll at lunch, right? There shouldn’t be any surprises here either. We know what we should and shouldn’t be eating. But when you’re trying to lose weight, looking at those foods as a percentage of your goal daily intake should help you make better decisions. Every single thing you eat or drink counts.

Whatcha gonna do with all that energy anyway?

How active are you? This of course contributes to weight. The calories you take in should amount to less than the ones you use. My friend was averaging about 700 steps a day – not even enough to burn 40 calories. Like we said earlier, calories mean energy. So how much work do you have to do to make up for some of those foods mentioned earlier? Let’s take a look:

figure 4

I don’t know about you but it sure motivates me to know that I have to walk for over 4 hours to use up the calories contained in a 3-in-1 from a Chinese Take-Away. Never mind the amount of saturated fat, salt, the lack of vitamins, and everything else that’s wrong with dishes like this.

Yes, you use calories for everything, not just exercise – thinking, sitting up, breathing, blinking. A woman at a healthy weight needs about 2000 calories in the day. If she’s active and works out regularly, she needs even more. To lose weight, you need to create a deficit between the number of calories you take in and what you use. Put simply, eat less and do more. A better awareness of calories contained in what you’re eating will help you achieve that.

Find out more…

My friend, mentioned earlier, listened to a lecture similar to this post and at the end asked me, ‘so how do I know how many calories are in what?’ No big secret there. Read the label! And when you get the hang of calories, the label will help you refine your nutritional intake even further by assessing the other components of each food, getting you well on the way to balancing out carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. And then you’ll be writing your own blog (that I will probably follow)!

I’ve included some links below for further advice and support. And you can check out our blog archive for recipes from our own colleagues, each well within your calorie allowance. Remember; ask in any branch of LloydsPharmacy about our Change your Health direction programme. With free 1-2-1 weekly support, you’ll be far more likely to reach your weight-loss goal.

Best of luck!


Useful Links:

safefood is an all-island implementation body set up under the British-Irish Agreement with a general remit to promote awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition issues on the island of Ireland. Visit their website for advice on healthy eating for adults & children, and losing weight.

There are lots of tools and supporting advice available from the NHS Website (UK National Health Service) for anyone planning to lose weight.

Follow a member of Operation Transformation for motivation and support during your weight-loss journey.

MyFitnessPal is a website and smartphone application that can be helpful in tracking your daily intake and activity level.

My favourite website for recipes is Jamie Oliver’s. It’s easy to use and offers very clear breakdowns of calorie and nutritional content. His new book, Everyday Superfood, is a great buy!

*A daily intake of 1200 calories is recommended for women trying to lose weight. Men are recommended a 1800 daily allowance while trying to lose weight. These are general guidelines only. Those who may be more or less active may have different guidelines. Anyone suffering from a medical condition, food intolerance or taking regular prescription medication should seek the advice of a health professional. Calorie estimates contained in this post are based on MyFitnessPal Smartphone App and may vary by supplier/provider/manufacturer/fitness level. Always read the label. Always consult your GP before embarking on a significant weight-loss plan. Weight-loss goals should be based on a healthy BMI score.

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