DO CALORIES COUNT?

Have you seen the new ‘400 calories for breakfast, 600 calories for lunch, 600 calories for dinner’ campaign from Public Health England?

This new campaign is the latest to tackle obesity and encourages adults to stick with a 400-600-600 calorie meal plan (plus a couple of healthy snacks) to help them reach a healthy weight.
What I LIKE about this campaign is that it finally acknowledges calories and energy balance as the key determinant of weight loss, rather than demonising one nutrient aka fat/ carbs (which for years hasn’t down anyone much good, but the papers have had lots of mileage from it!).
Research shows it’s not the diet that you choose, but the degree of calorie restriction that determines whether you lose weight or not. All diets work – low carb, low fat, Mediterranean – providing you stick with them!
That said, this type of blanket recommendation isn’t right for everyone (we all have different calorie needs, even when we’re trying to lose weight), and with chains like Macdonald’s getting in on the act, it’d be easy to slide into processed food central, or for this to become a marketing act.
There’s also the danger of just looking at calories to determine whether a food is ok or ‘healthy’ (avocados won’t do well here) – and forgetting to think about fruit and veg and fibre and the overall balance of your diet. You could lose weight eating five mars bars a day but you’d soon feel rubbish and your health would go downhill rapidly.
Treating calories as information rather than using them to label foods good or bad is smart – use the information to help you decide, but not police yourself. A chocolate muffin and a bowl of oats with fruit both contain ~400 calories, but one leaves me hungry by 11 and the other keeps me feeling full and energised – and that tends to roll over the rest of the day.
The other thing missing here is the discussion about hunger – and emotions. We all eat for reasons other than hunger, and tapping into these is an effective way to help us manage our weight – without less of a focus on calories.
Only time will tell whether this is useful, but I think it’s a step in the right direction…

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