Count your calories

Obesity is an increasing problem. More than a quarter of adults in England are obese. This ranges from one in six in some areas to one in three in others, and the rate locally is on the high side. The answer has to be for people who are too heavy to make lifestyle changes with a balanced healthier diet and much more exercise.

For successful weight loss a person’s total energy intake each day, or over the week, should be less than the energy they expend in their daily lives – at work, cleaning their home, gardening, shopping etc and doing sports or walking about.

‘Calorie counting’ is a controversial approach to weight management. But national recommendations are for a diet with around 600kcal/day or so, fewer than that required for that person to keep their weight steady. Daily calorie requirements for men and women vary for people of different ages and sizes to maintain a steady weight. Men aged 19-59 years old have an average requirement for energy of around 2,550kcal/day, whereas for the average woman aged 19-50 years it’s around 1,940kcal/day. This daily allowance drops as the man or woman grows older and it depends on how active they are.

Q1. You hear a lot about fat being bad for you. Exactly what are the health risks? If I know it might motivate me to lose weight.

A. People who are very heavy and have been overweight for ages are much more likely to get diabetes, cancer (like pancreatic cancer), have a heart attack or stroke, get high blood pressure, kidney disease and back pain. If they’d slimmed down and kept a healthy lifestyle then many obese people who suffer or die early from these conditions would not have developed them. As an overweight person grows older they’re more at risk of falls too as their worn-out knees and hips are unreliable and they trip over. Many overweight people have sleep problems and may be embarrassed about how they look; that gives them low self esteem and can even trigger depression. So beware of these possible consequences and try to lose your extra weight at a steady pace.

Q2. How can I keep count of the calories I eat each day? I buy coffee and snacks when I’m at work – it relieves the boredom! I don’t eat junk food at home, but I do sometimes eat the kids’ leftovers.

A. Try keeping a diary of the calories you estimate you’ve taken for a typical week. Count the calories in your drinks as well as your food. And gauge the portion size of food you eat too. Some health-conscious supermarket cafes and pubs list the number of calories in the dishes and drinks they serve. It’s a shock to see that a large breakfast is 1,565 calories say, and then there’s the cappuccino (around 110 calories without added sugar). So nearly your entire day’s calories in one meal – whereas a small breakfast might have been only 500 calories and tea (14 calories with skimmed milk).