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Calories - do they count for anything?

From April, it became the law for large restaurants (those employing over 250 people) to display calories on their menus of all dishes.

Did you know this? Do you think it’s a good thing? A bad thing? Does it even matter?

As someone who spent a lot of time being overweight, you may think I’d have been fully aware of calories, what they are, what they do, how they impact physically.

The change in law has brought out arguments from both sides, I’ve been surprised that predominantly the feedback from both the trade and the public is generally very negative. Saying it opens up to eating disorders, that it’s Big Brother watching over us, controlling things.

But consider a few stats if you will:

· In 2018/19 there were 876,000 hospital admissions where obesity was recorded as the primary or a secondary diagnosis.

· Last year there were over 1,000,000 – that’s an increase of 17%

· Around two-thirds of adults are above a healthy weight and of these ½ are obese.

· Obesity is associated with reduced life-expectancy; it’s a risk factor for a whole range of chronic illnesses; cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, at least 12 types of cancer, liver and respiratory disease.

· Obesity puts people much more at risk with Covid 19 in recent years.

· It is estimated that overweight and obesity-related conditions cost the NHS £6.1billion each year.

I am all too aware of how hard it is to lose weight. I was overweight for a lot of years. Not just the couple of years after having a child, no, I was overweight when I was at school, for all of my 20s, definitely well-into my 30s until I dieted for my wedding and basically starved for an entire summer. I know what it’s like to be fat. To have fat. To loathe a reflection in a mirror or a window.

I still recall the School Nurse when I was about 13, making me get on the scales before my BCG injection, she looked at me, tutted and said that I needed to lose at least 11lbs and that I should never be over 11st and sent me on my way. That was nearly 30 years ago and I can still remember her saying it, what I don’t ever remember was her telling me how the heck I was supposed to do that, because guess what? Not everyone is a cook. Not everyone is educated in nutrition, in food, in what it contains, in how to use it, how to be healthy. Because it isn’t second nature for all of us – clearly!

It took me a very long time to discover that just because I had been overweight for most of my life, it didn’t mean I always had to be. I worked hard to change that and losing 5st wasn’t just done through exercise – don’t get me wrong, exercise is important for physical health and fitness, as well as mental, but exercise doesn’t just help you to lose weight. What you eat and what you drink goes a long way too.

To be honest with you, addressing food and drink habits with people is really flipping awkward because people always assume that you are judging them. I’m never going to do that because I spent a lot of my life filling my face with atrocities! Seriously, if you saw what I used to eat you would be appalled!

So when I came to the decision that I wanted to lose weight and joined a gym, it took a few months to get the gist of exercising and learning to love it. The significant changes to my diet, didn’t miraculously happen overnight, I lived by the mantra for a long time of “eat less, move more”, but it was a good 12 months before I properly looked at food and considered actually cooking, trying new food and acknowledging it as something nutritional and good for me!

The only way anyone loses weight is by having a calorie-deficit.

That is it. That is the only way that people lose weight. Your body has to burn more than it consumes. It is that straightforward.

If you have a few things that you eat that you know you could cut back on, then you’re going to be lowering your calorie consumption. But what happens if you don’t really know just how much you’re consuming? That’s where being mindful/aware of calorie counts really does help. And I know it helps because I’ve been aware of them for a lot of years now and I continue to be aware of them.

I’ve logged my food intake into MyFitnessPal for years – literally years, 2,181 days today the app tells me! It’s a simple app on the phone were you “log” your food and/or drink. The search engine is brilliant and always improving, it scans most barcodes and when I first started using it I was flabbergasted! Truly shocked and I’m suddenly faced with the realisation that I am making myself fat! Me! What I was choosing to put into my mouth is what was making me fat!

I didn’t know a slice of cake was 500 calories! I didn’t know a bag of Midget Gems was 500 calories per bag and I was having 1 of those each every single day….let alone all of the other food that I was eating! Monitoring my portions suddenly made me aware that I was completely and utterly overdoing it – I had no control, not because I was stupid, but because I was unaware and uneducated. Because I just didn’t think. I didn’t know!

Just this weekend I came a cross a new menu – clearly prepared for this new change in law – at a popular garden centre – it displayed the calorie content of each meal – no big bold letters, just the figure there for people to see – if they care, if they want to know. It doesn’t tell you whether or not to order it because that is your choice. It will always be your choice whether to order something.

Some will of course argue that it’s not all about calories, that just because it’s got all these calories in, it’s actually really low in fat and has used healthier bread/rice/pasta etc. But there will always be devils advocates. There will always be something else to add or something to take away because you can’t please everyone.

I am mindful every day of what I consume….mindful, not obsessed. I am mindful because my filters are pretty rubbish – yes, it was me who managed eat a jar of Biscoff Spread in 6 days a few weeks ago! It was me who used to buy Percy Pig sweets for the boy – and give him a couple and eat the rest myself! It was me who used to be able to eat half a baguette quite happily to myself as a side of my dinner!

Becoming aware of a part of what I eat has aided me massively in not only losing the weight I did, but in sustaining that loss. When I got run over by a car, I didn’t have the option to burn calories through exercise so I adjusted my calorie intake through food to allow for lack of movement.

This awareness has become a habit and if big brands and restaurants are going to aid this awareness on their menus, to allow us to make informed decisions then I am completely here for it.

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