Think quality, not quantity…
By Emma Pritchard and Ally Head
So, you want to know how many calories you should be eating.
Different websites will recommend varying numbers based on your daily activity levels, height, age and gender. For the average woman looking to maintain their current weight, the NHS recommends around 2,000 per day.
However, if you’re looking to lose fat, it’s a different ball game altogether. For many, the first port of call is downloading a calorie counting app and doing your detective work on how many calories you should be eating. But let’s be real – a calorie counting is a chore, not to mention pretty inaccurate if you’re not meticulous in your serving sizes.
Can you really be sure that almond butter on your toast is just one serving? Or that those homemade protein bars equate in calories to your shop-bought favourites?
No. So how many calories you’re consuming can feel like a minefield. Yet still, when it comes to weight loss, it’s the go-to game plan.
You’re not the only one who’s may feel overwhelmed by it, so let the experts in the field answer exactly how many calories you should eat in a day if you’re looking to lose weight.
How many calories should you eat?
Diet quality not quantity
According to American research published in JAMA, how many calories you eat could actually have nothing to do with your weight-loss success. What you should really be focusing on is the quality of the foods that make up your daily calorie intake.
The study’s takeaway is simple: cut back on highly processed foods, refined grains and added sugar, and increase your intake of vegetables and whole foods. And don’t count how many calories you’re eating or limit your portion sizes.
Low-fat vs low carb diets
This new study would suggest that you don’t need to follow a strict low-carb or low-fat plan (in fact, the team behind the research would prefer you not to eat low-fat alternatives to your favourites). Nor do you need to up your exercise.
As long as your plate is always piled with veggies, wholegrains and is, predominantly, homemade, you could expect to lose up to 13 pounds in a year – as well as shed inches off your waist, drop body fat and improve blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Could it be that religiously tracking how many calories you’ve eaten could become a habit of the past?
Why you should eat whole foods
‘Nutrient dense foods – such as wholegrains, dairy, vegetables, fruit and fish – not only feed your mouth and stomach, they will satiate your muscles, digestive system and your tissues and bones,’ says dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine. Meaning? Greater gains than if you’d, say, chomped on a chocolate bar. Which is what the study found – because the diets of those involved contained more nutrient-dense foods, they ended up naturally eating less, without even thinking about it.
‘I promote being calorie aware over calorie counting,’ says Ludlam-Raine. ‘Calorie counting can lead you to ignore true hunger and satiety signals so should be a guide, rather than a way to live your life. When it comes to health and satiety, it’s what you eat that matters most. Empty calories – ie foods that contain minimal amounts of nutrients – may taste good but they only give a temporary fix.’
So, instead of your weight-loss journey being a blur of hunger pangs, hanger and constant ‘how many calories?’ questioning, turns out it could be, well, effortless. Ready to give it a go?
Here are the top nutrient-dense foods you should be eating, according to Ludlam-Raine:
- Olive oil
‘A healthy diet is a balanced diet, so aim to contain foods from all of the five food groups,’ says Ludlam-Raine. ‘Fruits and vegetables for nutrients; wholegrains for energy and fibre; protein for growth and muscle repair; dairy for calcium; and healthy fats for many vital bodily functions including heart and brain health.’ And, because healthy living is about sustainable living… ‘If you eat 80% healthy foods then you can afford to indulge in foods that don’t provide quite as much goodness the other 20% of the time,’ Ludlam-Raine says.
If you’re worried about portion sizes – which is natural if you’re used to tracking your nutrition – gradually ease yourself in with a rough food framework. That’s to say, a calorie guideline for your day. This will depend on age, metabolism and how active you are, among other things. It’s likely that one week in you’ll naturally start eating as the study suggests and feel more satisfied. No more calorie counting needed.
From: Women’s Health UK