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Calorie Allowance and Weight Loss

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Q: I broke my shoulder in January and so haven’t been able to do any exercise. I’ve gained so much weight and now weigh around 15 stone. What diet should I follow, bearing in mind I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m fully mobile?

A: It’s still possible to lose weight without exercising, although it will take you a little longer. Here’s how it works. Your weight – and particularly the amount of fat you have stored in your body – is simply a reflection of the amount of calories you take in through eating and drinking and the amount of calories your body uses up every day. When the amount of calories you take in equals the amount of calories you use up, your weight stays the same. When you take in more calories than you use up, the extra calories are stored as fat and you gain weight. In contrast, when you take in fewer calories than you use up, your body starts using up its fat supplies and you lose weight – and of course this is the situation you want to be in.

As you’ve already pointed out, until you’ve fully recovered from your accident, you’re going to find it hard to use up more calories by exercising. So, for the time being it’s really important to concentrate on taking in fewer calories by watching what you eat and drink. I suggest you start by updating your WLR Goals and Results, if you haven’t already done so. WLR will then work out a suitable daily calorie allowance for you to lose weight at your chosen rate, taking into consideration that you’re not very active. Don’t be surprised if you’re actually allowed a slightly higher calorie intake than in the past – because you’ve gained weight, your body has to work harder to move around and so you’ll be able to have more calories and still lose weight.

Once you’re able to exercise again, WLR will be able to work out exactly how many more calories you can have each day, depending on the exercise you’ve done. Good luck.

Q: I’m 52 year’s old, 12st 6lb and 5ft 3in and over the years have been on many diets. I’ve lost weight each time but then put it back on and more. Now I’m finding it difficult to lose weight at all – the calorie allowance on most diets allows me more than I eat to maintain my weight, let alone lose any. Have I damaged my metabolic rate by frequently dieting so that now I need to eat less and less in order to avoid putting on weight, and if so, what’s the solution?

A: For years it was thought that yo-yo dieting damaged our metabolism beyond repair. But fortunately, years of research have shown this is unlikely to be the case. I suggest you start by reading the feature on starvation mode. This explains what happens to your metabolism when you cut calories dramatically. As you’ll discover from this piece, it’s likely your metabolic rate is much lower now than it was in the past, because every time you’ve lost weight, you’ve lost muscle as well as fat. In contrast, every time you’ve put on weight, you’ve only regained fat – and it’s the amount of muscle we have that helps determine our metabolic rate.

With regard to the number of calories you need to lose weight, I’ve calculated your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) to be 1,500 calories a day. This is the number of calories your body uses up simply to keep it ticking over, for example, to keep you breathing and to keep your heart beating. All activity you do on top of this will increase the amount of calories you use up – even things like talking, standing and sitting. This means you should easily lose weight on a calorie intake of 1,500 calories a day. Indeed, for someone of your age, height and weight, WLR recommends a daily calorie intake of just over 1,700 calories a day to help you lose 1lb a week.

As you’re finding it so difficult to lose weight, I suggest you keep a strict food diary and get into the habit of weighing everything you eat for a week or two so that you can be accurate about your portion sizes. This should help you to stick to your daily calorie allowance. It’s also important to make sure you eat enough to ensure you burn fat rather than muscle. Exercise too will help the process along. Combine all these things and hopefully, you should see the weight start to come off slowly but surely – and this time you want to keep it off for good.

Q: I’ve opted to lose 1½lb a week with WLR but am finding it hard to stick to the same calorie allowance every day. During the week I tend to have less calories than I’m allowed, but at weekends I find I’m usually over my calorie allowance. Is it OK to bank any calories that are left at the end of the week and have them at the weekend when I’m more likely to go out for a drink?

A: Absolutely! Generally, we talk about daily energy requirements and so most diets break calorie allowances into daily blocks. However, it’s just as valid to use other periods of time such as weeks, or even months.

The key to losing weight is to take in fewer calories than you need for as long as it takes to reach your target, aiming for a loss of ½-2lb a week.

Although WLR calculates a daily calorie intake to achieve this, it’s fine to multiply your daily allowance by seven to work out a weekly calorie allowance and then allocate more calories to some days than others. For example, if you’re allowed 1,250 calories a day, you could multiply this by seven and allow yourself 8,750 calories for the week, allowing say 1,100 calories each day from Monday to Friday and 1,625 calories on both Saturday and Sunday. You should find all the information you need to do this in your Calorie History Report.

Q: My WLR profile is set to allow me to lose 2lb a week. But despite sometimes having calories left at the end of the week, I find I’ve only lost 1lb or worst still, nothing. I write down everything I eat in my diary. Where am I going wrong?

A: To start with, you might find it useful to check that all your personal details, such as your weight, height and weekly weight loss goals, are correct. If this all seems in order, you could be forgetting to add to your food diary absolutely every mouthful that passes your lips or perhaps you could be underestimating the size of your portions.

Firstly, I suggest you keep a notepad with you at all times, and every time you eat something you make a note of it. When you’re completing your food diary on line it’s easy to forget about the biscuits you munched in your morning meeting, the boiled sweets you ate in the car and the chunk of cheese you nibbled while cooking dinner. Using your notepad will jog your memory and help to ensure that you add everything to your food diary.

Secondly, I suggest you spend a week or two weighing all your portions. Consistently underestimating your food intake by even small amounts could be all that it takes to stop you from losing weight. For example, two extra tablespoons of muesli (110 calories), one extra tablespoon of oil (100 calories), a large jacket potato instead of a medium one (an extra 70 calories), a large chunk of cheese instead of a small one (an extra 115 calories) and a large glass of wine instead of a small one (an extra 100 calories), totals an additional 495 calories.

Overestimate by this amount every day – and let’s face it, it’s easy to do – and in a week you’d have stopped yourself from losing 1lb! If, after all this, you’re still struggling to lose weight, I suggest you see your GP to rule out any medical conditions that could be stopping you from losing weight.

Q: I stick to 1,000 calories a day but do very little exercise as I have sciatica and arthritis. I’ve lost just over a stone since joining WLR and am enjoying the diet. But I’m worried I’ll soon stop losing weight because I’m not very active. My GP thinks it’s highly unlikely that I’ll carry on losing weight. Should I be referred to the hospital dietitian?

A: Hold on a minute! You’re worrying about a problem that hasn’t even happened yet. As you’ve already lost a stone, are continuing to lose weight and are enjoying the diet, I suggest that for the time being you carry on with what you’re doing. After all, it’s clearly working!

Many slimmers experience a plateau from time to time, where weight loss stops for a week or two, despite them sticking rigidly to their diet. But this seems to resolve itself quickly enough so that the pounds start dropping off again. Should you reach this point (and there’s nothing to say that you will), I suggest you take a close look at your food diary and go back to weighing and measuring your portions – it’s easy for serving sizes to creep up without even noticing. You should also make sure you regularly update your Goals and Results and keep a check on the number of calories that are recommended for you each day. Bear in mind that as you lose weight, the amount of calories you need drops very slightly, simply because you have less bulk to carry around and so don’t need quite as much energy.

Finally, if you do find you come completely unstuck (which I’m sure won’t happen), that might be the time to be referred to the hospital dietitian. In the meantime, I suggest you make it your aim to prove your GP wrong!

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To find out how many calories you are burning each day, and how many you are eating - you can try the tools and databases in Weight Loss Resources, free for 24 hours. Start free trial.

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