Counting the cost

Did anyone see the article on the news yesterday stating that counting calories has an adverse effect on our health. New thinking is that it increases the chances of dietary relapse and we should in fact just be following a Mediterranean diet.

It also stated that the NHS should be made reevaluate its advice on counting calories to lose weight. Research shows most return to bad habits and actually increase their original size. This yoyoing is actually more damaging to our bodies than just being overweight.



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41 Replies

  • I think a lot of us know this stuff already, about calorie counting apparently leading to returning to old habits once you stop. But the 12 week plan is also about helping you change habits in a sustainable way, it's not just about the calories. We reach the end of the 12 weeks with not just a better grasp of calorie content but knowing which foods are higher in fibre, keeping track of how much fruit and veg we have, and seeing the effect of introducing more exercise into our routine. So to say the NHS just advises calorie control is a bit simplistic I think, as I'm finding the advice to be very sustainable. A lot of us also know about the mediterranean diet being healthy esp all the olive oil, fresh tomatoes etc, and many of us do aim to have these healthy things in our diets. Even, recently someone asked what's so wrong with pasta and got lots of replies saying it's not bad in reasonable amounts. So I think this story is just a rehash of old stories, oversimplified, and doesn't say anything new we don't already know!

  • I disagree. Even an NHS Dr interviewed acknowledged that she wasn't necessarily giving her patients best advice in calorie counting but insinuated patients would be unable to understand a different approach.

    I found her remarks very condescending. The NHS seems stuck in backwards thinking.

    And even though I would like to think most of us on this site have educated themselves to the pros and cons of calorie counting, the average joe visiting their GP has not.

    If the NHS's approach was working so well, the stastics for overweight/ obese people would be falling and not rising.

    Hope you don't mind a debate lol. It's the devil in me 😡

  • I believe that thinking has changed. It used to be all fat is bad. Now we know the diet industry jumped on that and created low fat alternatives that increased our sugar intake by hidden sugar and we all got fatter! Gave us diet soda and our teeth rotted and cancers increased.

    The current trend is carbs are bad eat fat! But not all fat is healthy. Many veggies ( particularly root veggies) and fruits are carb rich and yet some would say eat away!

    I am following 12 week plan and restricting calories but also looking at food groups, where my food comes from and how I combine them.(eg. We need some fats when eating salad to digest and get vitamins from the leaves)

    I saw the interviews and the were good points made but it isn't a simple subject.

    We tend to have sedentary jobs and technology that does work for us. We need to chose to burn calories exercising.

    It is all about balance. We have the best food from around the world available 12 months a year. Fru it's and veggies used to be seasonal now we can literally have too much of even good things whenever we want.

    So where does this get us? Yes a Mediterranean's diet is healthy but are all Mediterranean people slim? No!

    We should all be striving to get healthier. For us here that includes losing weight. Diet and exercise are a means to that end. The 12 week plan helps with the re education we overweight /obese people need. There have been many discussions here about how to stop yo yoing and continuing to be accountable once we reach goal. Hopefully new habits and strong willpower developed doing the program will keep us taking account of what we eat in the long term.

  • Devil in you is very welcome but I agree with Ruth. I am proudly the average Jo and not very bright at this. I am also a survivor of yo yo dieting but prefer to attribute that to my own agency and not blame the NHS. My local GP service and NHS nutritionists have been unconditionally helpful and consistent over a period of ten years and have offered me information from a variety of sources including about a very wide range of weight reduction programs. At times individuals haven't got the tone right but other times nor have I.

    Calorie counting is for me a really useful tool -one of several -as i develop individually relevant ways to live better and get healthy in a sustainable way. For some people converting to a Mediterranean diet, to veganism, or a very low carb is part of their answer.

  • I came to this 12 week plan of my own accord, so even if it's NHS endorsed, no doctor sat down and told me to restrict calories. Two doctors have independently advised me to cut out wheat though. The most recent one told me to cut out wheat, cheese and drink fennel tea. I've combined this advice with the 12 week plan and lost weight and felt improvements in health issues that were being affected by my weight/diet. I may be a rarity to have had a good experience, but I certainly haven't felt like any doctor was particularly condescending. Have you experienced a doctor being condescending to you? I think criticisms of the NHS are likely to be just as simplistic as the 'simplistic' NHS advice they think they are criticising...

  • As with anything else , when new research appears we have to alter policy. The nhs is a huge machine and it takes time for changes to filter through. It seems some of the previous dietry advice is outdated and needs updating. We are not all lemmings, we are fat because we have eaten too much of the wrong things and not burned enough calories and built enough muscle. We can't blame the nhs alone. .....We need to educate ovrrselves and this plan is part of that. It's failures are not in the plan but in we weak mortals that don't always chose the best ways forward. ..


    Are we counting calories? All together now! YES!!!

    Are we loosing weight? All to gather now! YES!!!

    There will always be a new study that contradicts the old one. I'd love a job like that. "what common sense, clearly demonstrable fact can I spend a fortune of someone else's money disproving for the next few years?" How do they get these jobs??? I want one!

    As others (Ruth) have said calorie counting is only part of the plan. Its a way onto learning about diet, nutrition, our bodies, its about learning to make better decisions, showing us how to develop new habits and improving our levels of exercise and filling the old clothes skips at the recycling centre.

    These people are really fantastically unhelpful and up their own philosophical armpits. The media are little better - we've got an empty three minutes on the Today program what controversial dross can we fill it with.

    What exactly were the researchers researching, comparing what with what, with which population over what time scale? You cannot compare calorie counting with adopting a mediterranean diet. You can compare a calorie controlled Mediterranean diet against a calorie controlled non-mediterranain diet. You can compare calorie restriction against calorie un-restriction.

    I'm afraid its a bit of lazy journalism and poorly conceived research. The trouble is people like us in the process of learning and changing our habits within a well trialled framework then start to think we might not be doing the right thing.

    Do your own science. If you consume a set amount of calories over a week are you lighter after a week. If you do and you want to carry it on, continue. If you don't then do something else, probably change the balance of your diet first.

    What follows weight loss is the whole point of the program. There IS evidence that 5:2 works. There IS evidence that joining a weightless group & taking exercise works (Thats what we are doing) What we all need to always be thinking of is what will life be like once I'm at a healthy weight!

    Scientists(?) Journalists and the silly season - we deserve better!

    Rant over ! :-)

    Think I'll go and count some calories, where's my tomatoes & basil?

  • "These people are really fantastically unhelpful and up their own philosophical armpits." Belly hurting from laughing :)

  • Losing weight is not just a physical journey. If only it were that simple...

    It's so much more than number crunching. We are complex, emotional beings.

    It's vital to address the cause of over eating before we fixate on calories

  • Hence this forum being so helpful, but yes, you're right there is a gap between counselling services etc and dietary advice. Some people going to the doc asking for help with their weight may not realise what they're struggling the most with is emotional issues. It's a complex area. But luckily I haven't come across any fixation on calories, and others in this thread also haven't come across a fixation just on calories either. The NHS may be imperfect, but it's not quite that bad...

  • I think your right and that the root cause of obesity has to be examined - on a global basis because this is a global epidemic.

    At least in the UK the NHS is being proactive. I DID find a section talking about how counselling for obesity maybe available in some areas

    And you know what? You would crazy to believe that ANY kind of support in this area would be available under a government funded scheme in places like America.

    And your NHS is doing a lot more than our government in this area in Australia so perhaps your reporter needs to look outside of the country they live in to realise that things may not be perfect but gee they are a LOT better than most other countries.

  • If you read the science debates on weight gain/loss, you will find that it is controversial. There are two opposing theories, either too many calories or a hormonal and regulatory defect. What works for you may depend on your metabolic health.

    This research is going on at the moment, hopefully it isn't poorly conceived.

  • I think it's fair to add more modest portions have helped nearly all of us, yes I love my food, and yes I count calories and it works!

  • Trying to get healthier is like unravelling a piece of knitting. I am overweight and ill as a direct result for lots of reasons including inappropriate diet, sedentary work, family and religious culture, how I travel, how chores are done, my leisure tastes, my social life, my education and so on.... Poor NHS front line workers who are so often the messengers, with limited resources and yes sometimes inadequate guidelines to treat this. We yearn for a no effort, magic bullet to make obesity go away but there isn't one.

    I do however think the NHS support to this forum is a good use of resources. I am also hugely enjoying the process of getting better.

  • Good for you, Gonti!

  • Glad to see this has got you talking.

    What nobody has mentioned is that most over eating is a mental issue and not a 'greed' issue.

    Mental health is seriously underfunded on the NHS. Current thinking is that access to talking treatments would be infinitely more useful than any amount of dietary advice.

    So great if the 12 week programme is working for you but as 100s of thousands of yo yo dieters will tell you, keeping the weight stable for more than 12 months is hard. That's why so many people come back again and again.

    It can take a lot of unravelling to discover the root cause of over eating and professionals can do this.

    But when people on the verge of suicide can't access mental health services, what chance the obese?

    We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Diabetes is costing the NHS a fortune. Something more than a 12 week programme is needed.

  • Unfortunately mental health is drastically under funded in the MAJORITY of developed countries not just in the UK.

    I also think that just pushing the mental health side of things is short sighted as well - many forms of depression are specifically about imbalances in the body not because people need a therapist.

    I have been clinically depressed for around 40 years and tried every drug and therapist under the sun with little success. I usually just ended up numb, aware of the issues and despairing because no matter how much work I did on myself I felt like rubbish.

    In January of this year I started taking larges doses of magnesium to try and address a problem with my heart - which was very successful for me.

    6 weeks later I suddenly realised I wasn't feeling anywhere near as depressed and subsequently found out that magnesium deficiency can cause depression because the production of dopamine and serotonin is reduced....and that it is estimated that around 75% of the population has some form of magnesium deficiency.

    So really what is required is a an individual holistic assessment along with a targeted campaign to minimise or remove advertising by flagrantly unhealthy brands in the marketplace.

    Further to this I believe a tax should be levied on any foods that do not fall below specific per weight carb, fat, sodium etc. targets so that a fat drenched sugar coated donut is no longer an easy economical choice and requires more than a $1 to buy.

    Use these taxes to reduce the cost of fresh produce and increase marketing spend to help people see what healthy choices look like and support the holistic assessments I mentioned earlier.

  • The advice on counting (or not counting) calories but concentrating on a healthy diet of unprocessed foods came from an NHS cardiologist, who is also campaigning on reducing sugar intake. He has written about having to treat people with heart problems who had been advised to go on low-fat diets and had consequently ended up eating too much sugar.

    His views are controversial but he's not alone in his views.

    Personally I wouldn't go for a Meditteranean diet, there are too many foods in it that I can't eat, but I would go for seasonal fresh food local to wherever you lived.

  • Thanks for naming the source. I couldn't remember!

  • I have read through all the responses to this post before writing my own. For myself I see a group of people who have taken a huge stride forward in addressing their weight and health issues, all using methods that are working for them on a personal level. True, calories alone will not guarantee lifelong success in our battle, but it is a start. The longer your journey, be it weeks, months or years to get to where you want to be, with support from the likes of this forum will help you achieve your goal. We are human though, and to be human is to err. We let things slide, we berate ourselves and mentally punish ourselves often. The base line is we look for scapegoats as to why we regain weight, instead of facing the fact that we are our own worst enemies. We have a beef with calories, with fat, with sugar, with carbs..... the list is endless. What works for one person mentally and pyhsically may not be for someone else. This path we are on is long and arduous enough sometimes without feeling that how we are trying to reach the end is being sniffed at as foolish. Very demoralising, and for some with little confidence in themselves, possibly enough for them to stop trying. There are hundreds of links to sites for the pros or cons for everything imaginable, 'eat this it's good for you, aaagh don't eat it it'll rot your guts out'. The NHS is constantly under fire whatever they do, as we are ourselves with our choice of 'life diet'. We win by fighting one battle at a time, often unwittingly educating ourselves along the way. With luck and hard work, grit and determination....... and support, the life long weight battle will be permanently won.

    What I do know is , for me personally, calories are winning my battle at present. The future? Unfortunately I'm not psychic.........

    P.S. The 12 week nhs plan is as good a place to start as any, the main thing is you have become aware of the need for good health and consuming less energy, whether you want to name that energy calories or not.

    Happy, healthy eating 😊

  • We receive different advice practically every day on the news. If calorie counting works for you then just do it. Anything to lose weight and that you can find sustainable in the long term is the best diet; be it 5:2, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, low fat and high carb, high fat and low carb. It doesn't matter - I personally find the 12 NHS plan excellent, with its advice and recipes and ideas for exercise and calorie intake. I feel very healthy now, my blood pressure is down, I have lost weight and a big bonus for a 50-something female - the hot flushes have gone away!

  • I think the clash that's happening here is between a kind of 'blind' calorie counting (which is advised against in the article you saw) which results from a lack of understanding of these other aspects such as needing to watch sugar content, learn from the health benefits of the mediterranean diet, etc, and what most of us are doing on here, which is counting calories as part of the 12 week plan, which is NHS endorsed, but where we also educate ourselves about the nutritional value of foods (not just calories). This is enabled through the way it is structured and the way it introduces a new piece of advice each week, and all seems very well researched and accessible for anyone to follow. We also benefit from sharing our growing knowledge among a community of people going through the same thing (on here), which is nothing short of amazing.

    Most discussion on here is about how we can manage calorie counting in a sustainable way where the nutritional content of what we are eating is still healthy, so we're not doing that 'blind' sort of calorie counting at all, we're using it as one of many different tools in a journey towards sustainably losing weight. I think maybe some of the resistance you're getting in this thread comes from this clash. We've all made our own decisions to follow this 12 week plan (some of us taking much longer than 12 weeks, and then hanging around maintaining too, so in a way this forum makes it into something that is way more than simply a 12 week plan). We've invested a lot in it, and have achieved real results. As Shellie says, it does seem potentially demoralising, in the context of this forum and the plan most of us following being partly based on calorie counting, to imply that we shouldn't be counting calories. For many people on here it's been key to making much needed change.

    Your points all seem valid, it just feels like we've heard them all before...

  • Thank you for taking the time to read the article 😀.

    I'm not bashing anyone's attempts to lose weight. I've tried the lot. I lost 50lbs last time. And it was hard! But keeping it off failed for me. And am back with 60lbs to lose this time. I simply couldn't sustain calorie counting for the rest of my life.

    I'm the type of person who believes knowledge is power. I was asking for thoughts on a current article written by an eminent NHS cardiologist and his colleagues.


  • I have found that counting calories didn't work too well for me either, I guess I've developed some insulin resistance. I now have to watch my carb intake carefully.

  • I think one of the main points the cardiologist (who recommended the Med diet) was making was that people should be given better nutritional advice from the NHS.

    He was talking more about heart health than anything else, I think. His real concern seemed to be that heart patients were being advised to eat low fat diets rather than being told about eating healthy fats, like olive oil, because fats are high in calories.

  • I found the article to be very fair in its content. Never hurts to see things from a different point of view . Thanks again for the link

  • In the article, Tim Saunders said it would be 'idiotic' to ignore calories (paraphrasing) and the critism of the eat healthy plate ie having a can of coke as part of a healthy living example Is a bit silly too. Glad I read it though as it reinforced that this 12 week plan and forum is the way forward for me.

    Another article said that filling up with water before every meal significantly reduced the calory intake.....rocket science!

  • By the way Thompson, what a thought provoking thread. Well done you. I replied about six times...about the onslaught of fast food chains and them needing to be regulated, my dad growing veg and respecting food .....and I went on and on and on...and stayed away from the fridge!

  • I think people are substituting 'calorie counting' for '12 week plan' in this debate.

    Some people do indeed think as long as they stay within range, eating chocolate and swigging soda is ok. Not on this forum but in the real world.

    Of course that isn't what the plan supports and the article concurs. Its just the article goes further in its analysis.

  • I think that was the danger of putting up a post saying NHS advice about calorie counting was doing us harm, on a forum where people are following an NHS weight loss plan based on calorie counting! Hence the clash, but also thank you, yes an interesting post, I also found myself engaged and joining in the debate. But I didn't find the article especially enlightening, as PortlandPrincess says, is it really likely people would regularly drink a can of coke while on a calorie controlled diet? I would have thought those people would be the exception not the rule!

  • I can see benefits on both sides. I've found a way of eating that means I maintain my current weight without having to think about calories, (reducing carbs and increasing fat but not as strict as a lchf diet.) However I've still got 2 stone to loose and will only do that by keeping to a calorie limit.

  • Thompson thanks for getting such a great discussion going -one of the best I have read and really useful to me. 💐

  • Gonti, thanks so much for that. Was beginning to regret the post!

  • Hi Thomson3,

    I second what many have said about enjoying reading this thread, and thank you for writing it. Everyone's responses have been really helpful and illuminating.

    I have been part of this forum for over 2 years, and think the NHS 12 week plan is really good - previously I have lost weight and re-gained it all plus more, but this time around it's been different - I've lost a lot of weight, and I've kept it off, and am currently trying to whittle down the remaining pounds. I've continued to count calories, but that has been so easy due to using an app (MyFitnesspal) that is has not felt like a chore, and more importantly I have learned a lot about the nutritional content of food, and I try to ensure my plate of food and/or snacks are as healthy and nutritionally balanced as I can. The advice on the NHS 12 week plan has helped significantly to achieve that. I do enjoy quite a few of the Mediterranean foods which are listed in the 'Mediterranean diet' - and always have done, but I don't consider them to be particularly divergent from the NHS principles - healthy fats like nuts, seeds, fish etc - I choose complex carbs and wholegrains. I keep portion sizes sensible, whenever I can! I avoid processed foods wherever possible.

    The support and encouragement within this forum is invaluable.

    I hope that you will enjoy being part of this community, and wish you every success with your weight loss goals.

    Lowcal :-)

  • For me it is about becoming calorie aware and changing my lifestyle. I have strictly counted calories before lost lots of weight and then put it all back on. I am sure the reason I did this is that when I was dieting I ate food I don't normally eat - cardboard and tasteless. When I stopped dieting and went back to eating normally I remembered how nice food was and the weight piled back on. You have to find a way to sustain the changes you make for like if you want to keep the weight off.

    You need to be aware of the calorie and other nutritional value of what you are eating and this will help you take in control.

    I certainly agree that more emotional support is needed for overeaters, there certainly seems to be more available to undereaters and both have an unhealthy relationship with food.

  • Brilliant post. My thoughts exactly. Best wishes for your continuing success!

  • It all sounds like pretty average reporting to me.

    Only 5% of the population manage to lose weight and stay at their goal weight. No matter what eating plan they adopt.

    I agree that calorie counting may not work for all but it DOES work for some, just as Atkins or Southbeach work for some and not for others.

    I actually enjoy counting calories, finding out what a healthy portion looks like, understanding what foods really ARE the best nutritional choice, being mindful of what I consume. I have to retrain my brain because at 21 or so stone I clearly am out of touch with what is an acceptable caloric intake.

    Some people approach a limited calorie plan by eating rubbish up to their calorie limit and then assuming they will lose weight and get healthy - clearly these people should not be using a calorie counting method.

    What I find disturbing is that NOTHING has been said about the war that is being waged by fast food giants on our health.

    The World Health Organisation has determined that for every $1 that is spent on marketing healthy, sustainable food to people in the developed world the likes of Hungry Jacks, McDonalds, Cadbury and Krispy Kreme spend $500.

    500 times the marketing spend, focusing on push foods that are only going to dramatically increase our global obesity epidemic.

    Have we learned nothing from smoking? How we remain so passive about these global brands like Coca Cola who tell us, who tell our little children that 16 tsp of sugar in a can = happiness defies logic.

    The NHS is not the problem, the multibillion dollar food giants are the problem.

  • Absolutely agree with you Dave re advertising. These images are everywhere and while we are all busily getting on with our day, our subconscious brain recognises them as familiar and they just seem normal. It's only when you stop and engage your conscious thoughts you remember how unhealthy all these foods are. You're right about cigarette advertising. When I was a child cigarette adverts seemed perfectly normal but now we'd be horrified if we saw one on a billboard as we drove by! Just imagined if fast food adverts were banned and instead we drove by large posters of beautifully photographed vibrant veg and succulent fruit!

  • " if fast food adverts were banned and instead we drove by large posters of beautifully photographed vibrant veg and succulent fruit!"

    That is something that I would LOVE to see.

  • The only way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories than you expend. The only way to lose weight sustainably / keep weight off is to make a lifestyle change in which you maintain that balance. None of us can manage continual denial forever, so finding a lifestyle balance that you can live with long term is so important. Counting calories can teach you portion size and help you to a better understanding of food composition. As several others have said, it's a tool, and for many, a useful tool. It's not the only tool. I think it can be easier to be successful at weight loss if you have an overall goal to improve health and fitness, and see weight loss a positive side effect of a healthier lifestyle, rather than an end in itself. That approach means becoming much more active, which of course makes it easier to take in fewer calories than you expend.

  • There is so much confusing information out there, I think the way to go is to do whatever you are comfortable with.

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