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Why don't you track cholesterol?

The majority of food products do not include cholesterol in the nutritional breakdown on pack, which is where we get our data. However we do track saturated fat. Current understanding is that it is the saturated fat content of food that influences blood cholesterol levels more than the actual cholesterol found in food (which is a much smaller amount). We recommend monitoring your saturated fat intake as this is an effective way of controlling cholesterol.

I don't want to track to track calories and fat - can I change this?

Yes - the website also tracks carbs, sugar, protein, saturated fat and salt. You can change the fat column in your diary and track a different nutrient if you wish. To do this, go to your Food Diary page and click on the 'Settings' link above your diary. Next select 'Choose which nutrients to track in my food diary'. You can then select the nutrients you'd like to show. Tip! Drag and drop the nutrients into the order you'd like them to show in your diary.

Do I have to eat all of my fat target?

No! The figure on the website is based on the recommendation that no more than 35% of your total daily calories should come from fat. It's not a requirement that you must eat all the amount stated - treat the figure as a maximum limit that you should not exceed.

If you do find yourself eating less, that's fine but stick around two-thirds of the target, don't eat less than half as fat (especially the good type) is essential for the healthy functioning of your body.

Diets that are classed as 'low fat' tend to reduce fat intake to between 20 - 25% of total daily calories. So based on a daily target of 1,400 calories, this equates to 31g - 39g fat per day. There is no official minimum figure, but it is not recommended to go below 25g fat per day as this starts to restrict you from having a balanced diet.

Try to choose good fats - these are found in vegetable sources such as nuts and seeds and avoid unhealthy saturated fats - tend to be found in higher fat dairy products, the visible fat on meat and processed meat products such as sausages, pies and pates. Also steer clear of unhealthy trans fats - found in many processed products and take away foods.

You are probably aware that fat is the most concentrated source of calories at 9 cals per gram - that's twice the number of calories in 1 gram of carbs and protein. So it makes sense that sensibly reducing your total fat intake, is a very effective way of lowering the number of calories in your diet.

Can you give me advice on maintaining weight?

When you have reached your target weight, it is something of a matter of trial and error to find the right amount of calories you need for 'energy balance' (i.e. not losing or gaining weight). However as a guide the 'official' amount of calories recommended for an 'average' female is around 1,950 per day for a female and 2,500 per day for a male.

Of course 'average' varies a lot - and your age, height, activity level and lifestyle will all have a bearing on this. So it is best to continue to weigh yourself once a week. It is quite normal that your weight will fluctuate, but the rules for maintenance are to set yourself a 'ceiling weight' that you not exceed. This is usually 3 - 4lbs above your goal weight. Once you hit this upper limit it is an immediate trigger to take extra care with your eating to lose the few pounds. If you watch the pounds, the stones will take care of themselves!

At this point it is tempting to think that you don't need your Food Diary any more, but we would suggest that you do continue to use it - especially during the initial stages of maintenance. We recommend that you go back to the My Profile page (under the 'Personal Details' tab) and select the option for 'Maintain Weight'. Stay within the calorie target the system sets you and continue to record your weight weekly.

You may decide not to use your Food Diary every day, but it is there for you to record your week weigh in and it will also help you to find the right calorie balance between your suggested maintenance target and what is actually working for you. For example if you discover that you are gaining a little weight, then you will need to adjust down the suggested number of calories until you find the right intake for you to remain constant.

Plus you also have forum support from other members - which is really important!!! It can be tough to go it alone straight away - many people find they miss the 'high' they used to get from losing weight and other people noticing a difference. So we'd encourage you to keep using the service until you feel confident that you are comfortably maintaining.

Do I need to eat less if I don't burn off 200 calories in exercise?

No - it is not necessary to reduce your food intake by 200 calories if you don't achieve the exercise target, but this combined target was set for you to help you achieve your weight loss at the rate you selected. You can still expect to lose, but the extra activity target is designed to accelerate this.

To lose 1lb a week you need to create a calorie deficit of between 500 - 600 calories a day. This is best achieved through a combination of eating less and increasing your activity level - hence why you are also set a target to burn 200 calories each day in additional activity.

Burning the extra 200 calories is especially important if your daily target is 1,400 calories to ensure that you lose weight at the rate you have selected. You will still lose weight by controlling your food intake, but without the exercise, but weight loss may be slightly slower (this is all explained on your Results page on the website).

Plus increasing your activity level has so many positive benefits on your general health!

Can you give me advice on gaining weight?

When you are looking to gain weight then it's important to not only eat calorie rich foods, but also nutrient rich - not just concentrating on foods that are high in fat, sugar and often empty calories. Opting to takeaways or crisps and chocolate for example will help to up your calories, but it will also significantly increase your saturated fat and sugar intake - so is not the best choice in terms of overall health. Gaining weight should be done in the same way as losing weight - sensibly and gradually.

Eating extra calories can seem a bit daunting if you're used to small portions or your appetite isn't great. So here are a few tips:

  • Start off by adding in some extra snacks, and then gradually increase the total amount of food you eat over the course of the day.
  • Start with a healthy and nutritious base, and then wherever you can, enrich the foods with additional ingredients such as yogurt, fruit, nuts and healthy fats.
  • Continue eating a wide range of foods from all the food groups increasing portion sizes realistically wherever possible.
  • The frequency of meal occasions is also a good way to increase calorie and nutrient intake. Try to eat 6 times per day (3-4 small meals and at least 2 snacks per day).
  • At least 3 meal occasions during the day should include protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables or salad and a source of fat.
  • If you're looking to gain muscle mass, rather than just gain weight, calorie and protein levels will need to be increased in the diet but muscle mass will only grow with strength training. High protein foods such as protein bars, protein shakes or milk should be included as a post-training snack to ensure maximum recovery.

Good food choices when you're looking to gain weight are:

Lean meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, pulses, oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, full fat dairy foods e.g. milk, yogurt, cheese.

Can I save calories for the weekend?

Yes, you can carry over calories, and it is better to do it this way round than "spending" them first and try to compensate by eating fewer in the following days!

It is okay to add spare calories at the weekends, and as long as the amount you eat over seven days averages out at no more than your recommended calorie intake per day. Use your Week View to help you manage this.

Some researchers even believe it's a good idea to eat in a feast and famine sort of way as it's rather like what our bodies evolved to expect. However with the stresses and food temptations of modern living, the reality is that most of us lose weight more readily by eating regularly, and roughly the same amount every day to keep blood sugar levels even and hunger at bay.

The other disadvantage of saving up and pigging out for a couple of days is that it may affect an accurate weigh in (depending on what day you weigh), which can affect how you feel emotionally about your weight loss progress.

But in the light of a special event coming up, you can enjoy those saved cals!!! And even if you do exceed your target for one week - don't worry. The secret of not letting a slip up turn into a set back is to avoid dwelling on it. The odd blip will not affect your long-term progress if you get straight back on course after the weekend.

Useful Tip!

Did you know you can 'officially' plan for an easier target if you know you're going out? Go to 'Settings' (you'll find this on the food diary page, top left). Choose the day of the week that you'd like an easier target for - say Saturday or Sunday and tick the box. This will redistribute your calories across the week to give you a few more on your chosen day(s). The total number of calories across the week remains the same, so you will find that your weekday targets go down, but by planning for your treat, you know you're still on track.

Is my calorie target too high?

Firstly to assure you that the formulas and maths used to generate your calorie target are set to result in weight loss at the rate you selected. In the case of a tall overweight male for example, the starting point for our calculation which is the individual's current maintenance calorie requirement, will obviously be quite high. But the required deficit for weight loss will have been factored into the targets that are set.

Dr Campbell's view is that if an individual has been used to a high calorie intake, the gradual step reduction that our system uses is realistic. The key to success is sticking with the plan long term, and for many individuals, setting a lower target straight off would be quite drastic and increase their chances of failure.

If you are genuinely feeling satisfied on less calories than your allowance and are getting a balanced diet, there is certainly no need to eat for the sake of eating (just don't go below 1,200 calories a day). Learn to ‘listen’ to your body – if you need to eat up to your limit then do so, if you are not hungry, then stop.

Can I have an easier calorie target for some days?

Yes! The great thing about the food diary approach is that it is flexible and focuses on the overall week. So if one day you do exceed your calorie targets, by making an adjustment later in the week to compensate - either by eating less or exercising more - you can still stay on track and lose weight (you are aiming for a green tick in your Week View summary).

However in general, it is better to try and plan your treats i.e. save your calories in advance, as it takes more discipline to 'pay them back', with the risk that it just might not happen!

To opt for an 'easier' day, go to the 'Settings' page (top left on the food diary page). Choose a day that you'd like an easier target for - say Saturday or Sunday, and tick the box. This will redistribute your calories across the week to give you a few more on your chosen days. The total number of calories across the week remains the same, so you will find that your weekday targets go down. Have a play with it to see what suits your lifestyle best. Press the 'Apply Changes' button to save the changes.

Do I have to eat all of my calorie allowance?

The short answer to the question is that it doesn't matter if you don't eat all of your food target if you are genuinely feeling satisfied on less calories and getting a balanced diet. Around 1,200 calories per day is fine, but we strongly advise against going below 1,000 cals per day.

Just to give a brief explanation of the targets.

The reason our system does not set an ongoing target of less than 1,400 cals a day is on the expert advice of our consultant Dr Campbell. In his experience, trying to stick to a lower target results in a higher failure rate - your diet will be much more restrictive and therefore harder to sustain. The secret of success is to sustain a reduced calorie intake over a period of time - and achieve a steady rate of weight loss. We all want an overnight miracle, but this approach is far more likely to result in success - and importantly long term maintenance.

In fact your body's weight loss efficiency falls at a lower calorie level - in other words, the extra weight loss benefit of eating say 1,000 calories/day compared with eating 1,200 cals / day - is so small as to make the extra deprivation and hunger simply not worth it.

Your daily target will have been set to create the required calorie deficit for weight loss - so there is no need to feel like you should restrict yourself to less in order to lose weight.

Will I lose weight on 1,400 calories?

The short answer is yes! Your daily targets are calculated based on the information you input - in particular your current work and leisure exercise levels have a bearing on this. So it is worth checking the definitions of the activity levels by clicking on the little 'i' icon to ensure you have selected correctly.

To lose 1lb a week you need to create a calorie deficit of between 500 - 600 calories a day which is best achieved through a combination of eating less and increasing your activity level. This is why you are also set a target to burn 200 calories each day in additional activity. So if your allowance is 1,400 calories, your net daily calorie target is in fact 1,200 calories per day - 1,400 less 200 cals burned in extra exercise.

You may well know that the reason exercise is so important is because it doesn't just burn extra calories while you are doing it, but it actually changes your body's composition over time and has a positive effect on your metabolism.

As you start to lose the fat and build more muscle, your body - even at rest - will start to burn more calories as muscle is an active tissue requiring energy that burns calories just by being there - as opposed to fat which doesn't. For maximum benefit, your daily exercise should be activity over and above what you would usually do.

The bottom line is that if you achieve the 500 - 600 daily calorie reduction compared to what you were eating before, weight loss will happen! When our system set your calorie target, this calculation will have been taken into consideration.

Can I carry over uneaten calories?

The answer is yes. If you feel satisfied on less than your allowance, then there is no need to eat for the sake of eating - or you may wish to save some up for a special event. Eating around 1,200 calories per day is fine, but we strongly advise against going below 1,000 calories per day for all health and good sense reasons.

As general advice, it is much better if 'under eating' your calories comes first so you have spare calories to spend later - rather than spending calories you can't afford and then having to pay them back later, when it simply may not happen.

So by all means feel free to save up some calories for later in the week. Just use the Week View to keep an eye on how you're doing across the week - as long as your 'under' days off-set the 'over' days you'll still be on track to lose weight.

Why is 1,400 cals per day the minimum target you set?

Our system sets 1,400 calories as the lowest ongoing daily target on the expert advice of our consultant Dr Campbell. In his experience, trying to stick to a lower target for any length of time results in a higher drop out rate - your diet becomes much more restrictive and therefore harder to sustain. The secret of success is to maintain a reduced calorie intake over a period of time. This approach is far more likely to result in weight loss success - and importantly long term maintenance.

Very low calorie regimes and faddy crash diets may initially result in a big weight drop, but initial weight loss will be largely water (especially in low carb regimes), and you will also risk losing lean muscle mass, sometimes even from areas such as heart muscle which obviously has a potentially hazardous effect on health. Losing muscle also has the effect of increasing the proportion of fat in the body - which has a negative effect on metabolic rate (muscle being a more metabolically active tissue than fat).

Plus drastic food reduction causes the body to go into 'preserve' mode and become more efficient about calorie usage, your weight loss won't ever go into reverse if you lower your calorie increase drastically, but you will get into a situation of ever decreasing returns in which your weight loss becomes less efficient. In other words the extra pain involved in terms of hunger / risk of nutritional deficiency etc is not worth it matched against the only small benefit you get in terms of extra weight lost. And when you do return to eating normally, your body will want to grab hold of the extra food and store it in case of another lean period! So the overall effect is a slowing of metabolic rate, increase in overall percentage body fat and less efficiency at losing weight!

That said, there may be members with certain circumstances who need a target lower than 1,400 calories in order to achieve their goal. The 'Set My Own' option will let you reduce down to our minimum 1,200 calories. To do this, go to your Food Diary page and click on the 'Settings' link above your diary. Select the second link down to 'Choose a nutrition guide to follow' then 'Set My Own'. Click on the calorie target to override it with your own figure, then scroll down and press 'Apply Changes.

Activity levels

Work/Daytime Activity Level

Light - Have a job that involves long periods of sitting (office-based / driving) or are home-based and sitting for much of the day. Typical jobs: office worker, sales rep, bus/taxi/lorry driver.

Moderate - On your feet for much of the day, either standing or occasional slow paced walking. Typical jobs: shop assistant, teacher, chef/cook, bar worker, engineer.

Heavy - Active for much of the day, walking non-stop and carrying objects. Typical jobs: hospital/ward nurse, waitressing in a busy restaurant, cleaner, porter, labourer/construction worker, gardener, farm worker



Leisure Activity Level

Inactive - Do very little exercise, going for the occasional walk (moderate pace, low intensity). Spend majority of leisure time doing activities such as watching TV, playing computer games, on the internet, reading, cooking, driving, general household chores.

Moderately active - Do light to moderate intensity exercise 3-4 times a week. E.g. going to the gym / swimming / cycling / horse riding / dance classes / playing golf. Daily dog walking (brisk pace, twice a day).

Very active - You exercise almost every day of the week doing high intensity training such as running, spinning, team or competitive sports. Or regularly undertake activities such as heavy gardening, heavy DIY work.

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