A member of the British Dietetic Association, Juliette Kellow has worked in the NHS and for the food industry, and is the former editor of magazines Slimming and Top Santé. She's also the former editorial...

Tot up what you’ve eaten today. Now do it again and include every last nibble. Same result? If not, you could have a case of food amnesia

NUMEROUS STUDIES reveal most of us incorrectly estimate how many calories we’re really consuming each day, especially if we’re already overweight. One piece of research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that, on average, adults underestimated a massive 25% of their daily calorie needs – in other words, the study found that a woman who needs around 2,000 calories a day is likely to underestimate her calorie intake by around 500kcal!

Even committed dieters aren’t as clued up as they think when it comes to calorie maths. A US study found female slimmers under-reported their calorie intakes by almost 500kcal a day, too – enough to prevent them losing 1lb a week. Most foods we buy these days come with nutrition information on the label, including the calorie content – so where are these furtive calories coming from? If we’re trying to lose weight, chances are we’re not scoffing bars of chocolate, giant cookies or packets of sweets…

Just 100kcal more than you need each day can lead to a 10lb weight gain in a year

‘Often calories tot up through mindless nibbling,’ says nutrition scientist and HFG expert Bridget Benelam. ‘That leftover fish finger from your child’s plate, the slice of ham you snacked on while waiting for dinner to cook, the cheese sauce you scooped up from the bottom of the pan after making lasagne, or the boiled sweets you sucked in the car – they all contain calories. But because you’re only having a mouthful here and there, it’s easy to forget about them – that’s “food amnesia”.

‘It’s really difficult to keep track of exactly how much you’ve eaten,’ says Bridget. ‘Part of the problem is these extra bites seem insignificant. But when you add them up throughout the course of a day, the total calories can be significant, which will prevent those unwanted pounds dropping off.’


The food amnesia danger zones


1tsp peanut butter eaten from the jar while waiting for toast to pop up 30kcal
1tsp chocolate spread eaten from the jar 17kcal
Extra ½ glass orange juice to empty the carton 27kcal

1 chocolate biscuit in a meeting 85kcal
1 leftover tuna mayo sandwich triangle from an office buffet 135kcal
Slice of colleague’s birthday cake 287kcal
1 1tsp sugar in your coffee because you’ve run out of sweetener 16kcal
Plastic cup of white wine 66kcal
1 wrapped chocolate from a box 50kcal
Leftover bite-size chocolate brownie square from the office party 45kcal

1 chicken nugget 45kcal
3 oven chips 48kcal
4 crisps 42kcal
1 grilled fish finger 50kcal
1⁄2 grilled sausage 70kcal
1tbsp leftover baked beans 32kcal
1tbsp mashed potato 31kcal
1⁄2 slice toast, spread and Marmite 56kcal
3tbsp pasta with tomato sauce 72kcal
1⁄4 ham sandwich 66kcal
1⁄4 slice cheese on toast 62kcal
3 licks ice cream 6kcal
1⁄2 breadstick 12kcal

1 small boiled sweet 20kcal
1 mint imperial 10kcal
1 cough sweet 17kcal
Coffee-shop regular latte 172kcal
Handful peanuts in the pub 170kcal
1 mouthful cola from your partner’s can 14kcal
1 bite of your partner’s doner kebab 233kcal
6 chip-shop chips from a friend’s portion 143kcal
5 M&Ms from a friend’s packet 45kcal

1 slice ham 30kcal
2tbsp coleslaw eaten from the tub 95kcal
3 finger dips into a pot of hummus 95kcal
Thin cheese slice 83kcal
3tsp homemade bolognese sauce ‘to taste’ 48kcal
Mouthful fatty roast beef sliced from the end while joint is resting 45kcal
Leftover roast potato dipped in gravy while clearing up 133kcal
2tbsp leftover cheese sauce scraped from the pan 54kcal
1tbsp leftover cake mixture scraped from the bowl 16kcal