Making small changes

You obtain energy (kilojoules) from the food and drinks you consume (including alcohol) and use energy by being physically active. This includes physical activity done as part of your daily routine - such as taking the stairs instead of the lift - and planned activity such as going for a walk, cycling or playing sport.

If the amount of energy you take in from food and drinks is more than the amount you use in daily physical activity, your body stores the excess energy as fat, and over time you will gain weight.

If the energy you take in from food and drinks is less than the energy you use in daily physical activity, over time you will lose weight.

Diets don't work

For healthy weight loss ‘dieting' is not recommended. Rather, we recommend gradual and realistic changes to your food and exercise routine that will last a lifetime.

Start by setting 3 goals. Once you have achieved these goals make 3 more goals and so on. It's about balancing your food and exercise and enjoying the positive changes you are making towards a healthier lifestyle. 

Example goals:

  1. I will eat fruit and/or a small handful of nuts for snacks
  2. I will include extra vegetables with lunch and dinner
  3. I will walk for 30 minutes every day
  4. I will drink water instead of juice and soft drink
  5. I will always take the stairs instead of the lift
  6. I will halve the number of takeaway meals I eat each week and cook at home instead

There are lots of different goals that you can set yourself for eating better and being more active. Look through the information below to identify some goals that are suitable for you. Write them down and stick them somewhere prominent as a reminder!

Eat well

Eating well provides you with the nutrients your body needs to function well. It will also help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. It's recommended that Australians enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from each of the five food groups:

  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Fruit
  • Grains and cereals (mainly wholegrains)
  • Lean meat and alternatives (e.g. chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu)
  • Milk, yoghurt and cheese

Foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, such as desserts, biscuits, cakes, sugary drinks and chips, are ‘extra' foods that should not be part of your everyday food intake, especially if you are trying to lose weight. These foods do not fill you up as much as healthy foods from the five food groups, so they're easy to overeat.

Here are our top tips for eating well:

Avoid energy dense food and drink

All foods and drinks, except water, contain energy measured in kilojoules (kJ) or calories. The energy density of a food is the amount of kilojoules or calories per gram of food.

The higher the water content of a food, the lower its energy density. Fat is the most energy dense nutrient and provides 38 kJ of energy per gram while carbohydrate and protein provide around 17 kJ of energy per gram.

To maintain a healthy weight it is recommended that the meals and snacks you eat are based primarily on foods with a low energy density (e.g. vegetables) that contain a moderate amount of medium energy density foods (e.g. protein foods like chicken and dairy) and only a small amount of foods with a high energy density (e.g. fats and oils). 

Here are some tips to reduce the energy density in your diet:

  • Start your meal with a low energy density starter such as a broth-based soup or a salad (without oily dressing)
  • Bulk up your meals with low energy dense foods like vegetables, beans, lentils and pearl barley. These can be added to pasta sauces, soups and stews
  • Make vegetables the main meal and meat a side dish
  • Prepare foods using healthy cooking methods like grilling, steaming or baking rather than frying
  • Swap high energy-dense foods for less energy dense options:
    • Choose reduced-fat dairy products instead of full fat versions
    • Choose tomato-based pasta sauces instead of creamy or cheese-based ones
    • Snack on fruit and vegetables instead of chocolate, lollies and crisps
    • For dessert, choose fruit salad and reduced-fat yoghurt instead of ice cream or cream
  • Eat smaller portions of high energy dense foods when you are craving these foods e.g. have a fun sized chocolate bar, small scoop of ice cream or share a dessert with a friend

Limit high energy drinks

Sugary drinks provide lots of kilojoules and little or no nutrients. Water and unsweetened tea or coffee are the best choices. Drinks such as fruit juice, soft drinks and cordials should ideally be avoided, or at least consumed infrequently and in small amounts.

Eat more fruit and vegetables

You should aim for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day. Try to include at least one fruit or vegetable in all your meals and snacks.

Here are some tips to eat more fruit & vegetables:

  • Add banana or grated carrot, zucchini or apple to muffins
  • Add banana or berries to porridge and breakfast cereals
  • Top toast with avocado or tomato
  • Enjoy a smoothie made from fresh or frozen fruit and reduced-fat yoghurt or milk
  • Eat fruit-based desserts such as chopped fresh fruit, stewed fruit or baked apples
  • Increase the amount of vegies in your stir fries
  • Keep a selection of reduced salt or no added salt canned and frozen vegetables in your cupboard and freezer so you always have a substitute when fresh ones aren't available
Visit our fruit and vegetables page for more ideas.

Avoid alcohol

Just like any food or drink you consume (except water), alcoholic drinks contain energy. In fact, alcohol contains few nutrients but is very energy dense.

If you are trying to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol also increases your chances of developing a number of cancers, including mouth and throat cancer, bowel cancer and breast cancer (in postmenopausal women).

There is no safe alcohol level with regards to cancer. If you do choose to drink alcohol, the recommendations are that men and women should have no more than two standard drinks per day, and have multiple alcohol-free days a week.

Visit our page on alcohol for more information

Don't eat too much

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is not only about what you eat, but also about how much you eat. Portion control is very important in helping you to achieve your healthy weight goals.

Tips to control your food portions:

  • Make half your plate vegetables
  • Use smaller plates
  • Store foods in individual portions rather than in bulk containers
  • Don't eat from the bag or packet - put a small amount of snack food into a bowl and put the packet away
  • Order entrée (starter) sizes or small meals at restaurants
  • Eat slowly and enjoy the food. It takes 10 to 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full
  • Resist up-sizing or purchasing ‘value meals' at fast food restaurants
  • If you eat food from the ‘extras group', share it with a friend

Be active

Being active is not only important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it also helps you sleep better and feel healthier!

For weight maintenance, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. For weight loss and cancer prevention the more physically active you are the better. As fitness improves aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every day.

If you're doing moderate-intensity activity you'll be able to comfortably chat, but you won't be able to sing more than a few words without running out of breath. During vigorous-intensity physical activity you won't be able to say more than a few words without having to pause to breathe.

Tips to get more active:

  • Organise a weekly group activity with your friends such as a netball game or a long walk.
  • Use physical activity as transport to get from one destination to another (e.g. walk, cycle)
  • Park your car further away from your destination and walk some of the way
  • Do stretching exercises while watching television
  • Use the stairs instead of the lift
  • If you have children, plan active family time such as going to the beach for a swim, or bushwalking
  • Go for a walk after dinner or before breakfast - or both!
Visit our tips to be more active page for more ideas