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Dieting and weight management

Aim for a healthy lifestyle by making positive choices and take control of your health. Look at all areas of wellbeing and don’t just focus on weight. Feel good about yourself for making small changes—these can lead to big improvements.

A good way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to make small changes in your daily routine that will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of high blood pressure, muscle, bone and respiratory disorders and chronic disease including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers, and reduces life expectancy. Being underweight also carries health risks.

Healthy eating

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and being physically active is the best way to stay healthy and help reduce your risk of disease. To maintain a stable weight, your energy (kilojoule) intake needs to equal the energy you use. If you use more energy than you consume, you will lose weight. On the other hand, if you eat more than you use, you will gain weight.

The sensible answer to losing excess body fat is to make small healthy changes to your eating and exercise habits. These changes should be things that you can maintain as part of your lifestyle – that way you will lose weight and keep it off.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Choose how much and what types of nutritious food and drinks from the 5 food groups to maintain a healthy weight. The Eat for Health energy calculator may be a useful tool.

Yoyo diets

Many people who need to lose weight try crash dieting, which is a short-term solution that will increase your body fat levels in the long term. Continual cycles of dieting, weight loss and weight gain are called 'yoyo' dieting. Yoyo dieting does not help you to maintain a healthy body weight. Your body responds to these periods of semi-starvation by lowering its metabolic rate.

When you lose weight too quickly, you lose fat and muscle. Muscle burns calories, but fat doesn't. So, when you then stop dieting and eat normally again, your body will burn even fewer calories than before because the relative amount of muscle in your body has decreased and your metabolic rate is slower.

A healthier approach to food

You can lose body fat by making a few easy changes to your eating habits:

  • Avoid yoyo diets.
  • Eat a wide variety of food from all food groups. Check that you eat from the following food groups every day – wholegrain bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, milk and dairy, and meat, fish or legumes and where possible, choose low-fat varieties.
  • Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, particularly vegetables, as most are low in calories and contain fibre, which helps you feel full.
  • Limit foods that are high in added fat, sugar and salt. Make soft drinks, lollies and snack foods an occasional 'extra'. Most adults should eat no more than one or two 'treats' a day. If you are overweight or inactive, you may need to limit treats to less than one a day.
  • Try to balance an 'extra' food with extra exercise. The more energy you burn, the more treats you can afford to have. Remember, you should only add extra foods after you have covered your nutrient needs with choices from the healthier food groups.
  • Cut down on saturated fats and alcohol.
  • Replace sugary drinks with water.
  • Avoid using food for comfort, such as when you are upset, angry or stressed. Explore other healthy ways to cope with these feelings.

Physical activity

Being physically active helps to manage your weight. The National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend the following activity levels:

  • adults should accumulate 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week
  • children aged 5–12 years—at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day
  • children aged 13–17 years—at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none – learn more about fun ways to stay active.

Check your weight

For adults, a quick way to check weight status is to check your Body Mass Index (BMI).

Try the Health and Fitness Age Calculator to see what lifestyle changes you can make.

Another way is to check your waist measurement:

  1. Find the bottom of your lowest rib, and the top of your hip bone.
  2. Breathe out normally.
  3. Wrap a tape measure around your waist halfway between the two points, which is generally the slimmest point.

Women

  • increased risk—waist measurement between 80–88cm
  • high risk—waist measurement more than 88cm

Men

  • increased risk—waist measurement between 94–102 cm
  • high risk—waist measurement more than 102cm

If you are concerned about your weight or associated health problems:

Children and adolescents

The best guide as to whether children are eating appropriate amounts for their energy requirements is whether their growth is normal.

Children and adolescents need enough nutritious food to grow and develop normally. At these life stages the focus is on maintaining a rate of growth that is consistent with the expected norms for age, gender and stage of maturity. Physical growth is best assessed by a health professional who will look at things like weight, length or height, and at specific ages, other measurements such as head circumference.

Management of overweight and obesity in childhood is recommended to reduce risk of associated conditions, and of being overweight and developing chronic disease later in life. Individual assessment and medical supervision is recommended to ensure appropriate growth and development for all overweight and obese children and adolescents.

If you are concerned about your child's weight: