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Why most of us should eat fewer calories

Many of us are eating too much, and not being active enough. That’s why nearly two thirds of the adult population in England is overweight or obese.

Find out how much you should be eating, and how to cut the calories.

The latest research shows that in England over 60% of adults are overweight or obese. That means many of us are eating more than we need, and need to eat less.

Over time, consuming more calories than we need leads to weight gain, and carrying excess weight puts us at greater risk of a whole range of serious health problems

And it’s not just food we need to cut down on: some drinks can also be high in calories.

When we eat and drink more calories than we need, our bodies store the excess as body fat. If this continues over time we become overweight, and can become obese. Being overweight or obese causes an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Most adults need to lose weight, and to do this they need to eat and drink fewer calories. Combining these changes with increased physical activity is the best way to achieve a healthier weight.

How much should you eat?

The amount that you need to eat to maintain your body weight depends on a range of factors, including your size and how physically active you are.

As a guide the average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy body weight, and the average woman needs around 2,000 calories a day.

Remember, if you are very physically active because of the type of job you do, or you are a professional athlete, you may need more calories than this to maintain a healthy weight. If you do very little physical activity – for example, you are housebound – or if you are overweight or obese, you may need fewer calories.

An important part of a healthy diet is eating the right amount of calories, so that you balance the energy you put into your body with the energy you use.

If you need to lose weight, aim to lose about 0.5-1kg (1-2Ib) a week until you reach a healthy weight for your height. You should be able to lose this amount if you eat and drink about 500 to 600 calories fewer a day than you need.

A healthy diet is not only about eating the right amount. It also means eating a wide range of foods, to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. You can still eat less when following a balanced diet.

How much are you eating?

Most of us are eating and drinking more than we need, and we often think we are more active than we actually are, too.

It is estimated that the average person eats around 10% more calories than they need every day. This might not sound much, but over time it will cause significant weight gain.

Foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar contain lots of calories, and eating or drinking these often or in large amounts can make it easy to have more calories than you need.

If you are overweight or obese, you could be eating over 500 calories more than a person of a healthy weight does every day. So it’s time to think about where your extra calories are coming from, and to make changes to your diet to reduce the number of calories you consume.

It is likely that it’s not just one snack, meal or drink that you need to change: you are likely to be having more calories than you need across the whole day.

As a guide, the average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy body weight, and the average woman needs around 2,000 calories a day.

How you can eat less

You can reduce the number of calories you eat by making healthier choices when it comes to food and drink.

Often, that will mean swapping high fat or high-sugar foods for alternatives that contain fewer calories, or eating these foods in smaller portions or less often.

And it’s not just foods: drinks can be high in calories, too. To consume fewer calories you should choose drinks that are lower in fat and sugar or consume high-calorie drinks less often. Don't forget alcohol is also high in calories.

As well as choosing foods and drinks lower in fat and sugars, also think about reducing the size of your portions. Research suggests that we tend to eat more when we are served more, even when we don’t need the extra calories.

When serving yourself at home resist filling your plate, and think about if you are really hungry before having an extra helping. When eating out, avoid supersizing or choosing large portions of food or drink.

Knowing the calorie content of different foods and drinks can be useful when it comes to achieving or maintaining a healthy weight. It can help us to keep track of the amount of energy we put into our bodies, and ensure that we are not eating too much.

The calorie content of many foods and drinks is provided on the packaging as part of the nutrition label. You can look at the calorie figure to assess how a particular food or drink fits into your daily intake.

These tips can help you to get started:

  • Swap sugary fizzy drinks for diet versions with low or no calories. Even better, swap some soft drinks for sparkling water with a slice of lemon.
  • Swap the frying pan for the grill when cooking meat, you don’t need to add any oil.
  • Swap creamy or cheesy sauces for tomato or vegetable-based sauces on your pasta, or meat and fish dishes.
  • Choose wholegrains, including wholemeal and wholegrain bread, or wholegrain breakfast cereals. Wholegrain foods contain more fibre and other nutrients, and we digest wholegrain foods more slowly so they can help make us feel fuller for longer.
  • Swap a cake or biscuits for a currant bun, or some malt loaf, plain or with reduced-fat spread.
  • Read food labels: they can help you choose foods that are lower in calories, as well as lower in saturated fat and sugars.
  • Alcohol is also high in calories, so cutting down could help you control your weight.

Get more active

If you are overweight or obese, you should combine eating fewer calories with more physical activity in order to gradually lose weight and help you to keep the weight off.

Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Moderate-intensity activity means an activity that causes your heart rate to rise, and you to break a sweat: for example, fast walking or cycling.

You can split the 150 minutes into 30 minutes on five days of the week, and split that 30 minutes into sessions of at least 10 minutes. Physical activity can help you to achieve a healthy weight, and brings a range of other important health benefits.

After getting active, remember not to reward yourself with a treat that is high in calories. If you feel hungry from your activity try to choose foods or drinks that are lower in calories but still filling.

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