Ten small changes you can make today to prevent obesity

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Between the ages of 20 and 55, most adults gain between 0.5 and 1kg per year, which can make some people overweight or obese over time. This weight gain is not usually the result of eating too much food. Instead, it’s usually caused by eating a small amount – about 100-200 extra calories – than is needed each day.

The good news is that we may be able to prevent obesity by making small changes to our diet or exercise. Our latest review found that eating 100-200 fewer calories, or burning 100-200 more calories each day, may be enough to keep you from gaining weight over time. This is known as the “small change method”, which was first proposed in 2004 by James Hill, an American expert on obesity, to help people control their weight.

Several small studies have investigated the use of the small change method for weight management. We combined the results of these small studies into a larger review to find a moderate (statistically reliable) effect of this method on weight management. We looked at 19 trials – 15 of which tested a low-carb approach to prevent weight gain, and four tested this approach to weight loss.

We analyzed data from nearly 3,000 people in weight prevention trials, and 372 people in weight loss trials. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 60, 65% of whom were women. For those who used a low-carb approach to prevent obesity, we found that participants gained about 1kg less compared to those who did not use this approach over a period of eight to 14 months. The 1kg difference was statistically significant, meaning it was unlikely to be the result of chance.

While the small change method has been shown to be effective in preventing weight gain, it has not been proven to be effective in weight loss.

Prevention of obesity

The trials we looked at used a number of different small changes to help participants prevent obesity. Here are some of the successful methods used in these experiments:

If you decide to have something sweet, consider saving some for tomorrow.
  1. Get off one stop early and go the other way. You may end up walking ten to 15 minutes longer and this can help you burn up to 60 calories. Doing this on the way home can mean you burn 120 calories.
  2. Skip the chips that come as a side dish. Small portions of oven chips served next to the main meal contain hundreds of calories. Skipping this – or choosing a salad or vegetable as a side instead – can help you reduce your daily calorie intake by up to 200 calories.
  3. Switch from a regular drink to a diet drink. Although it may not taste the same, making this switch can reduce your calorie intake by 145 calories. However, recent research suggests that switching to diet drinks may not be good for weight management – so choosing to drink water instead of your usual drink may be better.
  4. Have an Americano instead of a latte. The milk in a regular latte can contain 186 calories, so switching to an Americano can prevent weight gain.
  5. Add one tablespoon of oil while cooking. One tablespoon of olive oil, for example, contains more than 100 calories, so using less can be one way to avoid extra calories.
  6. If you have something sweet, save your portion for tomorrow. Eating just half a KitKat, for example, can cut your calorie intake by as much as 102 calories — and give you something to look forward to tomorrow.
  7. Have a few potatoes or two in your roast dinner. One medium roast potato can contain around 200 calories, so be mindful of how many you put on your plate.
  8. Take phone meetings while traveling. You can burn an extra 100 calories if you choose to take a 30-minute phone call on the go.
  9. Avoid sweets. Giving up cakes, biscuits and other sweets can help you easily cut an extra 100-200 calories from your diet – maybe more, depending on the diet.
  10. Take your dog for a brisk 30-minute walk each day. The dog will let you know, and you can burn over 150 calories.

The small change method has many benefits for weight management. First, small changes are easier to incorporate into everyday life than large ones. For example, it is easier to eat 100-200 fewer calories per day than to eat 500 fewer calories each day (basically, a whole food). Small changes are also easy to maintain over time, which is key to weight management. And, if people succeed in making these small changes, it may lead them to make big changes in their lives.

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