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Reducing the risk

Our everyday diets contain many sources of calories that we may not take into account. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce the risk of some cancers. This page has plenty of tips and information to help you keep to a healthy weight and form healthy habits for good.

Simply put, obesity is the result of taking in more calories through your diet than you are burning through physical activity.

The reasons for this calorie imbalance vary from person to person. It can sometimes be linked to the genes we were born with, or our environments, as well as our individual behaviour and choices. And some drugs and diseases can also contribute to weight gain.

To help keep a healthy weight for good, it’s important to form long-term healthy habits, including  eating a balanced diet, and being physically active regularly Most ‘quick fix’ or crash diets quickly stop working.

Ten Top Tips

Ten Top Tips is a programme for weight loss through lifestyle changes that you can fit into your daily routine. Find out more on our Ten Top Tips page.

Avoiding hidden calories

Our everyday diets contain sources of calories that we may not take into account. And some 'energy dense' foods have many calories in a small amount.

These ‘hidden calories’ all add up and can cancel out the positive steps that you may be making elsewhere in your diet.

Fatty foods
Cakes and pastries are often high in fat and sugar.

It is easy to overeat on foods like butter or spreads, salad dressings, mayonnaise, cheese, pastries, chips, biscuits and crisps. This is because high fat foods contain a lot of energy, even in small portions.

So without actually eating large amounts of food, you could be eating more calories than you can burn every day. And because you’ve not eaten that much, you may still feel hungry.

  • Eating less high fat food and choosing reduced fat food where possible will help to reduce your calorie intake. This will also benefit your heart health.
  • Go for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, and choose reduced fat versions of dairy products like spreads, yogurts, cheese, fromage frais, and custard. Changing to semi-skimmed milk could save you 60 calories a day, or 420 calories a week.
  • Spread margarine or butter thinly on your bread, even low fat versions.
  • Try to cut down on food that has been cooked in lots of oil or butter. For example, try steamed fish instead of fried fish, bruschetta instead of garlic bread, and steamed rice instead of egg fried rice.
  • Try to avoid sauces based on cream or coconut milk. For example, you could have tandoori instead of a korma, a stir-fry or steamed Thai dish instead of a green curry, or a marinara instead of a carbonara.
  • Look at the labels on food when you shop so that you can avoid or limit choices which are high in fat. For more information and a handy guide to food labels, go to our Look at the labels page.

    For more information on healthier food choices, go to Change4Life or Weight Concern’s Healthier Balance page.

Salads and vegetarian foodBe careful of salads that are covered in creamy sauces - they can be very high in calories.

Many people see salads and vegetarian dishes as being automatically healthy. It is true that they are a good way of getting some  fruit and vegetable portions into your meals. But pay attention to the ingredients and dressings - they can often be loaded with fat and sugar.

Try to avoid salads with high fat, creamy dressings, or ones that contain high-calorie ingredients like bacon, cheese or croutons. And whether it’s veggie or not, cut down on food that includes ingredients like coconut milk, batter, or full fat dairy products like cheese or butter.

‘Lower-fat’ foods

AFatty foods can contain lots of calories in small portions.lthough choosing lower fat versions of foods can be helpful, be careful of misleading claims on food packaging. ‘Diet’, ‘light’ or ‘lower fat’ foods can have less fat than a similar product but they can still be high in calories, fat and sugar.

For example, low fat sausages, spreads and crisps are still high in fat compared to other foods. Reduced fat biscuits can still be high in sugar and calories even though the fat content has been reduced. And remember that foods claiming to be 80% fat-free still have a 20% fat content!

Soft drinks

MSoft drinks can be loaded with calories and sugar. any soft drinks contain a lot of sugar. These drinks are said to have lots of ‘empty calories’ - they can contribute to weight gain but don’t have much nutritional value. You could aim to cut down on these types of drink.

You should drink 6-8 cups of non-alcoholic liquid each day, such as water or low-sugar squashes. Unsweetened fruit juice contains lots of vitamins and minerals, but because they are low in fibre and high in natural sugar, they should only count for one portion of fruit and vegetables each day.


HTry to have coffee with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, and avoid syrup or cream. igh street coffee shops offer a wide choice of drinks. Large drinks with lots of cream, milk or sugar can be loaded with fat and calories. Try buying smaller sizes, and asking for ‘skinny’ drinks that use skimmed milk. Try to avoid cream, flavoured syrup or sugary toppings. Use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk if you’re making hot drinks at home too.

Alcoholic drinks

AAlcoholic drinks can often contain lots of calories.lcoholic drinks are very high in calories. So cutting down on alcohol can help with keeping a healthy weight as well as being a good idea for your health overall. Alcohol also increases your appetite - some people notice that they tend to eat more when they drink alcohol.

Use the box below for a rough guide on how many calories there are in your drinks.

Drinks kcal
1 pint cider (4.5% ABV) 210
1 pint ale (5% ABV) 250
1 pint beer (3-4% ABV) 182
1 alcopop (5% ABV, 330ml bottle) 240
1 flute (125ml) of champagne (12%) 90
1 standard glass of wine (175ml, 13% ABV) 160
1 large glass of wine (250ml, 13% ABV) 230
1 small measure of a spirit (25ml, 40% ABV) - don't forget that the mixer will add calories too! 120
1 glass (50ml) cream liqueur e.g. Baileys (17% ABV) 120
Fortified wine (50ml, 17.5% ABV) 65


Controlling your portion sizes

In the last few decades, the portion sizes of food sold in shops and served in restaurants has grown tremendously. A report by the British Heart Foundation in 2013 found that supermarkets now label the portion size for biscuits an average 17% higher than in 1993. And ready meals are now often around 40% or more larger than in 1993.

Research has shown that people eat more if they are given a larger portion of food than they would normally have.
So to help keep a healthy weight, keep an eye on the amount of food you eat, and think about cutting it down. Here are our ideas for being portion-savvy.

At home

  • Use a smaller plate - you are more likely to eat less food.
  • Fill your plate up with lots of vegetables (except for potatoes). They are low in calories, good for you, and will help to fill you up.
  • Be careful when you read food labels. A ‘portion’ of food as defined by the manufacturer may not be the same as a healthy-sized portion.
  • Cook smaller quantities of food. This will reduce the temptation for second-helpings.
  • After you’ve served yourself, refrigerate or freeze leftovers so that you’re not tempted to have seconds.
  • Don’t eat from the bag - place foods in a bowl so you can see how much you’re eating.

Eating out

  • If you’re eating out at night, think about what you eat during the rest of the day. Don’t skip meals - this might make you overeat later. Instead, plan to eat lighter meals earlier on in the day so you don’t take in too many calories.
  • If you’re eating a meal with lots of dishes, like tapas or dim sum, be careful how many you order.
  • If you have a choice, order regular portion sizes instead of large ones.
  • Try sharing a starter or side dishes with a friend
  • Don’t feel you have to clear your plate
  • Ask for food the way you want it. You could for example, ask for sauces on the side, so you can control how much you put on your meal.


Tips for parents

By encouraging your children to lead a healthy lifestyle, you can help them maintain a healthy body weight later on in life.
A person’s body weight can be influenced by what they ate when they were children, or even what their mothers ate before they were born.

Your child’s body weight

Children who are very heavy at even just two years of age, tend to have more chance of being overweight later on in life. And some studies have found that people who are overweight or obese as children have higher risks of some cancers later on in life.
A child’s weight will vary with their age and developmental stage, so it can be quite difficult to measure if they are overweight. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned, or look at the Children’s body mass index calculator on the Weight Concern website.

What you can do

Often, children who are overweight need adult support to be able to make the changes to eating and activity that are needed for weight control.

One important way of encouraging your children to live healthily is to set a good example yourself. Try to get the whole family involved in healthy living. Keep a healthier selection of food at home, make time for healthy family meals together, and do activities together that everyone enjoys like walking, cycling or skating.

For more tips on encouraging your children to eat healthily, go to our Tips for Parents page in the Diet and healthy eating section. Or for tips on encouraging your children to be active, go to the NHS Choices advice on 10 ways on getting your kids to be more active, or the Change4Life fun generator.

Talking to your child about body weight

Body weight is a sensitive issue but an important one to discuss. Children as young as 5 can be unhappy about their weight and may need parental support.

Weight Concern has plenty of tips and advice on their website for talking to children about weight.

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Updated: 15 September 2014