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Obesity and diet

3-minute read

Most people will need to reduce their daily kilojoule intake in order to lose weight. This means eating and drinking less and making healthier food choices. One way to do this is to swap unhealthy and high energy food choices such as fast food, processed food and sugary drinks (including alcohol) for healthier choices.

Australians are recommended to:

  • enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
    • vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
    • fruit
    • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
    • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans (the latter in two food groups as they are rich in protein and carbohydrates)
    • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under 2 years)
  • drink plenty of water
  • limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

Some restaurants, cafes and fast-food outlets provide kilojoule information per portion, but providing this information is not compulsory. Be careful - some foods can quickly take you over the limit, such as burgers and fried chicken.

Avoid fad diets

Avoid fad diets that recommend unsafe practices such as extreme fasting or cutting out entire food groups such as meat, fish, wheat or dairy products.

These are not sustainable, can make you feel ill, and may cause unpleasant side effects such as bad breath, diarrhoea and headaches.

This is not to say that all commercial diet programmes are unsafe. Many are based on sound medical and scientific principles and can work well in some people.

Choose a responsible diet programme that:

  • educates you about issues such as portion size, making changes to long-term behaviour and healthy eating
  • is not overly restrictive in terms of the type of food you can eat
  • is based on achieving gradual sustainable weight loss rather short-term rapid weight loss, which is unlikely to last

Very low calorie diet

A very low calorie diet (VLCD) is a diet that involves consuming less than containing less than 3350 kilojoules (800 calories) per day.

While a VLCD can be an effective method of losing weight for some obese people, is it not a suitable or safe method for everyone. It would usually only be recommended if rapid weight loss was required to reduce the risk of an obesity-related complication such as heart disease, or if you have failed to lose weight despite conventional treatment. You should only ever undertake a VLCD under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.

For more information about healthy diet recommendations for Australians read more about balanced eating, healthy food swaps and see  Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

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