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Finding a Balance

Balancing Diet and Activity to Lose and Maintain Weight

Image: A  woman practicing yoga

If your body weight has not changed for several months, you are in caloric balance. If you need to gain or lose weight, you’ll need to balance your diet and activity level to achieve your goal. To see how many calories you should have in a day to achieve and maintain your recommended weight, see the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–2020.

To learn how many calories you are taking in, write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day. By writing down what you eat and drink, you become more aware of everything you are putting in your mouth. Also, begin writing down your physical activity each day and the length of time you do it.

Here are simple paper and pencil tools to assist you:

Food Diary [PDF-18KB]

Physical Activity Diary [PDF-17KB]

Do you want to try a Web-based approach to track your food intake and physical activity? Go to the SuperTracker. The site will give you a personalized diet and activity plan.

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Podcast – Early Weight Watching

As part of CDC’s Minute of Health series, this podcast discusses the most effective ways for children and adults to maintain a healthy weight (2018). Listen to or download the podcast (0:59 mins).

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Recommended Physical Activity Levels

  • For adults, 2 hours and 30 minutes every week (about 22 minutes each day or 50 minutes 3 times per week), of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking and muscle-strengthening exercise on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
  • Increase the intensity or the amount of time that you are physically active to improve health benefits and control body weight.
  • Encourage children and teenagers to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day, or almost every day.
  • For more detail, see How much physical activity do you need?

Each person’s body may have different needs for calories and exercise. A healthy lifestyle requires balance in the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, the way you do daily activities, and in the amount of activity in your daily routine. Counting calories all the time is not necessary, but it may help you in the beginning to find out how many calories are in the foods and drinks you consume regularly as you strive to achieve energy balance. The ultimate test of balance is whether or not you are gaining, maintaining, or losing weight.

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Questions and Answers about Calories

Q: I’ve heard it is more important to worry about carbohydrates than calories. Is this true?

A: By focusing only on carbohydrates, you can still eat too many calories. Also, if you reduce the variety of foods in your diet, you could exclude vital nutrients and not be able to stay on the diet over time.

Q: Does it matter how many calories I eat as long as I’m maintaining an active lifestyle?

A: While physical activity is a vital part of weight control, so is controlling the number of calories you eat. If you take in more calories than you use, you will still gain weight.

Q. What other factors besides diet and behavior contribute to overweight and obesity?

A: Environment and genetic factors may add to causes of overweight and obesity. For more information, see Other Factors in Weight Gain.

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Want to learn more?

Cutting Calories at Every Meal

You can cut calories by eating foods high in fiber, making better drink choices, avoiding portion size pitfalls, and adding more fruits and vegetables to your eating plan.

Losing Weight

Even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, can produce health benefits.

Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight

Physical activity can increase the number of calories your body uses for energy or “burns off.” The burning of calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a “calorie deficit” that can help with weight loss.

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