I talk to a lot of women who want to lose weight and who say, “I can’t understand, I’m eating healthy, I’m exercising but the weight isn’t coming off!”  It could be that they are eating healthy, but their energy intake is still more than their energy output.  We need to understand the ins and outs of energy and portions to make our weight management easier.

What is energy intake and output? 

Energy intake is the kilojoule or calorie value of all the food you eat and drink you drink. While energy output is the energy burned by the body to run your metabolism at the cellular and organ level (think of the petrol keeping your car idling at the traffic lights) plus all the exercise you do (that’s the petrol which you burn when you take off from the lights).

If your energy in is equal to the energy out, then your weight usually stays the same.  The body does have a few tricks to try and stay the same weight, but we can discuss these another time.

If your energy in is more than the energy out, then you put on weight.  For most women, that means “Oh, no!”

And, finally, if the energy in is less than the energy out then you lose weight.  Once again, for most women that means “Fan-bloody-tastic!”

Weight management is all about balance – whether you want to lose, gain or remain stable you need to keep your balance.

So how do we tip the balance to burn more energy than we eat for weight loss?

There’s a few ways of tipping this balance:

1 One of the easiest ways is to eat less energy – fewer kilojoules.

First of all, the no-brainer to cutting kilojoules is to choose nutritious foods over junk foods – junk, rubbish, in diet speak they are called “extras”, in dietitian speak they are called “discretionary foods”, and in mother speak they are “sometimes foods”.  They are the foods most of us love to eat and drinks we love to drink but they don’t have much nutrition content, while being absolutely loaded with kilojoules.

Now, think about how much of the nutritious foods you eat?  Do you eat enough?  Or too much?  How much is right?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines gives really good guidance as to how many serves from each food group we should eat everyday and how big the serves are to get all the nourishment our bodies need to function well.  Some people need more if they are more than average-ly active.

And this is where portion size comes in.  We need a variety of foods for good health in the right amounts, so make sure you get enough of the healthy foods without overdoing them.

So check out what you have each day.  Maybe keep a food diary for a few days, noting down everything you have.  How does what you have compare to what you should be having?

Consider how big your plates and bowls are.  Do you fill your plate?

For meals try to keep your portions similar to this portion plate:

The ‘free’ vegetables are any vegetables which aren’t potato, sweet potato or legumes and lentils.  Have as many of these as you like!  These are low in energy (kilojoules) and high in nutrients.  Try to eat the rainbow – have as many colours as you can.

The carb (carbohydrate) can be sweet potato, potato, pasta, rice, bread, peas, beans and legumes.  Just not too much of them.  Around half a cup is a good serve size.

The protein food can legumes and lentils (yes, they are a protein and carb food), nuts, tofu or tempeh, cheese, meat, fish or poultry.

If you have what is called ‘mixed meals’ – think stir fries, pasta meals, where all the ingredients are tossed in together – then consider the balance between the ingredients.  Look for a ratio of 2:1:1 for ‘free’ vegetables : carbs : protein.

2 The last way of changing the energy balance is by increasing your energy output.

You can do this by exercising more.  It’s hard to burn up a lot of energy though.  Check out how long you have to exercise for with these foods, according to Queensland Health’s Happier. Healthier.:

  • 150g hot potato chips       =             21 minutes of jumping jacks
  • 375mL can of soft drink    =             45 minutes of sit ups
  • A meat pie                         =             35 minutes of fast step ups
  • A regular cappuccino        =             31 minutes of push ups

Okay, so you can see that your weight can be made or broken by what you put into it.  Exercise helps tip the balance a little but not that much.

You can also tip the balance a little by building muscle.  Muscle is metabolically active tissue so it increases your metabolic rate.  So getting into that resistance training can help.

So, to sum up:

For weight loss:

  • Skip the junk food
  • Watch your portions – follow the portion plate guide for meals
  • Keep up the exercise
  • And include resistance exercise.

This may sound easy as 1, 2, 3, 4 however it takes planning, preparation and continued effort.  But don’t ever under-estimate the wonderful health benefits you can reap.



Check out our services   if you would like help to work toward achieving your health goals.

Feel free to share Nutrition Intuition's content

Post byDale Cooke

I'm a nutritionist, dietitian and personal trainer with 29 years of experience helping people improve their health. I really like using a non-diet philosophy to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Can I help you improve your health?