Small Changes You Can Make Today to Prevent Weight Gain

By Claire Madigan
Claire Madigan
Claire Madigan
and Henrietta Graham
Henrietta Graham
Henrietta Graham
October 17, 2021 Updated: October 17, 2021

Between the ages of 20 and 55, most adults gain between 1 and 2 lbs (.5 kg to 1 kg) per year, which could see some people become overweight or obese over time. This weight gain isn’t usually the result of overeating large amounts of food. Instead, it’s usually caused by eating a small amount—around 100 to 200 extra calories—more than is needed each day.

The good news is that we may be able to prevent ourselves from gaining weight by making small changes to our diet or physical activity. Our recent review found that eating 100 to 200 calories less, or burning an extra 100 to 200 calories each day, may be enough to stop us from gaining weight in the long run. This is known as a “small-changes approach,” which was first proposed in 2004 by James Hill, an American expert on obesity, to help people manage their weight.

Many small studies have investigated the use of the small-changes approach for weight management. We combined the results of these smaller studies into a larger review to get an average (and more statistically reliable) result of the effect of this approach on weight management. We looked at 19 trials—15 of which tested a small-changes approach to prevent weight gain, and four that test this approach for weight loss.

We analyzed the data of nearly 3,000 people in weight-gain prevention trials, and 372 people in weight-loss trials. Participants were aged between 18 and 60, 65 percent of whom were female. In those who used the small-changes approach to prevent weight gain, we found that participants gained almost 2 lbs (1 kg) less compared with those who didn’t use this approach over a period of 8 to 14 months. The difference was statistically significant, meaning it was unlikely to be the result of chance.

While the small-changes approach was shown to be effective for preventing weight gain, it wasn’t proven to be effective for weight loss.

Preventing Weight Gain

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

  1. Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way. You may end up walking 10 to 15 minutes more, and this could help you burn up to 60 calories. Doing this on the way home as well could mean you burn up to 120 calories.
  2. Skip the fries that come as a side. Small portions of fries served alongside main meals contain hundreds of calories. Saying no to these—or opting for a salad or vegetables as a side instead—could help you reduce your daily calorie intake by up to 200 calories.
  3. Switch from a soft drink to water. Making this switch could reduce your calorie intake by 145 calories.
  4. Have an Americano instead of a latte. The milk in a regular latte can contain up to 186 calories, so switching to an Americano could prevent weight gain.
  5. Add one less tablespoon of oil while cooking. One tablespoon of olive oil, for example, contains slightly over 100 calories, so using less can be one way of avoiding additional calories.
  6. If you have something sweet, save half of it for tomorrow. Eating only half a KitKat, for example, could reduce your calorie intake by about 102 calories—and give you something to look forward to tomorrow.
  7. Take phone meetings while walking. You could burn an extra 100 calories if you opted to take a 30-minute phone call on the go.
  8. Avoid sweets. Saying no to cakes, cookies, and other sweets could help you easily cut an extra 100 to 200 calories from your diet—maybe more, depending on the food.
  9. Take your dog for an extra 30-minute brisk walk each day. The dog will appreciate it, and you could burn more than 150 calories.

The small-changes approach has many advantages for managing weight. First, small changes are easier to incorporate into everyday life than larger ones. For example, it’s easier to eat 100 to 200 fewer calories per day than to eat 500 fewer calories each day (basically an entire meal). Small changes are also easier to maintain in the long run, which is key to managing weight. And if people succeed at making these small changes, it may lead them to make bigger changes in their life.

 is a senior research associate at the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behavior at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, and  is a doctorate researcher of sport, exercise, and health sciences at Loughborough University. This article was first published on The Conversation.