In 2007 the Foresight Tackling Obesities: Future Choices report was published and the report contained an Obesity Systems Map which mapped out all the factors in every aspect of life that could potentially affect obesity.  They identified 108 different variables in areas from physiology and psychology to food production and the physical activity environment. This demonstrates how complex it is to try to reverse the obesity epidemic and that focussing on only one factor may not prove successful.

Our Small Changes: Big Gains  table below shows some of the different areas that can affect obesity, the things we can do more or less of to help control energy balance and some practical examples of how to put this into practice. You can also download a short (1 page) or full version of the chart as a pdf below 

You can see some examples below of how many calories you could save by making small changes. Even a small reduction in calorie intake or a small increase in activity levels could help to prevent weight gain if done regularly over time, for example, reducing calorie intake by about 100kcal. In order to lose weight, bigger changes are needed. Most people need to reduce their calorie intake by about 500kcal per day to lose 1-2lb (0.5-1kg) per week. 

Small Changes: Big Gains!

Factor   More  Less  

Group recreational activities - join a new group activity – it could be with neighbours or work colleagues, to add a new activity to your week.  

Help from professionals – talk to your GP about weight control or join a reputable weight loss group  

Community activity – get involved with a local sports activity at a leisure centre, community centre or outdoor space 

Family activity – set aside time for weekly family activity that you all enjoy 

Friends involvement – go for a picnic, take a bat and ball and play an active game 

Negative peer pressure – don’t spend time with people who  make you feel bad about yourself  

Inactive leisure time – have a ‘screen free’ evening every week 

Exposure to advertising - get up from the TV in the ad breaks and do some tasks around the house (can burn 40 kcals)  

Feeling time-poor – combine activity with everyday errands eg walking to the shops or part-way home from work (15 minute walking at a moderate pace burns approx. 60kcal)  

Isolation - get friends involved in a regular weekly activity (e.g. a 30 mins of bowling can use 100kcal) 


Personal interaction – don’t just phone or text, meet up with friends or family instead  

Food literacy – find out about diet and health from responsible sources like NHS choices, BBC health and the British Nutrition Foundation  

Conscious control - keep a diary of what you eat and all activity you do for a week 

Achievable goals and realistic targets - set an achievable weekly goal e.g. walking for 10 minutes at lunchtime (40kcals)  

Motivation – keep a list of small positive steps you’ve taken and try adding more to the list each week  

Stress – try to fit in a walk, jog or exercise class to let off steam when you’re feeling stressed  

Going it alone – get a friend, family member or workmate involved in your activity and healthy eating goals 

Emotional eating - try to keep healthy snacks with you so you’re not tempted by unhealthy alternatives (could save 160kcal) 

Foods as rewards – instead of eating, give yourself  ‘credits’ towards other rewards like a night out or a present 

Self-criticism – imagine a friend in your situation– would you criticise them as much as you criticise yourself?  

Eating and drinking  

Eating slowly – pause between mouthfuls to chew and be aware of the taste of the food

Low energy density foods – add extra plant foods to your dinner so that they take up at least  two thirds of your plate(could save about 400kcals in one meal by bulking up with veg and starchy foods and reducing higher fat ingredients) 

Stocking up on healthy foods – keep a supply of healthy snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks, low fat yoghurts or cheese, or high fibre crisp breads 

Long-term changes to diet – keep changes manageable and plan them into the coming months

Regulate food and drink – keep a note of the situations you find difficult eg being tempted to eat fatty foods at parties, and have something low–fat and filling like a soup beforehand (could save about 200kcal)


Big portions - measure out small portions of foods like crisps or biscuits from large packs instead of eating straight from the pack (can save 130kcal  kcal)

Exposure to foods and drinks – to avoid being tempted to by foods you don’t need, try shopping using a list and don’t buy anything not on your list 

Food variety - restrict yourself to no more than 3 or 4 types of food at a buffet or when sharing with friends

Relying on ready-made foods – instead of relying on ready-meals, double the amount when you cook from scratch and keep it in the freezer for when you’re short of time 

Excessive food restriction - allow a little bit of what you fancy each week instead of banning foods 

Physical activity  

Being active at rest – Small movements, even just tapping your feet while sitting, can burn energy (up to 350 kcals a day more than someone who is completely still)

Being active at work - If you work in an office make sure you get up and walk around or make a drink at least once an hour (can burn over 120 kcals a day)  

Using active transport - check if your workplace supports bike loans or cycle-to-work schemes (30 mins of cycling can use up 290 kcals) 

Housework fun – put music on in the kitchen when you’re cooking/cleaning and dance while you work! (15 minutes dancing can burn about 80kcal) 

Sedentary activities –  spend more time outdoors in the evenings or at weekends (offer to cut an elderly neighbour’s grass - gardening can burn 260 kcals an hour)

Long periods of sitting down - hide the remote control and get up to change channels on the TV (can burn 15 kcal an hour)

Short car journeys – check which regular car journeys you make are less than a mile and try walking these instead (walking for 1 mile at a moderate pace burns about 80kcal) 

Inactive family time – keep a record of how many hours you spend sitting at home and try to reduce these slightly each week

Sedentary parenting - try and combine activities for adults and children so adults can lead by example (eg playing with children could burn about 140kcal in 30 minutes) 

Our environment

Places to be physically active - check classes and facilities at your local leisure centre (aerobics burns nearly 400 kcals an hour)

Walking-friendly surroundings – see if you can find a more pleasant walking route to places you visit regularly 

Safe active transport – check local cycle groups for information on routes in your area

Physically active society - start a group at work to get active

Access to green space –  pool transport with friends, drive together to a green space and fly a kite or throw a frisbee

Time spent outdoors – go for a walk after dinner instead of heading for the sofa (walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes could burn about 125 kcals) 


Cost of physical exercise – go for a run with friends, or borrow a neighbour’s dog and take it for a walk, both are free!

Sedentary work – have an ‘active lunch time’ at least once a week – go for a walk or to an exercise class 

Reliance on labour saving devices - don’t use the lift, take the stairs 

Motorised transport – drive part of the way and then walk the rest, or take the bus and get off one stop early

Feeling unsafe in your environment – ask a friend to walk with you or tell someone when you’re leaving and when to expect you to arrive

Ambient temperature – in winter turn the heat down or when it’s warm have a cool shower or go for a swim so you’re inclined to move around more 


Feeling full - choose high protein and high fibre foods like lean chicken or fish and wholegrain bread or brown rice as part of meals

Building up fitness -  try walking more and faster each week for a few weeks to build up your fitness – walking at a brisk pace can use 100 kcals more per hour than walking slowly, it also boosts your metabolic rate

Amount of body muscle - try doing weight bearing exercises like sit ups and push ups twice a week to build your muscle mass (burns around 160 kcal every 15 mins)

Breast feeding may protect your child against obesity and can help you to lose excess weight after pregnancy -get help from your local NCT or your GP if you want help with breast feeding

Healthy pregnancy and infancy – be aware that what you eat is being fed to your unborn baby too 


Tendency to be inactive – don’t just accept that you’re not an active person, be determined to make a change by making a few small manageable changes every day

Obesity during pregnancy – it can be dangerous for you and your unborn child, so get professional medical advice to control your weight 

Stop measuring your health just by your weight – focus on building physical stamina and fitness too by pushing yourself a bit further each week 

Lack of sleep - try going to bed half an hour earlier during the week

Alcohol consumption – make sure you have water alongside alcoholic drinks to moderate how much you have. 


Health-based digital media – take advice from responsible health websites

Support from online communities – find a forum that suits and interests you and get involved 

Online tools to help manage stress  - look for on-line stress management tools and apps 

Web-based weight-loss resources – if slimming groups aren’t for you, try a reputable online weight loss resource that provides support and helps you track your progress 

Active gaming - choose active video games rather than sedentary ones (can burn 130 kcals in 30 mins)  

Excessive screen time – make a list of a few programmes you want to watch and stick to only those

Unreliable health sources – only take advice from responsible sources.  If you’re not sure, check with you GP

Positive self-image – remember that nobody looks like the pictures of models in magazines – not even the models themselves sometimes! 

Positive attitude – avoid reading articles and stories that make you feel depressed or lacking in self-esteem 

Social media – limit the time you spend on social media to maximum 30 minutes each day and remember, if you’re moving while you’re sitting, you’ll be burning energy 

 Click here for the Small Changes Big Gains Chart (small version).

 Click here for the Small Changes Big Gains Chart.

For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact

Last reviewed 26/06/2012. Next due for review by 26/06/2015