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Balancing food and physical activity

The Big Balancing Act

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about balancing the calories you eat with the calories your body uses. The most important ways to help keep the balance is by eating a variety of foods and exercising regularly.

Eat a variety of foods

Choose meals that include 3 to 5 of the USDA MyPlate food groups and snacks that include 2 to 3 of the food groups. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or fat-free dairy all contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. Have fun with your meals and explore the wide variety of foods within each of these groups.

USDA ChooseMyPlate 

The USDA ChooseMyPlate resources provide simple reminders to help people focus on eating balanced meals with a variety of foods. You can learn more about ChooseMyPlate and healthy eating tips on the website.

Carbohydrates, protein and fat

Carbohydrates, protein and fat are all sources of energy and each has an important role in the body.  Fad diets that greatly limit one of these nutrients such as low carbohydrate diets, don’t tend to help people keep a healthy weight in the long run. Rather than trying to eat a very small or very large amount of any one nutrient, focus on eating a healthy balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate.

To achieve a healthy balance aim for these percentages of your total calories:

  • Fat – 25-35%
  • Protein – 10-35%
  • Carbohydrate – 45-65%

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity is key to a healthy lifestyle when you balance what you eat and drink to maintain a healthy weight.

Recommendations for adults are to get at least  2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening each week, but the benefits can be seen after just 60 minutes per week. Every bit helps, even if it is just 10 minutes at a time! Check out the CDC guidelines for adult physical activity. 

Ways to get active

  • walk briskly
  • jog
  • dance socially
  • ride a bike
  • ice skate
  • play softball
  • hike
  • garden

Benefits of exercise

  • keeps your mind sharp
  • helps you feel better
  • fights weight gain
  • lowers your risk of disease

Watch your portions

Portion control is essential to balancing your calories with physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight. Try these tips to reduce your portion sizes.

  • use smaller plates, bowls, and cups
  • buy whole fruit or pack single servings of healthy options to eat as snacks
  • put a single serving of a snack in a bowl rather than eating directly from the box or bag

Avoid overeating

Overeating often comes with distracted or rushed eating. Use these tips to help make healthy choices and stop yourself from overeating.

  • do not eat while watching TV, or in the car
  • sit down at the table while eating
  • eat slowly and take time to enjoy your meal
  • eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied
  • enjoy meals with family, friends or co-workers

Eat regular meals

Eating regular meals will help you to make healthy choices when it comes to food and portion size. Missing meals or going for long periods without food can lead to overeating and spur-of-the-moment unhealthy food choices. Listen to your body and eat when you are hungry.

Limit empty calories

Empty calories come from foods that have few vitamins and minerals but lots of calories from added sugar or fat. Foods with empty calories like candy, sweets and snack foods make it hard to get enough  vitamins and minerals without eating too many calories. Good alternatives to empty calorie foods include whole-grain crackers and breads, fruits and vegetables, lean meats like poultry and fish, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.

Be smart about beverages

  • choose water often to stay hydrated, avoid added calories and save money
  • include nutrient-dense fat-free or low-fat milk and small amounts of 100% juice
  • avoid soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sport or energy drinks that have lots of calories with few vitamins and minerals
  • try coffee or tea with little or no added sugar or cream for another healthy alternative
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