Is it possible to lose weight without exercising? This sounds great in theory, even though the most effective approach has been shown to include changing what you eat and getting regular exercise.
For some people though, physical activity just isn’t an option when trying to lose weight. There may be several reasons why you have to try losing weight without exercising:
Exercise and Weight Loss
Exercise helps the body burn calories more efficiently, says Dr. Scott A. Cunneen, director of metabolic and bariatric surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and author of “Weighty Issues: Getting the Skinny on Weight Loss Surgery.” This is because your metabolism speeds up during physical activity. Without exercise, your metabolism will likely slow down.
A speedier metabolism is one reason exercise is a natural companion to eating differently for weight loss. Depending on how much you exercise, it can help you lose weight more quickly. By watching what you eat, taking in fewer calories and burning off calories with exercise, you can potentially reach your calorie-cutting goal faster.
Weight Loss Without Exercise
If you can’t exercise, it may take you longer to lose weight. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because losing weight slowly can help you keep it off more easily than quick weight loss, says registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian, author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide” and “Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week” and owner of Food & Nutrition Solutions by Jill, based in Yorktown, Virginia. Losing weight too quickly may negatively affect your metabolism; losing weight more slowly can lead to more sustainable weight loss.
Think Long-Term for Weight Loss
Weisenberger encourages those interested in losing weight without exercise to think about their long-term goals. If you find yourself checking the scale every day, you may initially lose water weight. A better approach is to focus on weekly weight goals versus daily check-ins, Weisenberger advises. A healthy weight loss is one to two pounds a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For instance, you can set a goal of losing 10% of your body weight in three to six months. If you weigh 200 pounds, that’s 20 pounds to lose. She prefers this to weekly weight goals, which may show some quick weight loss initially that can be attributed to loss of water, bone and even lean muscle mass in addition to fat.
Losing weight without exercise is possible, but it means you must focus more on cutting the calories you eat while still making sure you eat nourishing food. One pound equals roughly 3,500 calories. If you divide that evenly over a week, that’s cutting 500 calories a day. Some examples of foods that are part of a healthy diet include:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat spaghetti or bread.
- Protein, such as beans, fish, nuts or lean meat or poultry.
- A small amount of healthier fats, such as canola, soy or olive oil.
Foods and drinks to cut out or consume less of if you’re looking to lose weight include:
- Alcohol-based and sweetened drinks.
- Baked goods, such as cookies and cake.
- Snacks, such as French fries and potato chips.
14 Tips to Lose Weight Without Exercise
Losing weight without exercise is possible. It just takes extra planning and dedication. Here are 14 tips to lose weight without exercise:
Even when you can exercise, losing weight in a limited time period, such as in the weeks before a surgery, can be a challenge. Since you can’t move as much, realize it may take longer and you may have some setbacks.
“Consistency is key; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The best approach to sustainable weight loss is to adopt lifestyle habits that you can stick with long term,” says Sparta, New Jersey-based registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet.”
One common strategy used for weight loss is to play around with plate size and the portions on your plate. At dinner, use a smaller salad plate for grains and protein and a larger dinner plate for non-starchy vegetables, Kimberlain says.
This helps you to fill up more on those low-calorie veggies. Another plate idea: If you’re at a holiday or special event with some of your favorite desserts, don’t deprive yourself, advises registered dietitian Heidi Katte, an instructor with Milwaukee Area Technical College in Milwaukee. Instead, serve yourself a portion using a small plate instead of a large plate.
Playing around with plates also can help keep your portion sizes in check. Some sample portion sizes from the American Heart Association include:
- One medium whole fruit.
- Two cups of salad greens.
- A half-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
- One cup of milk.
- One ounce of cheese.
- One ounce of cooked seafood or meat.
At many restaurants, you have the option of a salad or soup before your main entrée, says Leslie Bonci, sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs and owner of the nutrition business Active Eating Advice. If you choose a healthier soup or salad, you can fill up on fiber before moving on to your entrée. If you’re already somewhat full, you’ll eat less of the main meal and perhaps even skip dessert.
In the U.S., especially at restaurants, we’re accustomed to getting super-sized meals, Weisenberger says. Plan to eat only half of what you’re served. Don’t be afraid to take home leftovers.
Think about the last few meals and snacks you ate. Were you reading or watching something on a screen? Maybe driving and eating? It’s easy to eat too much if you’re not focused on what you’re eating. Put away the phone, turn off the TV or remove whatever else distracts you to enjoy each bite. Eating mindfully by chewing slowly is another way to focus on what you’re eating, so you’re truly aware of when you’re full, Katte says. Eating without distractions also can make you aware of whether you’re eating because you’re truly hungry or if you’re just bored.
Fiber helps to fill you up so you stay full longer, meaning you’re eating less overall. The recommended serving for fiber is 25 grams a day for women and up to 38 grams a day for men, but most Americans struggle to get even 10 grams daily, Katte says.
Foods that are rich in fiber include:
- Beans. For example, a cup of black beans has 15 grams of fiber.
- Broccoli. One cup contains 5 grams of fiber.
- Pears. A medium pear has 5½ grams of fiber.
- Raspberries. One cup has 8 grams.
- Whole-wheat spaghetti or bread. One cup of whole-wheat spaghetti gives you 6 grams of fiber.
- Nuts like pistachios, which are high in protein as well, contain 3 grams of fiber per serving, Palinski-Wade says.
Eating more fiber-rich foods while drinking more water is a winning weight-loss combination, Weisenberger says. Water helps to fill you up more, just like fiber does.
Here are a few ways to increase your water intake:
- Carry a water bottle with you.
- Set a water drinking schedule, so you make sure to drink water regularly during the day.
- Add fruit or vegetable slices to water or just a splash of 100% fruit juice to add flavor if you get bored drinking plain water.
- If you’re working, make it a point to get up regularly and refill your water. This could mean going to the water fountain or the kitchen more regularly, Katte says. In either case, you’re getting more water and sneaking in a few extra steps.
Water also can replace sugary beverages such as soda, which can easily add 250 to 500 calories a day to your diet, depending on what you drink, Katte says.
If you know you can’t exercise but want to lose weight, it can be easy to assume skipping meals is a good solution. Not true, Bonci says. That’s because skipping meals and going for longer time periods without food can result in muscle breakdown. Plus, skipping meals often makes you overly hungry. “That can be a recipe for disaster when you finally do eat,” says Ashley Bannister, a registered dietitian and coach with the weight loss app Noom in New York City. You then may find yourself binge eating once you reach your next meal.
Skipping meals may also backfire if you’re recovering from an injury and your body is relying on food for healing nutrients, Bonci adds.
Your body and brain need fuel after you’ve slept. A healthy breakfast can help you literally break that fast and minimize chances for overeating later in the day, Bonci says. A healthy breakfast combines protein, fiber and some fat to add flavor and make you feel full longer.
Some healthy breakfast options include:
- Two scrambled eggs with spinach, peppers and onions in a high-fiber wrap with two tablespoons of guacamole.
- A smoothie made with a half cup of milk, 5 ounces of Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, one-fourth cup of oats and a half cup of berries.
- Overnight oats made with Greek yogurt or milk of your choice.
- Premade egg muffin cups made with veggies along with whole-grain toast.
Although we all need a healthy mix of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein, protein-rich foods in particular can help you fill up and fuel your body, Weisenberger says. She recommends about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal instead of eating a massive amount of protein at once. This keeps your body fueled throughout the day. Working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian can help identify the best amounts for you.
The current federally recommended daily allowance for protein is 10% to 35% of your overall daily calories, but many health experts favor ramping that up under certain circumstances, including weight loss.
Here are a few protein-rich food choices:
- Atlantic salmon, 3.5 ounces: 22 grams of protein.
- Canned tuna, 3 ounces: 20 grams of protein.
- Chicken breast, 3 ounces: 27 grams of protein.
- Greek yogurt, a half-cup: 11 grams of protein. Weisenberger adds a dollop of Greek yogurt to black beans, another protein-rich food, and stews.
- Cow’s milk, one cup: 8 grams of protein.
Let your weight loss goals push you to get more z’s. Adequate sleep helps to regulate the hormones tied to hunger. When you’re sleep-deprived, your body often signals that it’s hungry. It also raises your cortisol levels, the stress-related hormone that triggers your body to hold on to fat. Plus, being sleep-deprived can distract you from your weight loss goals. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
We’ve all been there: You’re ready for a snack and open up the pantry. You see chips, cookies and other less nutritious options. It’s only natural to want to reach out and make those unhealthy choices. To help avoid this trap, stock your pantry with healthier snack options, keep the fridge filled with chopped veggies and have a fruit bowl in plain view. These healthy, lower-calorie snacks will keep you full longer, which will help support your weight loss efforts.
If you’re an emotional eater, you’re not alone. Eating to cope with stress or worry is something many people do. Sweating out your emotions with a tough workout is a popular alternative. However, if you can’t exercise or simply don’t want to, you have one less outlet to let out those challenging emotions. The solution? Plan ahead on how you can avoid emotional eating with other strategies, Bonci recommends.
- Doing arts or crafts that you enjoy.
- Taking a bath or doing something that relaxes you.
- Talking to a close friend or family member.
- Using a stress ball.
It’s also common to use food to celebrate positive achievements, Bannister says. If you use food to celebrate, consider other ways to reward yourself. This may include a new shirt or pants, a new book or self-care acts like a nap or a massage.
Tracking what and when you eat helps make you more aware of what you’re consuming and helps keep you accountable. There are a few ways to track what you eat:
- Write what you consume daily on paper or in an electronic device.
- Use an app that helps with food tracking, such as MyFitnessPal.
- Take pictures of your meals and snacks.
Bonci also advises keeping track of hunger between meals and fullness after meals. Don’t worry if your notes about your meals aren’t perfect — there’s no such thing. “We know there will always be some error in tracking, so I like to focus more on the awareness it’s creating rather than being 100% accurate,” Bannister says.
A Final Word About Exercise
If your health care provider has recommended you limit physical activity, you should respect that. However, if you can still do some movement during your weight loss period, you’ll get a multitude of health benefits. Physical activity can give you an energy boost, improve your mood and help with weight management, for instance.
Here are some easy ways to work in simple movements:
- Start out where you can with exercise and aim to do something every day.
- Get up every so often and walk around. Start taking movement breaks between calls or binge watching.
- If you have to rest one part of your body, see if you can exercise other parts of your body. For instance, if you can’t exercise your legs much, perhaps you can use dumbbells to exercise your upper body, Weisenberger says.
- Ask your health provider what physical activity is OK versus what’s not OK. This will help you know what exercise is safe for you versus what isn’t.
- Think about physical activity that makes you happy – what Kimberlain calls “joyful movement.” “Exercise shouldn’t be something that people dread but rather look forward to,” she says.
With a combination of thoughtful healthy eating, it’s possible to lose weight without exercise.