By: Melissa Mitri, MS, RD
Updated on 4/21/2023
Embarking on a weight loss journey can feel daunting, especially if you can’t exercise or don’t particularly enjoy it. And when it comes to weight loss, a healthy diet and exercise plan are typically both part of the package. But can you lose weight without exercise, and if so, should you?
It is possible to lose weight without exercising, with the right diet and lifestyle habits.
Maybe you have a tight schedule or were recently injured, preventing you from exercising. Or you’d rather eat less than try to burn more calories through exercise. Either way, calories have to be decreased somewhere in order to lose weight.
Read on to get your questions answered such as how to achieve weight loss without exercise, can you lose weight without cardio, and how to get into a calorie deficit without exercise.
How Does Weight Loss Happen?
Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you’re taking in. This is known as a calorie deficit. When your body is in a calorie deficit for more than a few weeks, in theory, you should lose weight. This is typically the case no matter what type of diet you’re following.
You can achieve a calorie deficit by decreasing calories and portion sizes, burning more calories through exercise, or with a combination of both.
Everyone is different in terms of what is a bigger challenge to change – diet or exercise. Some of my clients struggle to change their diet enough to see results, and so choose to exercise more to speed up weight loss. Other clients hate to exercise, and so choose to focus on their diet more.
Do you find it harder to change your diet or to exercise more? This is an important question to know what to tackle first or prioritize as you begin your weight loss journey.
It’s true that exercise is an important component of weight loss, but is it possible to lose weight without exercise?
Can You Lose Weight Without Exercise? – Here’s How
It is possible to achieve a calorie deficit without exercise to help you lose weight. This fact can provide hope and motivation, especially if you are physically injured. In this case, you may not have a choice but to modify your workouts or forgo them altogether.
Here are 10 ways you can lose weight without exercising.
1. Use smaller plates
This small habit change is a simple way to decrease your portions right off the bat. Many of my clients have done this even before changing what they’re eating, and have found it just naturally helps them eat less.
When you use a smaller plate, it promotes portion control. It also makes the meal appear larger because your entire plate is filled.
Using smaller plates can be especially helpful if you are a member of the “clean plate” club. If you find it hard to not eat everything on your plate, or you’re still working on this, using a smaller plate can prevent overeating.
Once you finish your plate, take a few minutes to pause and evaluate if you are still hungry. This gives you a moment to check in with yourself and prevent overeating.
2. Fill ½ your plate with veggies
My philosophy is always focusing on what to eat more of versus what to restrict in your diet. And guess what you can eat a lot of? Yummy veggies in any way, shape, or form!
Filling ½ your plate with veggies provides satisfying fiber and fills you up with a small number of calories.
Piling on the veggies leaves less room for higher-calorie foods, and automatically lowers the total calorie content of your meal. Better yet, eat the veggies first, and you may naturally eat less of the heavier options.
3. Track your food intake
Research shows people who track their food intake and hold themselves more accountable tend to lose more weight and keep it off. You can track your food via an app like Lose It! and MyFitnessPal, or a good old-fashioned journal.
Tracking helps make you more aware of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating. This makes you think twice about certain food choices. When you know you have to log that candy bar, you’re more likely to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
You can also have an enhanced level of accountability if you hire a registered dietitian or personal trainer to monitor your food log and provide you with real-time feedback.
4. Take at least 20 minutes to eat
Set a timer for a minimum of 20 minutes for every meal. I realize 20 minutes may feel like an eternity for many people. This may be especially true if you’re used to scarfing down your food after your kids eat or in between work meetings.
According to research studies, it takes at least 20 minutes, if not 30 minutes for our food to begin digesting. If you are eating your meals in 5-10 minutes, chances are you’re overeating because your brain does not have enough time to receive the signals to stop.
You can spend more than 20 minutes eating if you choose, but less than 20 minutes is not enough to be able to be fully mindful.
Slowing down while eating can help you naturally eat less, even without changing what you’re eating.
5. Drink more water
Drinking more water is essential for many reasons, but it can also support weight loss. Water is calorie-free and can make you feel more full. One research study showed those who drank 2 cups of water 30 minutes before meals ate less at those meals.
The study investigators said this was likely because the water expanded in their stomachs and curbed hunger.
6. Limit alcohol
Most alcohol is loaded with calories and sugar. Regularly drinking alcohol tends to be a barrier to weight loss. This is not only because of the substantial amount of empty calories but also because of the behavior changes that often go along with drinking.
Why? This is because drinking can lead to lower inhibitions, increased risk of overeating, and impulsive eating. The types of foods eaten while drinking alcohol also tend to be higher-calorie foods like pizza, pasta, or chips.
7. Eat more whole foods
Eating more real food as opposed to snacks and processed foods will help you lose weight. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and prioritize whole foods like lean proteins, produce, and low-fat dairy products. These foods are more natural, are low in salt, and are more effective in curbing cravings.
8. Eat a higher protein breakfast
If your goal is to lose weight, starting your morning off with a high-protein breakfast will hold you over until your next meal far better than a carb-focused breakfast, such as cereal and toast. To promote weight loss, I recommend that you include lean proteins like eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, nut butter, and protein powder.
9. Up your fiber
The majority of us don’t get enough fiber, and this is a huge disservice to weight loss efforts. Eating more fiber-rich foods increases satiety, helping you to feel full for longer. Examples of high-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
10. Prioritize sleep
Sleep is often last on the priority list for many people. It may be tempting to try to cram in more things throughout the day, but a lack of sleep can amplify your hunger hormones and make it harder to lose weight.
When these hormones fluctuate it results in intense cravings for unhealthy food like sweets and comfort meals. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, the rest of your efforts to lose weight will be pretty futile.
Try to create a consistent bedtime routine to help you get better quality zzz’s. Set a wind-down reminder, limit screens before bed, and meditate or listen to calming music.
Takeaway: Diet, Exercise, or Both for Weight Loss?
So to answer your question “can you lose weight without exercise?” the answer is yes. But, it’s not necessarily ideal. Adding exercise to your weight loss regimen helps you burn more calories, releases endorphins that motivate you, and helps you burn fat and build muscle. All of these things result in a more efficient weight loss process, and better physical results and body composition changes along the way.
The moral of the story – if you can physically exercise, doing it will bring you better results. If you can’t, you can still lose weight, it may just take a little longer.
If you need help and support in your weight loss journey, speak to your doctor to get referred to a Registered Dietitian.