Effective Ways to Lose Weight Without Exercise, According to Experts

The most effective approach to losing weight is to include dietary changes and regular physical activity. But is it possible to lose weight without exercising?

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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.

Exercise speeds up metabolism, which is one reason why it is a natural companion to eating differently for weight loss. By watching what you eat, taking in fewer calories and burning off calories with exercise, you can create a greater energy deficit, helping to expedite weight loss, says Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietitian with New York Gastroenterology Associates.

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, author and creator of digital courses for people with diabetes.

Expert Tips for How to Lose Weight Without Exercise

“Oftentimes we overestimate the impact exercise has on calorie expenditure, but the most impactful thing you can do for weight loss is focus on creating healthy dietary patterns, drinking your water, managing your stress and sleeping well,” says Ashley Bannister, a registered dietitian and coach with the weight loss app Noom in New York City.

Losing weight without exercise is attainable, but it just takes extra planning and dedication. It’ll require you to focus more on cutting the calories you consume, while still making sure you eat nourishing food. Research indicates changes in diet as the primary method of successful and sustainable weight loss.

Here are 14 tips to lose weight without exercise.

1. Be patient with the process.

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, it’s important to realize it may take longer and you may have some setbacks.

2. Think about plate size and watch your portions.

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, says Amy Kimberlain, a Miami-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 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, department chair for health promotion at Milwaukee Area Technical College in Milwaukee. Instead, serve yourself a portion using a small plate instead of a large plate.

Portion sizing can be hard, especially at restaurants in the U.S., where we’re accustomed to getting super-sized meals, Weisenberger says. Plan to eat only half of what you’re served and don’t be afraid to take home leftovers.

  • One medium whole fruit.
  • 2 cups of salad greens.
  • A ½-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
  • 2 cups of milk.
  • 1 ounce of cheese.
  • 1 ounce of cooked seafood or meat.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever eat portion sizes bigger than these or that you have to measure everything you eat, according to the AHA. You may end up eating more than one serving at one meal, then eat less than one serving at another meal. Just aim for average portion sizes overall in any two- or three-day period.

3. Fill up on soups and salads.

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

4. Make meals at home.

There are several good reasons to make meals at home if you’re looking to lose weight without exercise:

  • You avoid the temptation of bigger portions and more calories associated with restaurant and take-out meals.
  • It’s easier to adjust meals for health or taste reasons when you prep them at home.
  • Many people enjoy smelling, chopping, and plating food as they make it, in addition to actually eating it.
  • You can usually save money by cooking yourself.

If you’re accustomed to eating out and need to ease into making meals at home, here are a few tricks to help:

  • Grab heat-in-a-bag quinoa or brown rice, steam some veggies and add some feta or other sharp-flavored cheese. “Combine, and you have a meal,” Katte says.
  • Make use of healthier, easier-to-prepare options, such as microwaveable lentils, frozen or canned vegetables and frozen fish or chicken filets, Weisenberger advises. Other options: rotisserie chicken or roasted veggies from your supermarket’s prepared foods aisle.
  • If you can afford it, consider trying meal kits that arrive right at your doorstep.
  • Add fun to the process by swapping recipes with friends or trying out new spices. 
  • If you still are ordering out for some of the meal, pair it with a salad, soup or veggie that you prepare yourself.

5. Choose healthy snacks.

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 that will keep you feeling full longer, helping support your weight loss efforts.

Snacks that combine protein, healthy fat and/or complex carbs can achieve these goals. Some healthy snack options include foods such as:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit.
  • An apple or banana with a nut butter, such as peanut or almond butter.
  • Cottage cheese with fruit on a piece of whole-grain bread.
  • Hummus with whole-grain crackers and sliced veggies.
  • A handful of nuts and a piece of fruit.

Having healthy snack options is the best way to go, but if you still have some less healthy snacks around, make them harder to reach.

6. Eat without distractions and chew your food thoroughly.

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 and enjoy each bite. Whatever it is you’re watching could also lead to unhealthy choices, overeating or body image dissatisfaction, Katte says.

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. Eating without distractions also can make you aware of whether you’re eating because you’re actually hungry or if you’re just bored. If you’re looking for something else to do while eating, find some fun questions to ask family members around meal times or talk to your pets if you have them, Katte suggests.

While you’re being mindful about your eating, also focus on thoroughly chewing your food. Chewing your food helps with weight loss goals for several reasons, Bannister says:

  • You slow down your meal and may be more mindful of your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
  • You may burn slightly more calories through digestion when you chew thoroughly.
  • Taking your time to chew thoroughly can positively affect the hormones related to hunger and feeling full, so you end up consuming fewer calories.

7. Get more fiber.

Fiber helps to fill you up so you stay full longer, meaning you’re eating less overall. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend eating 22 to 34 grams of fiber per day, depending on age and gender, but most Americans struggle to get even 10 grams daily, Katte says.

Foods that are rich in fiber include:

  • Beans. 1 cup of black beans has 15 grams of fiber.
  • Broccoli. 1 cup contains 5 grams of fiber.
  • Pears. A medium pear has 5½ grams of fiber.
  • Raspberries. 1 cup has 8 grams.
  • Whole-wheat pasta or bread. 1 cup of whole-wheat spaghetti gives you 6 grams of fiber.
  • Nuts, which are also high in protein.

Most fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber as long as you eat them with the skin on. Make sure to increase your water intake as you add more fiber to your diet. Otherwise, it’s hard for the body to absorb the extra fiber, and you may end up feeling bloated or have extra intestinal gas.

8. Choose water over other drinks.

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.
  • 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.
  • Add herbs like mint, cilantro or basil along with a few fruit chunks to your water to flavor it.

In addition to getting enough water, avoid sweetened drinks. Most sweetened drinks add empty calories and no nutritional benefit. Because they’re liquid, it’s easy to consume them quickly and then not feel full after. Sugary drinks like soda are often filled with calories and also can lead to a rise in blood sugar followed by a crash. The end result? You then feel hungry again, Bannister says.

  • Water infused with lemon or cucumber, or just a splash of 100% fruit juice. “This enhances the flavor without going overboard with a ton of sugar,” Bannister says.
  • Smoothies made with fruit and unsweetened coconut or almond milk.
  • Sparkling water.
  • Unsweetened tea.
  • Unsweetened coffee.

9. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.

If you know you can’t exercise but want to lose weight, it can be easy to assume skipping meals is a good solution. This is not true, Bonci says. That’s because skipping meals often makes you overly hungry.

“That can be a recipe for disaster when you finally do eat,” says Bannister, adding that you may then 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.

Breakfast is a particularly important meal to avoid skipping. Your body and brain need fuel after you’ve slept. A healthy breakfast – one that combines protein, fiber and some fat to add flavor and make you feel full longer – can help you literally break that fast and minimize chances for overeating later in the day, Bonci says.

  • 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, ¼ cup of oats and ½ 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.

10. Add protein.

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, but may feel like a lot, especially if you don’t eat meat. Most women only need about 50 grams of protein daily. Working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian can help identify the best amounts for you.

There’s a wide range of acceptable protein intake levels, Duker Freuman says. For example, if you’re aiming to consume 1,600 calories daily, 10% of calories would amount to 40 grams of protein. On the high end, 35% of daily calorie consumption would amount to 140 grams of protein.

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 stews and black beans, another protein-rich food.
  • Cow’s milk, one cup: 8 grams of protein.

11. Sleep seven to eight hours a night.

Let your weight loss goals push you to get more sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Adequate sleep helps to regulate the hormones tied to hunger. When you’re sleep-deprived, your body often signals that it’s hungry. Lack of sleep also raises your level of cortisol, the stress-related hormone that triggers your body to hold on to fat.

If you need to improve your sleep, here are a few suggestions:

  • Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, with no more than an hour of variation, advises Andrea Allison, a physical therapist with Physical Therapy Central in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
  • Set a bedtime routine. “It works for adults just like it works for kids,” Allison says.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, and limit or avoid alcohol. Both of these can negatively affect your sleep.
  • Consider journaling before you go to bed.
  • Invest in wearable fitness technology to better understand your sleep. These devices, although pricey, can give you more insight into your sleep patterns so you can work on improving them.
  • Talk to a health care provider to help rule out a health issue affecting your sleep, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea.

12. Do your best to manage stress and avoid emotional eating.

Stress is often associated with stress eating, which can lead you to pack on pounds. When you’re stressed, your body lets out stress hormones that then cause the release of glucose, or blood sugar, for energy to battle the stressful situation.

“As you come down from that stress, your body sends signals to replenish glycogen stores and that often leads to more sugar cravings,” Bannister says.

The best way to cope with stress will vary for everyone, Bannister says. You will probably have to experiment to find what works best for you, but here are a few ideas:

  • Guided meditation.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Getting more sleep.
  • Listening to music you enjoy.
  • Listening or watching things that make you laugh.
  • Talking with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Writing down what makes you feel stressed out.

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.

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 new clothes, a book or self-care acts like a nap or a massage.

13. Don’t limit your foods excessively.

You may have times when you eat something less than healthy, and that’s OK. If you start to make certain foods taboo, you’ll feel bad about eating it and likely want it more, Weisenberger says. Or, you may try to compensate after eating something less than healthy by not eating enough and then feeling overly hungry.

“You’re then caught in a negative cycle,” Bonci says.

If you need to make healthier choices the next time you eat, focus on positive self-talk rather than negative messages, Katte advises.

14. Track what you eat.

Tracking what and when you eat helps make you more aware of what you’re consuming and keeps you accountable. There are a few ways to track what you eat:

  • Write what you consume daily on paper or on 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.
“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.

Weight Loss and 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:

  • Consider setting an appointment with a physical therapist. A physical therapist can evaluate and educate you on safe physical activity modifications based on your current health status. If you’re able to do even light activity, they can teach you how to use any relevant exercise equipment, Allison says. 
  • Start out where you can with exercise and aim to do something every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.
  • Get up every so often and walk around. Start taking movement breaks between calls or TV shows.
  • 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 care 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,” Kimberlain says.
Ultimately, with a combination of thoughtful healthy eating, it’s possible to lose weight without exercise.

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