Don’t have time to fit in a workout most days? Or maybe you’re just not in a place physically to add workouts to your game plan at this time? Don’t sweat - literally! It is entirely possible to lose weight and still get results without exercise.
Fitness is really just one part of the equation. So no matter where you are on your weight loss journey, here are the best ways to stay on top of everything else your body needs to lose weight.
How to Lose Weight Without Exercise
Even though for many of us losing weight can feel extremely difficult, the science behind how weight loss works is actually pretty simple - weight loss can only be achieved by eating less calories than you burn. In other words, the only thing you need to master to get results is a consistent calorie deficit. There isn't any special diet, supplement, or secret approach that changes this simple fact.
Exercise can help you burn more calories each day, which can make calorie control easier for some. However, it is entirely possible to create a calorie deficit just by reducing the amount of food you eat. In fact, diet is the most important part of the weight loss equation and the easiest way to have an impact on your results.
For example, you can cut 200 calories a day from food by skipping out on dessert or a bottle of soda. Or you can burn 200 calories from running two miles or from a moderate 20 minute workout. Which would you prefer?
It can be much more difficult to consistently cut large amount of calories through activity alone (1,2). In addition, exercise typically represents only a small portion of your day and overall calorie needs - physical activity, or TEA and NEAT, only accounts for a small portion (10 to 30%) of your total daily calorie burn.
Source: Adapted from Frontiers in Physiology
This is exactly why you shouldn’t use exercise as an excuse to eat whatever you want - you cannot exercise away a bad diet. Changing your eating habits is the single most effective approach to calorie control. Workouts are typically supplemental to this.
However, movement is still important for health! Large studies from around the world have associated sedentary behavior with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased mortality (3,4,5,6,7). And prolonged sitting has also been associated with an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (8,9). If you physically aren't able to work out, low impact activity like walking or light house work can still be of great benefit to your calorie burn and overall health.
10 Ways to Cut Calories Without Breaking a Sweat
However simple the calorie equation is, it is often easier said than done. Figuring out your exact daily calorie needs can be tricky. Then it takes a but of strategy and practice to learn how to measure exactly how many calories you are eating each day. The fact is there are a lot of variables to account for.
And to make things even harder, cutting calories too low can do more harm than good. Being too restrictive can cause increased food cravings, decreased willpower, zap your energy, negatively impact your mood, and in some cases mess with your metabolism. So how exactly are you supposed to win this battle?
Here are 10 proven ways to master calorie control and drop some pounds without having to hit the gym or starve yourself:
1. Track Your Calories
In an analysis of the National Weight Control Registry, looking at those who lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, researchers found that a majority of these people kept track of their food intake over long periods of times (multiple years) (10). This habit was shown to be beneficial regardless of the method or diet used to lose the weight. And this finding has been supported by multiple other studies as well (11,12,13,14).
This makes sense, since it’s almost impossible to master calorie control without tracking your food intake - this is the measurement of all the calories you take in and half of the weight loss equation! Start by estimating how many calories you burn each day at rest. You can do this through an online calculator or when you log into most food tracking apps.
Then make it a habit to track all of your food and beverages every day, even for cheat meals or on bad days, holidays, and weekends. This will give you the best snapshot of how well your diet is going and is one of the best habits to build when it comes to better nutrition.
2. Count Macros
While you're tracking your calories, you should also consider counting macros.
Macros are really just your calories organized into three major food groups - protein, fat, and carbs. These food groups supply ALL of the calories you get from foods and beverages and also play a role in maintaining good health, managing hunger, keeping energy and mood high, and much more (15,16,17). So if you get into the habit of counting your macros, you’ll be able to balance your nutrition and count calories all at the same time. Win, win!
Similar to calories, you can estimate your daily macronutrient needs using an online calculator or when you log into macro friendly tracking app.
3. Use Portion Control
Studies suggest that most people underestimate their calorie intake by nearly 20% (18,19,20). This is mainly because they don't track everything consistently, or mostly because they aren’t estimating serving sizes correctly.
Estimating your food intake will get you closer to your goals, but it really takes understanding portion sizes to get it right. If you’re eating out and enjoying foods without a nutrition facts label, it can be a challenge to guesstimate how many calories and macros you are consuming. And even if there is a nutrition facts label, eyeballing your portion size will only get you so far.
Instead of guessing, consider using measuring cups or take it one step further and learn how to weigh your food. This will help get you the most accurate nutrition information and help ensure you are hitting your calorie goals more closely.
4. Decrease Empty Calories
Scaling back on portion sizes is one thing, but you can also make a few food swaps to cut calories without even feeling it. Empty calories come from those foods that supply energy to our diets, but not a lot of nutrition. And research suggests that eating less of these foods can not only help you cut calories but may also make room for more nutritious choices (21,22,23).
This includes high-calorie junk foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and some added ingredients. Take a look at your daily food log and see what sources of hidden or “extra” calories you are willing to eliminate or scale back on. Here are some easy examples:
- Use cooking oil spray instead of pour oil when prepping your food at home
- Skip the sugar in your morning coffee or use an artificial sweetener
- Opt for baked and roasted options over fried
- Order your sandwich with mustard instead of mayo
- Try thin-crust pizza instead of pan or deep dish
- Swap creamy salad dressing for a vinaigrette
5. Eat a Satiating Diet
Increased appetite is a common side effect of reducing your calorie intake - which can be pretty counterproductive to the whole process if you give in too often. Luckily, there are certain foods you can eat more of that help control your hunger a little better. This includes a diet high in protein, fiber, and a moderate amount of healthy fats (24).
6. Drink More Water
Drinking more calorie-free and hydrating beverages like water over other options can help you cut a lot of calories - especially if you drink a lot of soda or sweetened currently. In addition, water may have some unique benefits when it comes to weight loss.
Water is important for a number of bodily functions including metabolism and digestion. Meaning you need water to burn fat efficiently. Plus water helps fill you up. Some studies suggest that drinking a large glass of water before your meals may help you eat less (28,29,30).
7. Get Some Sleep
It can feel pretty difficult to keep your willpower and your eating in check when you are running on little sleep. Lack of quality rest can mess with your metabolism and appetite-regulating hormones, signaling to your brain you need more energy in the form of food (31). And the type of food your body calls for is typically high carb options for quick fuel - which means increased sugar cravings (32).
Aim to get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and make rest more of a priority. Especially if you find yourself feeling stressed often.
8. Eat More Mindfully
There is also growing evidence in support of mindful eating for weight loss, which is the practice of eating with more intention and awareness. Just slowing down and paying more attention to your food, and actually enjoying what you eat a bit more, can help you get in touch with your hunger fullness cues. Which is why studies have linked mindful eating to automatic calorie control, decreased food cravings, increased willpower and motivation, and even better nutrition intake (33.34,35).
You can practice mindful eating by removing distractions when you sit down for a meal and learning to pay more attention to all of your senses while you eat.
9. Find Balance
At the end of the day, the best diet for you is the one you can stick to - this means using a sustainable approach to weight loss with foods you actually enjoy eating. Cutting too many calories too quickly or being super restrictive with your diet can lead to fast results, but you likely won't stick to it long term. And if you can't stick to it, the results will just leave just as quickly as they came.
Small changes can make a huge impact on your goals, especially when you use them to create healthy habits that stick. So instead of overhauling your life, figure out a healthy balance that works for you and commit to the long game. Start with goals you can master in a few weeks - like tracking your food intake, and then keep building on these goals until they become bigger goals. Before you know it, you will have transformed your health.
10. Use a Weight Loss Meal Plan
You can also have someone take care of the bulk of your diet for you using a calorie controlled meal delivery service. Pick a meal plan that meets your food preferences, or save money and build your own meals using a la carte ingredients. Then sit back and wait for your delivery each week. When the food comes, just heat and eat and add in any extra snacks or meals you want to fit your calorie goals.
Getting the bulk of your nutrition and macros covered also means there’s less stress when it comes to sticking to your diet, which can increase your motivation and willpower, and remove the guilt that comes along with failing some days. This also means more time to build other healthy habits, like tracking your food intake, getting plenty of rest, or going for a long walk.