How to lose weight without exercise: 12 nutritional methods approved by the experts

Working out has many benefits but you can also learn how to lose weight without exercise

Bowl of nutritious foods, including cous cous, cabbage and cucumber on a restaurant tray with dappled sunlight, representing how to lose weight without exercise
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Want to learn how to lose weight without exercise? Despite what many people think, it’s entirely possible - and even advisable in some cases. While exercise is hugely beneficial for our health and can certainly help with weight loss, not everyone can prioritize working out. 

For example, if you’re new to working out but you’ve got a healthy weight loss goal in mind then you may not want to rely on exercise for the moment as part of that plan. If you're dealing with a health condition or recovering from an injury, you may not be able to just yet. No one should feel pressured to lose weight but for those who want to, there are many ways to go about it. 

Just as you can learn how to lose weight without dieting, you can focus on changing your nutrition toward weight loss in a sustainable way. It’s all about sticking to a deficit, choosing what works for you, prioritizing certain food groups, and taking advantage of the most important natural recovery tools.  

Can you lose weight without exercise fast?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to lose weight quickly without exercise. “Weight loss is caused by creating a calorie deficit, which is a negative energy balance where you burn more calories than you are consuming,” explains Arj Thiruchelvam, a performance and nutrition coach. Provided you stick within your personal calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight regardless of whether you exercise or not. 

Having a nutritional focus in your lifestyle is especially important if you want to lose weight says Thiruchelvam, who is also the head coach and owner of Performance Physique, because we often overestimate how many calories we burn through exercise. 

“[People then] consume too many calories before or afterward, meaning they don’t lose any weight,” he explains. “You need to focus on creating a calorie deficit solely from your nutrition.” 

This doesn’t mean exercise isn’t hugely beneficial though, for many reasons that have nothing to do with weight loss as well. “Exercise is invaluable in improving our health. Although it’s possible to learn how to lose weight without exercise, working out should be a regular activity to improve our overall health,” the coach urges.

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How to lose weight without exercise

1. Get into a calorie deficit

As coach Thiruchelvam says, you need to be burning more than you consume every day to create a calorie deficit and lose weight. For example, if you burn 500 more calories per day than you eat, you’ll have a 500-calorie deficit per day. 

However, as everyone’s bodies are different, everyone reacts differently to weight loss. To work out your deficit, use a calorie deficit calculator. This will take factors such as your weight, height, activity levels, age, and goals into account to predict your loss over one week. 

It’s important to note that we all burn calories throughout the day regardless of whether we exercise or not thanks to our resting metabolic rate (RMR), and this helps you get into a deficit as well. Most women, according to research by Jordan University of Science and Technology, burn between 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day. However, as you lose weight, your body will need fewer calories to function so you may find that you hit a plateau and continue dieting but not losing weight. This is when your deficit needs to change.  

2. Track what you're eating

Using one of the best calorie counter apps won’t be for everyone but they are one of the most effective ways to ensure you’re definitely staying in your deficit. Apps like Lifesum and MyFitnessPal allow you to record each ingredient in you meals, scan food labels for items you buy out and about, and plan your meals for the next couple of days. 

A roundup of your total calorie intake for the day will appear when you’ve finished logging your food and you’ll be able to see whether or not you’ve stuck to your deficit. Plus, many also offer a rundown of the major macronutrients in each food, so you’ll be able to view the ratio of carbohydrates to protein and healthy fats. 

3. Eat more protein

“Every meal should be built around a quality souce of protein,” says Aroosha Nekonam, qualified personal trainer and nutrition expert. “It helps to repair, rebuild, and maintain muscle tissue, and it’s satiating so it keeps you fuller for longer. And the better you can control hunger, the more sustainable your diet will be.”

Luckily, there are many ways to make sure you get enough protein in your diet. Along with including more lean meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, vegan protein such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, and nuts is a good choice. 

Making sure you get enough protein in your diet can also increase your metabolic rate, says Nekonam, who works with Ultimate Performance. “In its simplest terms, your metabolism is the process by which your body converts calories into energy. During this process, the calories you consume through food and drink mix with oxygen to make the energy the body needs. Think of it like a furnace. If you add good quality, high protein foods with a high thermic effect to the furnace, your body’s metabolism will speed up.” 

Naturally, the furnace will get hotter if you add kindling. “If you add exercise into that furnace then your metabolism will get even quicker, and you can burn more calories.”

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4. Eat more vegetables

We all know that vegetables are good for us; they help us meet our vitamin and mineral needs, help our body with its natural detox process, help to suppress inflammation and aid digestion. 

When it comes to losing weight, vegetables have added benefits. “They are the ideal food for dieting,” says Nekonam. “They are big in volume but low in energy density, meaning you can eat plenty to fill you up without the calorie count climbing too high.”

Many vegetables are also high in fiber. Much like protein, research by the University of Minnesota explains, it’s one of the slowest macronutrients to digest so tends to keep us fuller for longer. This is also why vegetables often feature as one of the best foods to snack on when dieting.  

5. Prioritize healthy fats

When many people start changing their diet to lose weight, fats are often one of the first macronutrients to be ditched. However, as the NHS urges, we need them in our diets. Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, help the body absorb vitamins A, D, and E because they are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of these. 

Foods high in these healthy fats include avocado, nuts, seeds, fish, and peanut and olive oil. 

“Fat is essential for health and it should be the cornerstone of any transformation diet,” Nekonam says. “It’s a great source of energy and can also slow down digestion, suppressing hunger between meals.” 

Undoubtedly though, if you’re looking to learn how to lose weight without exercise, you need to monitor how much fat there is in your diet. “Each gram of fat contains more than double the calories (9 calories) than protein or carbs (4 calories), so it can be easy to overeat.”

6. Choose different carbohydrates

Carbohydrates also get a bad name in discussions about losing weight, likely thanks to plans such as the keto diet. But keeping a balanced diet is key and carbs are a big part of this.

“They can boost performance and strength, aid recovery from your workouts, improve thyroid function, and help you sleep better,” says Nekonam. 

However, not all are made equal. While there’s nothing wrong with white carbohydrates like standard pasta and bread from a deficit point of view (and if you prefer them over the fibrous alternatives then go right ahead), the wholegrain alternatives do have more benefits. 

As a review from St Catherine University outlines, whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of weight gain and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, and cancers, a lower mortality rate, and an improvement in overall gut health. 

Woman holding up salad and eating sitting on a park bench at lunchtime with a coffee

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7. Eat in a way that suits you

When it comes to losing weight and how to do it, there’s no completely black-and-white approach, unfortunately. Everyone is different so what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s also important to eat in a way that works for you and your body. 

There’s no point in creating the perfect calorie-restricted diet for yourself if you don’t actually enjoy any of the foods you’ve planned out and you’re forcing yourself to eat at times that just don’t suit you. Chances are, you won’t stick to the routine for more than a few days. 

For example, we’re all told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, several studies, including one by Bielefield University, have confirmed that there’s basically “no difference between breakfast skipping and eating” when it comes to changing participants’ body mass index (BMI) - one of the markers of how much you should weigh. So whether you prefer to have your first meal of the day at lunchtime or 7 am, choose what works for you. 

There’s also very little evidence to show that eating late at night can hinder weight loss progress for most people. As a study by Florida State University shows, having a late-night snack makes very little (if any) difference. So if you’d rather eat at 11 pm rather than 7 pm, go right ahead with that too. Some will enjoy this more and find they don’t wake up as hungry in the morning while others will find it difficult to sleep eating so late. 

8. Get more sleep

However, good quality sleep is non-negotiable so if you want to learn how to lose weight without exercise, and healthily, learn how to sleep better. Not only is sleep the way our bodies repair themselves from the stress and pressure of the day, both mental and physical, sleep has a huge impact on our hormones. 

Research from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health shows that when we don’t get enough good sleep, the body produces more ghrelin (the hormone that tells us we’re hungry) and less leptin (the hormone that tells us we’re full). This means that we’re more likely to feel hungry even when we’re not if we’re tired - working out to an additional 357 calories more per day on average. 

Waking up feeling rested means that we can make better food choices and we’ll be more motivated to exercise, even if that’s just heading out on a light walk around the block.

9. Plan your meals in advance

Meal prepping has been shown to dramatically affect how people choose their food, so if you're struggling with not losing weight in a calorie deficit, this could be a technique to try. The study by the University of Paris found that participants were more likely to stick to healthy eating guidelines, have more variety in their diet, and were less likely to be overweight or obese if they planned meals ahead of time. 

This doesn’t have to mean making all your food in advance and storing it in the fridge for days on end though. Simply plotting down what you’re planning to eat in a diary or a meal planning app makes things easy - and you’ll always know what you need to pick up at the grocery store.

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10. Avoid stress

Much like sleep, stress has a huge impact on our bodies. As well as longer-term side effects such as skin conditions, a higher risk of issues like asthma, diabetes, and heart problems, the short-term effect of stress can be hugely damaging. Headaches and anxiety are reported by many and for those looking to lose weight, being stressed can be hugely counterproductive as many studies show it often leads to overeating. 

Several studies, including recent research by the University of Leeds and the Institute of Food and Nutrition in the Netherlands, shows participants exposed to stressful situations tended to want more desserts, snacks, and carbohydrate- and fat-based foods rather than nutrient-dense options.

So learning how to deal with stress properly and limiting stressful situations won’t only be beneficial for your mind and longer-term health, it could help you learn how to lose weight without exercise.

11. Ditch sugar where possible

It’s important to clarify here that sugar is not the so-called ‘enemy’ it’s often made out to be. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, should enjoy the odd sugary treat now and then,” says Nekonam, pointing to research from Yale University of Medicine that shows restricting the food we enjoy rather than eating it in moderation often leads to binging behaviors in the not-too-distant future. 

However, the nutrition expert adds, there’s no getting around the fact that calories count and what you fuel your body with is important. “What you consume will either fuel your body or poison it,” she says. “You probably know how your body reacts when you’ve eaten too much pizza, ice cream, or had one too many glasses of wine the previous day. You feel sluggish and slow. 1,000 calories from steak and vegetables won’t have the same effect on the body, blood sugar, and appetite levels as 1,000 calories from pizza, cake, and chocolate.”

Ultra-processed foods and those high in sugar have a significant link to a higher chance of weight gain, a study by the University of North Carolina outlines, as they are rapidly digested and flood the bloodstream with glucose, amino acids, and fructose. The body struggles to use these for anything beneficial, so the liver converts them into fat.  

12. Move more

Exercising and moving around more will also help you lose weight. If you would prefer to focus on the nutritional element of a weight loss plan first, that’s perfectly understandable. However, simply walking the dog, moving around the house more, gardening, and increasing your daily activity generally can increase your weight loss progress. As Nekonam explains, these types of activity are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis - or NEAT for short. 

“Boosting your NEAT levels can be game changing when it comes to losing weight,” she explains. “It can actually account for between 15 and 50% of your total calorie burn for the day, and this can be the important difference between you being in a calorie deficit or not.”

Plus, when you’ve lost the weight you want to lose, exercise will be an invaluable tool in keeping it off. “It’s been shown that exercise can aid weight maintenance,” says performance coach Arj Thiruchelvam, pointing to research by the University of Westminster and the University of Limburg that shows exercise is one of the best ways to beat the weight loss plateau. 

There are also so many benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss, including improving our mental health, sleep quality, and stress levels, and helping us socialize with friends more.  

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer.

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.