Most fitness experts consider exercise essential for weight loss and recommend frequent workouts to maximize calorie and fat burning. However, I’m not always one of them! While I don’t deny that exercise can help you burn calories and fat, my 30+ years working in the fitness industry have taught me that workouts are not compulsory for weight loss. In fact, using my extensive knowledge of nutrition and metabolism, I’ve helped hundreds of people lose or manage their weight without exercise. Despite the positive benefits of physical fitness training, many people struggle to maintain a regular workout schedule. Some don’t enjoy working out, and others cannot train because of injuries or underlying medical conditions. For others, lack of time is the hardest barrier to overcome. A study by Franziska Antoniewicz and Ralf Brand, published on PubMed in 2016, suggests that exercise drop-out rates can be as high as 50% (1). The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to lose weight, most of which are ridiculously easy to implement. So, buckle up and get ready to learn how to lose weight without exercising.
The Science of Losing Weight
Before we dive into how to lose weight without exercise, it’s important to clarify what we mean by weight loss and how to achieve it. That way, the rest of the content will make much more sense!
Fat loss and weight loss are two different but closely related topics. Weight refers to your body mass, which most people measure using scales. However, your weight comprises various components, including:
You can lose weight by reducing the amount of any of these components. For example, fast for a day, and you will have less undigested food in your stomach. Alternatively, you could sweat heavily and dehydrate so your body contains less water.
In contrast, fat loss refers to losing adipose tissue, the scientific term for body fat. Body fat is stored energy, and it’s worth approximately 3,500 calories per pound (2). Fat loss is usually the result of a calorie deficit, which occurs when you consume fewer calories than you need for maintenance. This energy shortfall causes your body to burn fat for fuel (3). While exercise accelerates calorie and fat burning, it’s important to note that your body burns calories and fat 24/7 – even when you sleep. So, provided your calorie intake is less than your calorie expenditure, you can lose weight without exercise. However, you’ll probably need to modify your diet so you consume fewer calories than you need.
Fat Loss Vs. Weight Loss
Fat loss invariably leads to weight loss. As such, these expressions are interchangeable. However, it’s important to stress that fat loss is preferable to losing water weight or muscle mass. Losing muscle can leave you “skinny fat,” where you look slim but are actually soft and weak. In contrast, dropping water weight can lead to dehydration, and you’ll regain it quickly when you drink water or any other hydrating fluids. Fat loss is the best way to lose weight, as it has the most significant impact on how you look, feel, and perform and is beneficial for your health.
10 Ways to Lose Weight Without Exercise
Weight loss and exercise often go hand-in-hand, but they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, for most people, working out makes up a very small amount of their total daily energy expenditure. For example, of your total daily energy expenditure of approximately 2,000 calories, only 300 or so might be exercise. In addition, you’ll only burn those extra calories on the days you work out. So, if you exercise three times a week, you may not do even enough to burn half a pound of fat.
The good news is that there are lots of ways to lose weight without exercise. While each one will have only a small impact on your calorie balance, using several of them will add up to a significant calorie deficit. A word of warning: Don’t try to use all these strategies at once, which would probably be impractical and unsustainable. Instead, study the list and pick the tips that resonate the most strongly. Incorporate them into your daily routine until they become habits. Then, once those new habits have stuck, choose a few more items from the list and add them to your schedule.
1. Walk More
While the theme of this article is losing weight without exercise, that doesn’t mean you should be sedentary or physically inactive. The more you move, the more calories you’ll burn per day, and the easier it’ll be to lose weight. Unless you are very unfit or an Olympic racewalker, walking should not be a form of exercise. Instead, it’s just a way to get from A to B without relying on mechanized transport. The more you walk each day, the more calories you’ll burn, which should promote weight loss.
Related: Calories Burned Walking Calculator
Opportunities for walking more include:
Walk part or all the way to work or school
Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
Go for a walk during your lunch break
Enjoy a family weekend hike
Walk with your kids or dog more
Walk after dinner instead of watching so much TV
Try walking meetings at work
Walk to see colleagues instead of calling or emailing them
Walk rather than drive distances of less than a mile
Go for a walk with friends instead of sitting in a coffee shop
You’ll see lots of recommendations for how much walking you should do, including the standard 10,000 steps per day. However, these guidelines are arbitrary and have no scientific basis. Instead, use a tracker to determine how many steps you are currently doing, and then work on doing more. Gradually increase your step count as you feel able until you achieve the level of weight loss you want. That said, 8-10k steps a day is a good target for most people.