By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Want to lose weight without exercise? It's possible! Learn weight-loss solutions for how to lose weight naturally, and even find out how to lose 20 pounds.
Whether you're looking to lose a little bit of weight or a lot of weight, I'm here to help arm you with success so you can stick to your goals for the long run and see the results you want all year long.
I'm personally a big fan of movement. Early in the pandemic, I started virtual yoga and Pilates personal training sessions multiple mornings a week. As much as I encourage movement, though, having an exercise routine isn't entirely necessary to be able to reach your goal weight.
Or maybe you want to begin with food-based changes and add in exercise later. Either way, I'm here to meet you where you are.
Can You Lose Weight Without Exercise?
The short answer: Yes. Dietary changes have the biggest impact on weight loss. However, I wouldn't recommend completely ignoring exercise, because it's great for your health. It also helps increase how many calories you burn. That's because muscle requires more energy than fat.
If you don't want to focus on exercise first and foremost, that's totally fine! Make these food changes that follow, and they'll no doubt help your weight loss along.
1. Drink Water Before Your Meal
Here's one of the biggest weight-loss solutions out there: Stay hydrated.
I’ve always been a big water drinker. When at a restaurant, I often drink an entire glass of water before the food arrives! On a trip to Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, I was able to track exactly how much water I drink because the beverage is served by the bottle. My perfect amount of water per meal: about a liter and a half. Eek.
I’ve written about the importance of staying hydrated: It can help regulate mood and energy, prevent urinary tract infections and kidney stones, and even help increase safe driving.
A study published in Obesity shows drinking water can help weight loss, too. In the study, 84 obese British adults were instructed to drink about two cups of water before eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner every day for about three months, or to imagine feeling full.
The people who hydrated before meals lost the most weight—more than 9 pounds, versus less than 2 pounds for those who didn’t drink water before meals. That's a big difference!
The study authors note that water may cause you to feel fuller and eat less at meal times. The liquid may also temporarily increase pre-meal metabolism, although more research needs to be done in this area.
No matter the reason, it looks like drinking water can help decrease meal size. So I don't know about you, but I’ll continue to drink a lot of water!
2. Eat Your Whole Grains
Eating quality grains—including whole wheat, oats and brown rice—may help control your weight.
When volunteers were followed for about eight years, the folks eating higher-quality carbs were less likely to become overweight or obese than those eating lower-quality ones, per a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The fiber from the whole grains may help your weight loss, too. Eating a high-fiber diet–30 grams or more daily–may lead to a weight loss of more than 4 pounds over the course of a year.
People following this eating style also improved blood pressure and insulin resistance, which may decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, in a study.
3. Have a Buffet Strategy
I grew up celebrating Christmas the Jewish way, going out for a Chinese buffet meal with my family and a dozen or so of our friends. It's such a fun tradition.
When it comes to buffet meals, it's hard to not overload your plate. And researchers are now suggesting that a meal's price has a lot to do with how you feel about what's on that plate. Scientists at Cornell University studied all-you-can-eat buffets and how pricing affects food choices.
They found that when diners paid less for the buffet meal, those people became more physically uncomfortable and felt guiltier than higher-paying restaurant-goers.
The scientists studied 139 volunteers who lunched at an Italian buffet in New York and paid either $4 or $8. People who paid less felt they ate more than they should have, felt physically uncomfortable, and felt guilty about how much they ate—even if they hadn’t actually eaten more.
When faced with countless options, it’s difficult to not load your plate with all of them — and also to not go back for seconds (and thirds). Use these tips to keep your next buffet meal in check:
Survey the Buffet
When you arrive at the buffet, don’t immediately grab a plate. Do take a walk around the buffet, deciding what handful of items you would most like to try. Go in with the intent of not going back for seconds.
Choose a Vegetable
Find a salad, ora steamed or lightly sautéed vegetable dish. Fill half your plate with that. The remainder of your plate can hold the other items you eyed during your walk-through.
Make You Meal an Experience
As with any meal out, eat slowly and savor your food. Perhaps order a hot tea to make the experience soothing. You’re not in a hurry to finish and fill a second plate!
4. Eat More Healthy Fat
Love almond butter and avocados? I have good news for you: Eating fat may help your weight. People following a low-carb diet, versus a low-fat one, lost about 12 pounds in the course of a year, per research in Annals of Internal Medicine.
People not restricting fat also lost more body fat and gained more muscle. Plus, when you eat foods that keep you fuller for longer, such as healthy fats, this helps keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Here are some healthy foods that are healthy fats:
- Sunflower seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Olive Oil
5. End Your Meal with Wine
I don’t often drink with my meals—but when I do, my drink of choice is usually a glass of red wine, or perhaps rose on a summery day like this one. Now new research shows that toasting before you take a bite could have a big impact on how much you eat.
In a study, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine and Purdue University asked 35 normal- or slightly overweight women to volunteer to get an IV infusion of either alcohol–6% alcohol by volume, or ABV– or a placebo. They were then instructed to eat lunch, which as either pasta with ground beef and tomato sauce or noodles with beef and gravy, until full.
The results: Women who consumed alcohol before eating ate a 7% larger meal. Interestingly, other subjects have reported an increase in meal intake up to 30%, following an aperitif. Study authors believe that the alcohol may have led the subjects to subconsciously focus more on food aromas.
Note that not all the women in the study ate more after consuming alcohol. So what does this mean for the next time you drink up?
If you notice that you tend to eat more after drinking, think about ending your meal with a drink rather than starting it with one. Although I’m usually a red-wine drinker, I often choose a glass of a sweeter wine, like Riesling, with dessert.
6. Eat the Rainbow
Munching on fruits and veggies in all the colors of the rainbow—red/purple, yellow, green, orange and white—may help you control your weight and gain less belly fat, found a study by Iranian scientists.
And hey, this is a much better approach than loading up on ultra-processed foods!
7. Buy Food When You’re not Hungry
We’ve all had the extra box of cookies or pint of ice cream end up in the grocery cart after shopping while hungry. Well, you may be more likely to order more indulgent foods if you’re hungry while inputting your Seamless.com order.
In a study in the Journal of Marketing Research, study authors had college students order lunch either before class or right after class (and right before mealtime). Students ordering food with a bigger time buffer—when they likely weren’t as hungry—were more likely to request lower-calorie side dishes, desserts, and drinks.
8. Go for Umami
Eating umami, the savory fifth taste, in foods such as mushrooms may help curb your appetite, per a study by British researchers.
Volunteers felt more satisfied after eating soup with MSG (the artificial form of umami)—and thus ate less at a later meal.
9. Make Ingredient Swaps
Little changes can add up big time. Here are a few of my fave small changes to help healthy up your dinner plate tonight.
Use Greek Yogurt
I always have a large supply of plain Greek yogurt in my fridge! I swap it in for sour cream on tacos or for whipped cream on baked goods.
And it works well as a base for healthy dip. Just mix it with minced garlic, lemon or lime juice, and chopped fresh herbs. I’ve also used it to replace some or all of the butter or oil in a baking mix, up to half the butter in a cookie recipe, or up to two-thirds of the buttermilk in a pancake recipe.
Opt for Veggie Broth
When you're trying to reduce calories in a meal, using vegetable broth in lieu of oil or butter can make a big difference.
This is my absolute favorite cooking tip, and I use it almost every day. Just last night, I sautéed mushrooms in low-sodium vegetable broth. I stopped cooking the veggies right before the liquid absorbed, so they remained moist. If you don’t have a supply of broth on hand, you can use water.
Eat Nice Cream
Turn fruit into dessert that contains no added sugar! You might enjoy Cantaloupe Banana Nice Cream with Pistachios. It's simply frozen cantaloupe and banana blended with lemon juice, lemon peel, and milk.
More Weight-Loss Tips
Want even more weight-loss tips? Nope, you don't have to turn your world upside down to lose weight! You can embrace a new year, same you mindset and make small changes, like swapping high-calorie seasonings for lower-calorie ones like everything bagel spice mix.
Here are more helpful weight-loss tips:
- Pay attention to portion sizes
- Fill up on fruits and vegetables
- Don't be sleep deprived
- Eat off of smaller plates
Kiss those extra pounds goodbye with easy diet tweaks that will help your overall health, too. I share my favorite small but mighty actions with WomensHealthMag.com. Learn about plant-based weight loss, too, and also grab a meal plan template for weight loss!
And of course, if you have a medical condition such as diabetes don't hesitate to get medical advice from your healthcare team.
This blog post was updated in September 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
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I'd love to hear from you! What are your best tips for sticking with your healthy new year goals?
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