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Exercise: As great as it is for our physical and mental health, some people just don’t love it no matter how hard they try. But can you really lose weight without it? The answer might surprise you.
“Exercise is essential for health, but it’s not essential for weight loss,” says Philadelphia-based weight-loss specialist Dr. Charlie Seltzer, MD. “If you’re picking one thing to change for weight loss, it should be what you eat.”
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns to fuel basic functions such as breathing and digesting food, he explains. While exercise burns calories and can increase muscle mass, which raises your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or calories burned at rest, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a difference.
What’s more, chances are you’ll subconsciously compensate for the extra energy spent by eating more or moving less after your sweat session, Dr. Seltzer says. In other words? If you want to create a calorie deficit, the most efficient approach is to eat fewer calories than your body naturally burns. One way to do so is to estimate how many calories your body uses, then track your calorie intake to make sure you’re consuming less.
(10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
(10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
But not everybody can be a mathematician—or wants to be a calorie-counter. The good news? This level of precision isn’t always needed to make a difference on the scale.
“You can lose weight without hard-core dieting,” says nutritionist Keri Glassman, RD, founder and CEO of Nutritious Life. “The key is to look at changes you can make without really trying.”
Read on for weight-loss tips that require no math, no sports bra, no sneakers, and no pricey gym membership, all from experts who’ve devoted their lives to helping people lose weight in the name of health. Here are the most effective tips they share with their clients and patients:
16 expert-backed tips to lose weight without exercise
1. Eat veggies at breakfast
Because fruits and veggies contain more water than other food groups, they have more volume and fewer calories than just about anything else you can eat, says Glassman, who recommends accounting for non-starchy vegetables, in particular, at every meal—even your first one. Add spinach to your morning smoothie, a tomato slice to your avocado toast, or mushrooms to your egg scramble to increase your vegetable intake, no problem.
2. Flip your ingredient ratios
Instead of eating a large serving of pasta with marinara sauce and some broccoli, flip the ratio so you end up with a large serving of broccoli dressed with pasta sauce and sprinkle some pasta on top, Glassman suggests. “It’s not that you can’t have the pasta, it’s just that you’re more likely to overeat it,” she says. “Making veggies the focus of the dish will leave you filling fuller than a main made up of refined carbs.”
This trick works nicely for rice stirfrys—try cauliflower rice—and sandwiches, too. (Just opt for an open-faced hero or bagel, then pile it high with veg.)
Psychologically, there’s a perk to filling your meals with low-calorie vegetables, too: It enables you to sit down with a big ol’ plate of food while working toward your weight loss goals, says Dr. Seltzer. Even if you end up eating as many calories as say, a large bag of potato chips, you’ll feel way more full since you’ll have eaten a larger volume of food—and hey, the stomach is only so big.
Related: How Many Steps a Day Actually Lead to Weight Loss?
3. Be a breakfast, lunch, and dinner person
While breakfast can be divisive, lunch can be inconvenient, and dinner can be exhausting to prep, there’s a reason why Dr. Seltzer recommends three big meals a day. “Knowing when you plan to eat keeps you from mindlessly grabbing a bite here and there every time you feel a bit hungry,” he says. “Plus, you just feel more satisfied when you sit down to eat a large portion of food rather than 100 calories an hour all day, as can be the case with constant snacking.”
4. Track what you eat
While Glassman warns that this approach can be triggering for some, people who tend to eat mindlessly may benefit from logging meals, snacks, and “picks,” which include the four chips you pluck out of the pantry while making dinner and yes, your toddler’s table scraps. Why is it important to get all that on paper? “It keeps you accountable and helps you spot where you might be able to make improvements in your diet,” she says. When you review your log, look for habits like grazing, which can amount to a considerable portion of your caloric intake over time. Bringing awareness to these habits can help you leave them by the wayside and see some progress on the scale without drastically changing your lifestyle or impacting your social life.
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5. Wake up with water
“We start the day dehydrated,” explains Dr. Seltzer, who recommends drinking 60 ounces of water or another unsweetened, non-caloric beverage when you wake up. While the amount is arbitrary—chug a glass or an entire water bottle—thirst may mess with your ability to make good food decisions, he says. The liquid takes up room in the stomach to make you feel full so you eat less when you sit down to breakfast, which can set you up for success the rest of the day.
6. Drink water with meals
Dr. Seltzer says it makes you feel more full so you eat less—and isn’t that the name of the game, here? Since you have to put your fork down for a second every time you grab your water, drinking between bites can also help slow you down and give you time to register fullness before overeating.
Related: Adele Opens Up About Her Weight Loss Journey
7. Get your beauty rest
Skimping on sleep doesn’t just mess with your mood. Research shows that it can throw off your hormones, including ghelin, which is responsible for hunger regulation, according to Glassman. “When you sleep well, you’re less likely to overconsume the next day,” she says.
8. Up your fiber intake
There’s no question that dietary fiber, which is found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and cereals, fills you up. What’s more, research has shown that people who eat an 14 extra grams of fiber per day naturally eat about 10 percent fewer calories per day, amounting to about a 4-pound weight loss in less than four months—no counting, required.
9. Fill at least half of your lunch and dinner plates with veggie
If your eyes tend to be bigger than your stomach, one way to control your calorie intake without a single measuring cup or spoon is to cover 50 percent of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, Dr. Seltzer says. As we already know, vegetables deliver volume without serving up as many calories as other foods—and eating a big plate of food is way more satisfying than a measly little portion.
10. Don’t eliminate “junk food”—just eat less of it
It sounds simple—and it is. Eating a little bit less of the highest-calorie foods you gravitate toward allows you to cut back without fighting against your natural tendencies, Dr. Seltzer says. So while you don’t have to give up potato chips altogether, if you typically eat two bags a day, you’ll want to eat one every other day. This single change could be just enough to create a calorie deficit that ultimately affects the scale.
11. Stow healthy ingredients front and center
Imagine your stomach is growling on your way to open the fridge. Inside, the first thing you see is a piece of leftover pizza on a plate. Who wouldn’t eat that?! Because we tend to gravitate toward the easiest available food options when we’re hungry, preparing fresh fruits and vegetables to grab with the going gets grumbly can help you make smarter decisions that ultimately reduce your caloric intake. It’s why Glassman recommends preparing fresh red and yellow pepper slices—or your next favorite crudités—in a glass jar or plastic bag and storing it front and center in the fridge.
Related: 30 Best Weight Loss Smoothies
12. Stack your snacks
Snacking, Glassman says, keeps you from feeling ravenous every time you sit down for a meal. For the ultimate satisfaction, she recommends pre-planning snacks that contain a combination of healthy fat, fiber, and protein, like an apple with peanut butter, celery with avocado mash, hummus with carrots, or hardboiled eggs with sea salt.
13. Make a plan for emotional eating
Hunger and emotions can be hard to untangle. To ensure you’re eating for the former, not the latter, expect that emotions will at some point send you sauntering into the kitchen and making alternative plans. Glassman recommends preparing two courses of action to handle boredom, loneliness, anger, or stress. The first one should be food-free: Take a walk, run a bath, or clean your house, which can feel productive and fulfilling for some. The second one can include food. This should be a conscious indulgence that satisfies a craving you know is coming. Glassman recommends a bowl of air-popped popcorn to hit the spot when you feel like munching but aren’t particularly hungry. This way, you won’t eat a whole box of crackers and two blocks of cheese the next time you’re on a work deadline.
14. Limit liquid calories
While a peppermint mocha might make you feel all the holiday feels, it won’t do much in terms of holding you over until lunch. “Liquid calories deliver no satisfaction,” Glassman explains. If you typically top off your latte with a pump of syrup or packet of sugar, gradually reduce it to teach your tastebuds to adjust. You’ll save loads of calories over time without rocking your regularly scheduled Starbucks routine.
15. Use lighter cooking methods
Every diet book on the planet mentions something about baking or grilling instead of frying. And yes, it’s true that cooking without excess oil can save you calories. That said, if you constantly crave crispy chicken tenders and fries, know that there is a happy medium between deep-frying and flavorless. You can recreate the textures you crave with an air-fryer or broiler, according to Glassman. “People think they have to just grill or steam their foods to lose weight, and it’s not necessarily true,” she says. You can also add flavor to vegetables and lean proteins by poaching in broth or light coconut milk, adding herbs and spices.
16. Measure fats, but don’t go crazy
“You don’t have to go crazy measuring food to lose weight,” Glassman reaffirms. But overdoing it on salad dressing, cooking oil, spreads, nut butters, and dips can contribute calories that sneak up on you—and the number you see on the scale. Measuring out one serving of these high-calorie foods can help you get a visual sense of whether you typically use more or less. Say three tablespoons is your go-to; try cutting back to one and see if it makes a difference on the scale. (Spoiler: It will!)
Next up: 13 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight