If you’re looking for easy ways drop some pounds as the new year approaches, you’re probably wondering how to lose weight without diet or exercise.
And while it’s not possible to lose weight significantly or in the long-term without some changes to your lifestyle, like following one of the diets that work or doing an occasional HIIT workout, there are some things you can do to help you on your way if you’re starting the whole process from scratch.
A healthy diet and good exercise habits aren’t just necessary for weight loss though. Not only are there huge physical benefits – like improved heart health, bone density and lung capacity – to working out and having a well-proportioned diet, there are mental ones as well. Exercise has been known to reduce anxiety and depression, improve self-esteem and help people handle stress.
How to lose weight without diet or exercise
If you’re looking to know what you can do to start your weight loss journey in the new year, without changing your diet or exercise habits, take a look at these tips.
1. Eat more protein
Eating enough protein is one of the most important things to do when trying to lose weight, says David Stache, nutritionist for leading sports brand Warrior.
“Eating more protein in meals and snacks can satisfy hunger for a longer period of time, as it takes longer to digest, which in turn makes you stay fuller for longer.”
A study from Harvard School of Public Health also shows this, with research suggesting that a high-protein diet keeps you feeling significantly more full throughout the day than one that’s heavy in carbohydrates or fats. While other studies from 2006 prove that those who eat meals high in protein are less likely to feel snackish later on, due to the reduced levels of the ghrelin hormone – otherwise known as the “hunger hormone” – in the body.
And if you are working out, even a little bit, then protein is even more important. “Protein also gives your muscles what they need to recover post-workout, meaning you’re ready to be back in the gym or exercising much sooner,” our expert says.
It’s also easier than ever to get the right amount of protein for your size. And it doesn’t involve eating your own bodyweight in chicken. “You can get protein in various sources, such as protein snacks, like the Warrior RAW or Warrior CRUNCH flapjacks and bars that include high-quality milk 20g protein and have low sugar levels, but still taste delicious so you don’t have to feel like you are depriving yourself.”
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“While going on a strict diet or constantly exercising are many people’s initial ‘go-to’ methods for weight loss, sustainable results can be achieved in far better and healthier ways,” Nutritionist David adds.
2. Don’t buy sugary foods
If you’re looking to lose weight without making major lifestyle changes, one of the best things you can do is reduce your sugar intake.
As David says, “Reducing sugar intake, exercising 4-5 times per week and introducing more protein can all be effective methods to help with weight loss.”
And there’s one sure-fire way to reduce sugar intake that works every time: don’t buy sugary foods on your weekly shop. A 2016 study found this to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the consumption of high-sugar foods as they concluded that if high calorie foods are more visible in the house, then residents are likely to weigh more than those who only have a bowl of fruit in sight.
However, there’s also evidence that says giving up sugar cold-turkey won’t work. As one study from Princeton University suggests, over time, intermittent sugar consumption is capable of producing a “dependency”, behaviour and neuro-chemical changes not dissimilar to substance abuse. It’s important to learn how to quit sugar slowly, choosing to substitute favourite snacks and drinks with healthy alternatives that produce the same effect.
3. Eat fibre-rich foods
Similar to eating more protein, a high-fibre diet has proven links to satiety and helping you feel fuller for longer.
One study looked at the properties of oats, a high-fibre food, and found that this classic breakfast staple helps to release satiety hormones that stimulate the release of peptides involved in regulating appetite. Whether eaten as part of a meal or included as an extract, the study found that oats have a overwhelmingly positive effect on reducing appetite over a few hours.
And along with its ability to help improve digestion, fibre has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
Foods that are typically high in fibre include:
Some studies also show that a particular type of fibre, called viscous fibre, is useful for those trying to lose weight. One study, published in the American Journal of the College of Nutrition, shows that it not only increases fullness but reduces food intake in the hours after consumption.
4. Cook more meals at home
Studies from Johns Hopkins University suggest that those who cook at home more often have a healthier diet overall. This, the research suggests, is because restaurant meals tend to contain higher amounts of sodium, saturate fats and more calories that the food you cook at home.
Hussain Abdeh, clinical director and superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct, says that as well as this, home cooking is likely to use fresher ingredients and gives people the chance to incorporate more vegetables and natural ingredients in their diet.
“This cuts out a lot of trans fats, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients that are contained in processed foods,” he says. “Enjoying a meal that you have cooked from scratch can also make you feel a sense of accomplishment. This can boost your mental health and encourage you to exercise more frequently too, which is one of the most obvious ways to lose weight.”
5. Fix your sleep schedule
Three lockdowns and multiple disruptions to our daily life later, it’s easy to see why some of us have been experiencing a serious lack of sleep. But if you’re looking to lose weight without diet or exercise, learning how to fix your sleep schedule should be a top priority.
“Aiming to enjoy more quality sleep is a realistic and beneficial way to lose weight or avoid weight-gain,” Hussain says. “Research has suggested a link between a lack of sleep and weight gain in people of all ages. This may be due to the duration of sleep affecting ghrelin and leptin levels; these are the hormones that regulate hunger. If you feel tired, you are also less likely to exercise, which can contribute to weight gain.”
He suggests setting up a consistent bedtime and wake-up time can help people get back into healthier habits. This is because it gets the body back into the routine of feeling tired and awake at the same time every day.
“This allows you to enjoy a longer and better-quality sleep each night, which will help to keep your hunger hormones in balance.”
“Not only that,” he adds, “You will be more inclined to exercise regularly because you’ll have the energy to do so.”
6. Make savvy food swaps
Savvy food swaps are an easy way to incorporate a healthier way of eating into your daily life in the long-term, registered nutritionist Kate Delmar-Morgan says.
As devised for the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, Kate’s suggestions include swapping classic mashed potato for mashed root vegetables and regular pizza for cauliflower pizza (pictured above).
“If mashed potato is your go-to comfort food, it might be time for a rethink,” she says. “Potatoes have a high glycaemic index (GI), particularly when mashed, meaning they release sugar quickly. This can cause a rapid rise in blood sugars. Then, a subsequent ‘crash’, making you feel drowsy and unproductive. Swapping your favourite mashed potato for a lower GI option made from sweet potato, celeriac, carrot or swede can offer greater nutrition. And it helps to stabilise blood sugars. This will also give you a greater variety of vegetables in your diet and provide you with a wider range of nutrients and more consistent energy.”
As well as being helpful for losing weight, “sweet potato and carrot are an excellent source of beta-carotene. This is an antioxidant which the body converts into vitamin A to support healthy skin, immune health and vision.”
And when it comes to swapping out your favourite pizza, going for a vegetable-based base isn’t going to be as bad as you might think.
If you want to give it a go, check out Kate’s recipe for cauliflower pizza:
“Grate or blitz the florets and cook it in a pan with a little olive oil for five minutes. Squeeze out the moisture using a clean tea towel. Then mix with 100g of ground almonds, two beaten eggs and some dried Mediterranean herbs,” she says.
“Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease with oil. Place the cauliflower mix into the centre of a baking tray lined with greased baking paper. Then spread out into a circular shape. To make a ‘crust’, just make it a little thicker at the edges. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Once baked, simply add your toppings and heat it all up in the oven again.”
There’s no reason you can’t add all your favourite cheeses and other toppings! But going for a cauliflower base will help reduce your white wheat flour intake, Kate says. And in turn, this can be a lower carbohydrate option.
“A cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower also contains lots of fibre and vitamin C and will increase your overall vegetable intake,” she says.
Other suggestions include swapping out your potato crips for kale crisps, swapping alcoholic and fizzy drinks for kombucha and switching out white rice for quinoa.
“Quinoa makes a wonderful replacement for high GI white rice, served with curries or chilli. While it may take a bit more time to cook, it is a complete source of protein – containing all nine essential amino acids – and is packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals,” Kate says.
You could also swap vegetable oil for olive oil and increase your omega-3 intake, as well as bring your calorie count down, and replace flavoured yogurts – which are often high in sugar – with natural yogurt.
“Even though yoghurt is often perceived as healthy, low fat, fruit flavoured yoghurts (often marketed towards dieters) are extremely high in added sugar, so swap for natural or Greek yoghurt topped with berries or chopped mango and banana,” our expert says.
7. Or have healthier meals delivered to you
If you’re not quite one with the oven, there is another way to make better food swaps at home.
With brands like MunchFit, you can choose from over 180 different recipes and collate an eating plan with up to 4 meals per day to suit your personal tastes. So whether you’re looking to just drop weight in the New Year or stay balanced with a more nutritionally-complete diet, there’s going to be something you fancy. And, importantly, each of the meals is delivered right to your front door.
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, each of the dishes comes in at around 450 to 500 calories, is full of protein and fibre, and is a delicious way to switch up your eating routine without even having to leave the house.
8. Drink more water
The benefits of water are widely known but often forgotten about – especially when it comes to weight loss.
While we know that water is vital for maintaining any level of concentration, as well as being good for our digestion system, one 2009 study found that drinking just half a litre of water 30 minutes before a meal dramatically reduced hunger. For participants in the research, this meant they also ate less throughout the dinner as water works as an appetite suppressant.
Drinking more water throughout the day can also help with how many calories you burn per day. Known as the resting energy expenditure, we burn most of our daily calories through basic bodily functions. This is activities like breathing, sitting, sleeping and eating. While it naturally won’t make a huge difference by any means, drinking water does increase the amount of calories that you burn over a day.
9. Try eating at a certain time
The concept of intermittent fasting is famous and time after time, it’s been debated for its positive and negatives. Intense restricting eating has its downsides, Resilient Nutrition‘s nutritionist Dr Greg Potter says, but one good part is the time window it offers for eating.
“Emphasising importance on when you eat is a good place to start,” says Dr Potter, as when when people focus on when they eat, they tend to inadvertently improve what they eat.
“The principle of targeted eating is basically limiting your intake of anything that contains calories to a period of 12 hours or less each day. And people will often use a so-called ‘eating window’ of 8 to 10 hours. So maybe they start their first meal at 9am. And they finish their last meal at 7pm. And then outside of that time, they only drink water, and herbal teas.
“When people do this, without even trying they tend to eat less. They lose a little bit of weight, slightly drop their blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels.”
And not only that, he says, the timing of this eating window -(and, when you decide is the best time to eat dinner) – will naturally influence the food somebody eats.
“Let’s say that, in one condition, you only eat between 7am and 5pm. Very, very, very early dinner. And if that’s the case and you’re like most people, you only drink alcohol after certain time each day. You’ll end up drinking less than using the same 10-hour eating window, but starting at midday and finishing at 10pm. And if you use that later eating window, then you probably consume fewer breakfast foods. You wouldn’t have as much cereal, toast and that type of thing.
“So just focusing on the importance of diet timing, it can be really helpful. And I think that the probably the most important takeaway for people trying to lose weight. It’s important to maintain a regular eating schedule.”
10. Eat without distractions
If you’re not up for eating during regimented hours, Dr Potter says that you can also “stop consuming calories at least three hours before bedtime” for similar effects on your eating behaviour.
Because as well as supporting healthy sleep, doing this also avoids mindless late-night eating in front of the television. “The context in which we eat and drink strongly affects our eating behaviour,” he says.
“A good example of this is different mindful eating interventions. People go through simple activities to improve how mindful they are with their food – like where they’re putting their attention. Without trying to be they tend to lose weight, because all of a sudden, they’re not eating mindlessly. They’re more attuned to their internal cues. And they’re also probably gaining more enjoyment from the food, savouring it that much more.”
A review of 24 studies backs up Dr Potter’s thinking as it found that people who are distracted when eating tend to eat about 10% more in a single sitting. As well as influencing eating habits at the table, people who are distracted when eating tend to also eat more later.
Another study from 2013 found that absent-mindedness during a meal can lead to some people eating 25% more calories later on than those who practiced mindful eating techniques to ensure they were present during the meal.
11. Prepare your meals in advance
Meal planning is a classic technique for those who don’t want to revolutionise their diet or exercise routine.
Here are some essentials to get going:
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Made famous on TikTok thanks to his easy and complete meal-planning techniques, John Clark has released a book with all the must-dos of meal prep. Also available on Kindle. This book will help you plan meals and has loads of advice on prepping, storing and reheating food.
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Igluu 10-pack meal planning containers – Amazon | £15.95
An essential no matter what type of meal prep you want to do. Available in a pack of 10 or a pack of 30. These reusable, BPA-free bento box-style containers are dishwasher safe, microwave safe and freezer safe. They’re also stackable so you have trouble storing them somewhere out of the way.
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Knock Knock What To Eat Meal Planning Pad – Amazon | £6.58
These meal planning sheets are ideal if you’re looking to pre-prep any ingredients or dishes. Or just writing down what you want to have to eat for the week. Its main focus is dinner, with options for when you just fancy a takeout. But you can also plan lunches, breakfasts and any snacks too.
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By planning your meals, you can make sure you’re eating smaller portion sizes and more nutrient-rich foods. While there’s no guarantee this will immediately equal weight loss, the 2017 study by Université Paris shows a clear link between meal planning and lower odds of being overweight.
The study found that 57% of participants regularly planned their meals. And compared to the 43% who did not, meal planners were likely to have more food variety in their diet. Along with a higher quality diet and they were less likely to be overweight or obese.
But there are several ways you can meal prep, so find the way that works for your lifestyle:
Meal plan: If you’ve got time, plan out all your meals ahead on paper so you know what you’re having. Then cook them fresh on the day.
Make all your meals in advance: Cook full meals on a Sunday evening. Store them in either the freezer or the fridge.
Batch cooking: Make large amounts of one specific meal and split it into individual portions. Freeze them and reheat when you need them.
Create portioned meals: For quick lunches, prepare fresh dishes and portion them into individual meals. Put them in the fridge and grab-and-go when when needed.
Put together the ingredients: If you’ve got a little more time, you may just want to prep in advance. Chop vegetables, portion meat etc.
As well as helping with healthy weight loss, meal planning has been proven to save time and money, reduce food waste and avoid the stress often associated with time-restricted cooking.
12. Avoid stress
Over the years, many studies have shown the detrimental effect that stress has on our health. It impacts everything from our breathing capacity to brain function, muscle growth and everything in between. It also makes people hold onto any unwanted weight they have – and can enable weight gain too.
A 2015 study showed that bodies metabolise slower under stress. This means that when we’re stressed, how many calories we burn a day through the daily functions is less. The research looked at female participants who recorded stressful episodes in 24 hours and how many calories they burned. The study compared them to women who weren’t stressed. And they found that the stressed women burnt 104 fewer calories in one day.
Not only this but the stressed women also had higher levels of insulin in their bodies. This can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s also shown to reduce life expectancy over time.
Over the course of one year, an additional daily 104 calories could work its way up to 4kg every year.
And it’s perhaps more important to pay attention to this now than ever before. “Especially in the Covid pandemic, people have had a lot of stress-related issues,” Nutritionist Dr Greg Potter says.
“I do think it’s really important to have different coping strategies:
Problem-based ones: Where you try and deal with the source of the stress, i.e. distancing yourself from a stressful person.
Emotion-based ones: When you can’t control the source of the stress but build a way to cope with it, i.e. exercise and gratitude meditation.
“I think having some sort of stress-management practice will really transform how some people feel on a day-to-day basis. The tricky thing is, these will be appropriate to the individual. If there’s something you enjoy or think you could try to help you with stress, I would recommend starting there. Some people try simple breathing exercises, others like working out, some people like meditation or free-writing exercises, for example.”
13. Practice intuitive eating
One way to make sure that you’re not eating out of boredom or another emotion is to practice intuitive eating.
It works on the basis that you only eat when you’re hungry and you stop eating when you’re full. While many people believe they already eat that way, it’s often not the case. Many of us are prone to the late-night sweet treat or continuous snacking just because the food is there. Emotional eating is another common behaviour; when people eat because they’re feeling stressed or upset.
While it’s nicknamed the “anti-diet” due to the method’s complete rejection of many elements associated with diet-culture (such as calorie restriction), studies have associated intuitive eating patterns with healthier psychological attitudes, weight maintenance and a lower body mass index (BMI). Although there are only a few links to weight loss, the method has a good retention rate. This means that people are more likely to stick to an intuitive eating process and keep practicing healthy behaviours than they would a standard diet.
And a healthier approach to food isn’t the only thing that participants of an intuitive eating program have gained. A 2014 study shows that this eating pattern improved self-esteem, body image and participants’ overall quality of time while they experienced less depression and anxiety. In turn, this led to healthier eating and exercise behaviours in the long-run.
14. Identify one thing you want to change about your lifestyle and start with that
Every new year, hoards of people decide that they want to change their lives – become healthier and fitter people. But it doesn’t always work like that. And as tradition goes, most people give up their resolutions by the end of the month.
So Dr Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology at Noom, says to pick just one thing and change that. “We all have individual journeys that we are on to help us become the best version of ourselves. Along the way, these journeys include big and small goals to help us continue to make progress and move forward.
“Many of us start off by wanting to tackle ‘all the things’. This mindset can backfire and cause anxiety and overwhelm, making the task at hand difficult. Try shifting your focus to change just one thing, or one portion of the bigger picture. This will help break this habit loop and allow you to make, and sustain, small changes.”
It may be changing up your 11am snack, taking small steps is the expert-approved way forward.
15. Push through any setbacks that you might have
But even limited change doesn’t always come easy, Dr Michaelides says.
“It is inevitable: you will have setbacks and feel like a failure. Noom research predicts that over half of us will give up on our New Year’s resolutions in the first two weeks of January. The major difference between those who succeed and fail at changing a habit is pushing past these setbacks. Would you quit your job after experiencing one bad day? The same principle applies to your personal health journey. Keep pushing forward.”
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