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“Eat healthy and exercise more”—how many times have you heard that weight loss advice, only to feel like it’s a lost cause? Exercise might not be an option for you because of injuries, illness, time, or other factors. Is it possible to lose weight without exercise?
If you can’t exercise, it may take longer to lose weight. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might be looking to lose weight and improve your health more quickly.
The good news is that there are effective ways to lose weight with diet changes alone. And some of them can start to show results in just a few weeks. So here are some tips for how to lose weight fast without exercise.
How can you lose weight by eating healthy?
Healthy eating is one of the most important steps you can take to lose weight safely and maintain a healthy weight. But what does “healthy eating” really mean?
In general, a simple way to eat better is to increase the following healthy foods in your diet:
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil
- Whole grains
- Lots of veggies
- Lean proteins, such as white meat, beans, or lentils
Not all calories are created equal, though. If your goal is to reduce your calories and lose weight, you’ll want to decrease your portion sizes of the following items:
- Sugary beverages
- High-calorie fast food
- Rich foods such as ice cream
- Junk food, such as chips, cookies, and candy
Research shows that most people with excess body fat need to lose at least 10% of their body weight for meaningful improvements to their health. You’ll want to start with a goal of 5%, which is what most diet programs use to measure initial success. This will have you well on your way to improving your health through your weight loss journey (Parmar, 2021).
If you don’t want to increase your physical activity, you can lose weight by changing your eating habits. There’s no single diet plan that will be perfect for helping everyone reverse weight gain, but incorporating more nutritious foods and lessening the amount of processed foods you eat can have a big effect.
The 8 first steps to healthy weight loss: setting you up for success
Is it safe to lose weight fast?
You should be careful and talk with a healthcare provider before trying to lose weight quickly through diet alone. This is especially true if you have any medical illnesses or a history of an eating disorder.
Losing weight too fast can have some adverse effects on your health, such as (Panuganti, 2021):
- Electrolyte abnormalities (e.g., low potassium levels)
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- High uric acid levels in your bloodstream
- Mood changes
Another concern about rapid weight loss is its effect on your physical performance. Dropping weight quickly is a common practice in many sports. Athletes use techniques such as skipping meals, restricting fluid intake, using a sauna, or even taking illicit substances to reduce mass before a competition (Lakicevic, 2020).
However, numerous studies have said that rapid weight loss can hurt physical performance and mental health. A review of recent studies on judo athletes who cut weight quickly found conflicting data on how it affected their physical performance and biomarkers, but the mental effects were more apparent. Rapid weight loss was associated with (Lakicevic, 2020):
- Increased tension
- Increased anger
- Increased fatigue
- Decreased feeling of vigor
Finally, some studies have shown a connection between losing weight too quickly and an increased risk of injuries. Reducing body mass can affect your metabolism and how your muscles contract, making you more prone to getting injured (Lakicevic, 2020).
You can avoid many of these health risks by working with a healthcare provider to lose weight at a safer pace with more sustainable methods. You should also stick with proven weight loss techniques, rather than fad diets which can leave you nutrient deficient and are difficult to maintain long-term.
How to reframe your weight loss mindset to have the best success
How to lose weight fast without exercise
Your body loses weight when you expend more calories than you take in. If you’re going to lose weight without exercise, you’ll have to eat fewer calories. Usually, this means restricting either carbohydrates or fat from your diet. Studies have shown that you’ll lose more weight in the first few months on a low-carb diet versus a low-fat diet—but the key is consistency, regardless of what type of meal plan you choose (Panuganti, 2021).
1. Eat more protein
One way to speed up your weight loss is to add more lean protein to your meals. Studies have shown that a moderate increase in dietary protein can help you regulate your weight in several different ways, including (Paddon-Jones, 2008):
- It helps your body burn fat versus other types of tissue (such as muscle).
- It reduces the amount of body mass that you will regain.
- It increases your feelings of fullness at meals.
2. Drink more water
Increasing the amount of water you drink in a day is a widely recognized weight loss strategy. Many weight loss plans recommend carrying a water bottle around with you to up your hydration during the day. You may feel fuller and consume fewer calories when you drink water before each meal. When added to a reduced-calorie diet, consuming a glass of water before meals can help you lose weight faster (Dennis, 2010).
Studies have shown that calorie consumption is significantly lower in water drinkers than in non-water drinkers. When you combine it with a lower-calorie diet, drinking 500 ml (about two cups) of water before each meal can lead you to greater weight loss than just a low-calorie diet alone (Dennis, 2010).
Portion control: 11 tips to help you succeed without hunger
3. Use meal replacements
Studies show that people tend to greatly overestimate or underestimate the number of calories they’re consuming. One way to take in smaller food portions is to use premeasured meal replacements, such as commercially sold diet shakes, for one or more meals per day (Parmar, 2021).
One review looking at meal replacements found that people taking them lost 2–6 kg (about 4–13 pounds) more than those who didn’t use meal replacements. However, meal replacements may not be the best long-term solution. The study also showed that weight loss could plateau over time, potentially making meal replacements less useful for long-term weight loss (Parmar, 2021).
4. Limit refined carbohydrates
The typical American diet is high in calories and refined carbohydrates. There’s no single definition for what constitutes a low-carb diet, but most medical studies consider diets with less than 45% of calories coming from carbohydrates, or 52–150 grams of carbohydrates, to be low-carb (Parmar, 2021).
The participants in randomized controlled trials looking at low-carb diets lost more weight than those on a low-fat diet. They also experienced decreased fat percentages, better blood sugar control, and lower triglycerides. So a low-carb diet could result in quicker weight loss and better overall health (Parmar, 2021).
5. Try intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a diet where there are periods in which you don’t eat, followed by times when you do eat, generally without any other types of diet restrictions. There are many different fasting schedules that you can follow. These include alternate day fasting or time-restricted eating, where you only eat within a specific time window each day (Parmar, 2021).
IF helps you lose weight by restricting overall calories and may result in a host of other health benefits. In a study of men with excess weight and type 2 diabetes practicing IF, the participants lost 1% body fat and an average of 6.5% of their body weight after 12 weeks. They also had lower blood pressure, decreased inflammation, and better cholesterol levels (Parmar, 2021).
Intermittent fasting—understanding the potential benefits and side effects￼
6. Take recommended medications for obesity
If you have a body mass index of 30 or more or at least 27 with additional medical conditions, you can ask your healthcare provider about weight loss medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several options to help you lose weight, including:
People who respond best to these medicines typically lose more than 5% of their body weight in the first three months (Panuganti, 2021).
7. Surgery for obesity
While getting approved for weight loss surgery isn’t quick, you can expect rapid weight loss after the procedure. You will need to show that you have a BMI of 40 or more, or 35 with severe medical conditions. You’ll also have to show that you can follow a strict diet program after your surgery (Panuganti, 2021). Surgery isn’t for everyone, but it can be a life-saving procedure for those who need it.
The most important thing to keep in mind for “quick weight loss” is that quick doesn’t always equal sustainable—in fact, it often means the opposite. If you need to lose weight, try to find methods that are safe, healthy, and will lead to long-term maintenance of a healthy weight.
- Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., et al. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 18(2), 300–307. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.235. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859815/
- Lakicevic, N., Roklicer, R., Bianco, A., Mani, D., Paoli, A., Trivic, T., et al. (2020). Effects of rapid weight loss on judo athletes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 12(5), 1220. doi: 10.3390/nu12051220. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7281976/
- Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R., Wolfe, R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5), 1558S–1561S, doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/5/1558S/4650426
- Panuganti, K. K., Nguyen, M., & Kshirsagar, R. K. (2021). Obesity. [Updated 2021, Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 25, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459357/
- Parmar, R. M. & Can, A. S. (2021). Dietary approaches to obesity treatment. [Updated 2021, Oct 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 25, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK574576/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.