Lose Weight without Exercise

Lose Weight without Exercise - photo via Vie Activewear

Over the years, I have received so many emails from readers who are struggling to lose weight, and one common complaint is focused on exercise. Sometimes they say they don’t have time and other times they just feel like they can’t commit to a lifestyle that includes the daily grind of exercising. So often, the guilt from “failing” at the exercise portion of their weight loss makes them give up completely and revert to all their old bad habits. To this I say: exercise is great for so many reasons, but you don’t have to hit the gym constantly to lose weight—and you don’t have to do it just to start living a healthier life. It’s OK to start slow. It’s OK to make changes to your diet first, if that’s more manageable.

From a very young age, it gets drilled into us that the way to lose weight is through diet and exercise. And while this is technically true—weight loss is a function of how much energy you expend vs how much energy you consume—the importance of exercise remains an overstated part of the general advice.

Your body needs energy to function and it burns a certain number of calories just to keep you alive. It will use more or less depending on your size and activity level. If your body uses more energy than you consume in a day, it will break down fat (and some lean body mass) for additional energy, and that’s how you end up losing weight. An average woman will burn between 1800 and 2000 calories a day without any formal exercise. Of course, this varies a lot from person to person depending on factors like height and weight, if you’re interested in finding your own number, you can look up an online calculator. Adding additional exercise to your day (a jog, long walk, spin class, Zumba…) will increase your calories burned, but not by as much as you might think. A half hour of strenuous exercise probably only burns a few hundred calories—which isn’t all that much when you compare it to the calories in so many of the foods we eat.

The best way to create a caloric deficit, if you’re looking to lose weight, is by focusing on your diet. Cutting out higher calorie foods and beverages and replacing them with lower calorie options will quickly add up to several hundred—and sometimes thousands of—calories.

Now, obviously exercise isn’t useless. It’s a critical aspect of overall health and will make you look and feel much better, too. I think everyone should find a type of exercise they enjoy and be as active as possible. But if you miss a few days at the gym, or you’re going through a tough time with motivation to exercise, you don’t have to give up. You can still make progress!



11 thoughts on “Lose Weight without Exercise

    1. Beth C.

      Ditto. I enjoy working out a lot, I hate having to measure every damn thing that goes in my mouth. That has actually been my issue lately. I’m getting a bit older so it’s harder and to have to spend all my time measuring pats of butter and counting almonds is making me hate my life. Meanwhile I love my lunch hour walks and yoga classes, but they don’t really help any more.

  1. Mal

    I’ve been seeing the saying, “you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet” around the internet recently. I really like that because it perfectly captures how critical it is to have a diet based on nutrition and not simply burning more calories than you consume. 2000 calories of whole, fresh food will be used much differently by your body than 2000 calories worth of pizza, ice cream, and pop tarts. You might exercise to the point that you’ve lost some weight, but ultimately you’re not going to reach your health and fitness goals if your diet is of poor quality.

    By nature, I’m pretty lazy and would prefer to plop on my couch after work in my pajamas, but I’ve learned the hard way that I have to exercise regularly to lose weight and keep weight off. Strength training and/or HIIT cardio are things that will increase your metabolism resulting in a higher calorie burn throughout the day. In doing these things I’ve found that I don’t have to eliminate every last treat food that I like in order to lose weight. This lessens the damage if you do backslide a little or over indulge. Simply restricting calories won’t do that for you.

    I don’t enjoy counting calories and the idea of a cookie sending me over my limit feels like failing a test to me. I go to the gym and committed myself to a trainer because I need that guidance and accountability. This keeps me disciplined as I have overcome my lack of desire to go to the gym more often than not – that is big for me. Aside from liking the feeling of being more fit, I now have the luxury of not being that concerned about the two cookies I have after dinner. And for somebody who tends to fixate on numbers, that is a serious luxury.

    1. Robin

      I couldn’t agree more! I used to detest the gym–now, after FORCING myself to go four times per week, I start to miss it when I’m not there. I leave gym classes feeling strong and accomplished, and as much as I love my couch, it can’t provide me with that feeling!

  2. Isabelle

    I agree.
    I exercice every day, but I’ve long ago stopped equating exercise with weight loss. For me, it’s all about what goes in our stomachs. Exercice will give you a better body composition, a stronger heart, good lungs, strong muscles, a happier and healthier brain, etc, but exercice alone won’t do much for weight loss. That’s why I exercise moderately every day – at a pace and for a duration I see myself being able to sustain for life – and focus my energy solely on food choices to lose weight.

  3. Juliette | Namastay Traveling

    This mentality helped me finally view weight loss as an ever-lasting journey rather than with a start and end point. I also stopped defining exercise as sweaty and heart pumping every single time. I was so obsessed with working to the max each day that it wore me out and I didn’t look forward to it. Now, a walk or long yoga class counts as exercise, and I’m much happier.

  4. Samantha

    I just completed a biggest loser competition at work. My team won! I lost 30 pounds! All through diet alone. I gave up sugar if any kind and breads. My diet consisted mostly of meat veggies (the ones I can stand), berries and some nuts along with healthy fats. I am now five days post competition end. I thought I would swing right into this way for the rest of my life. I had a cheat weekend with my family to celebrate and then went back to my diet. Now I am struggling to have the same motivation. To do this for me. It was easy to do this with and for my partner. I felt like I had to or we’d lose and she was depending on me and I didn’t want to be the weak link. Now, when it comes to carrying on for myself all alone, I can’t find the same motivation and excitement to continue. How do I make the mental transition. Yes I have children I could do this for, yes I can do this for me. But up until now, unfortunately, those reasons had never been lasting motivation in the past. Not like winning this comp was. It lasted 3 months. That’s the longest I’ve ever stuck with a diet plan. Now I find myself faltering. Forget about motivation to exercise. I’m as lazy as they come. Or unmotivated, yet again. I know no one can want this for me or do this for me. I just wish I could find the same passion outside of a comp to continue this for life. Or at least till I lose 30-60 more pounds

    1. AJ


      From your post above it is obvious that you are a very goal oriented and competitive person. I think you need to find another weight loss challenge group. Either online or in your community. That will keep you motivated.

  5. Anne H.

    In the past, I have found if you do the EXERCISE, the FOOD will follow. Meaning, if you exercise, you will begin to start making better choices with food. The reason being that you don’t want to “waste” all that hard work in the gym or wherever. Now, if I could just start walking…..

  6. Sherrie L. Scharbrough

    I feel like my exercise helps me not to go over a set weight. It is my saving grace. I have maintained my weight loss of 124#’s by walking 3 to 4 miles, 3 or 4 times per week. This is how I can stay motivated.

  7. Belinda

    I use exercise to maintain my weight, but not to lose it. I’m someone who has gained and lost weight multiple times. The last time I lost weight — about 40 pounds — it took me over a year and I vowed I would never go through that again. I have managed to keep it off for almost 10 years now. The key for me was to focus on 1 thing at a time — dieting to lose and exercising to maintain (plus you’ve got to watch what you eat as well).


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