The recipe for weight loss is nearly as old as time: Cut out the junk food, hit the gym five times a week, and those pounds will start melting off in no time, right?
Not quite. While diet and exercise are undeniably critical factors in weight loss, our bodies are complex machines, with dozens of factors determining how efficiently we process food and how many calories we expend each day. Everything from environmental factors, genetics, microbiome, and hormones play a role in your body’s metabolism.
And while that may sound overwhelming, it’s actually good news because it means that there are a lot of little things you can tweak in your daily routine to help your body achieve and maintain a healthy weight – things that have nothing to do with food intake or sweat.
So if you’re wondering how to lose weight without exercise or diet coming into play – or rather, beyond exercise and diet – here are some simple but effective habits to add to your daily routine.
To be clear: these things are not a substitute for diet and exercise. However, every little bit helps and it may make a big difference!
As someone who works a desk job and isn’t currently able to do strenuous workouts due to medical issues, these things have been working for me over the last six months!
Disclaimer: I am not saying that these things are a replacement for a healthy diet and exercise. I’m also not a doctor, and this article is for informational purposes only. You should always consult your doctor before making changes to your routine.
1. Find Your Intermittent Fasting “Sweet-Spot” to Lose Weight
By now, you’ve probably already heard about the intermittent fasting craze. But to recap, IF is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of fasting and eating.
Studies show it can help to facilitate weight loss by increasing insulin sensitivity and controlling hunger hormones.
It also helps develop metabolic flexibility, which is how easily your metabolism can change between burning carbs and fats for energy. Carbs are the body’s favorite energy source, and it will always burn through the available carbohydrate supply before turning to fat stores for energy.
Because of this, many people’s bodies are in perpetual “carb-burning” mode, which means their body has a more challenging time tapping into those fat stores.
Intermittent fasting can significantly help with that because the gut rest gives your body a chance to burn through the carbs and switch over to fats.
I’ve been practicing IF for the past two years, and it was a game-changer for shedding the last 10 lbs and reaching my goal weight.
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The key is to figure out what works for you in terms of schedule and duration.
If you fast too long, your body starts pumping out cortisol as a stress response, which can throw your body back into carb-burning mode.
For example, I used to fast for 16-18 hours every day with the attitude that “more is better.” But after I started using a metabolism tracker, I learned that fasting that long was not optimal and that my fasting “sweet spot” was 13-15 hours. So now, I have my last meal between 6:30 and 7 p.m. and eat breakfast around 9 a.m.
If fasting sounds i9 a.mdating or you’re afraid of overdoing it, start with a 12-hour fast and work your way up. Listen to your body, and don’t try to fast to the point where you feel super hungry or faint.
2. Create a Non-Negotiable Sleep Schedule Conducive to Losing Weight
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t get nearly enough sleep. According to the CDC, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
But in our 24/7 culture, it’s all too easy to push bedtime back in favor of working late, binge-watching Netflix, or scrolling through TikTok.
The problem is that poor sleep has a myriad of negative consequences on your physical and mental health.
It can also lead to weight gain.
Lack of sleep can affect ghrelin, the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to eat. So when you’re sleep-deprived, your body begins to make higher amounts of it. Meanwhile, your satiety hormones (leptin) are shut off. As a result, you end up eating more – usually high-calorie foods or unhealthy foods.
But although getting a good night’s rest is one of those things that everyone knows is important, we rarely choose to make it a priority.
Years ago, I used to shrug it off, too, cutting my sleep short in the early morning hours so I could get a workout in before my workday. But I quickly learned that sacrificing sleep in the name of exercise is entirely counterproductive.
I was tired all day, and my weight loss completely stalled. It was only when I moved my workouts to the afternoons and let myself get an extra hour or two of sleep in the mornings that I started making progress again.
So, how can you make sure that you’re getting enough zees? Start by setting a regular bedtime and stick to it as much as possible, even on the weekends.
For example, I’m in bed by 10 p.m. every night and get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and avoid using your phone, computer, or tablet the hour before you go to bed. (Try reading instead!)
Consider investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try meditation or relaxation techniques before you shut off the lights.
3. Get Your Chill On Daily to Prevent Weight Gain
While most people think of stress as an emotional response, it has some very real physical effects as well. One of these is weight gain or the inability to lose weight.
This is because when stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases the amount of glucose (blood sugar) to give the body a rush of energy.
However, it also encourages our bodies to store fat, particularly around the midsection. It also sparks emotional eating and cravings for high-carb, sugary foods, which may lead to consuming comfort foods that are high in sugar and calories but low in nutrients. (My vice was chocolate.)
Such high-calorie foods may provide temporary comfort, but they don’t do anything for our stress levels – or waistline – in the long run.
As someone prone to anxiety with a fast-paced job, I know how hard it can be to get stress under control. To be totally honest, I’m still working on this one, but I have found a few things that help.
The first is non-negotiable breaks in my work day. When things get busy, it’s very tempting to work through your lunch to try and stay on top of everything.
But for me, forcing myself through a stressful time is usually counterproductive. So now, I make time for breaks, no matter how busy I am.
Breaks are beneficial because they pull you out of your head and give you a moment to gain perspective on the situation. By the time you return to whatever was stressing you out, you’ll likely find you’re a lot calmer and clear-headed.
Next, I’ve made it a priority to schedule time for relaxing activities. For example, I used to do a lot of work in the evenings, but now I give myself an hour or two to read a book before bed.
Beyond that, breathing techniques, meditation, and calming teas can work wonders for reducing the stress in your life!
4. Think More, Not Less When it Comes to Weight Loss
A strict elimination diet that cuts out sugary beverages, unhealthy fats, and other foods that are classically associated with weight gain tends to make you feel deprived and miserable.
That’s why I suggest that, instead of thinking about what foods to cut out, you think about what healthy foods you can add.
This works because it takes the focus off calories and deprivation and helps you focus on getting those nutrients that promote satiety, energy, and a speedy metabolism.
Try committing to add one of the following types of food into your meals each week:
Fermented foods: Greek Yogurt and Saurkraut are my favorites that promote a healthy gut microbiome and fight inflammation.
Fresh veggies (or frozen veggies): Vegetables may be low in calories, but they’re high in volume and dietary fiber. The high fiber intake makes you feel full even though you haven’t consumed that many calories. If a leafy green salad is not your thing, don’t despair (they aren’t my favorite either.)
You can just as effectively increase your vegetable intake, and micronutrients with Red pepper, mushrooms, and zucchini are my personal favorites! If you hate veggies, toss them in a blender with some fruit, water, yogurt, and ice, and you won’t even taste them. I usually don’t recommend liquid calories, but green smoothies are the exception!
Protein-rich foods: Greek yogurt, chia seeds, eggs, chicken, and other lean meats are my go-to protein sources. Eating lots of protein also promotes satiety, keeping those hunger hormones at bay so that you naturally eat less.
You can lose weight without cutting out breakfast cereals, carbs, or anything else you enjoy eating. But you’ll find that by adding more of these healthy foods, you’ll automatically consume less unhealthy foods because all those lean proteins, fiber, and healthy fats will help make you feel satiated.
Whole Grains: There’s no need to cut out carbs if you want to lose weight. Keep the bread; just add in more grains! Whole grain bread is digested more slowly, keeping insulin and glucose levels steady so you don’t start craving sugary foods between meals.
5. Drink Water Like It’s Going Out of Style
We all know that water is essential for our health. But did you know that it can also help you lose weight? That’s right – drinking water can help you shed those unwanted pounds.
First, water is a natural appetite suppressant. Studies show that if you drink a glass of water before a meal, you’ll be more likely to consume fewer calories. That’s because as the water fills your stomach, your brain perceives it as being full, causing you to feel less hungry.
Water also increases calorie burn. When you drink cold water, your body must work harder to warm it to body temperature. That means your metabolism will kick into high gear, and you’ll burn more calories.
Finally, water facilitates lipolysis, which is the body’s process of burning fat. When you’re well-hydrated, your body can more easily break down fat cells and use them for energy. So drink up – your weight loss goals will thank you!
6. Get More of the Sunshine Vitamin
You know how they say that “you are what you eat?” Well, that’s not the only saying that rings true regarding your health. You are also what you absorb – and that’s where vitamin D comes in.
Vitamin D is produced by the body when it absorbs sunlight, which is why it’s known as “the sunshine vitamin.” In addition, it helps your body absorb calcium, which is essential for immunity and strong bones.
It may also influence body weight; research shows that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher BMI.
That may be because it helps regulate blood sugar levels, which can help prevent cravings and overeating.
Yet, an estimated 40% of Americans are not getting enough of the sunshine vitamin.
If you’re having trouble losing weight and it is accompanied by fatigue, joint and bone pains, muscle aches, and mood disturbances, there’s a chance you could be part of this statistic.
Fortunately, a simple blood test can tell you if you’re vitamin D deficient, which is easily remedied by taking vitamin D supplements.
I live in Canada, where we are holed up inside for months on end during the long winters, so I take a vitamin D gel cap every day.
7. Curate Your Environment During Mealtimes to Naturally Eat Fewer Calories
It turns out that the environment in which we eat can profoundly effect eating behavior.
For example, if you routinely eat your meals while watching tv or scrolling through your phone, you’re more likely to gain weight from mindless eating because you’re distracted.
It turns out that lighting and music can impact your calorie intake as well!
A Cornell study of people eating fast food restaurant meals found that people consumed fewer calories at mealtimes when they are listening to soft music and lighting.
The results suggest that creating a relaxing space for mealtimes can help prevent overeating. This may be because you eat slower when you’re relaxed, allowing you cue into your body’s satiety cues better.
In other words, you’ll cut calories without even thinking about it.
Although I don’t usually listen to music when I eat food, I try to create a relaxing space to eat my meals at the table with no distractions (i.e., no phone, no TV).
This gives me a chance to savor my food and pay attention to how I feel. As a result, I eat less even though I rarely practice portion control anymore.
While you may not always be able to control your environment at mealtimes, being aware of your surroundings can help you practice mindful eating, facilitating better weight maintenance.
When people think about ways to lose weight, they often hyperfocus on a strict diet and excessive physical activity. But weight loss (and optimal health, which should be the goal of weight loss) is about so much more.
It’s essential to pay attention to the other aspects of your life that could be impacting your weight loss, like gut rest, stress levels, sleep, vitamin D, and environment.
And while I won’t promise that you will lose weight fast, these simple habits can make big waves in your weight loss journey over time! Not only that, but these habits also have many other health benefits that can help you live a longer, happier life.
And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?