You’ve probably heard that the best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. That sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t happen easily for everyone. For some people, more physical activity just isn’t an option when trying to lose weight.
There may be several reasons why you have to try and lose weight without exercising:
— You have an injury that limits or prohibits exercise.
— You’re getting ready for certain types of surgery, such as knee surgery, and the doctor wants you to lose weight. However, you can’t exercise much or at all due to the pain in your knee.
— You have diabetes and low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia. When you exercise, your blood sugar can reach dangerously low levels.
— You’re turned off by the word “exercise.” This may not be a solid reason to avoid physical activity, but it could be why you try to find ways to lose weight without exercise, says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian based in Miami and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
How Weight Loss Changes When You Can’t Exercise
Exercise helps the body burn calories more efficiently, says Dr. Scott A. Cunneen, director of metabolic and bariatric surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and author of “Weight Issues: Getting the Skinny on Weight Loss Surgery.” This is because your metabolism speeds up. Without exercise, your metabolism likely will slow down.
A speedier metabolism is one reason why exercise is a natural companion to eating less for weight loss. Depending on how much you exercise, it can help you lose weight more quickly. By eating less and burning off calories with exercise, you can potentially reach your calorie-cutting goal faster.
If you can’t exercise, it may take you longer to lose weight. This isn’t necessary a bad thing, as losing weight slowly can help you keep it off more than a quick weight loss, says registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger, author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide and Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week” and owner of Food & Nutrition Solutions by Jill, based in Yorktown, Virginia.
Think Long Term for Weight Loss
Weisenberger encourages those interested in losing weight to think long term with their goals. For instance, you can set a goal of losing 10% of your body weight in three to six months. If you weigh 200 pounds, then that’s losing 20 pounds. She prefers this to weekly weight goals, which may show some quick weight loss initially that can be attributed to loss of water, bone and even lean muscle mass in addition to fat.
Losing weight without exercise also means you must focus more on cutting the calories that you eat while still making sure you eat nourishing food. One pound equals roughly 3,500 calories. If you divide that evenly over a week, that’s cutting 500 calories a day.
[READ: Probiotics for Weight Loss.]
9 Tips to Lose Weight Without Exercise
1. Be patient with the process, advises registered dietitian Heidi Katte, program coordinator for the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s nutrition and dietetic technician associate degree program in Milwaukee. Even when you can exercise, losing weight in a limited time period can be a challenge. Since you can’t move as much, realize it may take longer and you may have some setbacks.
2. Play around with plates. One common strategy used for weight loss is to play around with plate size and the portions on a plate. At dinner, one idea is to use your smaller salad plate for grains and protein and your larger dinner plate for non-starchy vegetables, Kimberlain says.
This helps you to fill up more on those low-cal veggies. Another plate idea: If you’re at a holiday or special event with some of your favorite desserts, don’t deprive yourself, Katte advises. Instead, serve yourself a portion using a small plate instead of a large plate.
3. Watch your portions. In the U.S., especially at restaurants, we’re accustomed to getting super-sized meals, Weisenberger says. Plan to eat only half of what you’re served. Don’t be afraid to take home a doggie bag of leftovers.
4. Eat without distractions. Think about the last few meals that you ate. Were you reading or watching something on a screen? Maybe driving and eating? It’s easy to eat too much if you’re not focused on what you’re eating. Put away the phone (or turn off the TV or whatever else distracts you) to enjoy each bite. Eating mindfully by chewing slowly is another way to focus on what you’re eating, so you’re truly aware of when you’re full, Katte says.
5. Get more fiber. Fiber is the substance in food that helps to fill you up so you stay full longer. The recommended serving for fiber is 25 grams a day to women and up to 38 grams a day for men, but most Americans struggle to get even 10 grams daily, Katte says.
Foods that are rich in fiber include:
— Beans. For example, a cup of black beans has 15 grams of fiber.
— Broccoli. One cup contain 5 grams of fiber.
— Pears. A medium pear has 5½ grams of fiber.
— Raspberries. One cup has 8 grams.
— Whole wheat spaghetti. One cup will give you 6 grams of fiber.
Most fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber. Make sure to increase your water intake as you add more fiber to your diet. Otherwise, the extra fiber could be too hard on your digestion and may constipate you.
6. Drink more water. Eating more fiber-rich foods while drinking more water is a winning weight-loss combination, Weisenberger says. Water helps to fill you up more, just like fiber does. It also can replace sugary beverages such as soda that can easily add 250 to 500 calories a day to your diet, depending on what you drink, Katte says.
Here are a few ways to get more water:
— Carry a water bottle with you.
— Set a water drinking schedule, so you make sure to drink water regularly during the day.
— If you’re working, make it a point to get up regularly and refill your water. This could mean going to the water fountain or the kitchen more regularly, Katte says. In either case, you’re getting more water and sneaking in a few extra steps.
7. Add protein. Although we all need a healthy mix of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein (you can work with a registered dietitian to find out the right amounts for you), protein-rich foods in particular can help you fill up and fuel your body, Weisenberger says. She recommends about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal instead of eating a massive amount of protein at once. This keeps your body fueled throughout the day.
The current recommended daily allowance for protein is 10% to 35% of your overall calories, but many health experts favor ramping that up under certain circumstances, including weight loss.
Here are a few protein-rich food choices:
— Atlantic salmon, 3.5 ounces: 22 grams of protein.
— Canned tuna, 3 ounces: 20 grams of protein.
— Chicken breast, 3 ounces: 27 grams of protein.
— Greek yogurt, a half-cup: 11 grams of protein. Weisenberger adds a dollop of Greek yogurt to black beans (another protein-rich food) and stews.
— Milk, one cup: 8 grams of protein.
8. Sleep more. Let your weight loss goal be the reason to push you to get more z’s. That’s because adequate sleep helps to regulate the hormones related to hunger. When you’re sleep-deprived, your body often will signal that it’s hungrier. It also raises your level of cortisol, a stress-related hormone that triggers your body to hold on to fat. Plus, when you’re sleep-deprived, it can distract you from your focused weight loss goals. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
9. Keep healthier food around. You’re ready for a snack and open up the pantry. You see chips, cookies and other less-nutritious options. It’s only natural to want to reach out and make those unhealthier choices. To help avoid this trap, stock your pantry with healthier snack options, keep the fridge filled with chopped veggies, and have a fruit bowl in plain view.
A Final Word About Exercise
If your health provider has said you should limit physical activity, then you should respect that. However, if you can still do some movement during your weight loss period, you’ll get a multitude of health benefits.
Here are some easy ways to work in simple movements:
— Start out where you can with exercise, and aim to do something every day, Cunneen advises.
— Get up every few minutes and walk around. Take movement breaks in between Zoom calls and binge watching.
— If you have to rest one part of your body, see if you can exercise other parts of your body. For instance, if you can’t exercise your legs much, perhaps you can use dumbbells to exercise your upper body, Weisenberger says.
— Think about physical activity that makes you happy — what Kimberlain calls “joyful movement.” “Exercise shouldn’t be something that people dread but rather look forward to,” she says.
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