Health Hub

Losing weight without dieting is possible: Here's how

You don't need to follow drastic, diet steps to achieve great results.

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting | Juniper

At its most basic, a diet is the food and drinks that you consume regularly. Nothing more, nothing less.

But with a multi-billion-dollar industry built on weight loss, it’s come to mean so much more. Fad diets and restrictive eating plans from keto to paleo, juice cleanses and intermittent fasting have turned what you eat into a complicated, hard-to-follow mess.

If there’s one thing that we hope you understand on your weight loss journey, it’s that dieting isn't the only answer. There are lots of options to help you reach a healthy weight.

And while portion control and regular physical activity are important parts of losing fat, you don't need to follow drastic, diet steps like skipping breakfast for great results. Here’s how to lose weight without dieting.

Why most diets don't work

Whether you’ve tried a fad diet before or just been tempted to give one a go — let us be the first (and last) to tell you, most diets don’t work.

A key reason why is that they are often too restrictive [1], and while drastic changes to the way you eat might mean you lose weight in the short term, they are rarely sustainable for long-term weight management.

In fact, a meta-analysis of 14 popular diets found that while weight loss was achieved for around 6 months, most people experienced weight gain within 12 months [1].

Why would a diet lead to weight gain?

One reason weight gain is likely is that yo-yo dieting can lead to excess fat stores in your body [2].

Yo-yo dieting refers to a cycle of going on and off different diets in an attempt to lose weight. When you put your body through periods of weight loss followed by weight gain, it can trick the body into thinking that the weight loss was a bad thing.

Worried that you were in a period of starvation, the body starts to store extra fat to prepare for the next dip in calorie intake. This can make it harder for your body to lose weight in general, because it is trying to hold onto fat to protect you [2].

Can I lose weight without dieting?

If there’s one thing we know to be true, it’s that healthy weight loss is a journey. It’s not about eating fewer calories for a week or getting active every day for a month. It’s about making small, consistent changes that contribute to a healthier body weight.

Even though we’re talking about how to lose weight without dieting, we do want to acknowledge that some change to your diet might be required. For most people, focusing on a balanced diet and exercise regime is enough to help them lose weight [3].

A balanced diet means prioritising fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It includes some meat, fish and dairy, and it limits foods high in fat or sugar [3]. It also means avoiding empty calories — like junk food or sugary drinks.

For exercise, it’s about getting active as often as possible. The NHS recommends either [3]:

  • 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week — such as walking, cycling, dancing or swimming
  • 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week — such as running, competitive sports or circuit training

Small changes can have a big impact

We know it’s tempting to make a big declaration that you’re on a weight loss journey and can’t be swayed — but it might not be realistic. Many people find that making small changes over time is much easier than big ones all at once [9].

You can lose weight with a focus on just 100-200 fewer calories per day, and it’s easier than you might think, through small tweaks to your daily habits. For example, you can simply [9]:

  • Burn calories with a 20-30-minute walk each day
  • Avoid extra calories from meal add-ons like cheese, butter, mayonnaise, and ketchup
  • Consume fewer calories by ordering a small coffee or drinking it black

By starting with small changes like swapping unhealthy foods for healthy ones, it also becomes easier to build up to big changes that have a greater impact down the line.

We know, however, that for some people, small changes are a good start, but not enough for significant weight loss. Others find it really challenging to change their exercise and eating patterns. In these cases, weight loss medication might help. 

Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme is a holistic programme designed to help you start a sustainable weight loss journey. It includes a weekly GLP-1 medication, like Wegovy, which can help slow your stomach emptying, suppress appetite, and safely lower your set point.

During the programme, our clinicians, health coaches, and community will support you every step of the way. You'll learn about healthy nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices that help you lose weight and keep it off for good.

How fast can I lose weight without dieting?

To put it into perspective, a slow rate of weight loss is generally considered 0.5-1kg per week. This can be done by eating smaller portions or limiting unhealthy food [3].

Anything above 1kg per week is considered rapid weight loss — which is most common from yo-yo dieting, meal replacement plans, and restrictive eating [2][6]. 

Without dieting, you would expect to lose weight at a slower rate. However, every person is different and it’s worth talking with your doctor or another health professional who can help set expectations.

While it might sound like a dream come true to lose lots of weight quickly, it does have some issues — for instance, losing weight quickly tends to target both fat mass and muscle [2], which can lead to a slower metabolism, and in turn, create a weight loss plateau.

Slow, sustainable weight loss tends to have better outcomes for your metabolism and protect your bone density, which means less risk of brittle bones or osteoporosis [6].

The importance of exercise for weight loss

Exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, but it becomes extra important when you are trying to lose weight.

Firstly, it helps determine your metabolism. How quickly your body can burn fat comes down to your ratio of body fat to muscle. Muscle is more active than fat, meaning more muscular bodies have a higher metabolism [5].

Going into a calorie deficit on its own typically means you lose both muscle and fat weight. But, if you eat fewer calories and exercise, you'll be able to lose fat while also maintaining lean muscle mass.

Exercise is also crucial for preventing weight regain, reducing the risk of disease, controlling stress, and promoting a good sleep schedule [5].

How to lose weight without dieting

We already gave you the 3 basic ways to lose weight: eating healthy meals, exercising often, and making small, consistent changes to your lifestyle. But, what does that mean in practice? Here are 8 ways to support your overall health that mean you lose weight without dieting.

1. Prioritise protein

Lean muscle mass is great for your strength, metabolism, and bones — and protein is an ideal way of building it [7]. From a high-protein breakfast of eggs on toast to a chicken salad for lunch; eating the right amount of protein can help you maintain muscle mass.

Multiple studies exploring the links between protein and weight loss have shown that eating protein helps you drop weight from fat, but maintain muscle [7]. 

Looking for inspiration? Here are 12 high-protein snack ideas. 

2. Be mindful of your carbs and fat intake

There’s nothing wrong with carbs and fat, but we do need to watch how much of each food group we are having. 

Starchy carbs — like potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, and cereals — should be around 1/3 of your daily diet. Ideally, these are whole grains and high-fibre varieties which help you feel fuller for longer [8].

Saturated fats — like butter, hard cheese, cream, sausages, and fatty meats — should be no more than 20-30 grams per day [8]. Unsaturated fats — like olive oil, fatty fish, and avocado — are better for you, but should still be limited.

To balance out these food groups, make sure to eat plenty of other nutritious foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, and some protein.

3. Start meal planning

With the fast pace of modern living, lots of us are spending less time cooking and eating at home. Unfortunately, dining out has been linked to a lower-quality diet and higher weight [12].

On the flip side, eating at home has been shown to improve the variety of foods eaten and the quality of nutrients like less fat, and more fibre and vitamins [12].

So, how can we eat at home more when we’re time-poor and tired? Meal planning could be one solution. It basically means deciding what you’ll eat for the next few days and stocking up all your ingredients.

One study in France found a number of benefits to meal planning, such as [12]: 

  • Cooking more frequently
  • Eating a bigger variety of foods and meeting nutritional guidelines
  • Lower odds of being overweight or obese

4. Practise mindful eating

Research suggests that when we don't focus on what we are eating, we are likely to eat more food. Whether we were watching TV or chatting on the phone doesn't really matter, it all leads to the same increase in food intake [13].

Eating slowly is one way to practice mindful eating and it can help you eat less food. Start by focusing on the smell and appearance of your food. While you eat, pay attention to the texture and flavour.

Another option is to follow your hunger cues. This means checking in with your body to see if you're really hungry or craving food for a different reason.

Mindful eating and hunger cues may not be surefire ways to lose weight, but when used wisely, they can help reduce your calorie intake.

5. Focus on strength training

As we mentioned earlier, building up your muscle mass is a great way to keep your metabolism high and support weight loss [5].

Strength and resistance training is an important part of muscle building — and it only takes a few sessions a week, say 2 or 3, to see results.

You don't have to just lift weights in the gym either, incidental exercise like carrying the groceries in counts too [3].

6. Stay hydrated

Drinking water won’t lead directly to weight loss, but it can support you on your weight loss journey. One theory is that drinking plenty of fluids helps keep you feeling full which can prevent excess snacking.

It’s also been found that drinking cold water can slightly boost your metabolism, as your body works to heat it up [4].

With 0 calories, water is best for hydration, but low-calorie options like skim milk, tea or coffee work too [8]. The key is to avoid liquid calories from soft drinks which are full of sugar [4]. 

If drinking water feels boring and you want something else, we suggest giving sparkling water or lemon water a try.

7. Get more sleep

A good night’s sleep is considered 7-9 hours each night, but it’s estimated many of us are only getting 5-6 hours [10].

Poor sleep not only affects your brain function and mood, but has also been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. There are a few reasons for this [10]:

  • Feeling tired makes you eat more as you try to boost your energy
  • Poor sleep makes you more likely to choose high-fat foods and sugary snacks
  • Not getting enough sleep can unbalance your hunger hormones, making you more likely to feel hungry and eat too much

So, it seems that getting a better night’s sleep can support weight loss by curbing cravings and helping you reduce how much you eat.

8. Reduce your stress levels

It’s not easy staying stress-free in our modern lives. But, we have to try. Not only because it’s good for our mental health, but because it might help with weight loss too.

High levels of cortisol, your stress hormone, has been linked to weight gain for a few reasons [11]:

  • It slows down your metabolism
  • It can cause issues with your sleep, which has also been linked to weight problems
  • It can lead to poor food choices and emotional eating

When you feel yourself getting stressed, it’s important to find ways to calm down. Strategies to try include: practicing mindfulness or breathing exercises, getting some exercise and connecting with friends and family.

Image credit: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels