People often ask me if it’s possible to lose weight without doing any form of exercise.
The answer is YES.
In this article, I’m going to explain why it’s possible, exactly how to make it happen, and why working out is actually a surprisingly shitty way of causing weight loss.
Let’s begin with the most important point of all…
How To Lose Weight: The One Requirement
The first thing you need to understand about losing weight is that it isn’t caused by “diet” or “exercise.”
It’s caused by being in a consistent caloric deficit.
Diet and exercise are just the methods we use to create that deficit. Let me explain…
Calories In vs Calories Out
- Calories In
Everything you eat and drink contains calories. With the exception of obvious stuff like water, all foods and drinks contain some amount of calories, which of course go on to make up your calorie intake. Since these are the calories being consumed and therefore taken in by your body, they are commonly referred to as your “calories in.”
- Calories Out
Everything you do burns calories. From intense exercise like weight training and cardio, to basic daily tasks like standing, talking and brushing your teeth. In addition, your body actually burns a very significant number of calories each day on its own just keeping you alive and functioning properly (breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, etc.). Since these are the calories that you are using and burning, they are commonly referred to as your “calories out.”
Now, when you consume the same number of calories that you burn (calories in = calories out), you will maintain your current weight. This is known as your maintenance level.
However, if you consume more calories than you burn (calories in > calories out), the leftover calories that didn’t get burned will be stored on your body for later use primarily in the form of body fat. This is a state known as a caloric surplus, and it is the sole cause of fat gain.
On the other hand, if you consume fewer calories than you burn (calories in < calories out), your body will burn stored fat for energy instead. This is a state known as a caloric deficit, and it is the sole cause of fat loss.
Now where does diet and exercise fit into this, you ask?
I’ll show you…
3 Ways To Create Your Deficit
You have three options for creating your required deficit…
- Diet: Eating Fewer Calories
If your maintenance level is 2500 calories (just an example), eating 2000 calories per day would put you into a 500-calorie deficit (also just an example)… and you would lose weight.
- Exercise: Burning More Calories
Using this same example, if you eat 2500 calories per day but then burn an additional 500 calories through some form of exercise, that same 500 calorie deficit would exist… and you would lose weight.
- Diet + Exercise: A Combination Of Both
Again using this same example, if you eat 250 fewer calories and burn 250 more calories, this same 500 calorie deficit would exist yet again, thus causing weight loss to occur.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that in order to lose weight, you need to be in a consistent caloric deficit. And to put that deficit into place, you can either eat a little less (diet alone), burn a little more (exercise alone), or some combination of the two.
And that brings us back to the original question…
How Do You Lose Weight Without Exercise?
Brace yourself, because this is going to be a super complicated answer.
How do you lose weight without exercise? By creating your deficit through diet alone.
It really is that simple and obvious.
Instead of creating your deficit by working out and burning more calories, you’re going to create your deficit by eating a little less.
How much less? 20% below your maintenance level is a good place to start. Full details here: How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Lose Weight?
Now I know what you’re probably thinking…
Isn’t Exercise The Key To Losing Weight?!?
The only real key to losing weight is being in a deficit, and that can be accomplished just the same with or without exercise.
In fact, studies show that with all else being equal, the same results are produced regardless of how a person creates their deficit (diet alone vs diet/exercise).
Why? Because a deficit is a deficit.
This Part Might Surprise You…
This is all part of why I consider exercise – for the specific purpose of losing weight – to be the most overrated aspect of weight loss.
Instead, I consider “diet alone” to be the BEST approach to creating a deficit.
It’s the way I recommend doing it in Superior Fat Loss, and it’s the way I personally do it myself.
Surprised? Don’t be.
Comparatively speaking, exercise is a shitty way to lose weight.
5 Reasons Why Exercise Sucks For Weight Loss
Please note that I’m not saying “exercise sucks.” I’m saying that it sucks for weight loss. There’s a very big difference there, and I’ll get to that in a minute.
For right now, I want to tell you why working out for the specific purpose of burning calories to create a deficit and cause weight loss is not only NOT needed, it just plain sucks.
Here are the 5 biggest reasons why…
1. Exercise Doesn’t Burn Nearly As Many Calories As People Think It Does/Wish It Did
The average person doing a typical form of cardio – which is the typical form of “fat burning exercise” most people do – at a typical intensity will usually end up burning about 5-10 calories per minute.
Possibly more with a higher intensity activity, and possibly more if the person weighs more (a bigger body burns more calories than a smaller body). But, on average, 5-10 calories per minute is usually a decent estimate.
Think about that for a second.
30 minutes on the treadmill? You’ll probably burn about 150-300 calories. An hour on the bike? Probably between 300-600 calories.
While this is definitely still something, the fact is that working out doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as most people think, hope or incorrectly assume it does. Yes, even when taking EPOC/afterburn into account. That’s just another aspect of exercise that causes significantly less calorie-burn than most people assume (source).
Which means, you’d need to do A LOT of cardio (often) and/or very high intensity forms of cardio (often) for it to truly have the significant calorie-burning, weight-loss-causing effect most people think it does/would like it to. And excessive amounts of exercise like that often come with more cons than pros.
2. It Can Cause People To Overeat
Here’s a scenario that is seen all the time, and it’s partly due to what we just talked about.
A person will do some form of exercise for the purpose of burning calories/losing weight, and they’ll assume they burned a lot of calories when doing it.
In reality, however, they actually burned much less than they think they did.
But they don’t realize this.
Instead, what often happens is this “reward mentality” kicks in and the person thinks “I jogged on a treadmill for 30 minutes today, surely I can now afford to eat this additional 1000-calorie meal.”
And they do that, never realizing they actually only burned 200-300 calories. Which means they unknowingly cancel out whatever deficit they may have created by working out, and possibly put themselves into a surplus as well.
This, by the way, is one of the many reasons you hear people saying stuff like “I’ve been working out all the time but I’m still not losing weight!” or “I exercise a ton but I’m somehow gaining weight!”
3. It’s Extremely Inefficient
And usually harder, less convenient and less sustainable, too.
Think of it this way… let’s say someone needs to create a 500-calorie deficit each day (just an example).
Now, which sounds like a more efficient way of doing that?
- Going to the gym and spending 60 minutes on a treadmill… and doing that every single day (or however many days per week you plan to use exercise to create your deficit).
- Or, by simply not eating those 500 calories in the first place… a task that literally takes zero seconds to accomplish and can be done anywhere, anytime.
It’s typically going to be much more convenient and sustainable for a person to just eat a few hundred fewer calories per day than it will be for them to burn those same few hundred calories every day through additional activity.
And sure, something like HIIT will burn more calories in less time than a low/moderate intensity activity (like walking or jogging) would, thus being the more time-efficient of the two. But, not only would it still be less efficient compared to eating fewer calories, it’s also going to be much harder to do and require MUCH more physical and mental effort to consistently make happen.
4. It’s Extremely Easy To Out-Eat
Let’s say someone made the decision to go to bed an hour and a half early so they can wake up an hour and a half earlier than usual the next day to give themselves time to travel to the gym and spend an hour on the treadmill (burning around 500 calories) before going to work or school or wherever else.
Later on, however, they ate two extra handfuls of almonds and wiped out that entire hour of cardio (and the 500 calories it burned) in the span of about 3 minutes.
Sure, the real problem here is the issue of dietary noncompliance that caused this example person to eat more than they were supposed to, but the point remains the same. It’s laughably easy to out-eat what you can burn via exercise.
This old video shows an entertaining example of this in action…
5. It’s Completely Optional
And here’s the point most relevant to the original question being discussed in this article, which is how to lose weight without exercise.
This is a question that implies that exercise is a requirement of weight loss.
While it can certainly be a potentially useful tool for that purpose, it’s not actually required in any way whatsoever. It’s completely optional.
Everything that is truly required here (a caloric deficit) can be accomplished entirely through diet alone quite easily.
But the people who ask this question don’t realize this. Nor do the people who use “I just don’t have time to exercise” as their excuse for getting/staying overweight.
People just automatically assume they need to work out in order to lose weight, and if they can’t do that for whatever reason… they’re screwed.
The only problem with this line of thinking is that it’s not actually true at all.
The 3 Big Points
Still with me? Cool. Here are the three big points I want you to take away from this article…
Big Point #1: You DON’T Need Exercise To Lose Weight
The only thing you need in order to lose weight is a consistent caloric deficit.
And that can be – and in my opinion, should be – created through diet alone.
In most cases, it’s just going to be much easier, more efficient, and a much more sustainable approach than creating your deficit via exercise instead.
Of course, you can absolutely feel free to use a combination of the two if needed or preferred (details here: How Much Cardio Should I Do To Lose Weight?), but it doesn’t change that fact that working out is not a necessary part of weight loss. Diet alone will get the job done just fine.
Big Point #2: “I Can’t Exercise” Is A Bullshit Excuse
I hear from people on a daily basis who are trying/failing to lose weight. I know the questions they have, the problems they experience, and the excuses they make.
And one of the most common excuses I hear revolves around the incorrect idea that exercise is needed in order to make weight loss happen (aka the myth covered in Big Point #1).
This leads people to say “I want to lose weight, BUT…” and proceed to finish their sentence with the following excuses:
- “I just don’t have time to exercise.”
- “I’m too busy with work/school/family/50 other things to spend hours in the gym every day.”
- “There aren’t any gyms nearby.”
- “I can’t afford a gym membership at the moment.”
- “I don’t have room in my house for a treadmill or any other equipment.”
- “I’m not in good enough shape/I’m too overweight/I have an injury, so I can’t do any kind of physical activity right now.”
- “I hate working out.”
From there, the assumption is that if they aren’t able to exercise, it’s a hopeless situation.
After all, if it’s something they NEED to be doing to reach their goal, they simply won’t be able to reach that goal without it.
And so it becomes their (seemingly legitimate) excuse. THIS is the reason why A) they are fatter than they want to be, and B) there’s nothing they can do about it.
They NEED to exercise, but they can’t.
End of discussion.
Time to just be fat, stay fat and accept that it can’t be changed.
This Is Not A Valid Excuse
But hey, at least you have a good excuse, right? Not being able to exercise? Yup. That means it’s not your fault. It’s just your unfortunate circumstances that are preventing you from being able to do the thing you need to be doing. You’re totally in the clear, because you have a real excuse.
You DON’T actually need to work out in order to lose weight, and that’s the key fact people in these scenarios seem to be missing.
Everything you truly need can be accomplished without ever doing a minute of exercise.
Big Point #3: You DO Need Exercise For Other Purposes
Is exercise needed for losing weight? Nope, it’s optional.
Is exercise needed for building and/or maintaining muscle? Yes, it’s required.
This goes back to the point I made earlier about there being a big difference between saying that “exercise sucks” and “isn’t needed” and saying that “exercise sucks” and “isn’t needed” for weight loss.
Which means if you want to do either of those things while you lose weight (and I highly recommend that you do), you’re going to need to do some form of intelligent weight training.
Cardio, on the other hand, continues to remain purely optional.
Soooo, here’s what I recommend:
- Use diet alone to create your deficit and cause weight loss. (Details here: How Many Calories A Day and How To Calculate Your Macros)
- Use weight training to build or maintain muscle while that weight is being lost. (Details here: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle and How To Build Muscle)
- Save the various forms of “fat burning exercise” (e.g. cardio, metabolic training, circuits, finishers, etc.) as a completely optional secondary tool to consider using down the road if a point is ever reached when you’d rather start burning additional calories via exercise instead of eating any less.
Of course, regarding #3, if you prefer to use something like cardio from the very beginning to help you create some or all of your deficit on certain days… that’s perfectly fine.
Weight loss success largely comes down to doing whatever best allows you to be in a caloric deficit and consistently sustain it.
For most people, it just happens to be that diet rather than exercise is the ideal approach to making that happen.