Can you lose weight without exercise?

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Toby Johnson

We’ve all been faced with the decision of going to the gym or spending the night in watching Netflix and scrolling social media. And unless you’re a better person than I am, you’ve caved to the second option once or twice.

So let’s address the elephant in the room here. What if we always want to stay in and watch Netflix? Can we get to our weight loss goals without exercising?

Right before we answer this question, a few caveats…

When talking about if you should try lose weight without exercising, I’m going to look past the fact that if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably doing it to feel better (which exercise will also do).

I’ll also look past the fact that if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably doing it to be healthier (which exercise will also do).

And lastly, I’ll look past the fact that if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably doing it to look better, which, yep you guessed it, exercise will also do.

Okay. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the question. Is it physically possible to lose weight without exercising?

Short answer – yes absolutely. In order to burn body fat, you have to either eat less calories, or spend more calories. Nutrition helps with the former, exercise helps with the latter. So in theory you could simply perfect your nutrition so that you eat less calories until you begin to burn fat.

Before you throw out your running shoes, it’s important to understand that exercise does FAR more than just burn calories. We already touched on how it changes how you feel, how healthy you are, and how you look. But it also does something incredibly important for your weight loss results. Once you begin exercising regularly, it becomes what is called a keystone habit.

Keystone habits are beneficial behaviours performed regularly that encourage other beneficial habits to form. For example, when you have just smashed out a crazy-difficult workout and you’re feeling on top of the world that day, you’re likely to want your efforts to cause some sort of result correct?

Think of what this might mean in terms of behaviour and lifestyle…

·      When offered another slice of pizza when you’ve already had your share, you’ll remember how hard you trained that day and politely decline.

·      The night before a hard workout you’ll be more likely to get a solid 8-hours of sleep because you know how gruelling a workout can be when you’re sleep deprived.

·      You’ll meet people in the gym with the same goals as you for their health, and form new social circles that help you stay accountable to a healthier lifestyle.

·     Instead of stress-eating throughout your hectic schedule, you’ll be in a better mood and have reduced stress levels due to the positive effects on the brain of exercise. You’ll find it much easier to hold back from the tasty treats someone left after a shared lunch at work.

See how ONE habit causes a domino-effect to make a healthy lifestyle fall into place?

These aren’t just my own observations either. One study looked at women who had lost weight and found that those who had kept more than 10% of their bodyweight off for 2 years reported much higher levels of physical activity. The authors concluded that if you want to lose more than 10% of your bodyweight, an exercise habit can help you keep that weight off for good.

Now, the ladies in this study who sustained their weight loss had exercised for an average of 40 minutes a day, which is a lot if you’re starting out. Does this mean you have to be in the gym for 40 minutes every single day if you want to have a chance of keeping the weight off? No, of course not. You can start with less and still reap all the fantastic benefits of exercise that I’ve mentioned.

So, let’s put it bluntly: do you have to exercise to lose weight? No. But if you want the best results for your body, I’ll see you in the gym.

Tobias Johnson (BSc, CPT)

Study cited:

24-Month Effect of Exercise on Weight Loss in Overweight Women