How to Lose Weight without Dieting

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Lauren Panoff

Published 05/19/2024

Diet is a trigger word for a lot of people. And rightfully so! I mean, how many times have you started a new diet, lost weight, and promptly gained it all back? It leaves you wondering whether dieting really helps at all. 

But is it even possible to lose weight without dieting? Absolutely it is. For some people, it’s the best way to achieve lasting results. 

To lose weight without dieting, you might need to change your relationship with food. This means changing the way you think about food and evaluating your eating habits. 

Are you a stress eater? That’s good to know. Instead of depriving yourself with a strict diet, maybe you need to set stricter boundaries at work. With less stress, comes less stress eating.

Tweaking your daily routine so you move more, drink enough water, and sleep better — are all helpful adjustments for anyone trying to lose weight without dieting. 

We’ve dug into all that (and more) to show you how to lose weight without counting calories. 

Plants are some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Plus, most of them are naturally low in calories and high in fiber to help keep you fuller for longer. This makes them an ideal food to help you reduce overall calorie intake and lose weight while getting lots of nutrients.

Plants are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help protect your cells against stress, inflammation, and damage that otherwise promotes aging and disease. 

Try adding more whole and minimally processed plant foods to your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes — which include beans, peas, and lentils. 

Still hungry? Whole foods like tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils are excellent high-protein, lower-calorie substitutes for meat in dishes like breakfast scrambles, chilis, soups, and salads. 

We live in a fast-paced world, so slowing down at mealtime can take some practice. 

It also helps you become more attuned to your body’s hunger-fullness cues and eat more mindfully. This can help prevent overeating that may otherwise make it harder to lose weight. 

In fact, a 2021 review of eight studies found that the speed of eating was associated with body mass index (BMI). Slower eaters had significantly lower BMI than fast eaters. 

(BMI is a measure doctors use to categorize people as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.)

Another study found that two hours after a meal, the suppression of the hunger-signaling hormone ghrelin was more significant among slower eaters. Further, three hours after a meal, slower eaters consumed 25 percent fewer calories from snacks. 

When we eat very quickly, we’re more likely to consume larger portions and override our body's natural signals of satiety. By slowing down our eating pace, we give our brains the time they need to recognize that we've had enough to eat.

Consider practices like putting your fork down between bites and even setting a timer for 15 to 20 minutes to extend the amount of time it takes you to finish eating.

For many of us, there are convenience foods at every corner. This makes it super easy to quickly grab something high in calories, sodium, and added sugar.

Preparing more of your meals and snacks at home gives you significantly more control over the ingredients. It also helps prevent last-minute decisions.

If you’re crunched for time, consider creating space once a week to do some thoughtful meal planning, grocery shopping, and preparation. 

Batch cooking ingredients you can use in multiple recipes makes it easier to eat well throughout the week. We’re talking: 

  • A big pot of oats for breakfasts

  • A vat of rice for stir-fries, burritos, and homemade veggie burgers

  • Chopped vegetables for salads, soups, and grab-and-go snacks

  • Roasted tofu cubes to toss into grain dishes or salads, or eat as a side with dip

  • Washed, chopped greens you can use in salads or add to soups, pastas, and sandwiches

At any given time, your body is mostly made up of water, which is critical for your survival. Staying hydrated is necessary to replenish fluids lost through sweating, using the bathroom, and other bodily functions. It’s also key for weight loss

Drinking enough water helps support digestion, fat burning, and metabolism, allowing your body to efficiently burn calories and fat. It can even help reduce feelings of hunger, as thirst signals are often mistaken for hunger. 

By sipping on water throughout the day, especially before and during meals, you can curb unnecessary snacking and overeating — keeping your overall calorie intake in check. 

Bring a refillable water bottle with you to encourage continued hydration. While drinking water on its own is best, you can always rotate in alternatives like unsweetened seltzer water, herbal tea, or water infused with cucumber slices, raspberries, or lemon wedges if you get sick of it. All of those are healthier options than sugary sodas, alcoholic beverages, and fruit juices that are high in liquid calories.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Weight loss programs tend to emphasize counting calories or macronutrients, like grams or daily percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 

However, what’s most important for weight management and overall health is the nutritional quality of your diet pattern. After all, you could cut calories by only eating French fries and drinking diet soda all day, but that wouldn’t give your body what it needs. 

The most nutrient-dense foods are those that are minimally processed, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and other lean protein sources. These foods also have nutritional profiles that help support satiety and prevent overeating. 

On the other hand, ultra-processed foods — which for some make up the majority of the Western diet pattern — tend to be high in calories, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium, without a lot of vitamins, minerals, fiber, or antioxidants. They don’t keep you full for long and promote dramatic spikes in blood sugar.

You may be surprised to learn that healthy weight loss habits extend beyond what you’re eating, to places like your bedroom. Why?

Sleep plays a significant role in regulating hormones and metabolic processes that influence appetite, food intake, and energy expenditure. 

When you’re sleep-deprived, levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin increase, while levels of the hormone leptin, which signals feelings of fullness, decrease. This imbalance can lead to increased cravings for high-calorie foods and a tendency to overeat. 

Plus, crappy sleep disrupts your body's ability to regulate your blood sugar levels, which can promote insulin resistance and weight gain over time. And as you’re probably familiar with, it can be harder to resist unhealthy food choices when you’re excessively tired. 

Nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand for overall health, disease prevention, and weight loss. Finding ways to be routinely active helps boost calorie burn and helps you build lean muscle mass.

The most important thing about getting into a rhythm of daily movement is making sure you find a variety of activities you enjoy, like: 

  • Swimming laps at your local rec center

  • Dropping in a group fitness class with friends

  • Biking around your neighborhood

  • Taking the dog for a run

  • Lifting dumbbells in your garage

These cardio and strength exercises not only burn calories while you’re doing them but in the hours following, because they boost your metabolism. 

Plus, physical activity has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and even help you sleep better, all of which are important components on a health and weight loss journey. 

If you look around your environment right now, you probably see numerous distractions. That’s just the world we live in today. 

On top of the obvious downsides, having so many things pulling at our attention can make it harder to lose weight. 

One of the most important times to focus is while you’re eating. Sitting at a table versus a desk, turning off the television, and keeping your phone out of reach can help reduce the number of distractions around you

This will allow you to better focus on the sensory experience of eating as well as your body’s hunger-fullness cues. 

Reducing distractions during meals also encourages a more relaxed and enjoyable eating experience, which can promote better digestion and overall wellbeing. 

Research shows that choosing physically smaller bowls and spoons when serving meals can help you naturally control portion sizes and support more mindful eating habits. 

When we use larger serving dishes, there's a tendency to serve larger portions of food, which can lead to eating more than intended without even realizing it. 

Using even slightly smaller bowls creates an optical illusion of a fuller plate, tricking your mind into feeling satisfied with smaller portions. 

This simple strategy can help to reduce calorie intake without the need for conscious restriction, making it easier to manage body weight over time.

Sometimes a combination of nutrition, movement, hydration, quality sleep, and mindfulness isn’t enough to promote weight loss. In these cases, it may make sense to look into weight loss medications.

There are several options that you can explore with a healthcare provider: 

  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists: Known as GLP-1s, these work by mimicking the hormone GLP-1 in your body, stimulating the release of insulin, reducing blood sugar levels, decreasing appetite, and slowing digestion. Popular examples include semaglutide (Ozempic®) and liraglutide (Saxenda®).

  • Metformin: Metformin is predominantly used for type 2 diabetes management but it also helps with weight loss by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing glucose production in the liver, which can lead to decreased appetite and calorie intake. 

  • Contrave®: This is a combination of bupropion, an antidepressant, and naltrexone, a drug used to help treat opioid and alcohol dependence. It supports weight loss by acting on your brain's reward system to reduce cravings and boost your metabolism.

  • Topiramate: Primarily used as an anti-seizure medication, topiramate helps with weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing feelings of fullness.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these medications, Hers has answers for you. Consider starting with our free weight loss assessment.

Can you lose weight without dieting? Yes! There’s also a difference between adopting a healthy diet pattern and following a restrictive diet. 

Rather than focusing solely on the minute details of what you’re eating and hoping for the best, why not take a more sustainable and satisfying approach?

  • Think nutrition over diet. The portions and nutritional quality of what you’re eating matters. Boost your intake of minimally processed foods, especially plant-based foods that are naturally lower in calories and high in fiber and nutrients to support satiety. 

  • Take a holistic approach. Look at your overall lifestyle and identify areas where you could make some adjustments that better align with your weight loss goals. This could include your sleep routine, hydration habits, and daily movement pattern. 

  • Seek support when needed. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Consider consulting a registered dietitian, personal trainer, therapist, physician, nurse practitioner, or other health professional when you need personalized guidance. 

Weight loss is a personal journey and looks different for every woman. If you’re interested in speaking with a licensed healthcare provider, we’re here to help.

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  9. Popoviciu M, et al. (2023). Emerging role of GLP-1 agonists in obesity: A comprehensive review of randomised controlled trials.
  10. Taskin R, et al. (2018). Dietary fiber and its effect on obesity: A review article.
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