The how, the why, and the reason you may want to reconsider your level of physical activity
You've schlepped through everything from spinning to swimming in an effort to shift a few pounds but, if you're honest, you'd rather prod yourself in the eyeball for three sets of 15 reps. Sound familiar?
If so, the good news is that scientifically speaking, you can lose weight without exercising.
The less-good news? It isn't advised. We'll explain…
How to lose weight
First of all, let's clear something up. Weight loss and fat loss are not the same. "The difference between fat loss and weight loss is simple, albeit something many people overlook," says Tony Gentilcore, strength and conditioning coach. "Fat loss is exactly that; a reduction in visceral (wrapped around internal organs) and subcutaneous (underneath the skin) adipose (fat) tissue. Weight loss can mean anything from loss of fat, muscle, stored sugar (glycogen), or even stored water. This is why weight loss shouldn't necessarily be the end goal."
So, how do you lose fat? In short: By consuming less calories than you burn, otherwise known as a calorie deficit.
How to lose weight without exercising
Time to get a little technical: Your body burns calories in many different ways, and while it might seem like smashing out hours of HIIT is the best way to create a calorie deficit, it's not. In fact, compared to other factors, such as nutrition and general activity levels (how often you walk to work, to the shops, or cycle instead of taking a cab, for example), it has a relatively small impact on your total daily energy expenditure (the amount of calories you burn per day). "Most research shows the bulk of fat loss comes from dietary interventions," says Gentilcore. "Think of it this way: If the goal is to elicit a caloric deficit—let's say 250-500 calories, for example—which is more time efficient: Exercising for 45-60 minutes or not eating that bowl of Fruit Loops?"
What does this mean? Well, broadly speaking, it's entirely possible to lose fat without exercising if your nutrition is spot on. But it's not quite that simple.
Another huge factor which can determine total calorie output: Muscle mass. "Muscle mass is metabolically active tissue, which means that the more muscle someone has, the more calories they'll burn at rest," says Gentilcore. "Moreover, muscle = metabolically superior. The more of it you have, the more calories your body burns and requires."
But in order to sustain muscle mass, not to mention maintain general wellbeing, one must exercise. So adopting the exercise-free approach isn't all that efficient after all. A better route? An all-around approach.
How to lose weight the healthy way
"For me, the best approach is always going to be a combination of reducing calories via diet and exercise," says Gentilcore.
1. Skip know-all websites that provide general advice on calorie intake for fat loss and instead seek a qualified nutrition expert in order to create a realistic and non-restrictive meal plan that meets your personal daily calorie requirements.
2. Where possible, up your activity levels. If walking to work is out of the question (or just plain impractical during winter) then try to be creative. Climb stairs while the kettle boils, leave your desk when it's time for lunch, or schedule get-togethers that require movement, such as bowling or ice skating.
3. Focus on increasing sleep quality and decreasing stress. Both have a huge impact on your energy balance and are key factors when it comes to fat loss.
4. Drum roll…work out. There are endless benefits to exercise besides its ability to burn calories. It can improve heart health and reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses, improve bone density and posture, and not forgetting its ability to increase the efficiency of your metabolism by building muscle mass.
"Exercise (specifically strength training) is crucial because it reminds the body to keep as much muscle as possible (even when in a caloric deficit)," says Gentilcore. "Muscle is what gives the body shape and contour. If you end up losing a bunch of muscle, you just end up as a smaller, weaker version of your original self."
If the eyeball-prodding still appeals to you more than pounding the streets or smashing a Crossfit class make it your mission to find an exercise that you enjoy. Dancing, walking the dog and taking the kids to the trampoline park all count too.