How to Lose Weight When You Can’t Exercise: Your Complete Guide

Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, it seems like exercise is always a crucial part of the equation. But what happens if you can’t exercise? Perhaps you’re unable to exercise due to an injury, a heart condition, or a neurodegenerative disease that affects movement. Does this mean you should abandon your weight loss goals? Definitely not. Rest assured that you can successfully lose weight, even if you can’t engage in rigorous exercise. Keep reading to find out how to lose weight when you can’t exercise.

Diet Is the Key to Weight Loss Without Exercise

If you’re aiming to lose weight without exercise, you can be comforted by the fact that diet plays the most important role when it comes to weight loss. Exercise alone doesn’t accomplish nearly as much a healthy diet alone.

1. Consume Fewer Calories

Decreasing your calorie intake and avoiding overeating is important for creating a calorie deficit that will help you lose weight. The number of calories that you eat must be lower than the number of calories that you burn.

Excess calories that are not used are turned into fat and stored as a backup energy source. The storage of fat throughout the body in adipose tissue contributes to weight gain. Some of the excess fat is also deposited into the liver.

2. Avoid Junk Foods

Aside from the number of calories you’re eating, the quality of the food you’re eating makes a big impact on how well your metabolism functions. Eating healthier food allows your body to smoothly convert nutrients into useable energy.

On the other hand, junk foods clog up your metabolism and contribute to weight gain. Highly sugary foods and beverages like soda and candy cause a massive spike in blood sugar. The pancreas releases a load of insulin to try and clear the sugar from the bloodstream. However, excessive sugar intake over time leads to insulin resistance, weight gain, fat accumulation in the liver, and diabetes.

Sugar isn’t just found in soda and candy. To avoid harmful levels of sugar, stay away from pastries, breakfast cereals, snack bars, cookies, juice, and refined grains like white bread and white rice.

Saturated fat is another culprit responsible for slowing down metabolic processes. Saturated fat particles clog up insulin receptors and contribute to insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and weight gain. Moreover, saturated fat contributes to cardiovascular disease by forming plaques on arterial walls. To avoid saturated fat, stay away from bacon, red meat, chicken skin, burgers, cheese, whole milk, and yogurt.

3. Eat Mountains of Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and veggies afford tons of vitamins and minerals that are a vital part of a healthy diet. Antioxidants in fruits and veggies also fight against oxidative stress and inflammation that may be impacting your metabolic functioning. The curative compounds in fruits and vegetables can help decrease inflammation that contributes to fatty liver disease, diabetes, and even autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions.

If you’re recovering from a surgery, fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins may help your immune system repair damaged tissues faster.

Fruits and vegetables also contribute immensely to a shrinking waistline because they fill up your stomach without providing excess calories. Fruits and vegetables are safe to eat in abundance, and you generally don’t need to watch your portion sizes. Feel free to indulge in all the blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, spinach, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower that you like.

Interestingly, lowering your calorie intake doesn’t necessarily mean you have to decrease your food intake, volume-wise. Less food doesn’t always mean fewer calories. Think about all the fatty, sugary, and calorie-dense foods you can find at your local fast food joint or grocery store. French fries, cakes, doughnuts, and cookies are just a few examples of products that afford hundreds of calories for a relatively small item. You would need to eat several huge bags of kale to ingest that many calories. As long as you focus on whole foods, it’s actually possible to eat more to lose weight.

4. Eat Lots of Healthy Fats

Healthy fats protect your body’s cells, help reduce inflammation, and improve metabolic rate. To incorporate more healthy fats in your diet, reach for pumpkin seeds, avocado, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pecans, walnuts, salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

5. Beans and Whole Grains

Replace all of the starchy foods in your diet with beans and whole grains. Beans afford lots of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Healthy options for beans include black beans, white beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and soybeans. Whole grains are packed with fiber and antioxidants that keep the digestive system healthy by feeding beneficial bacteria.

6. Maintain Muscle with Essential Amino Acids

If you’re unable to engage in regular exercise, your muscle tissue may be at a greater risk of wasting away. However, maintaining your lean muscle mass is critical to having strength, increasing your quality of life, and promoting a healthy metabolic rate.

You can find optimal ratios of essential amino acids in high-quality protein sources like lean meat, nonfat dairy, eggs, and fish. If you’re relying on plant products as your source of protein, soybeans and soybean products like tofu and tempeh offer the most complete profile of essential amino acids. Other plant foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds must be combined throughout the day to obtain all essential amino acids in optimal ratios.

Additionally, essential amino acid supplements can help provide all essential amino acids without providing extra calories.

Challenge Your Brain

The best way to burn calories without physical exercise is to do mental exercises. Most people tend to overlook the brain as an energy-burner, but did you know that your brain burns tons of calories? The brain is one of the biggest utilizers of glucose, which it uses to power all of our thoughts and signaling activity among neurotransmitters and throughout the body. Challenging your brain to solve puzzles and stay engaged helps boost the calorie-burning capacity of your brain.

When you’re in a relaxed state and watching a TV show, your brain burns fewer calories than when it’s actively problem-solving and thinking about complex topics. To challenge your brain and maximize its calorie-burning capacity, play strategic games like chess or complete mind teasers and puzzles. Even having a philosophical debate with a friend, reading the news, or reading a book can help your brain burn even more calories. Learning a new language or learning an instrument are other ways to facilitate more brainpower usage.

Healthy eating is important for supporting your active brain. Getting essential amino acids to support neurotransmitter synthesis and omega-3 fatty acids for cell support are vital for optimal brain function.

Should you rely on brain teasers and exercises to create a calorie deficit? Probably not. Your best bet is to use diet changes to create calorie deficits. But more brain activity can only help!

Eat Mindfully

Have you ever been scrolling through Instagram while eating cookies, and before you know it the entire package is gone? Yeah, so have we all. Mindful eating is a strategy that equips us to combat the distractions in day-to-day life.

To help control portion sizes and keep calorie consumption on point, eating mindfully is a very helpful strategy. What does it mean to practice mindful eating? Eating mindfully means you are focused on the task at hand, and away from distractions like your phone, TV, computer, and tablet

Practicing mindful eating means you are eating and savoring each bite, enjoying the flavor and textures. Mindful eating calls for us to notice our physical cues, including when our stomach signifies that it’s full. Regularly practicing mindful eating helps to reduce the likelihood of overeating.

Sometimes, however, it’s super relaxing to lounge in front of the TV with some snacks on hand. If you are in the mood to mindlessly eat in front of the TV, it helps to have healthy snack options around that you can enjoy without sabotaging your weight loss goals. Swap out the potato chips, cookies, and ice cream for popcorn without butter, strawberries, apples, blueberries, rice cakes, carrots and hummus, or celery and peanut butter to make a satisfying and healthy snack.

Reduce Stress

Interestingly, stress has the ability to directly influence weight gain. When you experience stress, the body is sent into “fight-or-flight” mode. As a result, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream. Normally, when a stressful trigger has passed, the body is able to return to a normal state.

However, under conditions of chronic stress, the immune system is chronically activated and cortisol levels in the bloodstream remain high. As a result, this can contribute to higher blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, increases in appetite, and weight gain.

Stress-reducing techniques are similar in many ways to mindful eating. In order to help your body return to baseline, try practicing a few minutes of meditation each day. Meditating helps center the mind and bring thoughts away from worrying scenarios and other stressors. Reading a soothing book, listening to podcasts, or even using brain teasers and games can help distract from worrying thoughts and reduce your stress levels.

Sleep is another crucial part of reducing the impact of stress on the body. When you sleep more, you’re giving your body more time to heal, fight stress-induced inflammation and metabolic changes, and return to baseline.

As another strategy, try watching your favorite comedy show whenever you feel particularly stressed. Laughter and smiling can influence your stress and anxiety levels for the better.

Additionally, spending time with and connecting with people you trust can help reduce stress levels.

Intermittent Fasting

Though fasting isn’t a good technique for everyone, science has shown that periodic fasting can help boost fat loss. Fasting describes a time period during which you don’t consume any food, and it serves as a reset button for the entire body. Organ systems can work on repair and clearing cellular waste, without the added distraction of needing to constantly break down and process food.

Keep in mind that fasting is vastly different than starvation. You can fast without being deficient in nutrients. In contrast, a very-low-calorie diet that promotes starvation will result in muscle wasting, nutrient deficiencies, and fatigue.

Drink Lots of Water

Stick to water as your main beverage. Water contains no calories and is important for keeping your blood volume up and flushing waste products out of all the cells in your body. By removing waste from the body, cells can perform their job better. This means they can more efficiently harness energy from the nutrients you eat.

Cut Out Alcohol

When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to cut out alcohol. Alcohol contains lots of sugar and empty calories, and the metabolic processing of alcohol can lead to inflammation and weight gain.

In addition, alcohol consumption has been shown to disrupt sleep, which can lead to higher susceptibility to chronic stress, cortisol, and a huge appetite.

Incorporating Any Kind of Movement Possible

If you can engage in physical activity to a certain extent, then completing those movements counts as physical activity. Any activity level is helpful for promoting weight loss and your overall health.

For example, if you’re in a wheelchair but have full range of movement with your arms, focus on strength training with upper body exercises.

If you have a neurodegenerative, autoimmune, or inflammatory disease that restricts your movement, maybe you’re still able to do light pedaling on a stationary bike.

If you have a heart condition but you’re cleared to go on a leisurely walk, that’s a great way to get physical activity and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Or, if you’re recovering from knee surgery, maybe you’re confined to the bed as your knee repairs. Engage in all physical therapy exercises and whatever upper body exercises that you can.

Whatever you can physically accomplish, include those activities as supplemental while you focus on diet. Either way, you will still be able to accomplish your weight loss goals

Things to Keep in Mind

Before engaging in any physical movement, it’s best to talk to your doctor about exactly which activities you’re cleared to participate in, and which ones you should avoid.

If you’re looking to lose weight fast without exercise, it’s important to focus more on a healthy weight loss process over time. Rapid weight loss can be dangerous, and you want to avoid severe calorie restriction and starvation.

If you have questions about which foods and eating habits best support your health conditions and pursuit of a healthy weight, a registered dietitian is an excellent resource. Additionally, a certified personal trainer can help devise gentle exercises that work with your specific restrictions.


If you’re striving to lose weight and your movement is restricted, don’t worry. Losing weight without exercising is completely doable when following a healthy eating plan. To devise a diet that helps you lose weight, make sure you cut back on calories, eat lots of whole foods, fruits and veggies, and essential amino acids while cutting out junk foods. As an extra calorie-burner, challenge your brain with puzzles and strategic games. When utilizing all of these tactics, you will have problem losing weight in a healthy way while supporting healthy metabolic functioning.

How to Lose Weight When You Can’t Exercise

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