Losing weight without exercise - truths and misconceptions


Shedding some extra kilos is never easy and it’s a common assumption that the simplest and most straightforward way to hit that weight-loss target is through some intense dieting. While diets can serve to reduce your calorie consumption by a significant amount, there’s also a big loophole to consider if you plan to lose weight based on diet alone – the lack of exercise also affects other related bodily functions like your metabolism and hormones.

While dieting without exercise may help you to reduce the number on the scale in the short term, it’s hard to say if this weight loss can be sustained in the long run. Losing weight without exercise is a multi-faceted topic with lots of discussion points, so let’s start by distinguishing fact from fiction.

Losing weight without exercise  1Photo: Active Health

Truth: Diets helps you lose weight

Creating a caloric deficit is the foundation of any weight-loss plan. As a general rule, weight loss happens when you expend more calories than you consume – that’s why most diets practice eating fewer calories than your body requires. A common starting point is a daily reduction of 200 to 300 calories.

Misconception: The weight loss is purely from fat

When you lose weight from dieting, it’s not just fat that's going. There's water and sometimes lean muscle mass as well. Fluid loss can be deceiving because it’s often temporary and can fluctuate even on a daily basis. Losing muscle however is worse – it affects more than just your strength but also your metabolic rate and insulin sensitivity. In short, people with less muscle mass aren't as efficient when it comes to burning fat.

Misconception: A more intensive diet can make up for a lack of exercise

A sudden drastic decrease in calories will send your body into a starvation mode, where your metabolic rate slows down as it attempts to conserve energy. This is a natural reaction as the human body is designed to treat self-preservation as a priority above everything else. It responds to what it perceives to be a famine-type situation, and when you switch back to your regular diet, your reduced metabolic rate may lead you to gain back even more weight than your original starting point.

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Truth: Exercise can possibly cause weight gain

Losing weight based on exercise alone isn’t possible either because there are scientific reasons why exercise can cause you to gain weight. To start off, exercise increases your appetite which could lead to overeating during mealtimes. Also, excessive exercise can upset the balance of appetite-regulating hormones. Overly intensive workouts can ruin your appetite temporarily, which may lead to overeating in the next meal as a compensatory response.

Misconception: Weight loss is all about the calories you consume and burn

It sounds like successful weight loss can only be achieved with a balance of a caloric deficit and regular exercise. That’s true, but caloric balance isn’t the only factor affecting your weight. Genetic expressions and lifestyle habits also factor into this equation.

Here are some common issues that could inhibit your weight loss plans

• Artificial additives present in food

Eating less is one thing, but what you eat matters too. Food that contains artificial additives and preservative can affect your gut health by changing the levels of gut bacteria present. This in turn can affect your metabolism, which contributes to weight gain.

• Inherited traits

We all have friends who eat like horses yet stay remarkably slim. Their reason? “I got it from my mum/dad.” They aren’t lying – some people are indeed blessed with good genes in the form of specific types of gut bacteria associated with slimness. This is why you shouldn’t compare your weight with your slim friends who don’t have to diet or exercise to fit into that pair of skinny jeans!

• Working the night shift

It may sound dubious, but people who work the night shift burn fewer calories than those who work during the day. It’s all got to do with your body’s circadian rhythm, where there’s a fine balance between sleep, nutrients and your metabolic rate. If you work late nights and can’t quite get your weight-loss plans to succeed, it may be time to invest in more nutrient-rich foods to give your body that additional edge!

► READ: Nutrition strategies for working adults who work irregular shifts


Losing weight without exercise 5Photo: Active Health

By now, we’ve established that a balance must be struck between diet and exercise. The former alone just can't give you the long-term weight-loss results and health benefits that a combination of the two can. However, that’s not all that exercise can do for you in the long run. Here are some of the other ways that exercise can change your life for the better.

The other benefits of exercise

• Relief from stress and anxiety

Exercise produces endorphins which clears your mind and boosts your mood. Just 30 minutes of light exercise a day can keep feelings of stress and anxiety at bay and even fight depression.

• Improved memory

Apart from keeping you happy, exercise also helps to improve your focus and information retrieval. The hormones released during exercise improves the cognitive functions of your brain.

• Regulation of blood sugar levels

For people suffering from diabetes, exercise is a natural aid that helps the body to self-regulate its blood sugar levels. During exercise, a special chemical (cytokine interleukin-6) is produced that clears glucose from the muscles into the bloodstream, hence keeping blood sugar levels at a healthy level.

• Reduction of cancer risk

Most notably, exercise can have a significant effect on reducing the risk of breast cancer in women. Even women in recovery benefit from incorporating a regular exercise routine into their recovery regimen.

Certain exercises are also better for facilitating weight loss. Cardiovascular exercises like running and cycling, and resistance training such as weight-lifting are some of the best exercises for burning fat. Resistance training in particular is great because it also helps you build muscle mass, which will boost your metabolic rate. Besides dieting and exercise, there are other additional solutions that can help make achieving your weight-loss goals more successful.

Losing weight without exercise 3Photo: Active Health

Real foods for weight loss

The best way to cut calories without costing you your health? Invest in real foods, which are basically single-ingredient foods that are abundant in nutrients and don’t contain artificial additives. Some examples include unprocessed meat, brown rice, sweet potatoes, kale leaves and whole eggs. The key is to make sure there’s a balance of real food across your macronutrient intake: protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Real foods are great in this regard because of their nutrient density which also feature higher bioavailability than isolated versions. Furthermore, they don’t contain refined sugars and trans fats, which are common culprits responsible for much worse health conditions than just weight gain. Finally, the best thing about real foods is that they make for a bigger portion of food whilst containing fewer calories than processed food – compare a baked chicken thigh to one that's deep fried and you'll see what we mean.

Given the rising trend of organic produce, you might be swayed into thinking that opting for an organic-only diet will make a sizeable difference. However, despite the usage of more traditional methods in the growing and harvesting said produce, the conferred health benefits are somewhat negligible.

“Some studies have shown that organically produced foods are higher in certain nutrients like phosphorous, vitamin C and phytochemicals, while lower in pesticide residues than conventional options,” say Cheryl Teo, Sport Dietitian at the Singapore Sport Institute. “Despite these small differences, no additional benefit in consuming organic food to overall health has been found. It is also important to note that multiple variables also affect the nutritional composition of food, such as growing seasons and field variations.”

Good fat vs bad fat

Most of us would by now be aware of how recent developments in food science have overturned the verdict of dietary fat being unhealthy – a notion that gained popularity in the 80s. However, that is not to say that your waistline would benefit from going all hog wild when it comes to fatty food. Aside from the caloric worth of fat (one gram is equal to roughly 9 calories), there is a distinction between the kind of fat that is considered nutritious and those that are not. Industrial/artificial trans fat (as opposed to the naturally occurring ones found in some meat and dairy products) is still something worth avoiding entirely due to its toxic properties.

Dietary fat is divided into three categories: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Just as how balance is key to healthy living, one's fat intake needs to cover all three bases in appropriate amounts. Monounsaturated fat like the omega-9 fatty acids found in olive oil, macadamia oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fat (e.g. omega 3s and 6s commonly found in oily fish and tree nuts) are associated with a wide array of health benefits that extend far beyond weight loss.

Saturated fat is no slouch in the health department either; medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acid have both made a name for themselves when it comes to improving cognitive and immune function. While the benefits of dietary fat intake are indisputable, remember that moderation across all forms of nutrient intake is still advised. More is not necessarily better.

How changing your dining habits can help you lose weight

It sounds like a kooky hack but serving yourself food in smaller portions whether you’re eating out or at home can significantly affect the number of calories you consume. Larger portions provide a psychological motivation for you to eat more so keep those plates small, especially when you’re indulging in a treat. Research has also found that using red-coloured plates could reduce the amount of food you consume, so it won’t hurt to put the unhealthy snacks on a red plate the next time. When it comes to snacks, you can counter unhealthy snacking habits by keeping junk food out of plain sight or just getting rid of them entirely.

It’s much easier to dig into that bowl of fresh fruit when it's the only thing in view, so do yourself a favour and take action against possible sources of temptation. Keeping your dining environment conducive also matters – start by removing all distractions. This means no eating in front of the TV which might sound cruel but will do you a lot of good because distracted eating can cause you to overeat at a later time as a way of “making up” for the less-than-satisfactory meal experience you created by incessantly staring at the screen.

Losing weight without exercise 6Photo: Active Health

Weight loss is both a science and an art. Body transformation specialists will attest to how important it is to listen to how your body responds and react accordingly in order to maintain progress. As such, blindly following a templated weight-loss plan or even someone else's won't guarantee you positive results. Trial-and-error can be time-intensive, but it gives you a deeper understanding of the process and how it affects your body. Everyone has a starting point, so why not begin on a strong note by popping by our Active Health Labs for professional advice on how to kick-start your weight-loss journey? You'll get some handy tips on appropriate exercise routines as well.

► READ: More articles and tips to Eat Better