Diet without Exercise: Why You Need Both to Lose Weight Successfully

diet without exercise

How many times have you been on a weight loss diet? Oh, you might have lost a few pounds by cutting back on your calories but chances are that came with a price – frustration, and hunger. Plus, there’s a good chance you regained that weight you lost within a few weeks or a few months. Sound familiar?


Diet without exercise – it isn’t a good formula for weight loss. Research shows that more than 90% of people who lose weight gain it back and more. One way to increase your chance for success and for being able to maintain it is by exercising.


Exercise for weight loss – that’s certainly nothing new, but can’t you lose weight simply by cutting calories? Yes, you can but there are some drawbacks to using diet alone to lose weight. Here are some you should know about.


You’ll Lose Muscle Mass


A recent study showed that older people who dieted without exercising lost lean body mass. In other words, they lost something most people can’t afford to lose – muscle. Remember you naturally lose muscle tissue as you age and losing it decreases strength and mobility and makes it harder to do the things you enjoy doing.


The good news? This study showed that those who went on a weight loss diet AND exercised didn’t lose muscle. Instead, they lost fat. Isn’t that what your goal is?


In this study, many of the participants did nothing more than walk, although some walked on a treadmill or rode a stationary bike. Even though they didn’t do resistance exercise, which would have been ideal for preserving muscle, they still didn’t lose a significant amount of lean body mass.


Without Exercise, Maintaining Weight Loss is Tough


Even if you successfully lose those extra pounds through diet alone, maintaining it may not be easy. Research shows that people who exercise are more likely to maintain a lower weight once they lose it. That’s because your body has a natural weight “set point” it tries to maintain.


If you lose a lot of weight and move further from that set point, your body tries to bring you back to it by making subtle adjustments in your appetite and metabolism. Exercise helps to reset your set point so your body doesn’t compensate so much for your attempts to stay slim.


Dieting Slows Your Metabolism


Ever notice how you lose weight faster when you first begin a diet? Some of that weight loss is water weight but you lose pounds more quickly in the beginning when you make a change in the composition or calorie content of your diet.


But after a few weeks, your body “adjusts” and your metabolism slows. Plus, you require fewer calories as your weight drops.


When this happens, you have two choices. You can cut back on calories even more – not a smart move since that can further slow your metabolism and lead to nutritional deficiencies if you go too low.


The other option is to burn more calories through exercise. If you do resistance exercise, there’s another benefit. Your metabolism increases as you increase lean body mass. Doesn’t that sound like a better approach?

The Bottom Line?


If you’re dieting without exercising, you’re reducing your chance for long-term success – greatly. Here’s something to keep in mind. You don’t have to buy a gym membership, invest in new exercise clothes and hire a personal trainer to exercise – AND you don’t have to spend an hour walking mindlessly on a treadmill.


You can get the benefits by taking a few brisk 10 minute walks each day combined with staying more active throughout the day.


Get a pedometer, strap it on and challenge yourself to walk 10,000 steps each day. Find something you enjoy doing, riding a bike outdoors, walking through a park or hiking. Then do it every other day. Don’t try to conform to what a workout SHOULD be. You’ll be more successful if you do something you enjoy.


We also recommend investing in a pair of resistance bands you can use at home to build strength and muscle endurance. You start losing muscle by the age of 30 and this process speeds up after middle age. You NEED your lean muscle tissue. If you need guidance, here’s a video workout you can do at home using resistance bands:


Science Daily. “Older People Who Diet without Exercising Lose Valuable Muscle Mass”
Journal of Applied Physiology. (2008). 105(3)
WebMD “Tactics Are Different for Weight Loss, Maintenance”
International Journal of Obesity (2007) 31, 204–212.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Feb;31(2):204-12.

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.