How to Lose Weight Without a Diet

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Is weight loss on your to-do list? If so, you've probably considered going on a diet, starting an exercise program or even paying for a commercial weight loss program. And those strategies can work. But did you also know that you can lose weight without dieting? It sounds too good to be true, but a recent study found that some people are able to slim down by making small changes to their daily habits.

The No-Diet Weight Loss Approach

I recently sat down with Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor at and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He is also the author of Slim by Design, a guide that helps readers make simple design changes to promote healthier eating. He told me that it is possible to lose weight without a diet.

"When people decide that they want to lose weight, they think that they have only two choices," he explains. "They can either go on a diet that is overly complex and practically requires a master's degree in nutrition or they can follow a plan that is really simple but requires terrible deprivation." He says that a third option, however, is more reasonable for many people. "We recently published a study that shows people can lose up to 2 pounds per month by simply making really small changes their daily habits."

Change a Habit to Lose Weight

In the study, Wansink and his colleagues recruited over 2000 participants through the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC) an online healthy eating and weight loss program. Participants filled out a survey and based on results, were given three habit change suggestions. After each month, participants were asked to complete a follow-up survey and then receive new suggestions for the next month.

Unfortunately, most participants dropped out of the program. Many subjects said they were too busy to carry out the changes or they forgot to do what they were supposed to do. The people who stayed in the program, however, lost weight. Participants who carried out their suggested habit changes for at least 25 days per month reported an average monthly weight loss of two pounds. That's not bad, considering that many dieters are only looking to lose 15 or 20 pounds.

Weight Loss Habits to Change

So which habits should you change if you want to lose weight without a diet? I asked Dr. Wansink which habit changes are likely to provide the best results. He said that it all depends on the individual. "You should start by making changes in the place where you get the most reinforcement," he says. For most people, that is inside the home. 

In Slim by Design, he outlines several simple changes you can make in the home to promote healthier eating and weight loss. 

  • Keep six single servings of protein in the refrigerator. If you nibble on filling protein sources like string cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese, you may be less tempted to eat out or binge on less healthy snacks like chips or chocolate.
  • Keep a bowl of fruit with at least two kinds of fruit below your car keys. When you're running out the door, grab a healthy, low-calorie, high fiber food, like fruit, so you don't find yourself hunting down fast food restaurants when you're hungry.
  • Take all of your snack foods and put them in one hard-to-reach cupboard. Not only will you not see the foods you shouldn't be eating, but you'll have to work harder to get them when you're tempted to indulge.

And what if you want to change your habits to lose weight at work? Wansink suggests that you bring a lunch instead of eating out and that you don't eat at your desk. 

Can You Lose Weight Without a Diet?

Remember that the people who lost weight in the study were the people who were highly motivated and committed to the plan. So can you lose weight without a diet? You may be able to if you really stick to your program. Changing small daily habits is not a magic bullet for weight loss, but it can tip the scales to help you slim down. And success with small changes may inspire you to change even more for greater weight loss results.

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