Weight Loss: The No-Diet Approach

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Why is weight loss important?

Maintenance of a healthy body weight is important for maintaining both physical and emotional well-being and preventing disease. Excess weight and obesity have been associated with an increased risk for numerous medical conditions, including

It should be noted that reduction in weight for those who are overweight can make a major impact on the conditions listed above. Many overweight people also report improved mood, increased in self-esteem and motivation, and feeling healthier in general after they have lost weight.

7 tips for successful weight loss

  1. The desire to lose weight must come from the individual. If you're truly ambivalent about making changes in your lifestyle or are doing this to please someone else, you're likely to fail. When making changes, decide what's right for your lifestyle. Your best friend's diet and exercise plan may be completely wrong for your habits and interests. The key is to find a system that works for you.
  2. Don't blame yourself if you aren't perfect. If you once fail at your attempt to curtail your overeating, it doesn't mean you are a failure at weight control and that you should just give up. Accept that you made a poor choice, but don't let that poor choice influence the rest of your plan. The same holds true with exercise. Skipping a few workouts doesn't mean you can't get back on track. Weight control does not involve making perfect choices all the time; rather it's about attempting to make good choices more often than poor ones.
  3. Avoid surroundings where you know you're tempted to make poor food choices. Everyone has a time when we're most likely to overeat, whether it's the morning coffee break or after-work gathering with friends. Try to plan other activities or distractions for those times, or plan in advance how you're going to handle them and stick to it.
  4. Surround yourself with people who support your efforts. Even our good friends can knowingly or unknowingly sabotage weight-loss attempts. Spend time with those people who will not pressure you to make poor food choices.
  5. Decide on some nonfood rewards for yourself when you reach interim goals. For examples, at the end of the first week of healthy eating or after the first 5 pounds lost, buy yourself a new DVD, app, or book.
  6. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods. Get rid of the high-calorie, low-nutrition snacks like chips and candy. But don't forget to have plenty of healthier options available as well, such as popcorn (hold the butter, try Parmesan cheese sprinkles), low-fat cheese and yogurt, fruit, instant cocoa without added sugar, sugar-free popsicles or puddings, or whatever appeals to you when you're hungry for a snack.
  7. Set small goals and focus on these rather than the "big picture." Decide where you want to be in a week or in a month, rather than focusing on the total amount of weight you'd like to lose.

Medically reviewed by Martin E. Zipser, MD; American Board of Surgery


"Obesity in adults: Overview of management"

"Obesity in adults: Dietary therapy"

"Obesity in adults: Role of physical activity and exercise"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015

Related Slideshow: Weight Loss Pictures Slideshow: 24 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting

Time your meals.

Use a Timer for Meals

Slowing down your eating time is a great habit for those concerned about overeating. Many people find that it is helpful to set a timer and stretch the meal out to accommodate a given amount of time, such as 20 minutes per meal. Doing this helps trigger the release of hormones that tell your body that you are full. You can also learn to savor and enjoy the taste of the food, which can be more rewarding than consuming oversized portions.

Couple sleeping soundly.

More Sleep Helps Weight Loss

Research has shown that sleeping can be beneficial for weight loss. A study from the University of Michigan showed that just one hour more per night of sleep could translate to a 14 pound weight loss over the course of a year in a person who eats 2,500 calories per day. This amounts to a 6% decrease in calories from mindless eating when sleep replaces leisure activities. Other studies show that sleep deprivation can increase appetite and make you more likely to overeat.

Woman eating vegetables on fork.

Serve and Eat More Vegetables

Try serving a variety of vegetables rather than just one vegetable with a meal. Having a variety of choices means that you're more likely to eat more, and eating more vegetables is one step toward effective weight loss. Vegetables contain water and fiber that fill you up with fewer calories. Just be sure you prepare and serve the veggies without added sources of fat like buttery sauces or high-fat dressings.

Bowl of minestrone soup.

Fill Up on Fewer Calories With Soup

Soup is a great choice both as an appetizer and a main meal. At the beginning of a meal, a broth-based soup (avoid cream soups!) can slow down your eating and fill you up earlier. Examples of healthy broth-based soups are minestrone, won-ton, or tortilla soup. You can make an easy soup by starting with a low-sodium broth, adding vegetables and a protein of your choice, and simmering until the vegetables are tender.

Woman eating healthy sandwich.

Choose Whole Grains

Eating whole grains whenever possible is another weight-loss strategy. Whole grains include brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, and whole wheat. Substituting whole grains whenever possible can help you fill up faster. These healthy carbohydrates can be found in many prepared products like pizza crust, waffles, English muffins, and pasta.

Woman holding a polka dot dress.

Eye Your Skinny Outfits

Hanging a "skinny" outfit where you can see it helps you remain focused on your weight-loss goals. Don't be unrealistic and choose an outfit that's four sizes too small. Pick something that you can fit into after just a short time of healthy eating. After you reach this goal, choose your next "goal" outfit.

Uncooked bacon on a plate.

Pass on the Bacon

Just say no to bacon. This breakfast treat is also found in sandwiches and salads, and it's easy to overlook. Skipping two strips of bacon at breakfast or in a sandwich saves about 100 calories. Doing this every day can mean a10-pound weight loss over a year. There are lots of healthy sandwich and salad ingredients that can replace the flavor without the fat and calories. Roasted peppers, tomatoes, flavorful mustard, and banana peppers are just some examples.

Healthy vegetarian pizza.

Make a Healthier Pizza

Pizza doesn't need to be a dietary disaster. Replacing meat toppings with vegetables can save you 100 calories per meal. You can also order a lighter portion of cheese or reduced-fat cheese. Thin crust and whole-wheat crust are other healthy pizza choices.

Spoons of sugar and soda bottle.

Reduce Sugary Drinks

Enforce a ban on sodas. You will save about 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar if you swap out the regular soda for a water or zero-calorie seltzer. You can add citrus fruits or mint to seltzer or plain water for a taste treat.

Researchers have shown that the liquid sugar in sodas does not signal the body to stop eating as well as other sources of sugar. In one study, participants ate an extra 450 calories' worth of jellybeans per day or drank 450 calories' worth of soda. The candy eaters unconsciously reduced their overall calorie intake to compensate, but the soda drinkers did not. The soda drinkers gained an average of 2.5 pounds over the four-week study.

Big and small glasses of orange juice.

Drink Smart With a Thin, Tall Glass

Choose a tall, skinny glass rather than a short, wide one. This visual cue can trick you into consuming 25%-30% less of whatever beverage you are drinking. Research has shown that people unconsciously pour a greater quantity into a short, wide glass than into a tall one. '

Water vs. alcohol.

Limit Alcoholic Beverages

Reduce your consumption of alcohol. Follow an alcoholic drink with a low-calorie alternative like sparkling water rather than accepting a refill on the alcoholic drink. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, which is more than carbohydrates (4 calories/g) or protein (4 calories/g). Alcohol can also weaken your resolve and lead to mindless eating.

Cup of green tea.

Drink Green Tea

Drink green tea. Some studies have found that green tea can boost metabolism, possibly through the action of phytochemicals called catechins. In any case, green tea (unsweetened) is a healthy and refreshing drink that is low in calories.

Older woman meditating to music.

Practice Yoga for Mindful Eating

A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that women who do yoga tend to weigh less. Researchers believe this is due to the level of self-awareness and mindfulness that develops in practitioners of yoga. Those who do yoga may pay more attention to their body's signals, such as eating only enough to feel full.

Dinner at home.

Eat Home-Cooked Meals

People who are successful at weight loss report that they eat in often. Try to have home-cooked or home-prepared meals at least five times per week. Grilled salmon or deli chicken, precut veggies, prewashed salads, and canned beans are good shortcut foods that can help make meal preparation less time-consuming.

Last bite of pancakes.

Notice Your "Eating Pause"

Learn to recognize your natural "eating pause." This happens when you put down the fork for a couple of minutes. When this occurs, stop and clear your plate. Most people aren't aware of this signal, but it tells you that you are full.

Un-wrapped stick of gum.

Chew Strong, Mint-Flavored Gum

Cooking dinner after work, attending a party, watching TV, or surfing the Internet are dangerous risk times for mindless snacking. Chewing sugarless gum with a strong flavor can help overpower the taste of other foods and render them tasteless. This can be a helpful strategy to avoid mindless eating.

Smaller portions.

Use Smaller Dishes

Pick a smaller plate. Studies show that people consume more food when they use larger dishes. Try eating from a salad plate to save up to 100-200 calories a day. This translates into a weight loss of 10-20 pounds per year!

Lasagna vs. baseball.

Know Your Food Portions

Slim people have become very good at portion control. Always aim to consume modest portions of whatever food you are eating. If you start out measuring portion size, you will quickly develop a feeling for the right size to dish out. Keeping serving dishes off of the table at mealtime can help the automatic reach for "seconds."

80/20 rule.

Use the 80-20 Rule

Residents of Okinawa have an interesting rule called hara hachi bu. This means they eat until they are 80% full, then stop. In contrast, Americans tend to eat until they feel stuffed. You can practice this rule by dishing out 20% less food. Researchers have shown that people don't even miss this amount.

Couple sharing dinner.

Tips for Eating Out

Practice these tips at restaurants to keep portion sizes and calorie counts under control:

  • Split a large dish with a friend and order a salad to fill up on healthy veggies.
  • Order an appetizer or child's plate as a meal.
  • Ask for half the meal to be packed in a take-home bag before you begin eating.

Spaghetti dinner with red wine.

Opt for Tomato-Based Sauce

Watch your choice of pasta sauce. Choosing marinara sauce instead of Alfredo sauce is a wise choice. In general, tomato sauces have fewer calories and fat than cream sauces.

Healthy veggie burger.

Eat More Vegetarian Meals

Opt for the vegetarian meal. Vegetarians usually weight less than those who consume meat products. This may have to do with fiber consumption from legume-based foods like bean burgers and lentil soup. Fiber fills you up with relatively few calories.

1 mile = 100 calories.

Burn an Extra 100 Calories Per Day

Even if your eating habits don't change, burning an extra 100 calories a day can amount to a 10-pound weight loss over a year. While the number of calories burned depends upon your weight, some good activities that burn around 100 calories are:

  • 20 minutes of walking or lawn work
  • 30 minutes of housecleaning
  • 10 minutes of light jogging

Floral painting on toenails.


Celebrate your successful changes. Whenever you have implemented a new step in your weight-control plan, give yourself a small (non-food!) reward like time with a friend, a pedicure, or a new accessory. Reward yourself for making a change toward a slimming lifestyle without a complicated or restrictive diet plan.

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  • Reviewed by on Monday, April 29, 2013
  • Weight Loss Pictures Slideshow: 24 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting sources


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    3. Peter Cade/Iconica
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    9. Dorling Kinderley/Judd Pilossof/FoodPix
    10. Steve Shott/Laura Johansen/Getty
    11. Sam Armstrong/Photographer's Choice/Hans Bjurling
    12. DAJ
    13. Patrik Giardino/Taxi
    14. Jo Sax/Stone+
    15. Gentl and Hyers/FoodPix
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    18. Brayden Knell/WebMD
    19. Doring Kindersley/WebMD
    20. Sian Kennedy/Photonica
    21. Nino Mascardi/Photographer's Choice
    22. Kurtwilson/FoodPix
    23. TGStock/Tim Graham Photo Library
    24. Somos/Veer


    • Medscape: "Obesity"
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