After all, research consistently shows that when trying to lose weight, people who both eat right and exercise reap the best results. That’s largely because, besides burning that ring of fat around your middle, exercise keeps you building, rather than burning, muscle along with it. And we all know that when muscle goes kaput, so does your physique, metabolism, and, ultimately, your weight-loss success.
Like we said, in an ideal world you’d hit the gym. But who of us actually lives in an ideal world? Anyone? So, whether your schedule is slammed—or you’re just allergic to gyms—here are 10 solid ways to lose weight without renewing your gym membership.
Do you spend most of your day sitting? Sure you do. Luckily, a 2015 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that fidgeting throughout the day can counteract the effects of sitting disease (ahem, weight gain). That’s something that structured exercise doesn’t even seem to achieve, per a previous Annals of Internal Medicine study. That may be because regular movement, unlike a gym session at the end of your day, keeps your blood more-or-less constantly moving and your muscles working. Bonus: Fidgeting burns about 350 calories, according to the American Council on Exercise. Sitting all day, you’re just sedentary…even your arms are usually resting on a desk. “That might be more than you’d burn during a 30-minute steady-state workout,” says Beverly Hills-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S.
2. Stop avoiding fat
“The fat-free craze of the ’90s has many Americans still focused on fat content. But as long as the fats that you’re eating are coming from nuts, seeds, oils, and fatty fish, then go for it. Eat up,” says Florida-based nutritionist Jaime Mass, R.D. Eating fat from whole, healthy sources is linked with weight loss, not gain. And a recent meta-analysis published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology concluded that low-fat diets are actually less effective than higher-fat ones at helping people drop pounds and keep them off. “Also, try to avoid fat-free labels; they might sound enticing, but that’s code for added sugar and carbohydrates. Unless the food is naturally fat-free, like 0% Greek yogurt, sugar and carbs are often added to make the food taste good.”
3. Watch your macros
While your attention is on fat, it’s worth mentioning that you should also watch your intake of carbs and protein. And, no, you don’t have to follow a specific macro split and count how many calories you’re getting from carbs vs. protein vs. fat, Mass says. Just make sure that whenever you eat carbs you pair them with fat or protein, she says—or, ideally, both. For instance, eating an apple with a stick of string cheese will score you carbs, protein, and fat. The combo will help prevent your blood sugar and insulin levels from shooting up and then back down to help you feel fuller, effortlessly cut calories, and make sure your food doesn’t wind up as fat.
4. Get some exercise
You don’t have to belong to a gym to get some exercise. Go outside for a run or do some quick-and-easy bodyweight workouts in your living room.
And even if you don’t have time for a full-fledged workout, you probably have time to crank out a few squats while you’re riding the elevator (alone, of course) or a few crunches while you’re watching TV or playing on your phone. And, according to a recent study from the University of Texas at San Antonio, people who break up their workouts into little chunks enjoy bigger health benefits than do those who complete the same amount of exercise, but during one daily workout. Plus, if you split your workout into manageable bites, you might end up working out more than you would if you were at the gym.
5. Put a stop to midnight snacking
Unfortunately, mounting research shows that there’s some credence to the idea that calories consumed after hours are more likely to wind up as fat—so make sure you eat enough throughout the day that you don’t find yourself ravenous a few hours after dinner. Plus, new research published in Cell Metabolism also suggests that by shortening the amount of time between your first and last bites of the day—even from 14 down to 11 hours—can spur weight loss. So there’s another reason to avoid the late-night munching.
6. Get more sleep
You don’t even have to be awake to make losing weight easier. And for 7-9 hours a night, you shouldn’t be. “If you’re sleeping poorly, not sleeping enough, or having difficulty going to sleep, you need to address the underlying problem,” Mass says. Case in point: In one Mayo Clinic study, people who got enough sleep consumed about 550 fewer calories than those who woke up about 80 minutes earlier than usual. Getting enough (solid) sleep helps to optimize your levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, both of which play a role in regulating your hunger levels and metabolism.
7. Eat a protein-rich breakfast. Every. Single. Day.
You know you need to eat breakfast to jump-start your energy levels and keep you burning calories all day. But that bowl of cereal isn’t going to cut it when it comes to weight loss. In one University of Missouri study, high-protein breakfasts made people feel fuller longer and eat less during the afternoon, compared to low-protein breakfasts with the same number of calories.
8. Hoof it
Leave your keys at home to multi-task your way to a better body. In one 2014 study (from a gym!), the average public transit commuter burned 324 calories getting to work and back—the equivalent of running about 20 to 30 minutes on the treadmill. Walk or bike your entire commute—not just one leg of it—and you’ll torch even more calories. Bonus: If the traffic in your city blows, on-foot commuting might actually get you from point A to point B in less time.
9. Don’t eat on the go
We know, you’re strapped for time. But sitting down to eat your lunch will take, what, 10 minutes? And even if you eat the exact same thing you’d eat while walking to your next destination, you’ll automatically end up eating significantly less food (including junk food) at subsequent meals, suggests recent research from the University of Surrey in the U.K. Besides distracting you to keep your brain from registering when your stomach’s full, eating while walking may make you (perhaps subconsciously) feel like it’s OK to overeat later. So, yeah, those 10 minutes could really benefit your weight-loss efforts in the long run.
10. Drink more water
Everybody says you need to drink more water, but staying hydrated may really help make calorie control about more than the power of the wills. For instance, in one Obesity study, people who drank about 16oz of water 30 minutes before their meals lost about 9lbs over the course of 12 weeks. Meanwhile, those who simply imagined before a meal that their stomach was already full lost about 6lbs. Plus, all “drinking to feel full” aside, staying hydrated helps to optimize all of your body functions so that the weight does come off, Mass says.