12 science-backed ways to lose weight without going on a diet

·8 min read
girl eating a burger hungry appetite 12
girl eating a burger hungry appetite 12


  • Fad diets may be popular weight-loss strategies, but they don't typically work very well.

  • Instead, dietitians recommend sticking to a sustainable healthy eating plan that you enjoy and preparing more of your own food.

  • Other simple weight-loss strategies include staying hydrated, avoiding sugar, and planning ahead so you're not making impulsive food choices when you're hungry.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Going on a diet is a losing game. Some research suggests more than nine out of every 10 people who try to diet will fail.

Even people who are able to diet successfully often fight a tough battle against the body's evolutionarily savvy attempts to store extra energy. In fact, scientists have found that the bodies of severely overweight people who lose weight can work against them: as they slim down, their metabolism drops, making it harder to lose more weight.

Experts agree that extreme diets and juice cleanses aren't good long-term strategies for maintaining a healthy weight. To that end, the US News & World Report's 2020 ranking of the best diets put the trendy ketogenic diet in one of the bottom spots.

But there are a few simple things you can do to stay trim and satisfied in the long run.

We asked dietitian Jason Ewoldt from the nation's top-rated hospital, the Mayo Clinic, for his simplest, sanest ideas for staying lean. Here's his advice.

Stay hydrated. If you hate drinking water, zest it up with citrus or drink it carbonated (without adding empty calories into your diet).

lemon water
lemon water


Ewoldt noted that patients often end up misinterpreting thirst for hunger.

"A lot of times, people just seem to be a little dehydrated," he said.

A 2016 study of more than 18,000 people in the US found that those who drank more water were consistently more satisfied and ate fewer calories on a daily basis. They also consumed lower amounts of sugar, fat, salt, and cholesterol than more dehydrated participants.

There's also some limited evidence that drinking water can help you burn through more calories, at least for a little while. So keep sipping.


Whatever you drink, it's best to steer clear of sugar — and probably artificial sweeteners, too.

sugary drinks
sugary drinks


Many studies have found that drinking a lot of sugary soda or juice could increase your risk of an early death.

A long-term study of more than 118,000 men and women published in 2019 suggests that the more sugar people drink, the more likely they are to die.

There's also some evidence that consuming drinks with fake sugar may not be any better for our health and may lead to weight gain.

Scientists studying the blood vessels of rats discovered that while sugar and artificial sweeteners act in very different ways inside the animals' bodies, they can both up the odds of developing obesity and diabetes.

The researchers think this is because artificial sweeteners may mess with the way our bodies process fat. More research needs to be done in humans to know for sure, though.

Aim for seven to eight hours of shut-eye per night.

Subway yawn
Subway yawn

Andre Penner/AP

Most of us like to think we can operate well without a full night's sleep. But the truth is, only about 1% of the population can thrive on less than seven hours.

Skipping out on sleep also makes us more likely to eat unhealthy food.

Research published in 2013 in the journal Nature Communications revealed that sleep-deprived eaters are more likely to reach for high-calorie foods and gain weight than well-rested people. That's because being sleepy also snoozes the region of the brain that helps tell us when we're full.

Taking time to enjoy breakfast and lunch is a good way to avoid overeating later in the day. Try to eat before you get irritable and impulsive.


Antonia Farzan

The advice is almost a cliché at this point, but research continues to suggest that breakfast-eaters stay trimmer and avoid putting on belly fat, when compared to people who don't eat in the morning.

In 2018, research from the Mayo Clinic found that people who skip breakfast put on roughly five to eight more pounds in a single year than regular morning eaters.

Part of the reason for this trend may simply be that breakfast-eaters are more health-conscious people overall. Nutrition experts stress that there's no single prescription for healthy eating that's going to be right for everyone.

So your breakfast doesn't have to be big, but it's probably a good idea to eat a little something in the first several hours of your waking day, to help avoid impulsive, hunger-fueled binges of fatty or sugary food.

"When we're hungry, we're going to go with what's quickest and easiest," Ewoldt said.

Often that translates to more processed, high-calorie foods with little nutritional value.

If you're wondering what to start your day with, consider a high-protein yogurt sprinkled with nuts and berries (without added sugar).

yogurt berries nuts
yogurt berries nuts


Yogurt is a favorite breakfast staple of many nutrition experts.

Ewoldt likes to sprinkle his Greek yogurt with some berries in the morning for a simple, quick breakfast.

Likewise, Harvard physician Monique Tello often eats a high-protein Icelandic yogurt with a side of fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds at the office.

Cancer researcher David Harper, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada (who adheres to the restrictive high-fat ketogenic eating plan) also often starts the day with a high-fat yogurt topped with a few berries and some roasted nuts.

If you want to try this breakfast, be sure to choose an unsweetened yogurt that is naturally low in sugar.

Consider incorporating a healthy mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack into your daily routine.

Banana and peanut butter wrap
Banana and peanut butter wrap

Shutterstock / Natalia Wimberley

"If you have a small, healthy, filling snack, you're still hungry for lunch, you're just better able to manage choices," Ewoldt said.

When selecting a snack, avoid carb- or sugar-heavy foods that masquerade as healthy and won't keep you feeling full, such as cereal, granola bars, and bottled smoothies.

Ewoldt said he often opts for a cheese stick, banana, or other piece of fruit. Nuts are also a good option, since they're full of protein.

Plan ahead by getting your veggie chopping and meal prepping done before you're hungry.

celery stalks sticks vegetables shutterstock_304142306
celery stalks sticks vegetables shutterstock_304142306


When we're hungry, it can be hard to say no to processed foods, which are bad for our waistlines and are associated with a higher risk of cancer.

Ewoldt said having a daily plan "makes healthy eating a heckuva lot more attainable."

He preps his lunch for work ahead of time at least four days a week, and picks out foods that will keep him satisfied for hours. He stocks up on chicken patties, crunchy vegetables, and hummus, as well as guacamole.

Make your days a little nuttier.


Flickr / theilr

Nuts are a fatty, wonderful way to stave off cravings between meals, and they're a healthy source of protein.

A study of more than 81,000 people in North America found that people who ate just a handful of mixed nuts or seeds each day reduced their risk of developing heart disease. Getting a little nutty also helped the study participants lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol levels in their bodies.

Work out in the morning.

flotus prince harry
flotus prince harry


Studies have shown that people who work out in the morning on an empty stomach can burn up to 20% more body fat during their workouts, since they have to use more stored-up fat as fuel.

But in general, incorporating more movement into your routine at any time of day will lead to major benefits. Exercise has been shown to provide a smorgasbord of health improvements: it can help stave off depression and keep your heart, lungs, and mind healthy into old age.

Eat more filling whole grains like quinoa and brown rice.

brown rice salad bowl healthy eating
brown rice salad bowl healthy eating


Whole grains like oats, cracked wheat, and brown rice are a great way to satisfy your appetite and stay full. Plus, they're also rich in potassium, iron, and B vitamins.

These fiber-rich foods take more time for the body to break down, and can fuel us for hours. That makes them a better choice than processed, nutrient-stripped grains like those in white breads, crackers, and white rice.

Enjoy some fruit.



Fruits are another great way to incorporate hunger-satisfying fiber into your diet. Plus, they're a great source of vitamins and water.


Treat yourself sometimes.

elderly drinking wine brothers
Twin brothers toast with a glass of red wine in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium, July 4, 2016.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters

If there's one thing dietitians and food experts agree on, it's that deprivation and villainizing "bad" foods often leads to binging and diet failures.

So indulge once in a while, Ewoldt said — in moderation.

If it's wine you crave, he suggests limiting your intake to one 5-ounce glass (that's about a fifth of a bottle) and "really sip and really enjoy it."

This story was originally published in May 2018. It has been updated. 

Read the original article on Business Insider