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No, Exercise Without Dieting Won’t Help You Lose Weight

What happens if you exercise without dieting? Well, that depends on your intentions. If you’re hoping to gain strength or flexibility, exercise is hands-down the best way to achieve this. Exercise gives you tons of additional benefits too, like better sleep, increased mood, and lowering your risk for chronic disease. Exercise is one of the healthiest things that you can do for your body and can help lead you to more success!

Unfortunately, exercise by itself is incomplete, thus exercise without dieting isn’t an effective weight loss strategy. Our bodies are far more nuanced than just calories in, calories out.

The bottom line is if you’re hoping that exercise without dieting will help you lose weight, you’ll be disappointed. Keep reading to find out all about it.

Beautiful woman exercising at home, asking herself What happens if you exercise without dieting?

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*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and do not offer this as medical advice. This is my own personal experience and I encourage everyone to seek advice from their doctor before making decisions about their health. To view our full disclaimer policy, click here.

What Happens If You Exercise Without Dieting?

As mentioned, there are some seriously great benefits from exercise! Here are 6 fantastic things that happen to your body when you exercise, even without dieting.

1. You Gain Muscle Just by Exercising

Exercise without dieting can still help you build muscle

When you exercise, your muscle fibers break, which helps them to build upon themselves, making your muscles bigger.

Muscles burn calories at a faster rate than fat does. By putting on muscle, your body’s metabolism naturally goes up. In fact, 10 pounds of muscle will burn 50 calories per hour, while 10 pounds of fat only burns 20 calories per hour.

Muscles are good for us in other ways too, like how strength training our muscles can help our bones stay strong into old age.

2. You Burn Calories

Here’s something we all know: exercise burns calories. And as mentioned above, the more muscle you have to begin with, the more calories your body naturally burns.

Here are a few exercises and how many calories they can burn, on average:

  • walking: 255 calories per hour
  • biking: 364 calories per hour
  • power yoga: 364 calories per hour
  • low impact aerobics: 455 calories per hour
  • resistance training/powerlifting: 455 calories per hour
  • running: 455 calories

3. You Sleep Better if you Exercise, even without Dieting

Sleep increases in quality with regular exercise

Exercise is one of the best things to do if you’re having a hard time sleeping. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster as well as improving your quality of sleep.

But don’t exercise too late at night. Exercise releases endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that give you a boost of energy and can make you feel more alert. Exercise also raises your core body temperature, which they say is like taking a hot shower to get moving in the morning.

READ MORE: 12 Tips Improving Your Health As A New Year’s Resolution

4. Your Mental Health Gets Better

Another great benefit of just exercise without dieting is that your mental health get better. According to researchers Sharma, Maadan, and Petty, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood.”

Here are some mental health benefits of exercise:

  • reduces stress
  • improves mood
  • increases cognitive function
  • improves self-esteem
  • better endurance and stamina

5. Life Satisfaction Goes Up with Increased Exercise

Exercise can help with your mood and life satisfaction

Exercise literally makes you feel better about your life.

According to Penn State, if you’ve had a bad day:

“…extending your normal exercise routine by a few minutes may be the solution, according to Penn State researchers, who found that people’s satisfaction with life was higher on days when they exercised more than usual.”

If that’s not a great reason to get up off the couch and exercise, I don’t know what is!

6. You Help Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Exercise is one of the factors in reducing your progression of chronic diseases like heart disease. Whether you have a family history of chronic disease or are just trying to increase your life expectancy, exercise can help. An article from the Applied Journal of Physiology says, “With respect to physical activity, recent studies have highlighted the importance of regular physical activity in decreasing the risk of chronic disease.”

However, this doesn’t mean crash diets and bursts of exercising. It means that adoption of a healthy lifestyle, which clean eating and exercise being regular and habitual parts of your daily life.

Why You Won’t Lose Significant Weight by Just Exercise without Dieting

From the Obesity Society:

“Decreased calorie intake and increased physical activity are the cornerstones of weight control.”

But here’s the clincher. Just because you’re trying to lose weight doesn’t mean that you have any greater knowledge of food habits or nutrition than those who aren’t trying to lose weight. This is why many people think that if you exercise without dieting that you’ll still reach your weight loss goals.

If you’re wondering what happens if you exercise with dieting, here are some reasons that you won’t lose as much weight if you just exercise.

RELATED POST: 46 Positive Weight Loss Affirmations

1. You burn calories, but exercise makes you hungrier

Yep, you’re exercising to lose weight, but as soon as your workout is complete, you start feeling hungry. There’s a reason for this.

“Because you’re exercising more and burning more energy, it means the body is automatically going to realise more food is required and that can then stimulate hunger hormones,” says Chloe McLeod, dietician and nutritionist.

But don’t skip a post-workout snack, because it might actually sabotage your efforts. This is because you’ll put yourself in a big calorie deficit and you may end up binge eating. The key is to eat a healthy snack with protein after your workout.

2. Exercise without dieting doesn’t work because sugar addiction is a real thing

Many people don't realize how much sugar they consume

Many people want to argue that sugar does not have an impact on obesity, but the fact is that sugar addiction is a real thing, which can include bingeing, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings.

In other words, when your body is used to having sugar, it begins to rely on sugar as a source of energy. When it doesn’t receive sugar and needs to reroute energy from other sources, you end up with symptoms like headaches, gas and bloating, lethargy, and irritability.

In order to stop those symptoms, you need to consume, you guessed it, sugar.

3. If you’re deficient in certain nutrients, you’ll experience cravings

In other words, if you are eating a diet that is lacking in nutritional value or variety, your body still wants those nutrients to do its job, and you end up with cravings.

But if you’re low on magnesium, you’re not likely to crave avocados, which is naturally high in magnesium. You’ll probably crave chocolate. Sure, cocoa has magnesium too, but you’ll probably crave chocolate candy, which is loaded with sugar. And when you continue to try to mend your magnesium deficiency with chocolate candy, you’re subject to sugar addiction, as detailed above.

RELATED POST: My FLO Vitamins Review: Did These Gummies Help with PMS?

4. You don’t realize just how many calories something has

Exercise without dieting doesn't work, because we're often unaware of how much exercise we need to do in order to burn off our food

A standard medium serving of fast food fries has about 365 calories. If you eat an entire fast food meal, you’re looking at over 1000 calories.

As you’ve seen above, exercising burns about 200-500 calories per hour. This means that you would need to work out for over two hours in order to burn off that meal.

To top everything off, that fast food meal doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value because it’s loaded with sugar and fat, so you’re still going to feel “hungry” because of those nutritional deficiencies and craving!

Educate yourself about the amount of calories, sugar, and bad fats that are in certain foods, especially foods you get at restaurants (instead of make at home).

Basic Diet and Nutrition Tips to Lose Weight

They say that abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.

If you really want to lose weight, consider adding some healthy eating habits to your exercise to really help you reach your weight loss goals.

Need to learn more about nutrition? Check out these books to learn more about healthy eating.

1. Cook at Home

Cooking at home is one easy way to increase your healthy eating habits

The fact is simple: cooking at home is associated with a healthier diet regardless of whether you know a lot about nutrition.

Make it a date night with your significant other to cook together and make something healthy. There are also some great meal subscription services that help you put together healthy meals without much effort. (And don’t spend tons of time grocery shopping!)

Check out these services that have healthy eating options:

2. Cut out sugary beverages

One of the easiest ways to eat a cleaner, healthier diet is simply by cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, premade teas, coffee drinks like frappuccinos, and sports drinks.

When we drink our calories, we’re often getting calories that don’t give us any nutritional value, and they don’t fill us up. These sugary drinks are okay on a rare occasion, but keep them limited. Ditch the soda right away!

3. Make swaps with foods higher in nutritional value

Swap out fries for sweet potato fries baked in the oven at home

One other thing that can help you is by swapping healthier choices. The website Eat This Not That is a great place to start for finding healthier foods.

For example, instead of regular potato fries that you buy from a restaurant or the frozen section, opt to make your own sweet potato fries at home and bake them in the oven. These will give you far less fat and added sugar, and you can also control the amount of sodium that’s in them.

Making simple switches like this can really help transform your healthy eating lifestyle and weight loss.

RELATED: 15 Ways to Get Your Diet Back on Track and STAY on Track FOR GOOD

Other Ways to Lose Weight and Add to Life Satisfaction

1. Drink More Water

Drinking water is essential to losing weight

Water is essential to life. The cells in your body need to be properly hydrated in order to function. When cells are not hydrated, they send signals to your brain that they are, you guessed it, starving for nutrients. They aren’t. They just need water to get things moving again.

I live in a dry climate, so I like to aim for 80-100 ounces of water per day. When pregnant or breastfeeding, I drink even more—usually around 120-150 ounces. That’s over a gallon a day! Our bodies need more water than we think.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that coffee, soda, or beer counts… I’m talking about pure, plain water. Drink an additional cup of water for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage that you consume. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, meaning they actually pull water OUT of your body.

Another good time to drink water is if you get hungry between meals. Drink 12-16 ounces of water, wait 15 minutes, and see if you’re still hungry. If you are—then eat (something healthy, of course)! If not, then give it some more time (don’t forget to keep hydrating while you’re waiting for your next meal!)

Need something to keep track of your weight loss? Make sure you check out this weight loss chart!

2. Get a regular digestive tract

Not many people think of this one when it comes to weight loss. But think about it for a minute: if you put food into your body 5 times a day (3 meals and 2 snacks), but you’re only getting rid of waste once every few days, it makes total sense that your weight will be higher—you’re retaining all that food!

Technically, you’re constipated when you poop 3 times in a week or fewer.

They say that the average colon can hold an average of 1 pound of waste! Get rid of all that and watch your weight drop. When you’re constipated, it can mean more weight that you’re holding on to.

Drinking more water can help, but adding a high quality fiber to your diet can also help. I prefer taking magnesium to help keep my digestive tract moving smoothly. Magnesium has many benefits, and you can get it many different ways. Add on some probiotics and you’re on the path to balancing your gut flora!

3. Lower your stress levels

Stress relief is another way to complement your exercise and dieting to lose weight

Ditching stress is another way losing weight without diet and exercise is possible. Way back when humans lived in caves, stress looked a little different. Stress was going out into the forest and finding no berries. Stress was being chased by a bear. In both circumstances, shutting down digestion, lowering metabolism, and conserving energy was imperative to survival.

Unfortunately, our modern bodies don’t make the distinction between a bear chasing us and that enormous project that our boss is demanding a week early. So when you are stressed out, it signals to your body to actually lower your metabolism. (Read more about the link between metabolism and stress.)

Lowering our stress levels can be easier said than done. It takes dedication and actively making changes in our daily lives via self-care. Here are a few ways to help lower your stress:

  • Go out with a friend or chat with your mom on the phone
  • Work out, walk, and move your body
  • Go to bed early (or sleep in late!)
  • Have sex
  • Go to the spa
  • Do some breathing exercises

So that epsom salt bath doesn’t just make you feel better, it actually can help you  lose weight too!

4. Work on Your Positive Body Image

This should be the number one thing you do before tackling weight loss. Because it won’t matter whether you’re 200 pounds or 120… if you don’t appreciate your body for what it is in the present moment, you’re always going to find something wrong with your body and weight.

With my second child, I put on almost 45 pounds when at my highest pregnancy weight. 15 pounds of that came off pretty quickly after birth (baby, water, placenta), but most of it stuck around. I thought I would feel gross, ashamed, and weak.

Thankfully due to the fact that I was smitten with my newborn (and quite frankly, too busy to worry about what I looked like) I had no problem with my new body. Sure, I want to get back to my athletic lifestyle again once he’s a little older, but I very much appreciate the wonderful things my body has given me!

Other things you may appreciate about your own body could range from a specific athletic ability like weight lifting or yoga, of maybe it’s that you have radiant skin. Maybe you love eating and have very heightened taste-buds and sense of smell! When we really think about it, our bodies give us an abundance of different gifts!

So whether it’s pregnancy and childbirth or something else, find what you appreciate about your own body! Tell your body every day how much you appreciate the things it can do!

6 Ways Good Health and Success are Linked

Conclusion: Exercise Without Dieting… Does it Work?

Now you know, if you’re wondering what happens if you exercise without dieting, you’re going to be very disappointed. Our bodies are much more nuanced than just burning a few extra calories.

No, you won’t lose weight if you exercise without dieting. But thankfully, there are many ways that you can alter or change your diet to make weight loss easier, if that’s your goal.

How to Invest In Yourself: 10 Benefits of Self-Care

What Happens If You Exercise Without Dieting?


Friday 21st of May 2021

You cover so many aspects in your article, some of which are easily overlooked, such as sleep and digestion, which I think are an issues for many of us these days. Thank you for these great tips.

megan beaver

Wednesday 4th of September 2019

I agree low stress is vital. If you are stressed it throws your entire body off and its hard to lose weight. It also makes it harder to sleep too and you need to sleep to lose weight. Great points.

Lorena |

Wednesday 4th of September 2019

I agree that water is absolutely necessary to detox the body!

omo Christi nimi

Wednesday 4th of September 2019

Great article! I especially live what you say about drinking water! I start off my morning by drinking three cups of Apple cedar vinegar laced water and it makes me feel awesome and hydrated 👍

Jordan | Mindful Mama Health

Tuesday 3rd of September 2019

I completely agree that water is incredibly essential for so many different processes for our body. These are great tips to help increase metabolism, feel better, and lose weight!

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