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Can you lose weight without counting calories?

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Mindful eatingPortion controlWhole foodsPhysical activityOther strategiesSummary
Mindful eating, portion control, and regular exercise are methods that can help you lose weight without counting calories. They can also help promote a balanced and sustainable lifestyle.
Medically reviewed by Adrienne Seitz, MS, RD, LDN
Written by Rashida Ruwa, RN
Updated on

Losing weight doesn’t only have to be about counting calories. Many alternative approaches can help you lose weight while encouraging healthy habits.

By focusing on mindful eating, incorporating regular physical activity, choosing nutritious foods, and managing portion sizes, you can achieve weight loss without the need to strictly monitor your calorie intake.

These alternative strategies offer a holistic approach to health and weight management, promoting a balanced lifestyle and sustainable long-term weight management.

Mindful eating

Several people gathered round a table of food to depict ways you can lose weight without counting calories.
Jill Chen/Stocksy United

Mindful eating is a practice that involves being fully present and aware of your eating experience by paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Research shows that practicing mindful eating can contribute to weight loss.

A 2017 study suggests that mindful eating helps people pay attention to their eating behaviors and make healthier food choices. Although further research is needed to examine the exact link, adopting a mindful approach to eating may help promote weight loss.

In a 2022 study, a 10-week mindful eating program for women who had overweight was compared to a mindfulness program and a no-treatment control group. Both interventions led to an improvement in eating behavior, enjoyment of food, and self-regulation of eating behaviors.

To practice mindful eating, start by eating slowly and savoring each bite. Be mindful of the sensations and flavors you experience. Take note of your body’s hunger and fullness signals to guide your portion sizes. By being present and paying attention to how your body feels, you can avoid overeating and make healthier food choices, which can help with weight loss.

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Portion control

Portion control involves understanding and managing the quantity and size of the food you eat. By practicing portion control, you can maintain a calorie deficit and promote weight loss without the need for calorie counting.

A 2021 study found that the use of portion-controlled plates (PCPs) was associated with significant reductions in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference. Participants who used PCPs lost an average of 2.02 kg in body weight and 0.87 kg/m2 in BMI. This suggests portion control can be an effective strategy for weight loss.

An older 2014 study also found that larger portion sizes led to increased energy intake, contributing to the development of obesity. Learning how to choose suitable portions and using tools like PCPs can improve weight loss. Additionally, using preportioned foods helps add structure to meals and reduce decision-making about portion sizes, leading to successful weight loss and maintenance.

To practice portion control, consider using smaller plates and bowls to create the illusion of a larger portion visually. Start with appropriate portion sizes and avoid going back for seconds. Focus on eating slowly and giving your body time to register fullness. Pay attention to your body’s hunger and satiety (fullness) cues, and stop eating when you feel satisfied rather than full.

Focusing on whole foods

Choosing whole foods over processed foods is an effective strategy for weight loss and overall health. Whole foods are minimally processed and retain their natural nutrients, fiber, and beneficial compounds. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while keeping you satisfied with fewer calories.

Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of a whole foods-based diet. A 2020 study suggests that consuming whole foods, particularly a whole food, plant-based diet, can help achieve greater weight loss compared with other dietary interventions that don’t restrict calories or require exercise.

In another 2022 study, participants in a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle program experienced favorable changes in body composition, including decreases in BMI, body mass, and body fat percentage. These changes were seen across all three duration groups (short, medium, and long-term) for males and females. The study suggests that adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet may lead to long-term weight loss and obesity reversal.

To focus on whole foods in your diet, emphasize whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods are nutrient-dense and provide ample nutrition without excessive calories. Aim to minimize or eliminate processed foods that are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium.

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Incorporating physical activity

Regular physical activity is important for weight loss, overall health, and well-being. It can help burn calories, build muscle, improve cardiovascular health, and increase metabolic rate. Engaging in aerobic exercises such as walking, running, or swimming and strength training activities such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises can maximize your weight loss efforts.

One 2017 study suggested that exercise alone may lead to minimal weight loss. However, engaging in longer and more intense exercise sessions, as well as combining aerobic and resistance training, can contribute to significant weight loss.

According to a 2023 study review, physical activity alone, without calorie restriction, is effective for weight loss maintenance. However, the volume and intensity of physical activity required for weight loss maintenance may vary depending on factors such as body shape, mass, and cardiovascular fitness. 

Other strategies

While mindful eating, portion control, focusing on whole foods, and incorporating physical activity are foundational strategies for weight loss, other techniques may also help you lose weight without counting calories. These include:

  • Keeping a food diary: Tracking your food intake can increase awareness and help you identify patterns of excessive eating or emotional eating.
  • Seeking support: Joining a weight loss program, participating in a support group, or working with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional can provide guidance, accountability, and motivation.
  • Managing stress: Chronic stress can lead to weight gain. Incorporating stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can support weight loss efforts.
  • Getting adequate sleep: Poor sleep can affect appetite-regulating hormones, leading to increased cravings and overeating, increasing the chance of weight gain. Aim for at least 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night.

Your individual needs and preferences may differ, so it’s important to find strategies that work for you. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or exercise regimen.


Several alternative approaches can help you lose weight without counting calories. By focusing on mindful eating, portion control, whole foods, and regular physical activity, you can promote a balanced lifestyle and sustainable weight management. 

Additionally, keeping a food diary, seeking support, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep can further enhance your weight loss efforts. Consider talking with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or exercise routine.

If you’re preoccupied with food or your weight, feel guilt about food choices, or follow restrictive diets, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.

Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or other identities.

There are several ways you can get support. You can consider:

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