Free Weight-Loss Strategies That Are Infinitely Better Than Counting Steps

woman running
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Fitness trackers are worthless. Sleek, trendy, $100 pieces of garbage. Sure, they'll track your steps (which a $5 pedometer can do), record your daily food intake (a pen and paper can also offer that), and log your exercise habits (available on tons of free apps). But at least they help motivate people to get active and lose weight, goes the common refrain in their defense. 

Actually, scratch one off, because they don't help you lose weight. 

A recent study showed that people actually lost more weight without trackers. Maybe it's because people had a false sense of accomplishment after walking 10,000 steps -- "I can eat whatever I want now!" -- or because everyone's body and metabolism are so different, creating an effective weight-loss plan can't possibly be quantified by a fitness tracker and corresponding app. Either way, the results were clear -- they're a waste of money and valuable wrist/smartphone space.

You're better off using these fantastic, doctor-approved weight-loss tips that cost absolutely nothing. That's right: they're totally free, and totally effective.

Keeping track of every morsel of food you stuff in your mouth

Even if you think you eat pretty healthy, you'd be surprised at how many extra calories creep up in your day. A bite of birthday cake from the break room? A handful of M&M's? Snagging a few chips from your partner's bag? It all adds up. Keeping a food journal is one of those weight-loss tips that sounds pretty lame and boring, but constantly receives endorsements because it works. It's the basis of commercially successful weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers, and it's been shown to double weight loss compared to people who don't keep a food diary. 

And you don't have to count calories for it to be effective, says Dr. Eduardo Grunvald, obesity medicine specialist and medical director of the UCSD Weight Management Program. Writing down every single thing you eat may seem tedious, but it'll make you more accountable, and shed light on your food habits to see if there are any areas for improvement. You can use an old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach, or a notes app, and you can track macros or calories or whatever you find helpful -- the important thing is tracking to raise your awareness of what you're eating. 

Getting your ass on the scale

As terrifying as the scale can be, monitoring your weight, whether it's weekly or monthly, can help you stay focused on your goal, Dr. Grunvald says. Obviously there's a lot more that goes into your weight than just fat percentage, but being aware of the number is a great way to stay motivated.

So don't be afraid of the scale; you weigh what you weigh, whether you know the number or not. One major caveat, though: if it becomes a daily obsession, or the source of major anxiety and depression, then back off.  

Going through your pantry and throwing all the shit away

Everyone has a weakness. Maybe it's chocolate chip cookies, or potato chips, or wine, or those salted caramel taffy-like candies that you just can't stop eating, no matter how hard you try (hypothetically, of course). The best way to avoid these trigger foods? Get rid of them! Keeping your environment free of food temptations is the only surefire way to stop eating them.

Yeah, yeah, it's painful to throw away food, but if you're serious about dropping pounds, you'll appreciate how valuable this approach is. It's not like you can NEVER eat a potato chip again; just look for smaller servings somewhere outside of your house, rather than keeping a full, tempting bag in your pantry. 

Downloading free apps that are actually helpful

Buying a tracker is only half the battle; you need the high-tech app that goes with it. Luckily you can cut out the middle man and go straight to the source -- there are plenty of health and fitness apps for your phone that are free to use and don't require any gadgets. MyFitnessPal is a great way to log your daily caloric intake and exercise. Sworkit lets you get in a workout that fits any time frame and any schedule. If you can dream it, there's probably a (free!) app for it. 

Being chained to your reusable water bottle

Drinking water is incredibly important for overall health, but especially for weight loss -- study after study has shown that hydrating (especially before meals) will help you slim down. It seems like an easy enough recommendation, but a lot of people overlook it -- you're busy, you forget, or you don't want to deal with that annoying co-worker who's always near the water cooler.

But one of the easiest ways to make sure you get your daily intake is by carrying around a water bottle with you everywhere. OK, so technically reusable water bottles aren't free, but you're bound to have some stocked up from a work function, or passed out for free at an event, right? Regardless, just make sure you drink enough water, no matter the vessel. 

Getting your sweat on in places other than a gym

It's a shame you can't out-exercise a bad diet; that spin class may not cancel out the beers you'll drink later, but it's still important to exercise while you shift to a healthy diet. Exercise reduces stress, limits cravings, and is important for overall health.

The key is finding something you'll stick to, even if it's not at a fancy gym or trendy boutique fitness studio. Running or biking outside, or doing some free workouts from YouTube, can be enough to get your heart rate up and make you feel the burn, all free of charge. 

Sharing your struggle with other like-minded, cool people 

The biggest factor in ensuring you lose weight and keep it off? It's not diet, or exercise, or drinking enough water -- it's making sure you have a good support system, according to Dr. Grunvald. That means your family and friends need to be on board with your weight-loss efforts, and encourage you to make good choices.

Having a group of other people going through the same journey is also helpful. Many communities offer free weight-loss support groups, such as TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly). The first meeting is free, and it's only a few dollars to become a member after that. Plus, there are tons of online resources and forums, like the LoseIt subreddit,, and

So don't feel pressured into buying the latest weight-loss tool or most high-tech fitness gadget; it probably doesn't work anyway, and you're better off using the free tools you already have in your arsenal. At least you don't have to worry about wearing that ugly rubber wristband every day.

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. She's a fan of anything that's free. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.