Vegan Diet for Weight Loss: Does It Work?

6 Tips for Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet

According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, individuals who follow a vegan diet for approximately 18 weeks shed, on average, four pounds more than those who follow animal-based diets. While this fact is great for anyone looking to lose weight, conversion to a plant-based regimen and weight loss are not always synonymous.

Many who switch to a vegan diet for weight-loss reasons often find themselves filling the meatless void with an array of plant-based processed food. Luckily, a veg diet is so much more than packaged food that just happens to be animal-free, especially for those looking to lose weight. By following these six tips, you’ll fit into your favorite pair of jeans in no time, all while doing good for animals and the environment.
1. Review the vegan food pyramid
The foundation of the vegan food pyramid is greens and vegetables followed by fruit and whole grains. This is an updated version of MyPyramid—the food guide that replaced the Food Guide Pyramid in 2005—which emphasized grains, bread, cereal, and pasta as the foundation of a good nutritional regimen. Although the vegan food pyramid serves as a guide, caloric intake and portion control are key factors for any healthy weight-loss program.
2. Eat greens
The versatility of spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini makes dark leafy greens a wonderful addition to any meal. These foods are ideal for weight loss because they are the “most nutrient-dense healthy items” and “are extremely low in calorie and high in fiber,” says Lisa Odenweller, CEO of Santa Monica-based superfood café Beaming. The high-fiber content keeps you satiated throughout the day while helping you avoid unhealthy snacking. Other high-fiber options include fruit (be mindful of the sugar content) and raw tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, and cashews), which are packed with protein and fiber and can help lower cholesterol.
3. Up your protein
Consumption of protein-rich food is vital in many weight-loss programs because protein fills you up faster; thus, you need less food to be satisfied. According to Stephanie Goldfinger of vegetarian website Cooking for Luv, proteins are available in many forms, which makes them convenient to incorporate into meals because they can be eaten raw or cooked quickly. Protein powders are ideal for a grab-and-go breakfast or mid-day smoothie, while other plant-based proteins such as tempeh, beans, lentils, quinoa, and oats are versatile and can serve as the main component of a veggie burrito, salad, or stir-fry.
4. Limit processed soy
Soy products can be the easiest and most convenient “go-to” items when transitioning to a vegan diet. Soy isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it is imperative that attention be paid to the amount of processed products in a meal plan. For instance, a tofu scramble for breakfast, soy veggie burger for lunch, and pad Thai with tofu for dinner is excessive. Instead, choose vegan cheese made with nuts, a black bean burger, or a pad Thai with vegetables and tempeh for whole-food versions of your favorite foods.
5. Prepare healthy meals
Meal planning is a vital component to ensure proper nutrition and weight loss, and, thankfully, supermarkets now sell pre-packaged vegetables that are table-ready in minutes. Examples of fast-and-easy dishes include quinoa bowls with tempeh; a mixed stir-fry blend of broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms; eggplant cutlets with marinara sauce, vegan cheese, and basil; and soba noodles with greens. If these meals are beyond your scope, meal delivery services such as Purple Carrot and meal-planning services such as Forks Meal Planner provide easy-to-follow recipes that are pre-measured and dietitian-approved.
6. Get exercise and stay hydrated
Healthy meals, water, and exercise are key components for any successful weight-loss program. People should engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly in order to burn calories and lose weight. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of cardiovascular interval training focusing on alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. To achieve maximum results, HIIT should be practiced three times a week and supplemented with jogging or hiking, says Jorge Cruise, trainer and author of Tiny and Full. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drinking a minimum of 64 ounces of water daily keeps your body cleansed, which improves fitness and overall health.

Jarone Ashkenazi is a freelance writer who covers relationships, food, and sports.

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You aren’t getting enough protein

Eating an adequate amount of protein is key for maintaining muscle mass, which helps keep your metabolism revved. It’s possible to meet your daily protein needs on a plant-based diet. You just have to be strategic.

One of my clients who was struggling to drop weight (and feeling tired all the time) after he went vegan was surprised to learn he was only consuming about half the protein he needed. Most vegans I work with need at least 60 grams of protein per day. But many don’t know if they’re hitting that quota.

To make sure you’re getting enough, try tracking your intake (even briefly) with an app like My Fitness Pal. Another strategy is to include more pulses (the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas) in your meals, since they are one of the best sources of plant protein.

One cup of cooked lentils contains 17 grams of protein, compared to about 8 grams in a cup of cooked quinoa or a quarter cup of almonds. Whipping a plant-based powder (such as pea protein, made from yellow split peas) into a smoothie can also boost your intake, by as much as 25 grams per serving.

RELATED: 17 High-Protein Snacks You Can Eat On the Go

Your portions are too big

Healthy foods—including veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and avocado—contain raw materials that either fuel the activity of your body’s cells, or help maintain, heal, or regenerate tissue (such as hair, skin, immune cells, and muscle).

But we don’t require an unlimited supply of these nutrients. The amount your body needs is largely based on your age, sex, height, ideal body weight, and physical activity level. A young, tall, active man with a higher ideal weight, for example, requires larger portions than an older, petite, sedentary woman.

Often when I evaluate clients’ food journals, I find that they aren’t losing weight because their nutrient intake exceeds their needs. I had one female client who was eating a large açaí bowl for breakfast that contained multiple servings of fruit, nut milk, nut butter, and seeds.

She would then commute by car to work and sit at a desk all morning. While the bowl was chock-full of nutrition, it packed about three times what her body actually needed to keep her satiated until lunch.

RELATED: 17 Delicious Vegan Recipes

Your timing is off

Whether you’re a vegan or an omnivore, meal timing can have a serious impact your waistline. Many people I talk to eat their largest meal in the evening, when they’re the least active. A smarter strategy is to eat larger meals earlier, so they fuel your most active hours of the day.

Skimping all day and gorging at night is a recipe for weight gain, or at least preventing weight loss-even if you’re vegan. Try switching to evening meals that are filling but but light, such as sautéed veggies and chickpeas over a bed of greens and spaghetti squash; or a broth-based veggie and white bean soup with a drizzle of EVOO.

You’re drinking too many calories

There are many beverages marketed to plant-based consumers: kombucha, drinking vinegars, green juices, chia drinks, coconut water, and almond milk cold brew coffees, just to name a few. With so many choices, I’ve seen many clients unknowingly sip hundreds of extra calories per day.

My rule of thumb is this: If it’s not water or unsweetened tea, your beverage should count as part of your meal or snack. One vegan client who found she wasn’t losing weight was drinking a smoothie along with her lunch salad.

Unknowingly, she was essentially consuming two lunches every day. Another client didn’t realize that the healthy (and expensive) beverages she drank twice a day in lieu of soda contained about 300 calories total.

Make good old H2O your drink of choice, and if you reach for anything else, take a careful look at the ingredients, nutrition facts, and serving size, so you can decide if it’s the best fit for your body’s needs.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.

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You’re eating plant-based junk food

I’ve had plenty of clients who believed it was okay to eat unlimited amounts of plant-based treats (think coconut milk ice cream and sweet potato chips). Plant-based frozen foods, desserts, and snacks can not only be high in calories, but they’re often made with refined flour and added sugar, and stripped of nutrients and fiber.

While they’re fine as occasional treats, when consumed daily, they can pack on pounds. One study found that processed foods may decrease post-meal calorie burning by nearly 50% compared to whole foods.

Trade processed plant foods for fresh snacks. Reach for in-season fruit and dark chocolate to satisfy a sweet craving; and raw veggies with hummus or guacamole for a savory fix.RELATED: 5 Vegan Foods You Should Skip, Plus Healthier Alternatives

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