While there are lots of reasons people are attracted to a whole food plant-based vegan diet – such as animal welfare and the environment – a desire to lose weight for overall wellness or to overcome conditions associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, is right up there at the top of the list.
If you’re someone who’s been unsuccessfully trying to lose weight you may be interested to know that science increasingly supports the connection between high-fiber plant-based foods and weight loss. Take heart and rest assured that you’re on the right track! Your approach might just need a few adjustments and you’ll be on the road to long-term weight loss success.
Science Says Plant-Based Diets Support Weight Loss
In a 2016 study, a vegan diet was found to result in greater weight loss than both a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (includes eggs and dairy) and a non-vegetarian diet, while a 2017 New Zealand study found the more weight loss at 6-month and 12-month intervals amongst their whole food plant-based eaters than any weight loss study ever undertaken that didn’t involve calorie restriction or mandatory exercise. Now that’s something to cheer about!
Research indicates that the intake of dietary fiber inversely correlates with body weight, body fat and body mass index. In simple English, that basically means that the more dietary fiber you eat the smaller your waistline!
Dietary fiber is believed to support weight loss in several ways: by promoting a feeling of fullness which in turn lowers intake of food and calories, by supporting healthy gut hormones, and by decreasing the absorption of macronutrients such as fat, carbohydrates and protein.
A decrease in macronutrient absorption raises the relative absorption of vitamins and minerals, or “micronutrients,” meaning you get more vitamin and mineral bang for your calorie buck.
Of course, the foods highest in dietary fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes – the foundation of a whole food plant-based vegan diet. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and weight loss, including specifically long-term weight loss.
In one study, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables resulted in greater weight loss than substituting protein for fats, carbohydrates for fat, or protein for carbohydrates – so much for Atkins or Paleo. And study that focused specifically on vegetable intake found that that too positively correlated with weight loss, after all, vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber.
So, with all this evidence, it sounds like you should be losing weight on your whole food plant-based vegan diet, right? Well, yes and no. Lots of things can get in the way of weight loss on any diet, and here’s what you can do about it.
Not Losing Weight on a Whole Food Plant-Based Vegan Diet? How to Fix That!
1. Eating Out Too Much. It’s so easy to do – who doesn’t love the convenience of eating out or grabbing something tasty and fun on the go? But eating “foods prepared away from home,” whether that’s fast food, a buffet, pre-packaged convenience foods or even a full course sit-down restaurant meal, is not the best idea when you’re trying to shed pounds.
Research shows that prepared foods tend to have higher caloric density and higher levels of fat and sugar than cooked-at-home foods. Eating out also correlates with a lower intake of fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods which themselves support weight loss. Of course, we all have busy lives and sometimes eating out is unavoidable, but if you want to lose weight? Cook at home as much as possible.
2. Eating Too Many High-Fat or Starchy Plant Foods. OK, so you’re not eating vegetable, nut and seed oils because they’re high in calories and low in nutrients. Isn’t that fat-restriction enough? Not quite. Nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters and other high-calorie plant foods such as avocados, coconuts and olives offer solid nutrition and often health benefits, but calories are still calories, even when it comes to whole foods.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to limit your consumption of these high-fat plant foods. Center your diet around non-starchy vegetables, especially nutrient-dense greens and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower, and legumes, with fruit and whole grains in moderation. Skip the potatoes and go easy on the pasta, bread and crackers.
3. Eating Too Many Dried Fruits. Dried fruits and fruit leathers with no added sugar or preservatives are portable and convenient. They’re fine in moderation as an occasional snack or dessert, but keep in mind that they are very high in calories and fruit sugar.
If you’ve got a “fruit tooth,” it’s best to stick to whole fruits, not dried fruits, juices or smoothies. That means an apple with the skin, not apple rings, apple juice – or apple pie, of course!
4. Drinking Too Many Calories. Get down and get toothy – chewing matters! It’s part of our digestive process and rather helpfully slows our eating down. The fact is that we’re more at risk of drinking too many calories than of eating too many calories.
Fiber-rich whole foods chewed slowly give us that “full” feeling and are the way to go when you’re trying to lose weight.
5. Eating Too Much, a.k.a. Overeating. You may have heard that you can eat as much as you want on a whole food plant-based vegan diet, especially one that’s low in fat. However, as mentioned before, calories are calories. Even the healthiest low-fat high-fiber nutrient-dense calories, when consumed to excess, can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Your caloric intake needs to be in alignment with your energy needs. Someone who sits at a desk all day and drives to work is going to need far fewer calories, plant-based or not, then a construction worker. And remember to be mindful of those portion sizes while you’re at it! (Trick: try using a smaller plate.)
Other Things to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Weight-Loss
Hopefully, these tips will help you see where you may need to adjust your eating habits in order to lose weight. Other things to keep in mind are getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and staying active. Some people say that eating late at night is not a good idea, but you’ll have to test that out for yourself. You might also try an Ayurvedic approach, which typically involves eating your biggest meal at lunch instead of dinner.
I wish you an easy, healthful path to weight loss and wellness. Please feel free to email me and let me know if you’ve had trouble losing weight on a whole food plant-based diet, firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to support you in any way.