Are you considering going plant based to lose weight? Or maybe you have been plant based or vegan for a while now, and are stuck at a weight plateau.
This can be incredibly frustrating. As you look in the mirror, and wonder what the heck else you can do besides everything that you’ve already been doing to lose this weight, and maybe you are even wanting to turn to other diets like keto or paleo that promise greater weightloss results in less time, let me tell you something.
You are on the right path. You are working so hard and committing to this amazing goal of shedding the weight. Be proud of yourself, and know that what you’ve done so far is hugely important and commendable. You are simply not taking a few important steps to get to your goal, and this is a common pitfall that many people face. In this post, I’m going to tell you exactly what they are.
Let me reassure you: a plant based diet is the perfect way to lose weight. In this post, you’re going to learn about the scientific evidence that demonstrates how effective plant based eating is for weight loss, including sustaining that weightloss long term.
Then, you’ll learn the kind of plant based diet to follow for weightloss, because simply going vegan (or cutting out animal products) is not enough, and even eating perfectly healthy is not enough either. We are going to go way beyond, and lay out exactly what you should eat and do to lose weight on a plant based diet, and then to maintain that weightloss for life, with joy.
Why a Plant Based Diet is Perfect for Weight Loss
A plant based diet is a really great way to lose weight for several reasons. First, if you do it right, you’ll lose more weight than on any other diet. You’ll naturally eat less calories on a low fat, high carbohydrate plant based diet because the foods you will choose will be calorically dilute (I will explain more about the specific foods to focus on in the second half of this post).
In addition, a plant based diet promises sustained results: contrary to popular belief (and maybe you believe this right now), eating plant based is extremely easy to maintain long term. Once you overcome the limiting beliefs that says “I cannot stick to this long term” (which is only just a belief, not a fact), you will see that eating this way is easy, fun and totally maintainable long term. As such, plant based eating is a lifestyle, not a diet.
Lastly, and this one is my favorite: a plant based diet is so great for weight loss because it comes with some significant side effects, all of which are positive. When choosing a lifestyle to follow, weightloss is a very important consideration. However, if this lifestyle will make you sick over time, is it truly worth it? Therefore, I urge you to choose plant based eating for the amazing health benefits it will provide you with, and not just for the weightloss.
1. More weight loss compared to other diets
A plant based diet is more effective than other diets for weight loss. It’s as simple as that. The studies speak for themselves.
Scientific evidence on the effectiveness of a plant based diet compared to other diets for weightloss:
Mishra et al. (2013) recruited 291 participants from GEICO corporate offices and were randomized to either a low fat vegan diet or a control diet for 18 weeks. The vegan group lost 9.5 pounds, compared to 0.2 pounds in the control group. There were also side effects: an LDL cholesterol drop by 8 mg/dL in the vegan group, compared to almost nothing in the control group. A1C levels (a prominent diabetes marker of blood glucose over 3 months) dropped by 0.7% in the vegan group, compared to 0.1% in the control group.
Barnard et al. (2005) took 64 overweight post-menopausal women and randomly assigned them to a low fat vegan vs. low fat control (based on National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines) diet for 14 weeks without caloric restriction. The vegans lost an average of 12.8 pounds, while the control dieters lost 8.5 pounds. Both diets helped improve blood sugar levels.
2. Less calories eaten, without caloric restriction required
When you start to eat a plant based diet, you’ll naturally eat less calories, without even thinking about it. This is because whole plant foods are so rich in water, and dilute in calories, making them perfect for weightloss.
No, you do not have to count calories and measure your food intake. As long as you only eat until you’re full, plant based eating will naturally and easily lead you to weightloss!
Research about the caloric intake on a plant based diet:
In 2006, Dr. Neal Barnard and his co-authors ran a study with 99 type 2-diabetics, who were randomized to follow a low fat vegan diet or a diet based on the 2003 American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines for 22 weeks. Those on the ADA diet cut their calories by 500-1,000 per day, and the vegans ate unrestricted diets. All participants were in nutrition groups throughout the program. By the end, both groups reduced their calories by 400 (the vegans did so without being given instructions to do it). The vegan group lost 12.8 pounds, which was 134% more than the ADA group! They also decreased their A1C levels by 71% more than the ADA group.
Turner-McGrievy, G. M. et al. (2014) recruited 18 overweight and obese women with PCOS who were randomly assigned to a low fat vegan diet or a low calorie diet for six months. Women in the vegan group lost 1.8% of their body weight over the first three months, compared to 0% in the low-calorie group. The participants who had higher engagement in a Facebook support group lost more weight than the other participants. Those following the vegan diet ate 265 calories less than the low-calorie diet, without specific instruction to do so.
3. The positive side effects of plant based diet weight loss
Unlike most lifestyle changes, plant based eating only comes with positive side effects. I know that you want to lose weight so badly if you’re reading this, but a gentle reminder: if you are ill in the hospital and skinny, you won’t be the happiest version of yourself right? And the whole goal of losing weight is being happier and healthier.
So this lifestyle is perfect for you if you want to gain everything good, and lose all things unwanted.
Evidence-based information about the positive side effects of plant based diet weight loss:
Turner-McGrievy, G. M. et al. (2015) took 50 overweight adults and randomized them to follow one of five low fat, low-glycemic index diets for 6 months: vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or omnivore. All participants had weekly group meetings (aside from the omnivores) and had access to a Facebook support group. The vegan group lost an average of 7.5% of their body weight, which was more than all other groups, while the omnies lost only 3.1%.
Neacsu, M. et al. (2014) recruited 20 obese men and randomly assigned them to either a vegetarian or meat-based diet for 14 days. After 14 days, the diets were switched. Food was supplied by research staff, and diets were matched in calories and macronutrient ratios (30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs). While both groups lost similar weight, the decrease in cholesterol was significantly greater for the vegans.
Nenonen, M.T. et al. (1998) recruited 43 participants with rheumatoid arthritis, and randomly assigned them to a vegan and omnivorous diet for 2-3 months. The raw vegans lost 9% of their body weight, as compared to the control group – gaining 1% of their body weight, on average. The raw vegans also reported a decrease in symptoms of arthritis.
4. Long-term sustained weight loss on a plant based diet, maintained with ease!
Want to maintain your weightloss long term, and not just for a couple of months, and then fall off the wagon and gain it all back? Then a plant based diet is the one for you!
Check out this scientific research about long-term plant based diet weightloss results:
The CHIP program is one of the most well-published lifestyle intervention programs in the medical literature, encouraging people to eat more plant based meals. It was founded in 1988, and generated over 35 published scientific papers. It’s a community-based intervention program that uses “behavioral change principles in a group or self-guided setting, education in an entertaining style and modern adult learning tools” to help participants change their lifestyle within 10 to 12 weeks.
The results for participants who watched all program videos (without participating in the original program) were astounding: 20 point drop in blood pressure, 40 point drop in LDL, and more than a 500 point drop in triglycerides. 1 in 3 left with non-diabetic level fasting blood sugars of those who came in diabetic. The best part was that most participants were able to maintain reductions in meat, dairy and eggs, and eating about 400 less calories a day without trying, 18 months later.
How to Eat a Plant Based Diet for Weight Loss
Now that you know why this lifestyle is the perfect choice for weightloss, I want to talk to you for a moment about how to do it right.
Simply going vegan – giving up all animal products – will not be the best way to lose weight and gain health on a plant based lifestyle. In addition, even if you’re following a whole food plant based eating plan that is very strict and extremely healthy – it can still not be enough in some cases.
So here are specific things you can do, in addition to giving up animal products, to make sure you get to your ideal weight on a plant based diet:
1. Eat whole foods
Skip the processed vegan meats and cheeses, and skip “foods” that do not come in their original packaging (that means containing protein, fat, carbs and fiber). For more information on how to recognize a whole food, read this post.
2. Cut the oil
Oil is one of the biggest sources of processed foods in the vegan diet. And it is a disaster for weightloss (and for your health too). Oil is 100% fat, without fiber, protein or carbohydrates. Instead of avocado oil, eat avocados. Instead of sesame oil, eat sesame seeds or tahini. Skip the oil, and you’ll see dramatic shifts in your weightloss journey!
3. Focus on water-rich, calorically-dilute foods
When making food choices, take a look at the foods that fill up most of your plate, and focus on water-rich foods, rather than water-dilute foods. These water-rich foods will fill you up faster, but will contain less calories.
The best foods to focus on include fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, pear, berries, papayas, nectarines, plums, pineapple, and raspberries. These are great choices for a breakfast meal, and even for lunch!
For your veggies, focus on foods like cucumber, lettuce, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, , broccoli, carrots, watercress, radishes, boy choy, squash, asparagus, mushrooms, Swiss chard, cauliflower, and turnips.
You should absolutely also include starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, etc. as well as whole grains and legumes, but make sure these take up a smaller portion of your plate than the foods above.
Lastly, do include natural, unroasted whole fats like avocados, nuts and seeds (but not oils), but make sure these make up the least amount of your caloric intake and volume in your food.
4. Snack on healthy foods
Snacks are an area where many people fall off the wagon. When you snack, reach for fruits and veggies. A great way to encourage yourself to do this is by surrounding yourself with them! Use fruits as decoration in your home, and lay them out everywhere around you. When you go out for the day, always make sure to take fruits and vegetables in containers as snacks, in case you run out of food and get hungry, and do not have access to your kitchen.
5. Eat until you’re full and not more
If you’re doing everything mentioned above and still not seeing weightloss, it could be that you are overeating. Eating a whole food, plant based diet does not guarantee weightloss if you eat more than your body actually needs.
First, eat when you’re hungry. A good question to ask yourself is: “would I eat steamed, plain broccoli right now?” If the answer is yes, then you’re hungry! Go for it. If the answer is no, and you are still reaching for food, then you are doing it for one of many reasons: boredom, lack of pleasure in your life, stress, etc.
And this brings me to my second point: if you do eat past the point of fullness, or eat when you are not hungry, it means there are deeper issues to explore and recover from. If you notice yourself doing this often or regularly, then seek the support of a coach or therapist. It will be invaluable for changing your behavior around food and seeing the weightloss start to happen rapidly!
6. Eliminate limiting beliefs and shifting your mental game
Pay attention, because this one is probably the most powerful point of them all.
If you wake up every morning, and the first thing you think is “this is exhausting. I hate eating this food. I will never lose weight. It’s impossible. I want to give up” then guess what? You won’t lose weight. It’s impossible to lose weight when you firmly believe that you won’t, because y our mind dictates what your body does.
That is why these beliefs are called limiting beliefs. They limit your ability to reach your goals.
Notice this pattern and start to shift it simply by shifting the thoughts in your mind. My favorite way to do this is to listen to a recording I make for myself every morning and night. On the recording, I want you to record statements that are opposites of your limiting beliefs. You can record this in your own voice, on your phone, and listen to it first thing in the morning and before bed. Here are some examples:
“I am on my way to getting the body and health of my dreams”
“My weightloss is happening at every moment, with every food choice I make”
“I am choosing to not eat when I’m hungry”
“I can be successful at anything I decide to do”
“I can already see the weigtloss starting to happen, and it’s only going to get better and better”
“Healthy food tastes and feels freaking amazing”
You don’t have to use these specific ones. Write statements that speak to you, and that alter the specific limiting beliefs that you currently have.
7. Visualize daily
Along with the above point, visualization is guaranteed to help you get to your weightloss goals (or any other goals you may have, for that matter) so much faster!
How you do this is by simply closing your eyes, and imagining the ideal you, 6 months from now. What would she look like? Where would she be? How is her body? What is she wearing? What is she thinking? Who is by her side? What did she do to get to this amazing place that she’s at? And most importantly: what does she feel like in this moment, having reached her dream body and health?
I want you to close your eyes every day, and go back to these amazing emotions of you, in your power, in your ideal body, weight and health, every single day. Visualize and feel the emotions as strongly as you possibly can. It will change your life.
8. Get support and succeed so much faster
Studies have found that group support is an incredible factor in weightloss sucess. There is nothing like group support and accountability for getting to your goals:
Turner-McGrievy, G. M. et al. (2007) worked with 64 overweight post-menopausal women, in two cohorts. Both received nutritional support for the first 14 weeks. The first cohort didn’t receive any nutritional support after 14 weeks, while the rest continued bimonthly support group meetings for one year. All women were followed for two years. The results were that the vegan group lost 10.8 pounds after a year, compared to 4 pounds in the NCEP group. The women who received group support sessions lost more weight than those that didn’t receive the support. “Supported groups lost more weight than unsupported at one year (-5.5 kg vs. -1.4 kg; P=0.0001) and two years (-3.9 kg vs. -0.4 kg; P=0.016)”.
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