It sounds like a slam dunk: go vegan, lose weight. After all, vegans don’t eat anything except fruits and vegetables, right?
Vegan weight loss isn’t magic. You can’t lose weight simply by cutting out animal products, or by swapping out vegan products for similar animal based ones. And we vegans have to be especially careful with what we do eat to make sure we get the right nutrition.
A plant based diet for weight loss has to do double duty. It has to nourish while promoting calorie deficit. You can absolutely lose weight on a diet of plant based foods, but you have to do it right.
Don’t all Vegans Lose Weight?
Although eating plant based, high fiber foods that are rich in nutrients will make you healthier, and you may lose weight, there’s a lot more to weight loss than that.
As more and more people adopt a vegan diet, the market for prepared vegan foods grows and grows. Unfortunately, not all plant foods are equal. There’s a lot of vegan junk food out there, which means a lot of ways to gain weight even while eating only plant based foods.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, check out the labels of your favorite processed plant based foods. You’ll probably notice that many highly processed vegan products contain shocking amounts of calories, sodium, fat, and sugar.
The takeaway is this: just because something fits into a vegan diet is no guarantee that it’s good for you.
Now, a whole foods plant based diet is another story. (1)
A whole foods plant based diet excludes animal products, but it also excludes highly processed foods. A whole foods plant based diet emphasizes fresh, minimally processed vegan foods such as:
- Whole grains (2)
And if you’re used to eating a lot of highly processed foods, then a switch to whole, nutrient dense foods can lead to weight loss, and, more importantly, to better health.
Finally, although there’s more to weight loss than calories in / calories out, the fact is, it’s pretty much impossible to lose weight if you’re eating more calories than you’re burning off. Even for people on plant based diets.
How to Lose Weight on a Vegan Diet: Top Tips!
Are you interested in losing weight on a plant based diet? Here are a few tips to get you started.
Work out Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
To create a calorie deficit, where your caloric intake is lower than what your body is using, you’ll need two numbers.
The first number is your BMR, or Basal Metablolic Rate. (3)
The Basal Metabolic Rate, also called the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) is the number of calories your body uses in a twenty-four hour period simply by being alive.
An online BMR calculator can give you a quick estimate of how many calories your body uses per day at rest. (4)
Multiply BMR by activity level to get your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)
If you exercise regularly, you should also factor in the number of calories you burn off with exercise. (An online calculator can help you with that). Add your exercise calories to your BMR number to get your TDEE, that is, your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. (5)
If that sounds like a lot of work, you can also multiply your BMR by your general activity level to get your TDEE. Read more about that here. (6)
Maintain Caloric Deficit by Consuming 90% of Your TDEE
“Caloric deficit” means that your calorie intake is less than the number of calories your body uses. A deficit of 3,500 calories is equal to one pound of fat.
This doesn’t mean that starving yourself will make you lose weight faster. In fact, if you restrict your calorie intake too much, your body will slow its metabolism in response, making it even harder to lose weight.
Extreme calorie restriction can harm your body in other ways, too. (7)
A safe weight loss rate is one to two pounds per week.
Once you have calculated your TDEE, that is, the number of calories your body burns, including through exercise, eat 90 percent of those calories. That will leave you with a calorie deficit that will not only show results, but will also be sustainable and safe.
For example, if your total daily energy expenditure is 2,000 calories per day, limit yourself to 1,800.
Keep Track of Your Nutrients
All calories are not created equal.
A balanced vegan diet needs a balance of macronutrients, or “macros,” that is, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. (8)
Protein is necessary for muscle building. Your body needs carbohydrates for energy. And fat is necessary for building tissue, creating endorphins, and telling your body that you’ve had enough to eat.
For people exercising for an hour or less daily, experts recommend a balance of:
- 30 percent protein
- 30 percent fat
- 40 percent carbohydrates
For people who exercise more than an hour a day, a better balance would be:
- 30 percent protein
- 25 percent fat
- 45 percent carbohydrates
It goes without saying that quality matters. Whole grains provide not only carbohydrates, but fiber and other essential nutrients. And trans fats and saturated fats are not as good for your health as unsaturated fats.
So keep quality in mind when putting together your vegan diet.
Up Your Water Intake
Staying hydrated is important for general health. It can help to prevent UTIs, kidney stones, and other problems. Water is also an important part of healthy weight loss. (9)
Thirst signals can sometimes feel like hunger. So if your thirst is satisfied, you might not eat unnecessary calories, mistaking thirst for hunger. Also, there’s some evidence that staying hydrated increases your metabolism.
And in one study, subjects who drank enough water ate less fat, salt, and cholesterol. (10)
So, how much water should you drink?
Experts recommend eight eight-ounce glasses, that is, 64 ounces or 1.8 liters, per day. (11)
If that sounds like a lot, you can also pack extra water into your diet by eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
Don’t Drink Calories
The average sugary soda has 140 calories per can. A regular bottle of beer has about the same.
25 x 140 = 3,500.
There. You don’t even have to do the math.
Eat More Fiber
Increasing your fiber intake, like increasing your water intake, is key to a plant based diet for weight loss. And vegan and vegetarian diets have plenty of opportunity for increasing your fiber intake.
Fiber not only keeps the digestive system healthy, but can also contribute to weight loss by expanding in the stomach and creating a feeling of fullness.
Vegan diets are great for increasing fiber. Eat more plant foods like these to really pack in the fiber:
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables
And so forth.
Avoid Too Many Refined Carbs
We all love refined foods. They’re engineered to taste great! Unfortunately, they’re not that great for the body, and they can make it harder to lose weight, too.
“Refining” grains means stripping out the parts that are difficult to digest. This means less fiber and fewer essential nutrients. It can also remove quite a bit of a food’s original taste.
So how do makers of processed foods add flavor back into refined foods? Often, it’s by adding sugar, salt, and fat.
All of this makes refined carbs bad news for weight loss.
Cut Back on Oil
Of the three macronutrients, fat, carbohydrate, and protein, fat contains the most calories per gram.
We all need fat in our diet, even people following vegan diets. But one easy way to give weight loss a boost is to cut excess fat.
Try a few of these tricks:
- Grill, bake, poach or steam food instead of frying or roasting
- If you do fry, avoid deep frying, and measure out the oil with a tablespoon
- Use spray oil instead of liquid oil
- In baking, substitute pureed apples, bananas, or pears for oil. (14)
- Use lemon juice on salads instead of oil-based dressing
Again, we all need fat in our diet, but we can all probably also find places to cut back.
Eat More in the Morning, Less in the Evening
When you eat can be almost as important as what you eat.
One study published in Obesity: A Research Journal, divided subjects into two groups. Each group ate a reduced calorie diet, but they divided the calories up differently between meals. (15)
The first group ate 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at dinner. The second group ate 200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch, and 700 at dinner.
Interestingly, even though the two groups were eating the same number of calories, the first group, which ate half of their calories at breakfast, lost two and a half times more weight than the group that ate most of its calories at dinner!
If you want to kick start your weight loss, try eating more in the morning and less in the evening.
Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting, that is, choosing a “window” of time every day during which all eating occurs, has shown some promise for weight loss and weight maintenance, as well as for management or prevention of a range of health conditions. (16)
Some popular intermittent fasting types include:
- 16: 8 (eight hour eating window, 16 hours fasting)
- 5: 2 (five days of normal eating, two days restricted to 25 percent of normal calorie intake)
- Alternate day fasting
- Eat Stop Eat (one or two non-consecutive fast days per week)
- The Warrior Diet (fast 20 hours, unrestricted eating for four hours, every day)
Intermittent fasting could be another way to jump start your diet.
How many times have you heard it? Slow down! Enjoy your food!
It’s not just about enjoyment. It takes around 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it’s full. You can use those 20 minutes to thoroughly enjoy your food in a leisurely manner, or to shovel down more calories than your body needs. It’s your choice.
Keep a Food Journal
It’s easy to eat more than you need to by casually snacking: a few potato chips here, a sliver of cake there. If you’re not paying attention to your food, you can eat a lot more than you intend to, or even realize.
Journaling your food can help you to keep track of what you’re eating and how much.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to carry around a pen, paper, and a calculator. There are loads of apps that can do the math for you. A lot of them can help you to track your macros, too. (17)
There’s no way around it: exercise burns calories. It’s necessary for significant weight loss, as well as for weight maintenance. If you want to lose weight, you’re going to have to get off the couch.
The good news is, you don’t have to run a marathon or spend every day at the gym if you don’t want to. In fact, the best exercise is one that you enjoy. And for weight loss, there are a lot of different types of exercise that can help. (18)
We’re big fans of walking. It’s natural, it’s easy on the joints, you can go as fast or as slow as you like, and you can do it with friends, too.
How Much Weight Can you Expect to Lose by Going Plant-Based?
There’s no ready answer for that question.
If you swap out vegan products for animal based foods, but still eat the same number of calories, you’re not going to lose weight, especially if you’re eating a lot of highly processed foods.
Switching to a whole food plant based diet from a diet high in processed foods may help with weight loss, but again, it’s important to watch your calories.
Exercise will boost your weight loss efforts, as well as your general health.
For healthy weight loss, aim for a loss of one to two pounds per week. More than that isn’t healthy, and may actually set your weight loss efforts back.
How Long Will it Take to Lose Weight on a Vegan Diet?
Again, this depends on the individual. Some individuals lose weight more quickly than others, and there are additional factors at work, too, including:
- Your calorie deficit
- What time of day you eat your largest meal
- Your body type and metabolism
- How much weight you’re trying to lose
- Age and gender
But one thing is for sure: a whole foods plant based diet will give your overall health a boost, whether you lose weight or not.
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About The Author:
Jess Faraday is a vegetarian from a family of vegetarians. A recent vegan, she wants to spread the word about the benefits of plant-based eating for health, for animals, and for the planet.
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- Better Homes and Gardens | Oil Substitutes for Baking | https://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/oil-substitute/
- Jakubowicz, D. et ali | High Caloric Intake at Breakfast vs. Dinner Differentially Influences Weight Loss of Overweight and Obese Women | https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.20460
- Healthline | How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-and-weight-loss
- Healthline | The 10 Best Nutrition Apps | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-iphone-android-apps
- Healthline | The 8 Best Exercises for Weight Loss | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-exercise-for-weight-loss