Going vegan is one of the healthiest things anyone can do for themselves.
But, like all things, there’s always a way to mess things up.
That’s the reason why you sometimes hear horror stories from people who became unhealthy after following a vegan diet.
In the same way, just because you’ve sworn off meat and the fat they contain doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight.
In fact, we’ve come across many people who gained weight after turning vegan.
So, in this installment, we’ll take a more in-depth look into how to lose weight by going vegan.
Just as importantly, we’ll explain why going vegan won’t help you lose weight automatically.
But, first things first.
Does Going Vegan Help You Lose Weight?
In a word, yes.
Going vegan is an effective way to lose weight. Many studies have shown that converting to a vegan diet helps people shed the pounds.
One example is a study by Oxford University. Here, researchers followed 40,000 participants and found that vegans had the lower body mass index (BMI) among the group. Meat eaters, on the other hand, had the highest BMIs.
One of the reasons for this is cutting out animal products means eliminating the fat that comes with them. To put things in perspective, one gram of fat contains about 9 calories. In comparison, one gram of protein or carb only has 4 calories.
So, meat and dairy, which often contain some fat, tend to help you pack on the pounds.
Also, vegan diets are higher in fruits and vegetables compared to the regular Western diet. This gives you the added benefit of consuming more fiber, which is known to help with weight loss.
But, going vegan doesn’t automatically mean you’ll lose weight. In fact, we’ve seen some people gain weight after doing so. To learn why you may not lose weight on a vegan diet, check out our list of pitfalls below.
How to Lose Weight by Going Vegan: 7 Important Tips & Reminders
1. Don’t Eat Too Much
Going vegan doesn’t give you the license to stuff yourself.
If you eat more calories than your body burns you’ll gain weight, no matter how healthy you eat.
That’s why vegan bodybuilders can still get big.
But, going vegan does give you more leeway. At least if you eat whole foods. For example, eating a lot of veggies and fruits isn’t going to make you gain a lot of weight.
The bottom line is, to lose weight on a vegan diet, you still have to watch your portion size.
You lose weight when you consume fewer calories than your body needs. The opposite happens when you eat more than what your body can burn.
To help you calculate your daily calorie goal for weight loss, check out this weight loss calculator from VeryWellFit. All you need to do is enter your gender, age, height, current weight and target weight. It will then tell you how many calories you need to consume daily to lose weight.
2. Watch Out for Calories from Drinks
Almost all beverages that aren’t dairy are vegan-friendly. This includes soda and fruit juices. Therefore, turning to a vegan (or vegetarian) diet won’t help you lose weight if you keep chugging these drinks.
In addition to the usual suspects, stores and shops now offer a whole range of drinks ranging from coconut water to all sorts of flavored coffees.
These products may look healthy on the outside. But, if you look closer, they’re often loaded with lots of sugar.
Sugar makes them taste good. And, things that do often sell very well. In fact, they sell better than things that are healthy for you.
This is why it’s important always to check the sugar and calorie content of drinks, even if they sound healthy. Many healthy smoothies, green juices and non-dairy milk products have added sugars, causing their calorie counts to go up.
3. Stop Eating Junk Food
Many vegans and vegetarians have the misconception that eating a lot of plant-based snacks or foods is okay for weight loss. So, they load up on potato chips, vegan ice cream, sweets and other snacks.
The problem is, most of these snacks, vegan as they may be, are still loaded with calories. They contain a hefty amount of sugar, little nutrition and often don’t have much fiber left in them.
As a result, you end up gaining weight.
Instead of reaching for processed foods or junk foods, try healthier snacks like fruits and raw vegetables. You can also make hummus or guacamole which are much healthier options to dips.
4. Make Sure You Eat Enough Protein
One of the first things to consider when going vegan is where your protein sources will come from.
Regular diets mostly rely on animal sources of protein. This includes chicken, fish, pork and beef.
Protein is essential for weight loss because you need it to build and maintain muscle. Muscle burns more calories at rest compared to fat. And, it also helps boost metabolism.
The recommended daily amount of protein is 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. This means that if you weigh 140 pounds, you should aim for 50 grams of protein a day.
Eat Complete Proteins
Also, try to get complete proteins when you can. These contain all the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. Or, combine non-complete proteins to get all the essential amino acids.
Here are some non-animal sources of complete protein to get you started.
- Quinoa: 1 cup = 8 grams of protein
- Buckwheat: 1 cup = 6 grams
- Tofu: ½ cup = 10 grams
- Natto: ½ cup = 15 grams
- Tempeh: ½ cup = 15 grams
- Ezekiel bread: 2 slices = 8 grams
- Quorn: ½ cup = 13 grams
- Seitan: 1/3 cup = 21 grams
- Chia seeds: 2 tablespoons = 4 grams
- Hemp seeds: 2 tablespoons = 10 grams
Or, Combine Incomplete Proteins to Get All the Essential Amino Acids
Another way of getting all essential amino acids is to combine incomplete proteins. Here are some combinations that make complete proteins.
- Rice and beans: 1 cup = 7 grams
- Peanut butter between 2 slices of bread: 2 tablespoons on PB with 2 slices of bread = 15 grams
- Nuts or Grains with Spirulina: 1 tablespoon = 4 grams
- Hummus and Pita: 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 whole wheat pita = 7 grams
5. Time Your Meals Properly
Most people eat their largest meal of the day during dinner. That’s not a good idea because you’re least active in the evening. More importantly, in a few hours, you’ll head to bed where you’ll be inactive for another 6-8 hours.
Similarly, skipping breakfast also hampers your weight loss efforts. Doing so causes you to feel hungry by lunchtime. As a result, you’ll eat more than to make up for breakfast.
For weight loss purposes, try eating your meals at the same time every day. This allows your mind and stomach to know when to expect the food to come in.
Also, eating a more substantial breakfast gives you more energy during the day. It also lessens what you eat later at night.
Ideally, try eating your largest meal in the morning and the smallest at night. This gives your body time to burn the calories since you’re more active during the day.
Also, try to finish dinner 2 hours before bedtime. Doing so allows your body to get through a good part of digestion before you turn in.
Finally, eating within 45 minutes of working out also helps feed and repair muscles.
6. Make Sure to Get Enough Nutrients
Keep in mind that animal products contain a lot of nutrients. So, when you remove them from your diet as is the case with going vegan and vegetarian, you’ll need to find alternative sources of these nutrients.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people who follow a vegan diet often lose out on the vitamins and minerals listed below.
So, to help save you some time, we’ve included a few common foods that are good sources of these nutrients.
- Calcium: kale, almonds, bok choy, fortified orange juice, collard greens, tempeh, tahini.
- Iron: green leafy vegetables, lentils, tofu, tempeh, soybeans, nuts and seeds, tomato paste. Also, load up on vitamin C to increase iron absorption from foods.
- Vitamin B12: fortified cereals, nori (seaweed), mushrooms, fortified non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast.
- Vitamin D: sunlight, tofu, fermented almond and soy milk, mushrooms.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, brussels sprouts, spirulina, hemp seeds.
7. Skip Dessert
Just like sugary drinks, junk food and processed foods, most desserts contain a lot of calories. Also, you probably favor sweet desserts over savory ones. That makes sugar another thing to watch out.
This is why as far as desserts go, the same rules apply even after going vegan: enjoy them in moderation.
If you eat 350 calories of vegan ice cream or cookies, that’s still 300 calories added to your daily diet. Your body won’t care that it’s vegan, or that it’s healthier for you.
Do this regularly, and you’ll start gaining close to one pound a week just because of desserts.
On average, we consume 19.5 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s 312 extra calories just from sugar alone.
More importantly, it’s way over the recommended limits set by the American Heart Association.
- Women should aim for 6 teaspoons of sugar a day or less, or 100 calories.
- Men should try to keep their sugar intake to less than 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories
To make it easier to check sugar amounts in food labels, just remember one teaspoon contains about 4 grams of sugar.
This means men should keep total sugar under 37 grams daily. And, women to 25 grams or less.