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can you lose weight on a plant-based diet?

If you’re on a weight loss journey, you may wonder if you can lose weight on a plant-based diet. Many of my nutrition clients are curious about plant-based eating in various forms and whether this is the route they should take for more sustainable results.

Going plant-based is linked to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, inflammation, and obesity. Because of this, interest in plant-based diets continues to grow.

However, it’s important to note that not all plant-based diets are created equal. Simply swapping animal products for vegetarian sources is not all there is to it. Many people switch to a plant-based lifestyle only to consume refined carbs and highly processed foods that don’t keep them full. 

If you want to learn about losing weight on a vegan diet or plant-based diet, you’re in the right place. This article will unpack the research on plant-based diets and weight loss, potential concerns, and how to do it right for the best results.

Definition of a Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based diet centers on plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. It excludes animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs. While there are various plant-based diets, such as vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian, they all have the central tenet of plant-derived foods as the foundation.

The healthiest plant-based diets minimize ultra-processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats while promoting whole, minimally processed foods. Ultra-processed foods are highly processed products specifically to be hyper-palatable and addicting. This does not include all processed foods (as nowadays, most food undergoes some level of processing). Rather, be cautious with those that contain a large amount of unhealthy fats, added sugar, and additives that can lead to negative health outcomes.

By centering meals around plants in whole food form, it is possible to follow a balanced plant-based diet. Even better, you can find one that is satisfying, promotes health, and supports weight loss.  

Research on Plant-Based Diets and Fat Loss

plant-based diets and fat loss

Several research studies show you can lose weight on a plant-based diet and those on them tend to weigh less. Let’s discuss the possible reasons for this.

First, plant foods are naturally lower in calories but high in fiber, which is satiating. 

Eating more fiber is a strong predictor of weight loss, and excluding animal products can leave room for more fiber-rich food sources like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Research highlights that fiber can keep us full by breaking down into short-chain fatty acids in the gut, which are prebiotics with appetite-reducing properties.

“Whole food, plant-based diets are effective for weight loss according to a 2020 American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine review.This method of weight loss does not rely on strict calorie-counting but instead advises filling up on nutrient-dense foods that are satiating, high in protein, water, and full of fiber to help promote a strong microbiome,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Owner of www.soundbitesnutrition.com.

Fortunately, many plant-based foods are nutrient-dense and high-volume, packing a lot of nutrition in a small number of calories. A diet emphasizing nutrient-rich foods tends to be more satisfying and energy-promoting, essential factors for long-term weight loss.

According to a 2021 study, plant-based or vegan diets may play a significant role in future strategies for managing body weight and overall cardiovascular health. The researchers concluded two key features of a plant-based diet can produce these results – lower calorie density and reduced cholesterol intake.

Another 2022 study also highlights the benefits of going plant-based for weight loss and its role in improving other health conditions and risks in those with obesity. 

Other Benefits of Going Plant-based

Plant-based diets are linked to other health benefits besides reducing calorie intake and weight loss. All of the Blue Zone areas in the world, the locations with the longest life spans, follow a mostly plant-based lifestyle.  

Here are other benefits linked to plant-based diets:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Gut Health and Digestion

So if you’re looking for a weight-loss-friendly diet that improves your overall health, you may want to consider a vegetarian lifestyle. 

However, even though going plant-based has many benefits, there are also a few important considerations to mull over before making the switch.

Negatives of a Plant-based Diet

It’s always important to look at the full picture to determine if a diet is for you and if so, how to ensure it’s well-balanced. While a plant-based diet can be very helpful, there are also a few potential drawbacks to consider:

Nutritional deficiencies

Plant-based diets are lower in certain nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, protein, and iron. While getting enough of these nutrients with the right strategy is possible, supplements may sometimes be needed.

Social challenges

While not as hard as it may have been 20 years ago, it still can be challenging to stick to a plant-based diet in certain environments such as social events, restaurants, and while traveling. Planning ahead of time and knowing the options that may be available can help ensure you have enough nutritious options wherever you’ll be. 

Pushback from family members and friends

While nobody has the right to comment on your diet, some people (while often well-intentioned) still will. There may be people who ask why you’re following a vegetarian diet, being so “restrictive,” or making comments that you can’t get enough nutrients when eating plant-based. It’s helpful to be aware of this possibility if you choose to go plant-based so you can let others’ opinions sway you if it’s working for you.

Potential for unhealthy choices

Not all plant-based diets are healthy. When transitioning to plant-based diets, it’s easy to unintentionally eat too many refined carbs, like pasta or bagels, which are technically “plant-based” but don’t provide much protein and fullness. Some people also may eat more highly processed meat alternatives, such as frozen veggie burgers, which can contain more sodium and fat than their meat-based counterparts.

Digestive concerns

Plant-based diets are naturally high in fiber, which most of us don’t get enough of. While this is good, your gut may need a moment to adjust. If you’re not used to eating a large amount of fiber, you’ll want to take it slow, gradually increasing your daily fiber intake over several weeks. 

If you have a particularly sensitive stomach (like me!), keep a food journal to see if you can determine any specific food culprits for your digestive woes like bloat, gas, or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day and with high-fiber foods can also aid in more comfortable digestion.

Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet – Doing it Right

losing weight a vegan diet

If you want to lose weight on a plant-based diet or vegan lifestyle, here is how to do it right for the best results and most sustainability.

1. Start slow 

Like any diet change you make, it’s always best to take a gradual approach rather than an overnight diet haul. Why? Because each small change will build upon each other and make it easier to stick to in the long term. 

If you’re not sure where to start, you can make a few meal swaps each week, such as a meatless Monday meal. Another idea is to replace your usual taco Tuesday meat with plant-based crumbles. I personally love Beyond Meat’s plant-based crumbles, as they have a delicious flavor, are high in protein, and are certified by the American Heart Association’s Heart Check program.

2. Determine what plant-based means to you

There are many ways to go about a plant-based lifestyle, and there is no right or wrong. Your goal may be to simply eat more plants and still sprinkle in some animal proteins. Or, maybe you want to go all in and go completely vegan. With a little trial and error, you can determine what is most sustainable for you.

3. Eat more whole foods

As I mentioned above, many plant-based diets aren’t healthy. As you transition to plant-based, focus on getting in more natural whole-food plant sources. These include beans and peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and minimally processed soy products like tofu, seitan, and edamame. If you opt for a more flexitarian-style of eating, you may choose to also include fish, seafood, and/or dairy and egg products.

4. Ensure you’re in a calorie deficit

Being in a calorie deficit (i.e., taking in fewer calories than you’re burning) is the #1 factor needed to lose weight. You can eat all the plants you want, but you won’t lose weight if you’re consuming more calories than you need. 

You can ensure you are in a deficit by tracking your calories in an app or having a professional like a dietitian review your food logs. This is the only way to confirm you are in the right calorie deficit to lose weight. 

You don’t have to track forever—you can start by doing it just for a few weeks until you better understand the amount you are typically consuming and what tweaks may need to be made. If you’re unsure what your calorie needs should be to lose weight, I help determine this in my sustainable weight loss program.

5. Prioritize protein

Prioritizing protein with every meal and snack is a smart strategy to ensure you’re getting enough. Since many plant-based foods are lower in protein per serving than animal-based choices, it’s essential to be strategic in varying your protein sources.  

Choosing more plant-based foods with a higher amount of protein per serving is also important. Some examples are tofu, tempeh, and edamame, which can help you get enough protein while staying within your calorie limit.

Make a list of at least 5-6 plant-based protein sources to keep on hand and plug them into your meal and snack planning (yes, I recommend planning and pre-portioning your snacks as well!) for the week. 

6. Keep things simple

You don’t have to make complicated meals to eat healthfully on a vegan diet (or any diet for that matter). There are plenty of plant-based meals and snacks out there that are easy, tasty, and nutritious, such as a simple stir-fry with tofu and edamame, frozen veggies, and brown rice with a light sauce.

7. Consult with a nutrition expert

If you’re making the plant-based switch and feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to go alone. Working with a nutrition expert like myself, who is well-versed in weight loss and plant-based eating, can help provide peace of mind. This can ensure you are transitioning in the best way possible and in a way that works best for you.

So as you can see, going vegan and weight loss can go hand-in-hand with the right support and methods.

Is a Plant-based Diet Better for Weight Loss?

While plant-based diets can lead to weight loss in many people, they are not necessarily superior to other reduced-calorie diets. Remember that, above all else, you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Whether you choose to go plant-based or not, you need to burn more calories than you take in. 

When it comes down to it, it’s all about determining the best method to do this. This method should help you feel satisfied, curb your hunger, and match your lifestyle.

In my sustainable weight loss program, we review your current food intake, likes and dislikes, and the best starting point based on where you are in your weight loss journey. Then, I’ll provide you with helpful lists, grocery shopping tips, and meal ideas that meet your calorie needs to lose weight. With this, you’ll always have resources at the ready, now and for the long term for permanent weight loss.

If you want support, contact me today to schedule a free, no-obligation nutrition discovery call. We’ll review your goals and struggles and determine if my nutrition program is a good fit for you!