Even though about 2% of Americans, actually, identify as vegan, the plant-based diet is present in over 53% of households (1). Millions of men and women turn to a plant-based diet to improve their health, prevent various conditions, but also to slim down. The question is – will this diet help with weight loss? This post aims to answer your question and provide useful info you need to know about this subject.
Can you lose weight with a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a specific diet, but any eating pattern that focuses on the intake of foods from plant sources. On paper, this type of diet is the winning formula for weight loss. But, does it work in practice? Current evidence says it does.
One of the latest pieces of evidence on this subject was published in September 2020. The study confirmed making a move from omnivore to a plant-based diet is associated with a reduction in weight in most participants. In other words, going plant-based often leads to greater weight loss than sticking to an omnivore eating pattern. Not just that, but a plant-based diet is associated with smaller weight gain after a five-year follow-up. This finding suggests plant-based eating patterns could aid weight management too (2).
Several mechanisms of action could play a role in the beneficial effect of a plant-based diet on weight loss, the study showed. For starters, these foods tend to be low in fat and are less energy-dense than omnivore diets. Additionally, plant sources are abundant in fiber, which may also contribute to weight loss.
Other evidence also supports these findings. One study found vegan and vegetarian diets are effective for weight loss, but also have other benefits such as lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. It appears that weight loss in persons who eat plant-based foods is not dependent on exercise and it happens at a rate of 0.45kg (1lbs) a week. Additionally, these diets may lead to more calorie burning after meals. People who eat this type of diet also consume higher levels of magnesium, iron, potassium, thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and other vitamins and minerals (3).
A study from the journal Nutrients confirmed plant-based diets can decrease body fat through multiple mechanisms of action. These mechanisms ultimately lead to increased energy expenditure and reduced calorie intake. So, what makes this eating pattern effective for losing body fat? Potential mechanisms include (4):
- Decreased caloric density of the overall diet
- Improved satiety
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved thermogenesis
One study included 78 overweight participants to test the impact of a plant-based diet on insulin resistance and body composition. The subjects were divided into two groups: plant-based (38 subjects) and control diet (37 subjects). Results showed plant-based eating patterns were superior to control diet in improving parameters such as fat mass, body weight, and insulin resistance. Reduced fat mass was linked to increased consumption of plant-based protein and reduced intake of animal protein (5).
While a growing body of evidence confirms plant-based diets can promote weight loss and benefit both body and brain, they also emphasize the importance of further research (6, 7, 8). Many mechanisms of action are still yet to be explored.
So, is weight loss a reality?
Studies say it is. As mentioned above, this eating pattern utilizes multiple mechanisms of action to promote weight loss and may even prevent you from gaining weight. For that reason, weight loss can be a reality for persons who make their diet plant-based. But, you should also bear in mind a plant-based diet is not a miracle approach, you still need to make effort.
A lot more research on these diets is necessary. It’s important to carry out studies with a large sample size and long-term follow-up. If you want to slim down, opt for a whole-food approach and try experimenting with different options and recipes.
Many people who haven’t consumed large amounts of legumes experience bloating once they switch to a plant-based diet. To avoid this problem you should start consuming legumes gradually to build a tolerance to this food group (9).
How to lose weight with a plant-based diet?
If you want to slim down, going plant-based is the best approach. Why? First of all, this eating pattern is not a fad diet that severely limits calorie intake. At the same time, it’s not low in carbs. Higher carbohydrate content makes this diet more sustainable, it’s easier for you to stick to it. Additionally, with these diets, it’s easier to reach calorie deficit and their fiber content can suppress your appetite and promote a feeling of fullness (10).
Get informed, educate yourself
Probably the most common mistake with a plant-based diet is that many people decide they want to give it a try because it seems easy. Everyone’s doing it, including celebrities. So you suddenly ditch everything animal-based and find yourself in hot waters because everything seems overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed and frustrated mistakes happen easily or it seems the best thing to do is to give up. To avoid all these problems you should start things off by getting educated about plant-based diets. Learn how they work, foods and nutritional profiles, preparation methods, and other useful things. The more you’re prepared, the more confident you’ll get.
Connect with other people on plant-based diets
The whole process seems a lot easier when you can share experiences and tips with other people. Do you know anyone who’s on a plant-based diet? If so, you can always connect with them and start this endeavor in a more relaxed way. Even if you don’t know anyone, there are tons of people online sharing their tips and experiences.
Make a slow transition
Getting the most from a plant-based diet, for some people, may require a slow start. This is particularly the case if you don’t adapt well to change. The slow transition allows you to learn about this eating pattern, and get used to the consumption of plant-based foods. You can determine where you want to start. For instance, you may want to gradually increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to eat less and less animal-based foods. Or you can determine two-three days a week are going to be plant-based primarily. Then gradually, make it four days, and so on.
Eat a lot of vegetables
Make sure half of your plate for lunch and dinner accounts for fruits and vegetables. Ideally, you should opt for vegetables of different colors to obtain a wide spectrum of nutrients and antioxidants they provide. Fill your plate with a rainbow because each color delivers different phytonutrients (13).
Eat fruits for dessert
A plant-based diet for weight loss can be particularly difficult if you’ve got a sweet tooth. And who doesn’t? But, indulging in sweets and desserts is not the right move since they are abundant in calories. As a result, they could affect your weight-loss efforts. One way to combat this problem and make a plant-based diet a success is to eat fruits for desserts. Fruits are naturally sweet, but also healthy.
Choose the right snacks
Snacking contributes to weight control (14). As much as we’d like to stop snacking, sometimes it’s difficult to say no. And we don’t have to! Not all snacks are unhealthy. Of course, eating pizza, French fries, and chips isn’t the best move. They are high in calories, simple carbs, and unhealthy fats. So it’s particularly problematic if you consume them late at night. But, celery and carrot sticks, apple slices, and other healthy snacks can be good for you. In fact, healthy snacks can increase fruit and vegetable intake and thereby fiber consumption if you make wise choices.
Other things to do
Besides the above mentioned, there are other things you can do to obtain the maximum from a plant-based diet for weight loss. For example:
- Don’t skip meals
- Opt for healthy fats such as olive oil
- Change your perception of plant-based diets, don’t consider them punishments
- Eat whole grains for breakfast
- Build a meal around the salad
- Stock your pantry with plant-based ingredients
- Practice meal prep
I’m on a plant-based diet and still not losing weight
This problem is quite common. A person decides to give a plant-based diet a try in an attempt to slim down, but pounds aren’t going anywhere. The lack of weight loss doesn’t indicate a plant-based diet is ineffective, even though it may seem that way. There are a few culprits here in the form of mistakes you’re repeating unintentionally. You may not be aware certain behaviors are not beneficial for your weight-loss efforts.
Mistake #1: Portions are too big.
Since a plant-based diet is healthy and low in calories it’s easy to think you can eat as much as you want. That’s not how it works. Just because something is healthy doesn’t mean high amounts are okay to eat, especially as you’re trying to lose weight. Large portions lead to excessive intake of calories and subsequent weight gain, particularly if you don’t burn enough calories through exercise.
Therefore, if you’re committed to a plant-based diet and not losing weight, you may want to reduce portion size. When cooking, measuring spoons and cups are practical for handling high-fat items. Another useful thing you can do is to use smaller plates.
Mistake #2: Not eating enough.
Weight-loss math is simple; the number of calories consumed should be smaller than the number of calories you burn. In other words, you need that caloric deficit. In order to achieve that deficit, many men and women choose to limit food intake severely to the point they’re not getting enough nutrients. Even though it’s recommended to watch what and how much you eat, you shouldn’t overdo it with restrictions.
So, if you eat a plant-based diet and your food intake is very low, it’s time to change that. Insufficient intake of calories and nutrients can slow down your metabolism. As a result, it’s more difficult to lose weight. Make sure to eat regularly and use healthy portion sizes in the process. Skipping meals, especially dinner, is a strong predictor of weight gain, the most recent evidence shows (15).
Mistake #3: Overdoing carbs.
Low-carb diets are quite popular. These fad diets promise miraculous weight loss in a short timeframe. Despite their positive results, low-carb diets are not sustainable and may lead to weight gain once you stop following them. If you’ve been on a low-carb diet before, it may seem refreshing to switch to a plant-based diet where you can eat carbs through healthy foods. There are tons of plant-based foods and meals abundant in carbs you can eat. Some examples include breakfast cereals, whole-grain crackers, vegan pizza, pasta with vegetables, just to name a few.
Although a plant-based diet usually delivers complex, not simple carbs, you do need to be careful. Overdoing it with carbohydrate intake can make weight loss more difficult. The body stores surplus carbs as fat (16). To avoid this problem, make sure the leading role in your meals belongs to fruits and vegetables. While you can eat carbs, don’t overdo it.
Mistake #4: Choosing less healthy options.
A common belief is that a plant-based diet is too restrictive and lacks flavors. Then, people give it a try and realize this eating pattern is incredibly versatile and delivers a rhapsody of flavors. But it’s easy to get caught up in labels and the sheer idea that plant-based automatically means healthy. A false sense of security may be behind your struggles to lose weight.
You see, just because something is labeled vegan it’s not automatically healthy. Vegan ice cream, for example, is still ice cream and may not be the best idea to eat too much. Occasional treats are okay, but overdoing it just because the “vegan” label is there may not be a good idea.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for men and women to assume there’s no need to keep track of what and how much they eat just because their eating pattern is plant-based. This can also make your weight loss complicated.
To fix this problem, you should strive to eat healthy plant-based foods. Read labels carefully and choose your foods wisely. Don’t simply assume something is low in calories or healthy even just because it carries a certain label. Additionally, make sure to be mindful of nutrients and strive to make your diet versatile. Different foods deliver different nutrients. If you limit yourself to one specific food group, you’re missing out.
In other words, versatility is crucial.
A plant-based diet is a popular choice for many, even those who aren’t vegans and vegetarians. Indeed, this eating pattern is beneficial for your body and mind. Some people go plant-based to achieve their weight goal. And it works. Studies confirm this eating pattern can promote weight loss and its maintenance. To get the most, you should strive to consume a wide range of foods, fruits, and vegetables. The more versatile your diet is, the more nutrients you’re going to obtain.