As interest in plant-based diets soars, many people are considering a vegan diet as a quick fix for weight loss. But can a vegan diet help you lose weight? The truth is it depends on what you eat…
Does a vegan diet lead to weight loss?
A vegan diet is frequently claimed to be a quick and easy way to lose weight.
Dropping a few pounds is therefore often a motivating factor behind eliminating animal products from the diet.
But it is a little more complicated than this. First of all, a vegan diet only describes what you are not eating i.e. animal products, and not what you actually are eating.
Someone on a vegan diet may be eating predominantly vegan sausage rolls, dairy-free ice cream, vegan cheese and crisps.
As with any diet made up of unhealthy foods, this diet is more likely to be associated with poor health and weight gain.
Secondly, it depends on what diet you were eating before moving to a vegan diet.
If you are going from a omnivorous diet high in fruit, vegetables and fish, to a vegan diet that relies more on vegan convenience foods, you are unlikely to see the desired effects.
A vegan diet does not guarantee weight loss.
Plant-based diets and weight loss
Having said this, scientific studies over the past few decades have shown us that those people eating more plant foods, and less animal products, appear to put on less weight over time1.
The key here is the term ‘plant-based’. If you are going for a diet that is focused on whole plant foods, then you will be increasing your chances of reaching a healthy body weight for you.
Another study2 found that, when looking at population groups, each with increasing amounts of animal products (from vegan to meat-eaters), the vegan population were the only group to fall into a healthy body weight relative to height (known as body mass index, or BMI).
In this study, average BMI appeared to increase with increasing animal products. This study was published in 2009 however, when there were far fewer vegan convenience foods available.
At this time, going ‘vegan’ was likely to be more closely associated with the consumption of whole plant foods.
Eating a vegan diet rich in whole foods is a great way to lose weight the healthy way.
How to lose weight on a vegan diet
So how is weight loss achieved on a vegan diet? The best way to reach a healthy body weight, as well as improving overall health, is to eat a plant-based diet.
This means choosing predominantly whole, plant foods as the mainstay of your diet. Think of a colourful array of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices.
One important concept is the ‘energy density’ of foods. Humans are surprisingly good at eating the same weight of food every day.
So, if we are going for food that is naturally less energy-dense, such a whole plant foods, we are able to fill our stomachs and feel satisfied with our energy intake remaining low.
So what makes whole plant foods lower in energy compared to animal foods and processed products?
The key here is fibre. Fibre is an indigestible substance found only in plant foods. It helps to bulk out food, increasing the volume without increasing the energy content.
Fibre not only makes us feel physically full but feeds our beneficial gut bacteria. This produces substances that help us regulate our blood sugar levels, control our hunger hormones and can even make us feel happier.
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Focus on looking after your health by eating predominantly whole plant foods, moving your body, and sleeping well.
How do you lose weight healthily
It is important not to fall into any ‘fad diet’ traps. Fad diets promote restrictive dietary patterns that promise quick weight loss within a certain period of time, and puts the importance of weight loss above all other health markers.
These diets often promote restriction of not just energy, but also vital nutrients, leaving us feeling hungry and irritable.
Feeling restricted is a sure-fire way to start the unsustainable pattern of dieting that leads to a longer-term yo-yoing weight, feelings of ‘failure’, a loss of confidence in healthy eating and a disordered relationship with food.
The best way to approach weight loss is to make small and realistic changes over time, allowing these changes to develop into new habits that will stick around long-term.
These changes should be focussed on overall nutritional health and wellbeing, and not purely on changing the number on the scales.
Once you start taking good care of your body, it will be able to take care of you, and you are more likely to reach your best weight.
Choosing to increase plant foods in your diet, focusing on an abundance of low energy-dense foods, is a great way to start.
Making small changes to your diet will help you to develop healthy habits in the long-term.
Can a raw vegan diet help with weight loss?
Some people turn to a raw vegan diet to supercharge their weight loss. Weight loss is achieved on this diet through consuming purely raw plant foods, maximising fibre, minimising energy and eliminating most of the foods that require heat and processing.
This leads to the exclusion of convenience and ultra-processed foods as well as many wholegrains and legumes.
The theory behind this diet is that foods will retain nutrients that would otherwise be destroyed with heat during cooking.
However, this theory remains unproven as there are some vitamins that are destroyed by heat, for example, vitamin C.
There are many foods with nutrients that are either increased or more easily accessible when cooked. For example, lycopene in tomatoes, zinc in mushrooms and quercetin in asparagus3.
Although a raw vegan diet may appear to maximise the benefits of whole plant foods, it is not recommended long term.
This is due to the association with underweight and loss of menstrual cycle in women4.
A varied diet of both raw and cooked plant foods is therefore considered optimal for nutritional health and wellness.
Move more and eat more plants for optimum health
It is important to remember that your weight does not determine how healthy you are.
Everyone is different and beautiful in their own right, and your natural weight may be larger or smaller than those around you.
Focus on looking after your health by eating predominantly whole plant foods, moving your body, sleeping well, minimising stress and spending time with loved ones, and the rest should follow.
If you have any concerns about your body weight or body image, it is important to work towards a plan that will support your individual needs.
Working with a plant-based registered healthcare professional is recommended to ensure you approach your health and weight loss in a safe and effective way.
You can find a plant-based health professional at plantbasedhealthprofessionals.com (UK) or plantbaseddocs.com (USA).
Are you ready to go vegan and start enjoying all the benefits of a plant-based diet?