Isn’t it exciting to read those stories of people who go vegan and immediately drop 50lbs (22kg), get off their medications, and have dramatic life and health improvements? But what about when that doesn’t happen?
Listen closer, read between the lines, and you will hear the stories of those who don’t lose weight when adopting a vegan diet, and some who even gain weight! Sometimes in private conversations, so as not to bring down “the movement”, they whisper their shared frustrations “Why did magic vegan weight loss not happen for me?”
Well, you can lose weight and achieve your health goals on a vegan diet, but it isn’t magic. The same basic weight loss parameters work for vegans and non-vegans. Ten years ago I lost 70 lbs (32 kg) for the last time. Since that time I have counseled hundreds of clients to better health and a lower permanent weight. Not all of those people have been vegetarians or vegans. The same weight loss principles apply to all. Being vegan can make weight loss much easier but only if you pay attention to the following points:
1. Calories Matter
No one ever wants to hear it, but the bottom line for weight loss is calories in versus calories out. Yes, there are other factors, and no, not all calories are created equal. But ignoring your calorie intake and output when trying to lose weight is like trying to cross a desert without a map or guide. You might get across or you might get hopelessly and forever lost. Having the right tools can make all the difference.
There are several places online where you can set up a free account to track the calories in everything you eat. Fitday and Sparkpeople are two of my favorites. On Sparkpeople, you can even input your own recipes to calculate how many calories each serving contains. Tracking your intake in this way is probably the easiest and most important step you can take. When you see in black and white that you are eating let’s say an average of 2000 calories per day, you can make the conscious effort to cut just 200-300 calories each day and your weight will begin to come down. Two hundred calories is a small amount to cut and won’t cause you to be hungry, but if done consistently, will lead to a loss of 10-20lbs (4-9 kg) in one year without changing anything else!
Don’t over-think this one point! It is SO important: A modest calorie cut is much more effective for reaching and staying at your goal weight than large caloric deficit that will make you feel hungry, grumpy and deprived.
2. The Magic Plant Wand vs. Vegan Junk
When we read the dramatic weight loss stories, I believe they are most likely written by people who transitioned from a junk food standard meat-eating diet to a whole-foods, plant-centered vegan diet. It’s the plants here that make all the difference.
If there is a magic weight loss wand, plants are it. Plants with their low-calorie count, high nutrient level, and major fiber punch, allow us to eat to complete satiety, nourish every cell in our bodies, and fill us up with fiber and water rather than calories and fat. Yet, how many plants are you really eating? I read lots and lots of fun vegan blogs where I see an endless parade of vegan cupcakes, vegan cookies, fake cheeses, fake meats, vegan baked goods and creamy nut-based pasta sauces. Totally delicious stuff, but if these items are eaten as staples rather than once in awhile treats, one’s weight and health might not be much improved on the vegan diet!
I like Dr. Furhman‘s tip to eat your salad first. Fill up on a big salad or a veggie-filled soup before you turn your tummy to the more processed stuff. Another way to look at it is to make sure that at every meal, half of your plate is covered by vegetables.
3. Watch the sugars
In my years of nutrition coaching, and in my own personal experience, a daily sugar habit, or even a sugar addiction, can be the ruin of the healthiest of diets. Sugar is very calorie dense and causes your body to release insulin and store fat. If insulin is circulating in your bloodstream, human growth hormone, the hormone responsible for muscle growth, and glucagon, the hormone that releases fat for burning, can’t come out to do their jobs. Bad news for weight loss and muscle building!
Sugar is addictive too and is super easy to over-eat. I don’t just mean regular sugar here either: all syrups such as maple, agave, silan, brown sugar syrup and powdered sweeteners such as date sugar, fructose and artificial sweeteners, cause pretty much the same physiological response in your body. If you can do moderation with sweets then go ahead. But if you can’t, kick them all to the curb. If you need help, email me for free tips.
4. Emotional and Boredom Eating
Learning to eat when hungry and not to fill emotional needs, is key to gaining control of an overweight condition. If you had an emotional eating habit before you went vegan, it isn’t going to magically disappear when you stop eating animal products. I know people who binge on carrots!
The first step to gaining mastery over emotional or boredom eating, is to stop multitasking your meals. No more eating while driving, while watching tv, while reading or surfing the internet. Just sit and eat and pay attention. If that sounds dreary to you, it is important to ask yourself why. Eating is supposed to be pleasurable. Why do you not want to give it the attention it deserves?
If you can teach yourself to be aware and mindful when you are eating, then those numbed-out emotional eating episodes will become a thing of the past.
5. What are you truly hungry for?
There is the food you eat and there is the Life that truly feeds you. When you are not living your life in the way you want, food often becomes overly important. Think about a time when you were in love or working at your dream job – you probably forgot to eat! Now think of a time when you have felt frustrated in a relationship, or over-stressed at work – did food become solace, distraction, and the only thing you had to look forward to?
In order to find balance, take a good look at all streams of your life, from relationships, to career, to financial security, intellectual and creative satisfaction, friendships, volunteering or charitable activities, physical exercise and spiritual practice. Where are you unfulfilled? What steps could you take to improve areas of your life so that you are “fed” properly and fully before you even come to the table?