Every other day it seems someone’s going vegan. Often it’s a size two celebrity with a personal chef on the payroll and a thigh gap the size of Texas. Or that neo-hippie friend of a friend on Facebook. You know, the one who ferments their own kombucha and wears hemp underpants. Not exactly relatable.We need to know Why Going Vegan Is Your Best Way to Weight Loss
That’s the myth anyway. The reality, thank goodness, is far different. A vegan or plant-based way of eating is one that works for any budget, with no flower-power attitude required. What’s more, it’s a fantastic solution for shedding unwanted pounds and inches. All it takes is a little know-how and the desire to lose weight and keep it off—safely and deliciously—for the rest of your life. Intrigued?
First Things First Why Going Vegan Is Your Best Way to Weight Loss
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before diving into the details of plant-based weight loss, there’s a little matter of verbiage to attend to. Are “vegan” and “plant-based” the same thing? And how does “vegetarian” fit into the picture?
What’s in a Name?Why Going Vegan Is Your Best Way to Weight Loss
It helps to step back and look at eating patterns in context. Currently, most people belong in the “omnivore” category. Omnivores eat whatever—meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, you name it—without concern for what food group it falls into.
“Vegetarians” make a point of not consuming the flesh of animals, meaning they won’t eat a steak or a chicken cutlet. But vegetarians will eat products derived from animals, such as eggs and dairy foods like cheese, butter, and milk.
Another group you may have heard of are “flexitarians” (aka “semi-vegetarians”). These are people who follow a vegetarian diet most of the time but stay flexible about it. Flexitarians don’t eat meat three times a day like a lot of omnivores do, but they will partake of an occasional serving of meat now and then.
Finally, there are “vegans” and “plant-based” eaters. These terms are commonly used interchangeably which makes a lot of sense. Vegans eat a 100% animal-free diet, avoiding animal flesh as well as eggs and dairy, which is precisely what plant-based eaters do. So why the two separate terms?
The Same but Different
It has to do with intention. Vegans eat only plants because it’s part of an overall philosophy that opposes animal exploitation in all forms, whether for food, clothing, entertainment, or anything else. That’s why vegans often say, “It’s not a diet.” And why you’re unlikely to see vegans do things like visiting a zoo, take a horse-carriage ride, or wear leather shoes, silk blouses, or wool sweaters.
A plant-based diet (PBD, for short) is a neutral term that simply describes what a person eats without implying anything about their reason for doing so. Medical professionals prefer the term “plant-based” rather than “vegan” because they care about what you’re eating and not so much about what fabric your clothes are made from. Think of PBD as a way to describe a vegan diet without all the baggage associated with veganism.
For our purposes, we’ll use both “vegan” and “plant-based,” with the understanding that our focus here is diet and weight loss, not ethics.
Regardless of the label, the cool thing is that vegan diets work. Like, really work. In fact, when it comes to getting control of your weight without sacrificing your health, a plant-powered approach out-performs every other diet by a mile.
What makes a vegan diet so effective? Interestingly enough, a huge part of the PBD appeal is what it doesn’t do.
Unlike the low-carb fad diets that are getting so much attention these days—Paleo and Keto, naming two—a vegan diet doesn’t make you sick in order to get you skinny.
But I know lots of people are eating that way, you may be thinking, and they’re doing great!
Are they? If you could look inside their bodies, what you’d see wouldn’t be a pretty picture. Instead, you’d find the same internal damage that has accompanied these sorts of diets for decades.
Same as It Ever Was
Despite the massive overhype, Keto and Paleo are really nothing new. They’re simply old, discredited diets that have been tweaked and rebranded with new names. Ever hear of the South Beach diet from the early 2000s? Or the Atkins diet from decades before that? Same schlock, different day.
Here’s the problem. No matter what they’re called, what all these diets share is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein (or in the case of Keto, high-fat) approach. They designate carbs as “evil.” While they tout meat in all its forms—whether from cows, chickens, and fish or from “exotics” like bison and alligator—as a wonder food that will slim you and trim you and make all your fitness dreams come true.
The trouble is, it’s all baloney. Literally.
Low-carb diets look like they work, in the short term especially, because increasing protein to unhealthy levels forces the body into a “flushing” mode.
Every time a person eats protein, particularly from meat and dairy, blood levels of uric acid and urea—the toxic by-products of protein metabolism—go through the roof. To eliminate these toxins, the body flushes them out through the kidneys. And voila! You’ve lost water weight. But it’s really just urine — no reason to get too excited.
To be fair, it’s not all about pee. Carbs are stored in the muscle cells as glycogen, and glycogen molecules hold onto water. When you stop eating carbs, you deplete your muscles of glycogen and therefore of water too. This also results in water weight loss. But it’s at the expense of dehydrating your muscles.
The detrimental side effects of all this fluid-flushing can’t be overstated. Along with all that water your body’s getting rid of, you’re also losing essential minerals, including calcium. Medical evidence shows that high intake of animal protein leaches calcium from the bones, which leads to osteoporosis. That’s a condition where the bones in your body become weak and brittle. In addition, all that calcium and other leached minerals tend to end up in your kidneys, where they can form painful kidney stones.
Carb Cutters Meet the Grim Reaper
But that’s not the worst part. Can someone “succeed” in losing significant weight on a high-protein, animal-based diet? Yes, but the price they pay may be their untimely death.
A new study of almost 25,000 American adults found that people with the lowest carb intake had a 51% increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease and a 35% increased risk of dying from cancer, compared to those who ate the most carbs. Whoa! If numbers like that don’t show what how important carbohydrates are, what does?
It’s not a just one study either. In fact, what makes this US finding so significant is how perfectly it aligns with other data. An earlier monumental study of more than 440,000 people around the globe garnered the exact same results. Carb eaters were shown to live longer lives than carb reducers. So don’t let anyone convince you that carbs are the enemy. The data just doesn’t bear it out.
Luckily, you don’t have to choose between a shorter life and a slimmer body. There’s one eating plan that promotes both health and weight loss. It’s affordable, easy, and it all revolves around the most abundant food group in the world: plants.
From a health perspective, plants are a wonder food. Now we’re not talking about a certain root vegetable that’s often thinly sliced, fried in oil, and sold in a bag. Or plants that have been processed and refined beyond all recognition. (We’re looking at you, white bread).
Though we might wish it were otherwise, plants best work their magic when they’re consumed “whole,” meaning in or close to their natural state. When this happens—when plants are allowed to be the star of every meal and not merely a sidekick— amazing changes result. In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that, for optimum health and weight loss, nothing is more effective than a whole-food, plant-based diet.
The evidence for this, despite the meat and dairy industries’ constant propaganda, is overwhelming. Here is just a sampling of what a plant-powered diet has been proven to achieve:
Even if health is not your bag and your only concern is looking smoking hot in a swimsuit, plants are still your best solution.
The Skinny on Plants
Numbers don’t lie. Plant-based eaters have, by far, the lowest rate of obesity (just 1.9% in men and 1.8% in women) compared to any other group. These figures are even more impressive when compared to the rest of the population. According to the latest statistics from the CDC, a whopping 39.8% or about 93.3 million of US adults are obese. And those numbers are projected to increase 5% every year.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Study after study bears out the connection between plant-based diets and weight loss. Recently, a randomized control trial, which is the gold standard of scientific evidence, allocated overweight and obese adults to five different diets, from omnivore (eating the most animal foods) to vegan (eating no animal foods). The result? According to the authors, only the “vegan diets were associated with significantly higher levels of weight loss by the end of the study.”
You don’t have to have a PhD to understand that plants possess the power to make our bodies lean and healthy. The only question is how to harness that power: How does one start and stick to a plant-based diet? The answer is easier than you think.
But What Will I Eat?
If you’re accustomed to the Standard American Diet (aptly known as SAD), the prospect of going vegan is likely to induce fear. Troubling questions may plague your mind. Questions such as: Can I actually do this? Will I starve? And even the dreaded: Do I have to start liking green smoothies?
The answer is yes, no, and only if you want to.
It All Adds Up
Contrary to popular belief, a vegan diet is less about the handful of nasty foods you’re removing from your diet and more about the oodles of fantastic foods you’re adding.
Mindset is really important here. Think “restriction”, and you’ll feel restricted. Think “expansion”, and you’ll feel like every meal is a journey of excitement and discovery.
This is not to say change isn’t scary. It is.
Almost any change causes at least a little bit of stress, and drastic changes can trigger huge anxieties. But you are the lead explorer on this journey. You are in control of how much, and how quickly, you want the transition to plant-based eating to go. The pace you take needs to match the person you are.
Some of us are daredevils. We dive into the deep end and never look back. If this is your personality and you’re already an adventurous eater, go for it! Head to a well-stocked grocery store and fill your basket with as many unfamiliar vegetables, fruits, grains, mock meats, and other plant-based provisions you can find. Then buy a few top-rated vegan cookbooks (or get them from the library) and have at it!
On the other hand, if you’re a basic meat-and-potatoes person whose taste buds are pretty much in a state of virgin purity, you’ll want to take things slow. No forays into the deep end for you, at least not without your water wings. And for newbie vegans, that means learning the art of the swap.
In the plant-based world, “swap” means substituting a non-vegan food item with its vegan equivalent. Essentially, these swaps are your water wings. They support you while you’re learning a new skill, which in this case is converting to a PBD.
In ages past, swaps (like water wings) didn’t exist. A fledgling vegan would have to go from bacon to bean curd in one fell swoop. Not surprisingly, many didn’t make it.
Fortunately these days, there’s a vegan equivalent for just about any animal-based food out there. Condiments are a great place to start because they’re easy and unthreatening. Most condiments like ketchup, mustard, sriracha, and salsa are already vegan anyway. And for the ones that aren’t, like mayonnaise and salad dressing, vegan alternatives are readily available.
Ready for Something New
Here’s how to start. The next time you run out of mayo, simply purchase a vegan version instead of your old standby. It will probably taste similar, if not better. There’s no need to go to a specialty store to get it either. Mainstream brands, like Hellman’s, now make a vegan option, and Hampton Creek’s scrumptious Just Mayo is on the shelf in every Walmart nationwide.
Other easy-peasy swaps include veggie burgers for beef burgers, vegan cheese for dairy cheese, and plant milk for cow’s milk. In fact, there are so many choices when it comes to nondairy milk; you can have fun trying them all and seeing which you like best. Soy or almond? Rice or cashew? Oat or pea or flax?
For die-hard carnivores, meat-oriented swaps abound thanks to brands like Gardein, LightLife, Field Roast, Yves, Tofurky, and many others. These companies offer vegan versions of chicken tenders, frankfurters, meatballs, bacon, cold cuts, and even fish filets and crab cakes! And they’re conveniently found in the freezer and produce sections of almost every supermarket. (Be sure to shop around though, as prices tend to vary widely).
Now, are these swaps the über-healthy whole foods that will promote the quickest weight loss? No. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Any more than water wings are bad. Of course, you don’t want to get stuck wearing water wings forever, and neither do you want to rely on packaged, processed vegan foods for the rest of your life. But both serve a purpose, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of them when it’s useful.
There’s no reason to feel guilty eating them either.
While they’re not the superstars of plant-based cuisine, all these vegan swaps are almost certainly much healthier than the animal-derived foods they’re based on. Because they’re made from plants rather than animals, processed vegan foods will tend to have much less fat and cholesterol (which you don’t want) and much more fiber (which you do want). Plus they’ll have fewer calories than their meat counterparts. Pretty sweet, huh?
A Tale of Three Nuggets
For a case in point, let’s look at one of America’s favorite foods: the chicken nugget. Just four Tyson Chicken Nuggets gives you with a walloping 270 calories, 17 grams fat (4 saturated), 40 mg cholesterol, 0 fiber, and 14 grams protein. Can anyone say, Ugh?
McDonald’s chicken nuggets are only slightly better, with 180 calories, 11 grams fat (2 saturated), 30 mg cholesterol, a measly 1 gram of fiber, and 10 grams protein per four-piece serving.
But how about the vegan swap? An equivalent amount of Boca Chik’n Veggie Nuggets contains just 160 calories, 5 grams of fat (0 saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber, and 14 grams protein. In every case, you’re getting less of the bad stuff and the same or more of the good stuff. It’s win-win all around.
Making vegan swaps for your favorite omnivore foods keeps you from feeling deprived and gets your taste buds transitioning to more plant-centric fare. And because the faux meats are lower in fat and calories, you’re likely to see weight loss with this simple step alone.
That last bit is worth repeating. Even if all you do is substitute vegan versions for the foods you’re already eating, your calorie intake will drop and so will your weight. Of course, if you’re consuming boatloads of processed foods, this won’t be enough to make you a skinny Minnie, but it’s a helluva result with minimal effort.
The Next Steps
Since processed chow, whether plant- or animal-based, is nobody’s idea of healthy eating, at some point you’re going to need to expand into whole foods. Again, take your time. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all clothing, and there’s no single “right” way to transition to a vegan diet. You do you.
Start Where You Are
Who “you” are will provide you with helpful clues. Start with what you know and like. If the one green vegetable you enjoy is peas, then find as many ways to eat peas as possible. There’s pea soup, as everyone knows. But what about pea-and-potato curry? And did you know there’s a super-tasty spread whose main ingredient is puréed peas?
Or let’s say you hate anything green, but you’ll tolerate carrots. Start including them more often with your meals and vary the way they’re prepared. Whole roasted carrots, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, are elegant and delicious. Carrots with ginger make a yummy side dish. And for main courses, there’s “pulled carrot” barbecue and even savory carrot “hot dogs” that some vegans swear by.
The trick is to pick what you already like, plant-wise, and expand upon it. In terms of mindset, focus on eating more, not less. That’s how weight loss on a plant-based diet works. When you fill yourself up on a garden of goodness (in the form of vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits), you have less room on your plate and in your belly for the foods that lead to weight gain.
Easing Out of Your Comfort Zone
Once you’ve fully explored the foods you already know and enjoy, you’re ready to venture into more exotic territory. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with vegan-friendly restaurants or delis, eating out can be super helpful at this stage. Have your server explain dishes in detail, so you’ll understand what they’re supposed to taste like, and then order something you’ve never tried before. This way you’ll develop your palate and be inspired to go beyond your old, familiar choices.
Grocery stores can be helpful too. Many “fancier” supermarkets, such as Whole Foods, have extensive vegan-friendly hot bars and counters with an array of prepared foods you can sample before you buy. When you find a dish you like, try to recreate it in your kitchen. In time you’ll have a batch of go-to vegan recipes you can whip up to satisfy whatever you’re craving.
For a sneak peek into what a healthy, weight-reducing plant-based diet looks like, here’s a sample of dishes that are easy to prepare, delicious, and appropriate for those considering making the leap to vegan eating:
Strength in Numbers
Your plant-based journey is yours. But it doesn’t mean you have to experience it by yourself. If you have friends, who are already vegan, lucky you! Use them. They’re probably falling all over themselves to advise and encourage you.
Don’t know any vegans? That’s okay too. You’re not doomed to struggle all alone. There are scores of online support groups for plant-based eaters ready to answer your questions, and probably local groups too. Unless you live hundreds of miles from any city, it’s a safe bet that there’s a vegan organization in your area. Such groups hold regular gatherings like vegan potlucks and other fun get-togethers. (You haven’t lived until you’ve been to a vegan game night). Groups like this are open to everyone, and they’re a wonderful resource for vegan newbies and pros alike.
No Need to Overdo It
Of course, it’s a balancing act. In your excitement, it’s easy to try to do everything at once. The next thing you know your Pinterest board is overflowing with vegan recipes, your bookshelf is sagging with The China Study and Veganomicon, and your movie queue is backed up with Forks Over Knives, What the Health, and Earthlings.
You don’t want to access so much information that it overwhelms you. Or hear from so many different points of use that it makes you question what you’re doing. Trust your own body and how it reacts to the changes you’re making. Many people, when they first go vegan, report feeling lighter, fresher, and mentally clearer. If this turns out to be your experience, be happy for yourself! If not, don’t be discouraged. Everybody—and every body—is different.
No matter how they started, though, the majority of plant-based eaters agree on one thing: They wish they’d gone vegan sooner. Whether your path is direct or indirect, whether your pace is speedy or slow, never forget that a plant-based diet is, without a doubt, the best way to lose and control your weight.
Ready to give it a go? If so, you are about to bestow an amazing gift to yourself, your health, and your overall well-being. Enjoy!