Losing Weight on a Plant-Based Diet
When you want to focus on your health, but also lose weight, it all comes down to what you eat or don’t eat. But instead of going on a super restrictive diet where you eat mostly processed foods that don’t even fill you up, why not choose a diet that is extremely good for you, filled with vitamins, and also naturally helps you lose weight?
That is where the plant-based diet comes in.
While not meant to help with weight loss, many people do find that it is easier to lose weight while on a plant-based diet for many reasons. You eat mostly whole foods that fill you up, and you no longer eat a lot of high-calorie and high-fat foods, like red meat, milk, and cheese.
If you want to lose weight while on a plant-based diet, here are some things to keep in mind.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
What exactly is a plant-based diet? The first thing to keep in mind is that the main objective of this type of diet is not to eat less and lose weight, though that is definitely a perk if you do it the right way. A plant-based diet is also not the same thing as a vegetarian or vegan diet, though there might be some similarities.
With a plant-based diet, you are adding in more plant-based foods, meaning more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, legumes, and anything that is whole and good for you but is not an animal product.
However, unlike vegan diets, you might still occasionally have eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and fish – you will just consume far less of it. The majority of your diet is going to be plant-based. But the good news is that this also makes it a lot more flexible.
You get the best of both worlds – a much healthier diet, but also one that reduces animal consumption, which is great for your cholesterol and the environment.
What You Eat on a Plant-Based Diet
When people think about a plant-based diet, they often have visions of a boring vegan diet where their entire diet consists of salads and smoothie bowls. While these can definitely be on your list, it doesn’t even begin to cover the many delicious options available to you.
Here are just some of the many foods that are included in a balanced, plant-based diet:
Fruits and Vegetables
Naturally, the first thing you think about with a plant-based diet is your produce. Fruits and vegetables are definitely a big part of being plant-based. When you first start this lifestyle change, it is good to start with the fruits and veggies you already know you like. It makes it easier to stick to the diet and be consistent.
However, over time, try to incorporate more vegetables and fruits that you maybe haven’t tried before, or it has been a while. Making a salad? Try adding some peppery arugula or dark, leafy greens like collards or kale, instead of just your typical romaine. Have a new vegetable side dish of beets or squash, even though you typically go for green beans or broccoli.
For your morning smoothie, try new kinds of fruits that look interesting to you, such as cherries, acai, starfruit, or pomegranates.
Beans, Peas, and Legumes
The next category of plant-based foods includes beans, peas, legumes, and lentils. These foods are filling, vegan-friendly, and provide a great source of natural protein. Some legumes you might include are peanuts, lentils, and chickpeas. You might want to have beans like black beans or pinto beans, or you want to add more peas to your dishes.
Some ideas for fitting more legumes and beans into your meal rotation:
- Make meatless chili with beans and other veggies.
- Add peas, beans, peanuts, or chickpeas to your salads.
- Make a black bean burger.
- Try a bowl of lentil soup.
- Dip your veggies in hummus.
- Whole Grains
For your complex carb, whole grains are ideal. On the plant-based diet, you want to have properly balanced plates, which include fitting in some whole grains whenever possible. Whole grains include foods like:
- Brown rice
Whole grains are very easy to add to your diet, whether you use brown rice as a side dish or the base of your buddha bowl, or you have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. It is a great time to try whole grains you maybe haven’t had before, like barley or buckwheat. You might be surprised by how hearty and delicious these grains are.
Nuts and Seeds
A popular option for plant-based foods includes nuts and seeds. While peanuts are a legume, nuts like almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, and pecans are all in the nut family. They are filled with protein and healthy fats, and there are so many different ways to use them.
Here are a few ideas:
- Make a pine nut hummus with chickpeas and pine nuts on top.
- Use chopped almonds or walnuts to top your salads.
- Try almond butter to dip your apples or banana slices.
- Eat a handful of nuts with some fruit or crackers as a healthy afternoon snack.
There are also a lot of healthy seeds that are great to add to your plant-based meal rotation. Think about pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and so many other options. If you aren’t a big fan of topping your salads with them and you don’t like chia seed pudding, try just adding a handful of seeds to your smoothies. They blend right up, so you get the health benefits without noticing they’re there.
Tofu, Tempeh, Dairy-Free Milk, and Oils
Lastly, you have your healthy fats, dairy-free milk, and plant-based protein sources. Tofu and tempeh are both amazing plant-based proteins that can replace your main dish, or be used in so many fun recipes. There are a lot of dairy-free milk options, including oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, and cashew milk. Plant-based oils like avocado and olive are another great addition to a balanced diet.
The Basic Fundamentals of Weight Loss
In order to use a plant-based diet to help you lose weight, you need to understand how you are able to lose weight in the first place. The basic principles of weight loss work no matter what style of dieting you participate in. In the next section, we will go over why being plant-based can help with your weight loss efforts, but first, here are some things to know about burning fat and losing weight:
Calories In vs Calories Out
Everywhere you look, the fundamental truth of weight loss is this – you need to burn more calories than you consume. This is why calorie counting is such a popular way to lose weight. It allows you to see how many calories you are consuming so that you know how much to burn in order to be in a calorie deficit.
Why so many diets then? Each of the “diets” you come across is still helping to keep you in a calorie deficit, though they all have their “rules”. If you ask someone who is on a low-carb or Keto diet what they eat during the day, more often than not, they are still in a calorie deficit even if they don’t realize it. This is true of the majority of weight-loss diets out there.
There are also studies that show that while calories in vs calories out are still the way to lose weight, not all calories are created equal. It doesn’t state that it isn’t still all about calories, but that many people need to shift their focus to consuming more whole foods, healthy fats, and healthy, clean sources of protein, which is exactly what you are going to do with your plant-based diet.
Tracking Your Food
If you are serious about losing weight with the plant-based diet, the best option for you when you get started is to track your food. While you can still lose weight without doing this, it helps people who aren’t fully aware of how much they are consuming and have never counted calories before.
When you track your food, you are more aware of what you are putting into your body. You understand portion sizes and that 2 tablespoons of peanut butter might be much less than what you think. IT helps you to balance out your calories throughout the day evenly, and still be within a calorie deficit if that is your goal.
The good news is you may not need to track your calories forever. You may discover that you start understanding what balanced meals look like, what it takes to feel satisfied and satiated, and what normal portion sizes look like for you. When you become more aware of the food you are eating, you are able to make decisions based on that knowledge, and not just on counting calories.
Getting Regular Exercise
While most the weight loss has to do with the food you consume, exercise is still an important part of it. It is going to help you burn more fat and calories, get stronger, become active, and improve your cardiovascular health. Everyone should be getting more exercise, whether they are trying to lose weight or not.
Now is a great time to find new exercises that you actually enjoy doing. When you enjoy your workouts, you are much more inclined to continue with them. Here are some different forms of exercise you might want to try out:
- Machines like the elliptical or bicycle
- Local cycling
- Yoga or stretching
- Bodyweight exercises
- Strength training
- Resistance training
- HIIT for burning fat
There truly are so many options available to you. Figure out what you prefer doing, whether you want an outdoor exercise like hiking or running, or you prefer taking a fitness class at your local gym.
How Plant-Based Helps You Lose Weight
Now that you understand what it takes to lose weight, let’s talk about some ways a plant-based is going to help you out. Here are some of the main benefits to choosing this way of eating when it comes to burning some extra fat:
Whole Foods Help Keep You, Full
The first reason a plant-based diet can be beneficial for weight loss is that the foods you eat are going to satisfy you while keeping you fuller. Even if all calories were equal, you would feel a lot fuller at lunch having 400 calories worth of salad and whole grains, than 400 calories of processed food.
The whole, clean foods you eat when on a plant-based diet tend to be more satiating and keep you full between meals. This is going to reduce the temptation for extra snacks that often make or break your weight loss efforts.
You Eat Less Processed Foods
You are also going to eat a lot less processed and frozen foods. Believe it or not, these can affect your weight loss more than you think. First of all, they aren’t filling as we already discussed. But more than that, they are filled with preservatives, fake sugars, and tons of sodium. This can all be detrimental to your weight loss efforts.
You Cook More and Control the Ingredients
Want to know what is going in your food, while also losing weight? Plant-based diets allow you to do that! You are going to cook most of your meals at home, so you know exactly what ingredients are in your food, and when you become aware of this, you tend to want to work harder to eat well and exercise.
Plant-Based Foods Contain Less Fat and Calories
Also, consider that most high fat and high-calorie foods are animal-based. Hamburgers and steak, fried chicken, full-fat dairy, cheese, and so many other animal products contain more fat, cholesterol, and calories than fruits, veggies, grains, and complex carbohydrates. This helps you lose weight without even trying.
Focusing on Nutrients and Balance
Whether your goal is to lose weight or just get healthier, your plant-based diet still needs to have a good amount of focus on nutrition. This means balanced meals and snacks and ensuring you are getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals through your food.
Important Nutrients to Focus on
Here are some of the nutrients you may not get as easily with a plant-based diet, especially once you cut out meat, fish, and dairy:
Protein – Many people get most of their protein from animal sources like meat and poultry, so if this is you, it just takes a little more focus on getting protein from other sources. When you are on a plant-based diet, you can get protein from nuts and seeds, legumes, beans, soy, tofu, and tempeh. There are even vegetables with protein, such as spinach.
Iron – Another protein to make sure you get is iron, which you will no longer be getting from red meat. Instead, try to add plant-based foods with iron to your diets, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, chickpeas, tofu, and leafy greens.
Zinc – If you need to get a little more zinc in your diet when you start reducing animal products, you can get it easily from a balanced diet. This includes adding more whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Vitamins – There are a few different vitamins that will require you to get from plant-based sources, whereas previously you might have gotten them from meat products. This includes getting your vitamin D from tofu, mushrooms, and fortified dairy-free milk like coconut or soy milk. For your vitamin B 12, you can get it from cereal and fortified dairy-free milk as well.
Calcium – Since you are not eating as much dairy (if at all), you may also be a little low on calcium. When on your plant-based diet, get your calcium from oranges and orange juice, fortified breakfast cereal, black beans, almonds, and kale.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Lastly, you won’t be getting as much omega-3 without eating fish in your diet. Luckily, there are some great plant-based options for this nutrient, including hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
How to Put Together a Balanced Meal
It can seem a little intimidating, but as you see from our list of nutrients, most of these foods end up on your plate anyway. TO have a properly balanced meal, just try to include foods from different food groups when you can.
For example, some people just focus on having a protein, a complex carb, and a source of healthy fats. This might mean avocado toast for breakfast, where you can get both protein and carbs from your whole grain bread, and healthy fats from your avocado. Salads also allow you to get just about every food group into one meal.
Other people like to focus on making sure a fruit or vegetable is in every meal and snack, then being sure to have whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes whenever possible.
Just try to simplify it for yourself by picking one strategy, and going with it. Look up the macro-nutrients for different plant-based foods, consider what nutrients you are no longer getting, and try to add a variety of different foods (And colors) to each meal.
Additional Tips for Weight Loss with a Plant-Based Diet
Here are a few more tips for losing weight with a plant-based diet.
Focus on Balance
As long as you focus more on the quality of food you eat and balance out your meals to contain all the right nutrients, you will be on your way to being healthier, feeling better, and losing weight at the same time.
Don’t Restrict Too Much
What happens when you restrict excessively from day one, is that you start experiencing intense cravings, which can lead right back to overeating and binging. Instead, reduce your animal products slowly, and gradually get used to eating a plant-based diet.
Pay Attention to How You Feel
Finally, how you feel is much more important than how fast you lose weight. If you can pay attention and focus on how certain foods make you feel, you will have a better idea of how to make a plant-based diet work for you.