First of all, lets define what IS losing weight before tackling on why does a vegan diet work. I can explain now 3 ways of losing weight which I consider to be important for this particular case: Caloric reduction, increased physical activity and quality food intake.
When you ingest fewer calories than you need on a daily basis, your metabolism will be in caloric deficiency, which, in time, results in weight loss, since the body needs to use its energy reserves to be able to support the caloric requirements. This is done by lowering your food consumption, on the basis that simple math and energy expenditure vs. intake will do the job. It will, but there is a catch.
When the metabolism faces caloric deprivation, it turns on a “fasting mode” mechanism, which stores as much fat as possible, using muscle as a main energy source. This is the reason why when you go “on a diet” and eat only vegetables and starve yourself to death, you actually see a result in the scale.
The problem is that this weight reduction is tricky. Yes, you can see that you are losing weight, but generally the weight loss is from muscle, not fat. Also, since you are staying hungry and neglecting to eat, you will have an internal battle between your body and your mind. How long can you last? Is this really the healthiest option?
This is the reason why most people who “go on a diet” end up throwing the towel after a short period, and gain all the weight back. Again, since you are on starvation mode, the moment you say enough and start eating the amounts you were used to, your body starts to store as much energy as possible, just in case you want to do the same thing to it again. How does the body store energy you may ask? Fat.
Increased physical activity:
So, you won’t sacrifice what you eat. This means no caloric intake reduction, so the other logic option is to increase your daily caloric requirement, so that you can burn more energy than you consume.
You start working out. 5 days a week, 2 hour sessions in the gym. What happens next? You realize that, even though you feel really good and you have more energy, you are not losing weight or the weight reduction is going too slow. You feel too hungry after working out, so you start eating more protein (as your personal trainer advices you) to burn more fat.
Some days you feel tired and without energy, so you skip the gym. Since you are not seeing so many results, you start doubting that this is working. After a while you realize that hitting the gym 5 times a week is really complicated. So, you start training less. But you are still hungry all the time, you are now eating more than you were before starting to work out. What’s going on?
The compensatory response that your metabolism is having to the physical activity is not what you thought it would be. The body tries to adjust, so it starts building muscle and, since you are still eating what you have always eaten (which got you to where you are in the first place) you are not losing weight as fast as you would like to. I am sorry to inform you that 75% of the weight reduction is based on nutrition.
Quality food intake:
Not cutting calories, but changing the quality of the calories. By understanding how to improve the distribution of the macronutrients instead of reducing the caloric intake itself, you can achieve a steady and long-term weight reduction. Reducing the amount of fat and saturated fat to the minimum, avoiding empty calories such as simple carbohydrates and sweets and maintaining a steady complex carbs intake during the day, while keeping a healthy protein intake will ensure that your metabolism works properly, while losing weight mainly from fat.
This takes us to our next point, the vegan diet for weight loss and the benefits of a vegan diet for weight loss, since this is the principle the vegan diet is based on.
Why does a vegan diet works for weight loss?
The vegan diet relates to the last of the three points explained, because it eliminates almost all the sources of saturated fat (which is mainly from animal protein) and reduces the total fat intake. Most of the diet regimes fail to work properly because they use way too much animal protein, which, as stated before, comes packed with animal fat.
They also tend to be low-carb diets, missing out on most fruits and vegetables. This causes the vitamin and minerals intake to be deficient, making it unsustainable for the metabolism to focus on losing weight. These vitamins and minerals are used in hormonal regulating processes, mostly related to weight loss, energy and appetite control.
A vegan diet brings a lot of complex carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats and vegetable protein, which tend to suffice most people’s hunger or over-eating urges.
Benefits of a Vegan Diet:
Besides weight loss, following a vegan diet comes with many other benefits. By reducing the meat intake, you reduce the chronic inflammation caused by both saturated fat and animal protein, which helps to reduce the likelihood of some types of cancer and also provides the user with more energy.
By increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole-wheat cereals, you increase your fiber intake. This helps maintain a steady insulin production and avoids gastrointestinal problems such as chronic constipation, colon cancer & gut bacteria growth problems.
By reducing the amount of fat ingested, biochemical markers improve greatly, mainly cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammation markers. It also reduces the blood pressure and heart disease related problems.
Additionally, these are some of the individual health benefits of following a proper vegan diet for weight loss: Avoiding chronic non-transmissible diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes (type II), heart disease, stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, macular degeneration, cataracts, cancer, erectile dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, depression, dementia, gallstones, gout, metabolic disease, among others.
Useful tips to ensure a weight loss
Ensure a proper caloric intake
It’s not only about eliminating all animal protein sources from your diet. Once you do that, you need to replace the calories you just removed with healthier, leaner and safer sources of energy. By knowing how many calories you should be consuming every day, you can structure your vegan meals and reach your caloric requirements.
Ensure a good Macronutrient distribution
This goes hand in hand with the last point. Once you can have a proper total caloric intake, you need to be mindful of the types of calories you are consuming, having a proper protein, carbohydrates and fat distribution. Only by doing this you will be able to achieve a steady, long-term healthy weight loss.
Avoid sources of fat and oil
Now that you are vegan, it doesn’t mean you can binge on all the vegetable fat options. We only need 7 – 10% of all our calories to be provided from fat sources to function properly, so try to avoid most sources of fat and oil. Yes, even olive oil.
Manage your portions
Another one of the issues that arise in the vegan diet is that the volume of the meals is way bigger. This means that you need to manage your portions differently in order to avoid being overstuffed. If you were having 2 meals a day, try to switch to 5 meals a day, distributing your calories evenly. This way, you will be able to remain satisfied for the whole day, while having a healthy insulin production and energy distribution.
Invest time, money and energy in elaborating varied healthy vegan recipes for weight loss
The vegan diet is way cheaper than the regular western diet, since the animal protein sources are always more expensive than greens, vegetables, legumes, tubers, cereals and fruits (in most cases). Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest money in buying the best options of the allowed foods, time in structuring your diet and organizing your grocery shopping, and energy preparing your meals and having everything available.
Possible reasons for not losing weight on a vegan diet:
- Failing to manage your daily portions
- Having a wrong eating schedule
- Not taking enough vegetable protein sources
- Eating too many simple and refined carbs
- Excess fat and oil consumption
- Binging on vegan-friendly junk food
Now that you know the reasons why a vegan diet work as a healthy way to lose weight, the benefits it comes with, some useful tips to follow during your vegan journey and the possible reasons why you could not be losing weight while on a vegan diet, you are prepared to tackle this new lifestyle. Be mindful and conscious about what you eat, how it resonates in your metabolism, energy levels and mood. You are what you eat.