6 Easy Ways to Lose Weight While Following a Plant-Based Diet
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and while many people have tried different methods to lose weight, they have been through the wringer with fad diets in the hopes of shedding a few pounds. Plant-based eating is a sustainable way to lose weight without following a crazy diet that's not viable in the long run. Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition®, says “Plant-based diets - vegetarian and vegan, specifically - have good research behind them that they can help manage weight, and they are associated with lower BMI (body mass index).”
But not everyone who goes on a meatless, dairy-free diet will automatically lose weight. After all, there are plenty of vegan candies, ice creams and cookies. You still have to be smart about the foods you eat on a plant-based diet in order to drop a few pounds. These 6 simple tips will help guide you on your plant-based weight loss journey.
1. Eat protein at every meal, even snacks
Protein is known for its role in regulating hunger and controlling appetite. Research suggests that eating protein may tell the gastrointestinal tract that it should release certain appetite-regulating hormones. For those new to plant-based eating, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overconsuming carbs and under consuming protein. This is especially true at breakfast and snack time, which are generally full of carb-heavy foods, like cereal, toast, chips or crackers. “Make sure to meet your protein needs through soy foods, beans and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds,” says Hultin. At breakfast, include soy foods, like tofu or soy milk. Rely on protein-rich snacks, like roasted chickpeas, nuts or chia seed pudding.
2. Count calories correctly
Calories aren’t the only thing that matters when it comes to weight loss. As a matter of fact, you should definitely eat some higher calories foods, like nuts, seeds, and avocados (see tip #5 ). But if you’re eating more calories than you’re burning off, the body will store those calories as fat. That doesn’t mean you need to obsess over calories, but do pay attention to them, especially in packaged foods.
The serving sizes on processed foods are often smaller than most people eat in one sitting, and those calories can really add up. If you really want to become familiar with the calories in the foods you’re eating, use an app to track your intake for 3-7 days. This will help you recognize which foods and drinks may be contributing the most calories to your plate.
3. Fill half your plate with veggies
“When moving to a plant-based diet, make sure to focus on eating lots of fruits and veggies,” says Hultin. “Half your plate at meals should be veggies, actually, whether you're plant-based or omnivorous” she adds. Not only are fruits and vegetables lower in calories than other foods, but they are also rich in fiber, which takes a long time to digest and contributes to overall satiety. That means you’ll feel fuller longer after eating fiber-rich foods, and you’ll be less likely to overeat later in the day.
As an added bonus, fruits and vegetables are also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which “can also help reduce certain types of cancer and improve both blood sugar and some cardiovascular markers,” says Hultin.
4. Limit added sugar
Unfortunately added sugar is in most packaged foods. The top sources of added sugar in the American diet comes from soft drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. Not only does eating more than the recommended 150 calories of added sugar per day cause weight gain, but research has linked added sugar intake to an increased risk of death from heart disease. The best way to limit added sugar intake is to eat a whole food plant-based diet and read the nutrition labels. Some foods have natural sugar, which is perfectly fine to have, but look for the “added sugar” line on the nutrition facts label. If it’s more than 5-6 grams, consider that food a once in a while treat.
5. Sprinkle in healthy fats
Although fats have more calories per gram than carbs and protein (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), they do play a role in a healthy weight loss plan. A study of healthy young adults showed that regularly consuming foods that contain polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), like walnuts, may be associated with favorable responses in appetite-regulating hormones. In other words, eating “good” unsaturated fats helps keep you feel full, which is a necessary component of weight loss.
6. Exercise, sleep and hydrate
Although weight loss is primarily linked to diet, it’s also important to pay attention to exercise, sleep and hydration habits. Make it a priority to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day, as well as 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation is linked to greater chances of being overweight. Some people reach for food when they are dehydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid falling into this trap.