There are many excellent reasons why someone might chose a plant-based diet. But if you’re thinking of becoming vegan primarily as a way of losing weight, then you might end up disappointed.
While many people do enjoy an overall improvement in their health when they ditch animal products, weight loss is certainly not guaranteed.
There is literally only one way to lose weight. Although there are many methods that may help you actually achieve this process, the underlying principle is always the same; over a period of time you need to be taking in less energy than your body is using up. This is often referred to as CICO, which stands for ‘calories in, calories out’.
And, as anyone who has ever been into a vegan bakery knows, it is absolutely possible to binge on vegan treats.
Ingredients like sugar, salt and fat that turn non-vegan foods into highly-palatable calorie bombs, do exactly the same thing to vegan foods. They also prolong shelf life, which is part of the reason why snack foods and ready meals are often far more calorie dense than their home-cooked equivalents.
Just because a food source is vegan doesn’t make it ‘healthier’ than its meat or dairy equivalent. Coconut oil has more saturated fat per gram than butter, and both contain more saturated fat per gram than lard.
So what can a new vegan do to avoid stumbling into a delicious, cruelty-free diet trap?
1) Be Calorie Conscious
Which doesn’t necessarily mean calorie counting.
Food is not just fuel. It can be a way to express communal and cultural identity, to celebrate, or simply to experience pleasure and comfort.
But at the end of the day, food is still fuel. Having a basic awareness of how much energy we’re putting into our bodies vs. how much energy we’re actually using, can be pretty useful if you’re trying to keep the two in balance.
People who have struggled with restrictive eating disorders in the past may find that calorie counting triggers unhealthy patterns of behavior, and logging a food diary or keeping a strict calorie count may not be the best option for everyone.
But it’s important to remember that there’s nothing magical about a vegan diet that exempts the person eating it from the laws of physics. If you’re taking in more energy from the things you’re consuming than your body can use, you will store the excess energy as fat.
It doesn’t matter if those excess calories were from biscuits or bananas, it all gets stored the same way. Yes, a banana supplies more nutritional value than biscuit and it’s far easier to scoff a whole packet of biscuits vs. bunch of bananas, but as far as your fat stores are concerned: a calorie is a calorie.
2) Make Sure You’re Not Substituting Carbs For Protein
Protein is an essential part of any diet. If you’re not getting sufficient protein then your body won’t be able to build and repair muscle tissue, and you may feel weak, rundown or brain fogged.
But just as importantly, if you’re trying to manage your weight, protein promotes the feelings of fullness and satiety that let us know when we should stop eating. Carbs also help us feel full, but they don’t contain the essential amino acids we get from proteins.
Many new vegans make the mistake of substituting meat products for extra helpings of carbohydrates.
If you’re not used to vegan cooking or you’re also cooking for non-vegans, sometimes the path of least resistance is to just to load up on the mash, while giving the bangers a miss.
But this is a mistake! There is a whole world of delicious non-meat, non-dairy sources of protein, including nuts, lentils, beans, oats and tofu just waiting for you to discover. You might need to experiment with different styles of cooking until you find some new favorites, but cutting out animal products can actually open up your culinary repertoire to encompass all sorts of healthy, satisfying proteins.
A balanced diet promotes overall help and makes it easier to manage weight in a way that’s sustainable over the long term.
3) Eat Fresh And Cook Up A Rainbow
The best thing about adopting a plant-based diet? The plants!
Until recently vegan options in most supermarkets and restaurants were pretty bleak. While this could be inconvenient, it had the one advantage of encouraging vegans to get creative in their own kitchens.
If you couldn’t find anything in the ready-meal aisle, you had no choice but to embrace the fruit and veg selection.
Obesity has become a public health crisis as cheap, industrially-manufactured food products have become part of the standard western diet. Now that more and more people adopting a meat-free lifestyle, those same food manufacturers are looking for ways to keep them as customers. But adopting a plant-based diet is the perfect opportunity to reclaim control over what you are putting into your body.
Reject sad-looking, mass-produced ‘vegan alternatives’! Instead embrace beautiful, fresh seasonal produce, paired with limitless combinations of herbs, spices, lemon juice, oils and vinegar to create your own dishes.
Meat and dairy can be… very delicious. Nutritional yeast is not and never ever will be cheese. So committing to veganism if you love food is committing to getting creative.
Cooking from scratch lets you control the amount of added fat and sugar in your diet, but it also helps to repair the relationship between the things you eat and where your food comes from.
If you care enough about your fellow creatures to stop consuming animal products, care enough about yourself to start treating your amazing, miraculous, wonderful body with the respect it deserves.