Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.
Q: I switched to a vegan diet because I’ve read that it’s healthy and I wanted to lose weight. But four months in, I’m a few pounds heavier. What gives?
Going vegan might seem like an easy way to lose weight. Giving up meat, dairy and eggs should help you eat fewer calories each day, right?
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Not necessarily. If you don’t do it correctly, swapping meat-based for plant-based can result in holding on to unwanted pounds, or perhaps even gaining a few.
Vegan diets exclude all animal foods – meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. For ethical reasons, many vegans also avoid animal-derived products such as honey.
(The terms vegan and plant-based are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference. Veganism emphasizes the avoidance of animal foods; a plant-based diet underscores all the foods that you can eat.)
A properly planned vegan diet is certainly good for your health. There’s ample evidence that plant-based eaters have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and lower cancer rates, especially colorectal cancer, than meat-eaters.
A vegan diet also appears to benefit weight control. Large observational studies have found that, compared to meat-eaters, vegans have lower body mass indexes (BMIs), a measure of body fat based on weight and height.
A European study conducted in nearly 38,000 healthy adults revealed that the difference in BMI between meat-eaters and vegans represented a weight difference of about 13 pounds.
A 2015 review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that participants who were assigned to a vegetarian diet lost significantly more weight than people following a non-vegetarian diet.
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Weight loss was greatest among vegan dieters.
The high-fibre content of plant-based diets is thought to play a role in weight control. Fibre promotes satiety, helps control blood sugar and insulin, and may also reduce fat absorption in the intestine.
So far, so good. Why, then, have you managed to gain weight on a vegan diet?
Switching to a plant-based diet isn’t a magic bullet for losing weight. The following tips can help you side-step five common mistakes that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.
- How I Gained Weight as a Vegan: Don’t Let It Happen to You!
- 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegetarian — and Gained 15 Pounds
- The mistake I made that caused me to gain 15 pounds
- So, I quit being vegetarian, but then I went back…
- 1. Do your research
- 2. Know your body
- 3. Vegetables: Get into them (and learn to cook!)
- 4. Learn to speak ‘labelese’
- What I learned from my vegetarian adventures
- This is why a vegan diet is making you fat
- Teen FAQs
Equating vegan with low calorie
Vegan frozen pizza may not be made with mozzarella cheese or beef/pork pepperoni, but that doesn’t mean it has fewer calories. The same goes for Doritos and vegan cookies and ice cream.
Reserve highly processed vegan foods – stripped of fibre and nutrients – for occasional treats. Build your diet around whole and minimally processed plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans and lentils.
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Oversized portions of healthy foods
As nutritious as they are, the calories in whole plant foods must be accounted for, too. Consider that one-half cup of almonds packs in 415 calories, a whole avocado has 325 and a cup of cooked brown rice delivers 250.
Boosting your morning smoothie with peanut butter, ground flax, chia seeds and hemp seeds will drive up its calorie count quickly.
Measure foods. Limit snacks to 10 to 15 nuts (include a serving of fruit, too). One-eighth of an avocado is equivalent to a teaspoon of oil. Ditto for one tablespoon of seeds.
Skimping on protein
Spaghetti and tomato sauce, vegetable-only stir-fries and smoothies made with almond milk and berries are plant-based meals. But they’re low in protein, a nutrient that helps you feel satisfied longer after eating.
To prevent premature hunger and overeating, include plant protein at all meals and snacks. Excellent sources include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, nuts and seeds and soy and pea milks. Vegetables and whole grains also add some protein to meals.
Eating too many carbs
Swapping meat for protein-rich beans and lentils means adding more starch to your meal. One cup of chickpeas, for example, has 210 calories and 35 g of carbohydrates. For comparison, three ounces of chicken breast has 130 calories and no carbohydrate.
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The carbohydrate in beans isn’t a bad thing at all; it’s packed with fibre and nutrients. But you will need to watch your portion size of other starchy foods (e.g., cooked grains, sweet potato) that you eat with them.
Sipping on liquid calories
Drinking almond milk lattes, green juices, coconut water or kombucha isn’t the same as sipping water. The calories in them add to your daily calorie intake.
Make plain or sparkling water or unsweetened tea your go-to beverage. When you do drink a calorie-containing beverage, account for its calories.
Vegan diets cause weight loss very predictably. In a huge study of Seventh-day Adventists, those who had adopted a vegan diet weighed 30 pounds less than meat eaters, on average. In fact, essentially every research study shows the same thing: Vegan diets cause big-time weight loss.
But what if it is not working for you? That can happen. In my clinic, we use vegan diets for people with diabetes, cholesterol problems, menstrual cramps, migraines, and many other problems. For perhaps nine out of 10 participants, weight loss is a given. For that other one in 10, the problem is usually easy to spot.
Let’s look at how a vegan diet works, how things sometimes get off track, and how to fix it (I explore more of these topics in my new book, The Vegan Starter Kit).
A vegan diet, by definition, is all plants all the time. Whether it is seared oyster mushrooms and artichoke hearts over capellini, a bean burrito with jalapeños and pico de gallo, or cucumber sushi with a seaweed salad, everything comes from plants. In their natural state, plants are loaded with fiber, and fiber fills you up with essentially no caloric intake. In contrast, meat, dairy products, and eggs have a big zero in the fiber column. So if you replace meat chili with bean chili or you top your spaghetti with arrabiatta sauce instead of meat sauce, your fiber intake increases. And fiber fills you up, satisfying your appetite before you’ve eaten too much. A vegan diet also means no animal fat, of course. That is important, because there are 9 calories in every fat gram. Contrast that with carbohydrates, which have only 4. So with that animal fat off your plate, a huge source of unnecessary calories is gone.
When there is plenty of fiber on your plate and very little fat, you get satiated far more quickly. You will swear you are eating the same amount of food, but in fact you are eating less, and you’ll see the difference on the scale.
There’s more: A vegan diet increases your metabolism. In a study of 64 overweight postmenopausal women, a vegan diet increased their after-meal metabolism by 16 percent. The effect lasted about three hours after each meal. Here’s why: If you were to eat a chicken salad sandwich with mayo, its fat passes into your cells. As it does so, it interferes with your mitochondria—the microscopic “burners” that are trying to burn calories inside each cell. Getting rid of that fat allows your mitochondria to recover, so they can burn calories faster. This has been shown dramatically in research studies. At Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, researchers put volunteers on a high-fat diet. Within just five days, their mitochondria had slowed down significantly.
A low-fat vegan diet is just the opposite. The animal fat is gone, and your metabolism can recover. That is why you get a significantly better “burn” after each meal.
So, with all that going for you, what could get in the way?
Here are the questions to ask:
Photo by mydegage via .com
When you announced to the world, “I’m going vegetarian!” chances are that someone, somewhere was worried you’d waste away to nothing.
Of course, that’s not true. Not only can you meet your calorie needs on a vegetarian diet, you can easily exceed them. While in theory a vegetarian diet is the most healthful on the planet, in practice it sometimes leaves much to be desired in terms of weight management and vibrant good health.
We asked several savvy, veg-friendly chefs and nutritionists to help spot common vegetarian diet traps, and suggest ways to not fall into them.
Trap #1: Negative Thinking
“A vegetarian diet is exciting, but when people focus on what they’re not doing anymore, they’re missing out on the adventure of it,” says Christina Pirello, host of the PBS series Christina Cooks, and author of This Crazy Vegan Life. “And they can start to lose nutrition if they’re focusing on just lopping things out without replacing them with something healthful.”
Focusing so intently on what you’re cutting out of your diet that you stop thinking about what you’re putting into it is possibly the most basic vegetarian pitfall of all. When meat (or eggs, or dairy, or all of the above) drops out, it can be easy to assume that all other foods are A-OK. Unfrosted Pop-Tarts, Oreos, Fritos—all these are vegetarian, and all are nutritional black holes just the same. “You can stick to everything vegetarian or vegan, and still be eating way too many processed foods,” Pirello says.
Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life, has a name for victims of this trap: “I call them the ‘beige vegetarians,’ ” she says. “They’ll be reading labels like crazy to make sure there’s no meat in their diet, but they’ll have no fruits or vegetables on their plates.”
With a willingness to experiment and a little kitchen inspiration (see Trap #5, Clueless about Cooking), a whole new world of textures, flavors, and energy-boosting phytonutrients can be yours. “I encourage people to make a list of foods they love, focus on the vegetables there, and then start playing around with one new seasonal veggie every week,” says Jackie Newgent, RD, author of Big Green Cookbook: Hundreds of Planet-Pleasing Recipes & Tips for a Luscious, Low-Carbon Lifestyle. “When you’re playing with just one ingredient, it gives you a focus. You can expand your eating plan one vegetable at a time.”
Taking this addition approach, make your local farmers’ market an idea laboratory. “A vegetarian should always be eating a variety of fresh foods, and the ‘green’ market is a great place to find inspiration,” says Myra Kornfeld, a culinary instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute of Culinary Arts in New York, and author of The Healthy Hedonist Holidays: A Year of Multicultural, Vegetarian-Friendly Holiday Feasts. “You’ll encounter purslane, wild spinach, escarole, chicory…these are the kinds of things that people overlook, but they’re delicious once you get to know them.”
Balance your diet, and your plate, with more vegetables, and expect to feel better and start shedding pounds.
Trap #2: Subpar Carbs
Vegetarians heaved a collective sigh of relief when the benefits of a low-carb diet started getting debunked. Pasta, that old friend, was back on the menu! And with it came lots of refined carbohydrates. For many, that added up to creeping weight gain.
Pirello—a confessed pasta fan—recommends proceeding with caution. “It takes the body 20 minutes to process that it’s getting full, but you can knock back a huge plate of pasta in 10 minutes,” she says. “Refined carbs go down so fast and so easy.”
So, what’s wrong with cultivating a refined palate? “When you refine grains, you remove two-thirds of the plant—you take away the bran and the germ, and that is where the fiber and nutrition are,” explains Blatner. “When you’re eating refined grains, there’s a low satiety factor—it’s hard to get full, which can lead to overeating.”
The solution is simple: switch to whole-wheat pastas, and explore the world of whole grains, which come with filling fiber and nutrition intact. “A healthy vegetarian will look at brown rice, quinoa, and barley,” Pirello says. “These complex carbohydrates break apart slowly in the body—they set you on simmer, so you won’t be hungry as quickly.”
Keep good old semolina pasta on the menu, if you like, but go easy. Limit the serving size to 1/2 cup—no more than 25 percent of your plate—and load up your pasta primavera with extra broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, and onions.
Trap #3: Mock Meat Overload
It’s easy to replace all those hot dogs, hamburgers, bologna slices, and chicken wings you’ve cut from your diet…with meatless hot dogs, hamburgers, bologna slices, and chicken wings. But going overboard on these microwavable replacements is simply faux-meat folly.
“The jury is out on whether they are really healthier for you,” says Pirello. “Yes, there is less saturated fat, but there can also be lots of sodium, preservatives, hydrogenated fat, and fractionalized soy protein.”
The key here is moderation—and vigilant label reading. Look for varieties that include whole grains and beans (as some do). “They’re nice transitional foods,” says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, nutrition adviser for the Vegetarian Resource Group. “The biggest problem with them is that they are superconvenient. It’s so easy to microwave plateful after plateful of nuggets and overdo it. You’ll get more protein than you really need, and way too much salt. And you may be missing out on all the phytonutrients that come with eating whole foods.”
One more thing: if you’re relying on fake meat for dinner every night, you may very well be getting too much soy—especially if you’re pouring soymilk on your breakfast cereal, snacking on edamame, and eating a tempeh burger for lunch. “Soy is great, but nobody gets healthy focusing on one food,” says Blatner. “You want to rely on beans for protein, but there are lots of beans out there, and each has its unique nutritional qualities. Instead of grabbing a preformed patty, try adding white beans with tomato and basil to a whole-grain pita, or tossing some garbanzos into a stir-fry, or heating up some lentil soup. Every legume will bring a different set of phytochemicals and micronutrients to the table.”
Trap #4: No Game Plan
Even if you know what’s best for you, it’s easy to fall into the habit of grabbing whatever’s handy. Too often, that means calorie-dense cheese and starch. If you eat out a lot, you’re especially prey to a reliance on pound-packing foods. “When you go vegetarian, it pays to do a little restaurant sleuthing, so you’re not falling back on cheese pizza and French fries,” says Tara Gidus, RD, aka the Diet Diva. She advises getting to know the chefs at your regular haunts, and asking politely for more meatless options. “You won’t be the first,” she says.
Apply the same advance work to the meals you cook at home. One of the best ways to lose weight and feel energized, says Newgent, is to plan for a balanced plate: fill half with vegetables or fruits, one-quarter with whole grains, and one-quarter with protein-rich foods, such as beans, whole soy foods, or nuts.
If you haven’t quite gotten the knack of eating this way, don’t worry. All it takes is a little practice. If you’re new to the game, start out planning a week’s worth of menus— you don’t have to execute the plan exactly, but you’ll get a good idea of what you need to eat and how to shop for it. Once you’ve grasped that, and mastered the art of the balanced plate, you can start to loosen up a bit. “With planning, less is more, but you do want to ballpark it,” says Blatner. “Start each week with just two or three ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go to the store with those ideas in mind, and be open to what’s beautiful, in season, and fresh.”
One sweet side to planning: when you start to replace French fries with baby zucchini, you get to add a whole lot more to your plate.
Trap #5: Clueless about Cooking
The single most important thing you can do for your diet is to get into the kitchen and start cooking your own food. “People say they are so busy that they don’t have time to cook,” muses Pirello. “In other cultures, dinner is the entire point. You make an evening out of it. Here, we have dinner in a bucket so we can hurry up, choke it down, and do something else.”
Pirello blames the “dinner-in-a-bucket syndrome” on a cultural disconnect—with a world of convenience foods, we’ve lost the art of cooking. It’s time to revive that art, she says, especially if you’re a vegetarian. “When you don’t have the basic skills to put a meal together, you’re at the mercy of whatever is out there—it’s how you end up every night saying, ‘Oh, it’s 7 o’clock, I’ll just do pasta again,’ ” she says. “You need to know how to braise, how to roast, how to stew; you need basic knife skills. We’re not splitting the atom here.”
Still, if the kitchen seems like foreign territory, sign up for a cooking class or two, says Kornfeld. Watch YouTube videos, thumb through cookbooks, read food magazines, and experiment.
You’ll boost your odds of culinary success if you set up a go-to pantry. Pirello advises having the following on hand: sea salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and a few types of whole grains (millet, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa). Stock up on dried beans (black, white, pinto, garbanzo), plus a couple of canned varieties for on-the-spot cooking. Buy a few vinegars (white, balsamic, red wine). Invest in a great knife. (“Go to a kitchen store, and hold every chef’s knife in your hand,” says Pirello. “When you find the right one, you’ll just know it—I swear.”)
And don’t neglect the spice rack. Keep a few key spices on hand, and you can turn whatever’s in season into a feast, says Kornfeld: “Combine cumin, ginger, chili powder, and oregano, and you can give dishes a Mexican flavor profile. Use cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, and turmeric, and you’ve got Indian. Mix fennel, white wine, and a few of the green herbs, and you’ll have Provençal.”
What effort you do make will be amply rewarded with greater vitality and a naturally trim waistline. “Cooking is more work—it just is,” Pirello says. “But if you’re not willing to work for your health, what are you willing to work for?”
WHAT PACKS 100 (OR SO) CALORIES?
- 1 oz. American cheese: 94
- 1/2 Pop-Tart: 103
- 15 cups spinach leaves: 104
- 50 baby zucchini: 100
- 5 steak-cut French fries: 101
- 15 almonds: 104
Combine protein with carbs
“People eat 2 cups of cereal out of the box, and a half-hour later they’re starving again,” says Tara Gidus, RD. “Even if you just add soymilk, it really helps.”
Chew your food
“I try to eat slowly and deliberately,” says Myra Kornfeld. “That act alone will get me in touch with my body enough to keep me from overeating.”
Journal every morsel
“If you’re standing in front of the fridge with a spoon,” says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, “you’ll be less likely to use it if you know you have to write down everything you put in your mouth with it.”
Everybody knows somebody who went vegan to lose weight and ended up gaining 20 pounds from a steady diet of potato chips and granola bars. You don’t have to wreck your health in the service of bulking up. Karen Ansel, R.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer, shows you what to on a eat a plant-based diet to put on weight the healthy way:
Protein from plants
“If you want to muscle up, it’s a matter of choosing healthful, plant-based proteins and not French fries,” Ansel says. That means beans, tofu, and even protein-rich grains such as quinoa. Protein is a building block for muscle. And since vegan diets tend to be carb rich, “you want to be sure you focus on getting adequate protein,” she says. Does that mean you need to pile something like a pea- or soy-based protein powder into your smoothies? “I’m not usually a fan of protein powders, because I say you can get all the protein you need from food,” she says. But if you’re having trouble getting as much of this nutrient as you want, these powders are OK. “They tend to vary in texture, so just pick the one you like best,” Ansel says.
Nuts and nut butters
“These are excellent choices because they have so many health benefits to begin with,” Ansel says. “And vegans trying to put on weight have the luxury of not worrying about eating too much of them.”
In addition to healthy nutrients, “you also need calories,” she says, and avocados deliver on both fronts.
Carbs with a bonus
There’s, say, vegan mac and cheese, and then there carbs that give you fiber and other important nutrients, like whole grains. Bulgur and quinoa, for instance, give you fiber, nutrients, and a larger protein hit than some other grains (especially refined ones, of course). Tempting as it may be, for your health’s sake, “steer clear of vegan junk foods,” she says.
There’s even pea-protein milk now. These milks are a great way to supplement what you’re eating, Ansel says. “Just make sure you’re not reaching for one of those super-low-calorie plant milks,” she says.
“Being on a vegan diet doesn’t mean you’ll gain or lose weight,” she says. It’s all about the food choices you make. Focus on bringing the choices above into your life to get to the healthy weight you want.
Marty Munson Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, previously served as deputy editor at Dr Oz The Good Life and director of digital content at Shape.
3. EAT CALORIE DENSE FOOD
You won’t get very far eating just fruit and vegetables. This is probably where the idea that gaining weight as a vegan isn’t possible comes from. Gaining weight is hard and uncomfortable as it is, don’t make it even harder for yourself by trying to fill up on low-calorie, high-volume foods like salad and melon. I did this at first and it didn’t get me anywhere. Plant foods are naturally lower in calories and higher in volume than animal products, and much more filling due to the high fibre content. Portions are going to be BIG anyway, so make use of those more calorie-dense foods to avoid having to eat an even bigger mountain of food.
Now I make sure to base all my meals on energy-dense foods. This means basing meals on whole grains like rice or quinoa, whole grain products like pasta, wraps, bread, couscous, or other starches like sweet potato or potato. As well as having a protein component, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu or tempeh, and a source of healthy fats like avocado, tahini, nuts etc. Swap out lower calorie options for higher calorie ones (e.g. ditch the noodles for real pasta or brown rice, swap berries on oats for banana, swap rice cakes for grainy bread/toast).
This one is really important. In the vegan community, the high-carb low-fat is very popular. I have no problem with this, apart from two things: 1.) Especially among people with an eating disorder history, it’s easy to take this to the extreme with low-fat becoming no-fat, and 2.) HCLF is a weight-loss or at least weight-maintenance diet. It is EXTREMELY difficult to gain weight eating such little amounts of fat and protein if you don’t want to eat ginormous quantities of food.
While I was eating very low-fat, not only was I not gaining any weight, but I wasn’t able to increase my calories enough TO gain weight in the first place because of the sheer volume of food I had to eat. I also would feel incredibly full and bloated after meals, yet not be satisfied. Since adding more healthy fats, like avocado, tahini, nuts and seeds to my meals, and also increasing my protein (beans, lentils, chickpeas, hummus, vegan protein powder) intake, I feel much more satisfied but less uncomfortably full as I did eating very high carb low fat.
NOTE: To gain weight, you need to be eating high-carb, high-protein, high-fat. It’s that simple. Make sure meals contain a source of each macronutrient. For example, for breakfast you might have a bowl of oats with banana, berries, soy milk and peanut butter, or a dinner might be rice with a chickpea chilli, some greens and half an avo.
Each of the three macronutrients have their purpose, and this is even more important in recovery. Carbohydrates fuel our muscles and cells with the energy they need to function, fats are important for hair, skin and nail health, they are a structural component of our cells, in particular the our neurons (brain cells) and are needed for hormone production. Protein is needed for DNA synthesis, tissue and muscle repair and growth, transport of substances in the body, hormones and more. All are equally important!
5. DRINK YOUR FOOD
This one has been a lifesaver for me. Drinking your food is so much easier on the stomach than having to eat the same quantities. I make sure to have at least one energy and nutrient-dense smoothie per day to give me a boost. I think once your meals and snacks have reached a certain size, it’s a much better idea to add in a few nourishing smoothies per day on top of those meals/snacks, rather than try to increase to crazy big portions. It also makes it easier to maintain your weight afterwards, as you can simply remove some of these extra drinks if needed, but not have to worry about decreasing what you’re actually eating.
Frozen bananas, mango and berries, together with oats, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, vegan protein powder, vegan yoghurt, avocado, nut butter and plant milk are great ingredients to pack into nourishing and delicious smoothies. Other ideas for drinks include fruit juice, hot chocolate, chai or turmeric lattes made with plant milk, or drinking coconut water throughout the day to replace some of your water.
6. TRAIN SMART, REST MORE
While you’re very underweight, no exercise is recommended until a healthy BMI is reached, as this places additional stress on the body that it might not be able to handle, as well as burning extra calories you just can’t afford to burn. All energy needs to go towards healing and repairing your body during this recovery process. Some stretching, light yoga and leisurely walks might help improve your mood and make you feel better!
If you do have the doctor’s approval to exercise, minimise the cardio. Cardio-based exercise, again, just burns and burns calories that should be going towards weight gain at the moment. It also makes gaining muscle a lot harder. Instead, focus on building strength through body weight, resistance and/or weight training exercises, preferably developed by a qualified coach who knows about your situation and goals. For me, exercise is a big passion, and really helps motivate me and makes me feel amazing. If this isn’t you, don’t force yourself. Do yoga, go for walks, swim in the ocean, whatever you enjoy.
And make sure you get PLENTY of rest and sleep. I cannot stress how important this is in both recovery, gaining weight and gaining muscle. Also, keep in mind, the more you exercise, the more you will have to eat to gain weight. Don’t make it any harder for yourself than it has to be!
You heard of the freshman 15? For me it was more like the freshman 40. No joke. I was a recent vegan convert, and only having access to the dining hall meant living on pasta, bagels, french fries, and cereal (Fruit Loops are vegan!). I was a total junk food vegan. After seeing a photo of myself at my brother’s wedding, it really sank in that I needed to change my habits and lose weight.
Fresh vegetables and fruits weren’t part of my diet, so when I started incorporating those, coupled with running, the pounds started to fall off. But then I hit the dreaded plateau.
I instantly pointed my finger at carbs. It must be the whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, and oatmeal! But when I cut those foods from my diet, the scale still didn’t budge. I actually started to gain weight. I was shocked and very frustrated. You better believe I ate a huge hunk of bread with my soup that night and said, “Eff this!”
OK, so it wasn’t carbs. And my exercise routine was still going strong. One day I decided to write down everything I ate — every bite, every handful. And by the end of the day, I discovered a theme and I was shocked. The two healthy foods I was eating a ton of were dried fruit and nuts.
That day, I had eaten one-third cup each of raisins and walnuts on my oatmeal, snacked on an entire bag of dried mango (my addiction), smeared four huge spoonfuls of crunchy almond butter on my afternoon banana, and poured a tablespoon of salted sunflower seeds on my salad. And instead of just reaching for handful after handful of cashews after dinner, I actually measured — it was half a cup — over 300 calories in cashews alone!
I thought I was doing well by satiating my cravings for vegan ice cream and salty french fries with dried fruit and nuts. But the truth is, dried fruit and nuts and seeds are healthy, but they still contain calories — and TONS of them. I cut them out for two weeks, just to see if that was the issue, and the scale finally budged.
Learn from my mistake! If you’re eating what you think is a healthy diet, take a look at portion sizes. Be mindful of calorie-dense foods like dried fruit, nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, oil, and whole grains. Dried fruit and nuts gradually made it back into my diet, but I’m more mindful of how much I’m eating. Instead of delving into a jar of peanut butter with reckless abandon, I arm myself with a tablespoon.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Jenny Sugar
How I Gained Weight as a Vegan: Don’t Let It Happen to You!
Going to school with a bunch of down-to-earth, sewed-their-own-clothes environmentalists, it was impossible not to hop on the vegan train. While this lifestyle can help you lose weight, after six years on this diet, I ended up gaining 40 pounds and realized it’s because I did it all wrong. Here are my mistakes and how you can learn from them to avoid ballooning on a vegan diet.
1. Pasta and Bread Were
On campus it was easy to grab bagels with Tofutti cream cheese for breakfast, pizza with dairy-free cheese for lunch, and a huge bowl of pasta for dinner, but I was eating enough carbs to run a marathon-while barely exercising, unless walking to the dining hall counts.
What to do instead: Overloading on carbs is one way to pile on the pounds, so while complex carbohydrates should be included in a vegan diet, they shouldn’t be the star of every single meal. Head to a bookstore or the Internet to find vegan recipes, and experiment to help open up a whole new world of entrées like tofu scrambles, zucchini noodles, and homemade veggie burgers.
RELATED: 20 Satisfying Fall Meals for Any Diet
2. I Never Ate Beans
Having gas was the last thing a college girl would wish for, so I stayed away from beans and hardly ate any protein aside from soy ice cream. Without enough protein, hunger pangs drove me to eat more, which basically meant unhealthy comfort food like vegan mac ‘n’ cheese and cupcakes.
What to do instead: Be sure to stock your kitchen with vegan sources of protein such as dry or canned beans, different varieties of tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy yogurt, and soy milk. For quick meals, packaged soy burgers, hot dogs, frozen dinners, and vegan deli meats are great to have on hand. If you’re not used to these foods, introduce them gradually to prevent digestive issues.
3. Sweet Potato Fries Were My Vegetable
My mom wasn’t there to tell me to “eat my veggies,” so guess what? I didn’t-unless French fries or vegan carrot cake count. Without veggies and protein, I never felt full, which meant eating all day long.
What to do instead: Make a point to consume veggies and protein at every meal and snack, as they’ll fill you up and keep you energized. Here’s a sample eating schedule:
• Breakfast: this vegan, high-protein smoothie with a big bunch of spinach added
• Snack: whole-wheat pancakes made with sweet potato, topped with a dollop of soy yogurt
• Lunch: huge salad with a side of split-pea soup or buckwheat salad with tempeh
• Afternoon snack: cucumber tofu rolls
• Dinner: polenta and beans
4. I Was a Junk-Food Vegan
French fries, soy ice cream, dairy-free chocolate, vegan cookies-I was so psyched they were made without meat, milk, or eggs that I devoured them and didn’t realize that they still contained calories.
What to do instead: Just as non-vegans need to enjoy treats in moderation, so do you. It’s okay to indulge, but remember to mostly eat a healthy, balanced diet.
RELATED: 2-Ingredient Snacks Under 200 Calories
5. I Ate Peanut Butter by the Spoonful
My motto was, “If it’s good for me, why not?” Unfortunately, healthy foods can also be high in calories, so downing bags of popcorn and sipping back fruity soy smoothies was one reason I didn’t fit into my clothes.
What to do instead: While they’re nutritious, be sure to measure out portions of calorie-dense foods such as nuts, seeds, and the butters made from them; avocado; fresh-squeezed juices; whole grains like brown rice; granola; oil; and sweet potatoes.
More on POPSUGAR Fitness:
5 Healthy Peanut Butter Desserts
7 Moves for Tight, Toned Thighs
8 Detox Superfoods for Fall
- By Jenny Sugar for POPSUGAR Fitness
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegetarian — and Gained 15 Pounds
Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
These days, lifestyle trends are a dime a dozen. Way back at the turn of the century, though, vegetarianism was still reserved mostly for hippies, health nuts, or other “extremists.”
Those were all my favorite people, so I latched on.
All of my older, wiser, more revolutionary friends assured me that being vegetarian was “healthier.” They said I’d feel dramatic physical, mental, and spiritual benefits after making the switch to meatless living. At the time, I was 17 years old and easily convinced.
It wasn’t until I attended college that my meatless path took an unexpected turn. Faced with having to make food choices that were no longer just philosophical, but tangible, I made some grave mistakes.
So, in 2001, during my junior year of high school, I announced to my parents that I was giving up on eating animals.
They laughed. Nevertheless, I persisted, as the rebel that I am.
The start of my lacto-vegetarian adventure was decent. Did I gain tons of energy, develop laser-like focus, or levitate during meditation? No. My skin cleared a little, though, so I counted it as a win.
The mistake I made that caused me to gain 15 pounds
It wasn’t until I attended college that my meatless path took an unexpected turn. Faced with having to make food choices that were no longer just philosophical, but tangible, I made some grave mistakes.
All of a sudden, refined carbs were my new staple, usually paired with dairy. At home, I ate the same meals my mother had always made, just sans the meat and heavier on the veggies.
Life at school was a different story.
Think pasta with alfredo sauce, or cereal with milk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The packaged vegetarian foods I sometimes bought from the grocery store turned out to be just as heavily processed.
It wasn’t until my second foray into lacto-vegetarianism (about six years later) that I was able to close some of the gaps in the advice of my old meat-free friends.
I was still dedicated to a meat-free lifestyle and exercised regularly, but by the end of my first semester, I gained more than 15 pounds.
And this wasn’t your average freshman 15.
It wasn’t a “filling out” of my body type. Instead, it was a noticeable bloating and tightness around my belly. The weight was accompanied by a drop in my energy level and mood — both things I was led to believe only those dastardly meat eaters had to deal with.
So, I quit being vegetarian, but then I went back…
My older, wiser friends must have left out a few details about vegetarianism. This weight gain was obviously not what I had expected.
Halfway through my sophomore year, I opted out. I wasn’t experiencing any of the benefits I thought I’d feel. In fact, I often felt physically, emotionally, and mentally worse than I did before.
It wasn’t until six years later, into my second foray into lacto-vegetarianism, that I was able to close some of the gaps in the advice of my old meat-free friends.
With more information and a deeper connection with my body, I had a much better experience the second time around.
Here’s what I wish I had known before my first ride on the vegetarian bandwagon:
1. Do your research
Going vegetarian isn’t something you do just because your friends are doing it. It’s a lifestyle change that can have a major effect on your body, for better or for worse. Do some research to figure out what form of meatless living will work best for you.
There are lots of ways to be vegetarian without the negative side effects. Types of vegetarianism include the following:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians don’t eat red meat, fish, or poultry, but do eat dairy and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but not eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy.
- Vegans eat no red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or other animal products, like honey.
Some people also include the following under the vegetarian umbrella:
- Pescatarians eat fish, but no red meat or poultry.
- Flexitarians have a mostly plant-based diet, but sometimes eat red meat, poultry, or fish.
All these diets can lead to several reduced health risks when done right.
Benefits of vegetarian diets
- improved heart health
- lower blood pressure
- prevention of type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses
Still, this is a choice you need to think about. Consulting with your doctor can help. Also, think about what will make the practice sustainable for you. Set a budget, schedule your time, and talk to other vegetarians for tips.
Thinking of becoming vegetarian? Here’s where to start your research:
- Websites: The Vegetarian Resource Group, Vegetarian Times, and Oh My Veggies to start.
- Books: “”Going Vegetarian” by Dana Meachen Rau is a comprehensive resource for those who want to understand more about the lifestyle choice first. “The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide to a Healthy Vegetarian Diet,” authored by two registered dieticians, covers what you need to know about getting the necessary proteins, vitamins, and minerals without meat.
- Forums: The online chat board at Happy Cow is a wealth of information and camaraderie for new and potential vegetarians.
2. Know your body
Even after doing your due diligence, it’s important to pay attention to your own experience. What works for someone else may not work the same way for you.
Luckily, our bodies have mechanisms to help us understand what’s best. If I had chosen to pay attention to the extra bloating, gas, and fatigue I was experiencing early on, I probably could’ve reassessed my diet and found foods that were better for my constitution.
You may have no trouble recognizing the causes of certain changes in your body. However, if you need assistance, a food journal or good nutrition app can help you easily recognize what works and what doesn’t.
Tools to help your journey
- The Wholesome Healthy Eating app helps you keep track of overall nutrition. CRON-O-Meter is comparable, but it helps you track exercise and other health-related info as well.
- If your style is a little more analog, head to your local bookstore to leaf through the guided food journals they have on the shelf. Or, print your own. There are tons of templates
3. Vegetables: Get into them (and learn to cook!)
When I went vegetarian, I didn’t dare tell anyone that I missed the savory chewiness of meat. So, without the know-how or the various culinary gizmos needed to recreate my own flavors, I opted for prepackaged meat substitutes.
While the (somewhat) familiar taste was comforting, it wasn’t good for my body.
I could’ve skipped the sodium, soy, and other chemical components these vegan hot dogs, veggie burgers, and mock chicken contained. (And I suspect that they were the main culprits concerning my weight gain and discomfort.)
Several years later, I learned my way around the kitchen and developed a more adventurous palette. It was then that I discovered something truly shocking: Vegetables taste good as vegetables!
They don’t have to be pounded, pulverized, and chemically processed into something masquerading as meat to be enjoyed. I found that I often like well-prepared meatless meals better than the standard meat-centric meals I was used to.
This was a game changer for me.
By the time I decided to go vegetarian again, I had already incorporated a lot more veggies, as well as legumes, fruits, and whole grains, into my diet. It was a much easier switch, with none of the unpleasantness from before.
My favorite vegetarian bloggers
- Naturally Ella features vegetarian recipes that are simple enough to make without much experience, while still being 100 percent delicious.
- If you’re cooking a vegetarian meal for skeptics, try Cookie & Kate. This amazing blog has tons of recipes that anyone will love.
- Sweet Potato Soul by Jenne Claiborne is a blog featuring nourishing vegan recipes with distinct Southern flavors. Keep her cookbook in your kitchen for the days that you’re craving comfort food.
4. Learn to speak ‘labelese’
Eating “clean” (real, chemical-free food) is always the goal. But let’s be honest: Sometimes a quick and dirty meal is all you can manage.
To make sure you pick the best of what’s out there when you do opt for something processed, you’ll have to decipher what I call “labelese.”
Speaking labelese is helpful for everyone Even if your goal isn’t to stop eating meat, developing this ability can be helpful. Check out this comprehensive guide on reading nutrition labels for a crash course in “labelese,” which will help you protect your health.
The scientific verbiage and minuscule font size used on most nutrition labels can make this code seemingly impossible to crack, but even a little basic knowledge can give you the power to make better choices.
Knowing the terms used for sugars, soy, and other controversial additives can help you avoid consuming them in excess.
Top 5 ingredients to avoid
- partially hydrogenated oil (liquid fat turned solid by adding hydrogen)
- high-fructose corn syrup (artificial syrup made from corn)
- monosodium glutamate (MSG) (flavor additive)
- hydrolyzed vegetable protein (flavor enhancer)
- aspartame (artificial sweetener)
What I learned from my vegetarian adventures
My second experience with vegetarianism was far better than the first. Most notably, I had increased energy and less dramatic mood shifts.
The best benefit I received had little to do with the choice to stop eating meat: It was about the journey.
When I learned how to find the facts, listen to my body, and prepare my own (objectively delicious) meals, I gained more confidence. I found out that I can live a good life in almost any way that I want, as long as I put in the effort and develop a plan.
Although I’ve since added fish and the occasional steak back into my diet, I regard my five plant-based years as a rite of passage.
It was also an amazing way to learn to take responsibility for my own health and wellness.
Carmen R. H. Chandler is a writer, wellness practitioner, dancer, and educator. As the creator of The Body Temple, she blends these gifts to provide innovative, culturally relevant health solutions for the Black DAEUS (Descendants of Africans Enslaved in the United States) community. In all of her work, Carmen is committed to envisioning a new age of Black wholeness, freedom, joy, and justice. Visit her blog.
This is why a vegan diet is making you fat
Simon Hill is an expert on Chris Hemsworth’s new health and fitness app Centr. Follow him on Instagram @plant_proof and check out the Centr app @centrfit. If you’re looking for some delicious plant-based recipes and advice, make sure to check out Chris Hemsworth’s brand new health and wellness program Centr.
Have you gone vegan expecting to improve your health and drop some pounds – only to find that you’re actually gaining weight? Despair not! While a large body of research has proven that on average vegans have a lower percentage of body fat compared to others, the truth is, if you are replacing the animal protein and fats with large amounts of refined carbohydrates, processed oils, vegan junk food and smoothies packed with nut butters, you’re unlikely to see any benefits on the scale.
Here are four reasons you may be gaining weight on a vegan diet, and helpful tips you can implement to make sure your vegan diet is optimal for your health and your weight.
#1: You’re eating an abundance of vegan junk food
With the rise in popularity of a vegan diet, food manufacturers have worked hard to keep up: more than ever before, food products that contain no animal products are slowly but surely filling up shelves in supermarkets. While it’s great to see the power consumers have in shifting food manufacturers to a more conscious food environment, the truth is that these products often have just as much added sugar, fat or refined carbohydrates, and calories as their conventional counterpart. A vegan brownie may seem like a healthier choice, but it could potentially have just as many calories, sugar and fat as the version with butter and eggs.
It’s important to understand that a vegan diet is not necessarily synonymous with a whole food plant-based diet, which instead focuses on unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits and plant proteins while shying away from added sugars, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Not only do these foods come packed with fibre, nutrients and vitamins, they also tend to be significantly less calorie dense compared to animal foods, although there are some exceptions. Make sure your diet is mostly made up of whole food plant-based options that are lower in calories and will keep you feeling full for longer, rather than mock meats and vegan treats.
How to go vegan safely
Thinking about going vegan? Maintain your essential nutrients by making these easy swaps
#2: Your portion control has gone out the window
Going vegan can trick us into believing that just because a food contains no animal products, it must have little or no calories. It is not uncommon for some of us to think that because plant-based foods are health-promoting, we can eat unlimited amounts of nuts, grains, seeds and sweet potatoes. In reality, some vegan foods (although incredibly healthy) such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, dates, coconut yogurt, avocado, and grains, can be highly calorie dense. It’s important to recognize that just because a food is vegan, it is not a free pass to overindulge.
If you’re eating many calorie dense foods throughout the day, it’s important to recognize that while they may be healthy, this does not mean they are low-calorie foods. Therefore, if you’re struggling with losing weight, it’s best to eat calorie-dense plant-based foods in moderation, and to always keep in mind the importance of balanced portion sizes.
#3: You’re cooking with a lot of oil
Cooking with oil can really make food more flavoursome in a way that cooking with water sometimes just can’t compete with. However, it’s important to keep in mind that at 9 calories per gram, fats and oils have a high-calorie density, so liberal use in cooking and salad dressings can quickly add up. Foods that provide healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados and olives, with olive oil being one of the healthiest oils that provide antioxidants as well as flavour. Fat-soluble vitamins are also important, so we shouldn’t be trying to cut fat out of a vegan eating plan, but just be aware that over-consumption can push calorie intake up pretty quickly.
If you’re someone who often cooks with an abundance of oil, this might be the culprit behind your weight gain. Try using as little oil as possible and be mindful that with every tablespoon of oil used, you’re adding 120 calories to your daily calorie intake. If you are using oil, opt for extra virgin olive oil and stick to between 1-2 tsp of oil per person for cooking or dressings where necessary. When it comes to dressings, try using alternate ingredients like avocado, coconut milk, yoghurt, miso or tahini, mixed with a range of vinegars or lemon juice.
#4: You’re sipping calorie-dense smoothies (and not feeling full afterwards)
Smoothies are a quick and convenient way of delivering key nutrients to people who need easy starts to their busy mornings. Unlike juicing, blending fruits and vegetables preserves the original fibre and phytonutrients making it a healthier and more filling option. As a result, they are already some of our most popular recipes on Centr.
However, it’s important to be mindful of how many calories you may actually be sipping on. For example, there is a stark difference in calories between a green smoothie with spinach, berries and plant milk compared to a peanut butter-laden banana smoothie with oats and dates, which may have just as many calories as a complete meal. Because the calories in a smoothie can be consumed so quickly, they could potentially undermine our body’s ability to register how many calories we’ve ingested and can lead to overeating. Overall, it’s always best to make your own, and not rely on bottled smoothies meaning you can also avoid processed sugars and fats in quantities you can’t control.
If you enjoy incorporating smoothies during your day as a snack, make sure you’re aware of how many calories you’re consuming. If you are going to consume a calorie-dense smoothie, make sure to sip slowly so that your body has the time to register how many calories you’re drinking. Where possible, try and chew your food as this will encourage slower consumption and mindful eating – subsequently helping to prevent over-consumption of calories.
Overall, the reason you might be gaining weight comes down to the basic principles of energy balance. If you consume more calories than you are burning, you are in a position to gain weight. That’s why when I was creating some of the plant-based recipes for Chris Hemsworth’s health and fitness app Centr, I worked hard to ensure that the recipes would be easy-to-make nutrient-dense meals with whole food ingredients that would keep users full and satisfied throughout the day. If you want to lose weight, ultimately it comes down to reducing your caloric intake below your daily energy requirements, performing more exercise, or a combination of both.
I’m a vegetarian athlete and I want to gain weight. How do I start?
For starters, gaining weight for a vegetarian athlete is the same as gaining weight for any athlete. First, you want to look at what you are eating, how much, and your training routine. To gain weight at your current activity level, all you need to do is simply add extra calories to your diet. In general, an extra 250 to 500 calories per day can lead to a 1/2 to 1 pound weight gain, respectively, per week. For example, if you eat the way you usually do, but add an extra 250 calories everyday for a week, at the end of that week you should gain 1/2 pound. Similarly, if you eat the way you usually do, plus an extra 500 calories everyday for a week, by the end of that week you should gain 1 pound. The amount of calories you choose to add are based upon the amount of weight you want to gain. If you desire to gain less than 10 pounds add an extra 250 calories to your daily intake. If you desire to gain more than 10 pounds, add an extra 500 calories to your daily intake.
Adding calories to your diet is easy. All you have to do is add more snacks throughout the day or add extra calories to the foods you eat. It is important that you add calories with healthy items to provide more vitamins and other nutrients in your diet. Below is a list of 250 calorie and 500 calorie healthy snack ideas. Try adding one or more of these ideas every day to help gain weight. Also listed are ways to add calories to your foods. When you don’t have time for snacking, this is a good way to increase the calories in your food without having to plan another meal.
There is no need to eat more than 500 extra calories per day for higher weight gain. Evidence has shown that exceeding more than 500 calories per day and gaining more than 1 pound per week is not beneficial to the athlete. A greater than 1 pound weight gain a week can lead to an increase in fat mass and a reduction in muscle mass. Extra body fat and less lean muscle can slow an athlete down and make it harder to compete. Once you reach your goal weight, continue to eat about the same amount to maintain your weight gain.
If your training routine becomes more intense, you will need to increase the amount of calories you are eating just to maintain your weight. If you are increasing your caloric intake, but are still having a hard time gaining weight during training, you may need to focus more on increasing calories during your off-season. During your off-season you lead a more relaxed life style and it’s easier to put on pounds. To gain weight during this time, simply follow the recommendations for adding calories.
250 Calorie Snack Ideas
- 2 Slices Whole Wheat Bread WITH 1 Tbs Peanut Butter, 1 Tbs Jelly
- 1 cup Orange Juice with Calcium AND 6 oz Soy Yogurt
- 1 Odwalla Bar
- 1 Clif Bar
- 1 Whole Wheat Pita Pocket WITH 5 Tbs Hummus
- 1/2 cup Guacamole WITH 1-1/2 cup Celery Sticks AND 1/2 cup Soy Milk
- 1 Medium Apple WITH 1 Tbs Almond Butter
- 1/4 cup Mixed Nuts WITH 1-1/2 Tbs Raisins
- 1 Crunchy Granola Bar AND 1/2 cup Soy Milk
- 1 oz Hard Pretzels AND 1 cup 100% Cranberry Juice
500 Calorie Snack Ideas
- 1 Whole Wheat Bagel WITH 2 Tbs Almond Butter, 1/2 Medium Sliced Banana
- Fruit Smoothie WITH 1-1/2 cup Soy Milk, 1 cup Orange Juice with Calcium, 1 Medium Banana, 10 Large Strawberries, 1 cup Blueberries
- 1/2 cup Almonds WITH 1/4 cup Dried Cranberries
- 1 Whole Wheat English Muffin WITH 2 Tbs Earth Balance Margarine, 2 Tbs Jelly AND 1/2 cup Soy Milk
- 3/4 cup Black Bean Dip WITH 1 cup Tortilla Chips
- 1 Slice Wheat Bread WITH 1 Tbs Peanut Butter AND 1 cup Sweetened Applesauce AND 1 cup Soy Milk
- 10 Whole Wheat Crackers (Triscut) WITH 1/2 cup of Hummus
- 2 cups Lentil Soup AND 1 Whole Wheat Roll AND 1/2 cup Orange Juice with Calcium
Tips for Adding Calories to Foods
- Add Earth’s Best Margarine or other vegan margarine (100 calories per tablespoon), Flax Seed Oil (120 calories per tablespoon) or Canola Oil (120 calories per table spoon) to stir-frys, sandwiches, vegetables, cooked cereal, breads, pasta, and rice.
- Add Wheat Germ (25 calories per tablespoon) to hot cereals, pastry, cake, and pancake batters and casseroles.
- Add Veganaise or Oil-based Salad Dressing (90 calories per tablespoon) to sandwiches, salads, and sauces on cooked vegetables.
- Add Vegan “Sour Cream” (43 calories per tablespoon) and Vegan “Cheeses” (50 calories per oz) to potatoes, casseroles, dips, sauces and baked goods.
- Add Silk Soy Creamer (15 calories per tablespoon, 240 calories per cup) to smoothies, hot and cold cereals, pastry, cake, and pancake batters, and puddings .
- Add Nuts (82 calories per 1/2 oz) and Dried Fruit (86 calories per 1/2 cup) to hot and cold cereals, yogurts, salads, cooked vegetables, and stir-frys.
by Julia Driggers, RD