On A Vegan Diet But Still Struggling With Your Weight? Here's What To Do
Maybe you want to train for a 3-day hike, improve your blood pressure and overall health, or simply drop a few pounds that you gained during a stressful time. Whatever the reason, there is ample scientific evidence that a vegan diet (a diet free of animal products, which means eggs, diary, meat, and fish) can help you get to your ideal, happy weight.
That being said, I just hosted a large online webinar discussing plant-based diets and the most frequent question I was asked was still “How do I get to my goal weight?” It can be incredibly frustrating to adopt a vegan diet and still not hit your target weight. Many people are stuck in a rut, their clothes too tight, and unsure where to turn. Here are eight tips for combating weight-loss resistance when you're on a vegan diet:
1. Always avoid vegan junk food
One of the advantages of a vegan diet is that it can be a whole food, plant diet (WFP) with minimal or no processed foods. However, both newcomers and veterans of the vegan movement often eat frozen pizzas, burritos, mac n’ cheese, and ice cream. Many of these foods are calorie-dense, high-carb, and can lead to overeating. The focus for health and weight management should be a WFP diet with single-ingredient fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes made into appealing and tasty combinations. Eliminating added salt, oil, and sugar might be the answer to your weight loss conundrum.
2. Test your thyroid.
On occasion, weight loss stagnates due to medical issues, and a low thyroid level, or hypothyroidism, is a possible cause. Getting tested for thyroid function by blood analysis (make sure your doctor is testing for TSH, free T4, free T3, and TPO) is wise and may reveal a sluggish thyroid. Thyroid hormone replacement may restore you to your happy weight.
3. Avoid chemicals and plastics.
Chemicals called endocrine disruptors (EDC) are pervasive and enter our bodies via plastic bottles, thermal receipts, food wrappers at fast food restaurants, and even coffee cups. EDCs are associated with obesity and can be avoided by substituting glass for plastic, avoiding receipts, and driving past the fast food restaurant—home to your kitchen where the real food is.
4. Take a close look at your sleep.
Although it's most common in obese patients, both thin and overweight people may also have sleep apnea. Clues are snoring, daytime fatigue, and waking up suddenly during the night. A family member might even report hearing you stop breathing. Getting tested for sleep apnea in a lab or at home and getting therapy if the studies are abnormal may reduce stress and restore weight loss.
5. Get serious about your stress levels.
Stress from relationships, caring for older parents, or a job might activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and lead to weight gain. Weight loss can be stifled by elevated cortisol levels. Managing stress through therapy, yoga, meditation, adaptogens like ashwagandha, and exercise can lower cortisol levels and restore weight loss.
6. Experiment with fasting.
The truth is, you can overeat on a vegan diet just like you can on an animal-based one. Although lentils, for example, are much less calorically dense than fried chicken, eating them and other plant foods to excess may lead to weight gain. I have found that fasting can break through this barrier and offer a plan to restore optimal weight. I lost 25 pounds in the last year using a fasting-mimicking diet for five days every month. The rest of the month I eat a healthy WFP diet. I also added a 24-hour water fast once a week and a 12-hour time-restricted feeding window to my routine. The reality is that by eating less and using fasting, you increase the odds that you will hit an optimal weight.
7. Move your body regularly.
It's true that you can't “out-exercise a bad diet," but moving from a sedentary life to an active one, including sessions in the gym, can facilitate weight loss. Studies have shown significant weight loss with regular exercise. The trio of a plant-bsed diet, fasting, and exercise can restore optimal weight in just a few months.
8. Talk to your doctor about supplements.
Some plant-based supplements may trigger weight loss. In women, vitamin D supplementation may facilitate weight loss, and most vegans need a little extra vitamin D3 anyway. Other plant supplements have been shown to facilitate weight loss, including green tea. I have seen weight loss facilitated by the use of amla (Indian gooseberry) and bergamot, but the scientific data is sparse.
The frustration of adopting a WFP diet yet not hitting a healthy weight goal is more common than appreciated. I suspect that excess junk food choices and overall excess calories are the major causes of the problem. The solution for many is to eat fewer meals a day (I eat lunch and dinner), incorporate a fasting and fasting-mimicking diet, and focus on 7 to 8 hours of sleep and stress reduction.
Dr. Joel Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is owner of GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. His books, The Whole Heart Solution, Dead Execs Don't Get Bonuses, and Vegan Sex are all available for sale now.