Going vegetarian is often a first step for people who are looking to lose weight. In fact, according to a recent study, vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters. Many people convert over to meatless eating because they think it’s healthier, easier or even more convenient. However, many vegetarians find that giving up meat can cause some initial difficulty with weight loss, because of the costs and challenges associated with eating healthy, balanced vegetarian meals. To make the transition easier, here are some nutrition tips and tricks that will help you on your vegetarian weight loss journey.
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is one that excludes meat, fish, and poultry. While some people follow this diet for religious or ethical reasons, others may follow it because of it’s health benefits.
Vegetarian diet is a broad term and includes the following:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: In this diet you are only allowed to eat eggs and dairy but exclude meat, fish, and poultry.
- Lacto-vegetarian: In this diet, you can eat dairy but exclude eggs, meat, fish, and poultry.
- Ovo-vegetarian: In this diet, you are allowed to eat eggs but excludes dairy, meat, fish, and poultry.
- Vegan: In this diet, you have to exclude all animal products, including honey, dairy, and eggs.
- Other plant-based eating patterns include:
- Flexitarian: In this diet, you can include some animal foods, but it is primarily vegetarian.
- Pescatarian: In this diet, you can include fish but not meat.
Typically vegetarian diets emphasize fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seeds. These foods are rich in micronutrients, fibre, beneficial plant compounds, and they tend to be lower in fat, calories, and protein than animal foods.
The vegetarian diet primarily focuses on nutrient-rich foods. Therefore, it is often linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain cancers. Additionally, following a vegetarian diet can be an operative way to lose weight.
Nevertheless, the benefits of vegetarianism chiefly depend on the types of foods you consume daily and your overall lifestyle habits.
Choosing highly processed or saturated fats rich foods will provide fewer benefits than a diet grounded on unrefined, whole plant foods. Further, it may also have several downsides.
What are the barriers to losing weight on a vegetarian diet?
Vegetarianism seems like an effective way to shed excess weight, but several factors can prevent this from happening. Some of these barriers are listed below:
Not being aware of bodies satiety hormone: When you eat more calories than you need, you can gain weight. Most often, this is because we are either consumed by technology or work while eating, thus, don’t realise when we feel full, or choose foods that don’t satiate us enough. Here is a classic example of how different foods worth 500 calories fill up our stomach:
Imagine gorging down a bag of chips and still not feeling full, but having just one apple will fill most of us up. This is because plants are high in fibre, thus, triggering us to stop eating when we have reached satiety.
Eating too many refined carbs: Foods rich in refined carbs, like white pasta, white bread and white rice lack fibre, and they do not curb hunger as much as complex carbs or whole-grain. As a result of this, they load you down with excess calories. Additionally, some studies also suggest that refined carbs can trigger the release of extra insulin (a blood sugar regulating hormone), contributing to weight gain.
Overdoing calorie-rich foods: Vegetarian meals cooked using too many nuts/ oil’s and seeds are still high in fats. Fats account for 9 calories for every gram compared to 4 calories per gram of proteins and carbs. Sure nuts/ seeds are healthy, but only in moderation.
Why choose a vegetarian diet for fat loss?
A vegetarian diet is a lifestyle choice. It is not necessarily a diet plan that is specifically targeted at weight loss. However, both adults and children that eat vegetarian-based diets are mostly slimmer than those who eat non-vegetarian foods.
One of the many reasons for this could be because a vegetarian diet frequently includes recipes centred on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fibre and plant-based proteins. All of these are lower in calories and lower in fats too. They also help trigger satiety faster, thus, prevent overeating.
If fat loss is your goal, lifestyle changes, besides nutrition become of utmost importance. Watch this to understand more:
Yet, a vegetarian diet is not always low in calories. Vegetarians can also gain weight if they consume too many high-calorie foods, like sweetened beverages, sweets, fried foods, processed foods, etc., or if their portion sizes are too large.
People also use a vegetarian diet to help them gain weight without the side effects of metabolic diseases that come from consuming meat. Here is an example:
South Indian diet for Muscle Gain and Weight Gain.
Punjabi Diet Plan For Weight Gain and Bodybuilding.
Top Myths around a Vegetarian Diet
There are so many so-called facts about vegetarian eating that are false. Let’s bust some here:
Vegetarianism guarantees weight loss
As stated above, every vegetarian and vegan diet are not always healthful. Processed foods, especially in restaurants can pile on 1000’s of extra calories even if it is vegetarian. Thus, the key to weight loss is a healthful diet along with regular exercise. Yet, there is evidence following a plant-based diet and weight loss. For example, a review published in Translational Psychiatry states that:
“We found robust evidence for short- to moderate-term beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets [.] on weight status, energy metabolism, and systemic inflammation.”
Another review in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care examined the impact of plant-based diets on diabetic people. The authors concluded that these diets associates with a “significant improvement” in weight loss, among other benefits.
Vegetarians and vegans cannot get enough protein
Another myth about vegetarianism or veganism needs to be smashed. Protein’s are the building of plants and everything you eat has proteins. The RDA for proteins is set as low as 0.8- 1.2 grams per KG of bodyweight. So if I am 55 kilo’s, my protein requirements would be 40 grams per day. Just a cup of lentils could have as high as 10 grams.
There are various other protein choices such as tofu, lentils, seitan, chickpeas, many other types of spelt, bean, spirulina, oats, quinoa, seeds, wild rice, and nuts.
Further, there are protein-rich vegetables like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, potatoes, artichokes, brussels sprouts, peas, and sweet potatoes. So vegans do get their share of protein from these sources.
You cannot get B12 from a vegetarian diet
B12 is a nutrient produced by bacteria in the soil. Nor animals, nor plants are sources of B12. B12 deficiency is as much of a non- vegetarian problem as a vegetarian problem.
The best source of B12 would be getting outdoor time in the mud like playgrounds, a walk in the beach or time spend gardening. Alternatively, a good B12 supplement does the trick.
Dairy is essential for strong bones
This is far far far from the truth. The calcium from dairy is not the most optimal source for humans and leads to brittle bones instead of strong bones. Read this for more:
Milk- is it slowly poisoning you?
Choose plant- based calcium sources for better health. There are plenty of calcium-rich foods like lentils, soy-based foods, spinach, figs, beans, chia, peas, turnips, seaweed, flax, sesame seeds, and nuts.
What are the benefits of a vegetarian diet?
Our science-backed benefits might be just enough to encourage you to give vegetarianism a try! (With even more resources to get you off to a good start below the list…)
- Live longer…
Recent studies1 have shown that following a vegetarian diet improves your mortality rate by up to 12%!
Following a vegetarian diet can increase your life span and lower your risk of death. All of the health benefits mentioned below accumulate to improve mortality, decreasing your risks of chronic illnesses. You’ll be surprised by how much a meat free diet can help your body inside and out!
- Lose more weight…
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition2, you could potentially lose twice as much weight following a vegetarian diet…
Researchers found that a vegetarian diet resulted in an average loss of 6.2kg compared to 3.2 kg for a conventional diet.
- Lower your blood pressure…
Fruits and vegetables are low in sodium but rich in potassium, characteristics that help to lower blood pressure… 32(!) different studies3 have shown that following a vegetarian diet can lead to lower blood pressure compared to an omnivorous diet.
- Lower your cholesterol…
Further studies found that4 plant based vegetarian diets are commonly associated with lower cholesterol levels due to reduced intake in saturated fats and an increased intake of plant based foods.
Researchers believe the link between vegetarian diets and lower cholesterol is due to lower saturated fat intake and increased consumption of plant foods that are naturally rich in components such as fibre, soy protein and plant sterols.
Why not try introducing more meat free evening meals like this vegetarian cottage pie?
- Lower your risk of heart disease and strokes…
A new study5 which analysed almost half a million Europeans found that people who followed the most pro-vegetarian diets had a 20% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
High cholesterol and blood pressure play an important role in the prevention of heart disease and we already know that following a vegetarian diet lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol (see points 3 and 4 above). Results clearly showed that the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower compared to non vegetarians6.
- Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes…
Specialist diabetes researchers have shown that a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet can help to protect against type 2 diabetes, showing a 50% increase in prevention!
A vegetarian diet rich in plant based foods is low in fat and supplies your body with fuel that helps to contribute to more stable blood sugar7.
- Lower your risk of bowel and colon cancer…
Many people are already aware that eating less red or processed meat, regardless of if you chose vegetarianism or not, can reduce your risk of colon and bowel cancer.
But did you know, a recent study from the University of California has shown8 those who follow a vegetarian diet can reduce their risk of colon cancer by up to 22%!
- Lower your risk of becoming obese…
A vegetarian diet could cut your risk of becoming obese by up to 43%9 supporting recommendations to make the shift to diets rich in plant foods, with lower or no intake of animal foods.
Is a vegetarian diet safe?
People not only can survive, but thrive on a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is a safe and healthy diet. Adults, children, pregnant and lactating women can meet all their nutritional requirements by following a vegetarian diet.
In fact minerals and vitamins are predominantly made by plants, thus, as long as one eats enough calories, a vegetarian diet is more nutritionally dense that a meat heavy diet.
Besides this, a vegetarian diet is anti- inflammatory, naturally heart healthy and anti- oxidant. This is provided you consume whole plants and not junk food.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- eat fish, but no red meat or poultry.
- 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.
- 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 tonsTrusted Source of templatesTrusted Source
- 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.
- 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
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)