How to Lose Weight on a Plant-Based Diet

Curious about heading down the plant-based path for weight loss? Try starting with these tips.

1. Decide on Your Definition of Plant-Based

There’s no single definition of plant-based eating, so it’s up to you to decide which style of this diet works for you. For example, your dietary pattern could look like veganism, which nixes all foods derived from animals; lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, which permits eggs and dairy; or pescatarianism, which includes seafood. There’s even a flexitarian diet, which means you’ll still eat animal products here and there, but primarily follow a plant-based eating pattern. Research has associated veganism, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, pescetarianism, and flexitarianism with weight loss. Ultimately, you have options and identifying your own definition will provide direction for your dietary choices.

Before diving in, you may also want to give some thought to how this dietary pattern will affect your lifestyle. For example, going vegan may present extra challenges in social settings or while dining out, and will require more substitutions in cooking and baking at home. Broader versions of vegetarianism, on the other hand, may be easier to follow.

2. Avoid an All-or-Nothing Mentality

Remember, your diet is up to you — so even if you choose a plant-based eating pattern, it doesn’t mean you can never depart from it. You may also find you prefer to ease into plant-forward eating slowly, rather than in one fell swoop. “Maybe you are not ready to go fully plant based right now; that is fine,” says Newlin. “Perhaps start by adding more vegetables to meals you already love and eating fruit as dessert.”

Substituting fruit for higher-calorie desserts could amplify your weight loss efforts. A study published in 2019 in Frontiers in Nutrition revealed that eating fresh, whole fruits was unlikely to contribute excess calories and body fat, and could even help prevent overweight.

3. Learn About Plant-Based Swaps

Switching to a plant-based diet won’t require tweaking your macros or counting your calories, but it does require a bit of education. To be prepared for this way of eating, take some time to learn about various plant-based substitutions you can make. “Experiment with different types of plant-based proteins and recipes,” suggests Mitri — or learn about how to use flax “eggs” and plant oils in place of animal products in baking.

Often, these plant-based substitutions contain fewer calories and fat than their animal counterparts, thus possibly supporting weight loss. A 3-ounce serving of tofu, for example, supplies just 63 calories, whereas a 3-ounce chicken breast has 122 calories, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Similarly, 1 cup of almond milk contains 37 calories and 3 grams of fat, compared with the 122 calories and 4.6 grams of fat in 1 cup of 2 percent cow’s milk, per the USDA.

4. Don’t Forget About Protein

Missing out on protein is a common pitfall of a plant-based diet, especially if you’ve long depended on animal products for this macronutrient. As you transition away from meat, don’t forget to include protein-rich plant foods like beans, legumes, tofu, seitan, and tempeh.

Protein could be one key to successful weight loss. While research doesn’t show that plant protein has any significant edge over animal protein for dropping pounds, studies suggest getting enough of this macronutrient indeed supports losing weight.

5. Keep Meal Planning Simple

“Don’t complicate plant-based eating!” advises Newlin. “You can throw together a healthy plant-based meal in less than 10 minutes.” Her go-to meal: a bag of frozen precooked rice, a bag of stir-fry vegetables, some shelled edamame, and a small amount of bottled sauce. “In the beginning, keep it easy and venture into trying new recipes as you feel more confident.”

Simple, home-cooked meals are not only a boon to busy weeknights; they might also lead to a lower number on the scale In a study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, people who planned their meals had lower body mass index (BMI) than those who did not.

6. Get Strategic for Satiety

Downing a bowl of salad greens for lunch is an excellent way to take in micronutrients and antioxidants, but it might leave you hungry by 2 p.m. On a plant-based diet, it’s helpful to plan for foods that keep you full. “Prioritize including a protein and fiber source with every meal, and limit the number of refined carbs in your diet,” Mitri suggests. By staying satisfied throughout the day, you’ll reduce the likelihood of overeating when mealtime or snacktime rolls around.

7. Pay Attention to Food Labels

Just because a food advertises itself as plant-based doesn’t make it healthy. Get savvy with food labels so you can distinguish when a packaged food is actually a good choice. “Read the labels, pay attention to saturated fats, added sugar, and the sodium content in packaged foods,” Newlin recommends. “Junk food is still junk food even when wrapped in plant-based labeling.” This is an especially smart move for reaching a healthy weight, since highly processed foods are associated with weight gain, per the National Institutes of Health.

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