If you’ve ever downed a bag of baby carrots to keep yourself from turning to higher cal snacks, you could be on to something: New research shows that embracing a plant-based diet may be the most effective way to lose weight.
Brie Turner-McGrievy, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, followed 63 people on vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous diets for eight weeks. Participants stuck to low-fat, low-glycemic index foods without restricting or counting calories. The results? Vegans and vegetarians lost an average of 8.2 to 9.9 pounds while meat-eaters dropped an average of 5.1 pounds. Plus, two months after the study, the vegans, vegetarians, and pesco-vegetarians (vegetarians who eat fish) all lost more weight than omnivores. At six months, the vegans were only 30% to 40% adherent to the diet, yet continued to lose more than the other groups—they lost about 7.5% of their body weight compared to vegetarians, who dropped approximately 5.8%.
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Because the vegan diet is generally low in fat (which contains more calories per gram), it could explain why the vegans shed more pounds, Dr. Turner-McGrievy says. But there could also be something a bit more simple at play: the idea of following a diet that restricts certain foods—not calories. “The idea of being able to be on a diet where you can eat till you’re full and not have to self-monitor, even though it seems very extreme, is appealing to certain people. Some people find it very liberating,” Dr. Turner-McGrievy says.
Christopher Gardner, PhD, an associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, says becoming a vegan for social reasons—not just weight loss—makes it sustainable in the long term. (Need a little encouragement? These 8 cruelest foods you eat will have you looking at meals in a whole new way.)
could write and sing the praises about being vegan forever, but I thought I would rather share a few lessons I have learned to help those who might be struggling in their own journeys.
When I first thought about giving up meat, I honestly didn’t think I could do it. I loved meat, especially chicken, and while I always felt that hypocritical, cognitive dissonance between my “love” for animals and my food addictions, I was never able to align my actions with my conscience. Then again, I had never truly tried.
When I decided to go meat-free for a few days each week, I was somewhat at a loss of what to eat. It was tough to plan a day’s menu, let alone more than one day, but it got easier the more I learned, the more vegetables I tried, and the more I learned to cook. Now being meat-free (and dairy, egg, and honey-free) is effortless and the variety of foods to eat is endless.
Then I was confused how to do Weight Watchers and veganism at the same time. I was used to eating fat-free foods (before I learned that fat-free usually equals extra sugar) and vegan foods had more calories and total fat. I recall standing in Whole Foods crying because I didn’t know what to do or what to buy. It took my making the effort to educate myself about nutrition to understand that the vegan choice was not only the healthier and more compassionate choice but better for my weight loss plan as well.
At first, I didn’t like a lot of foods. I hated tofu, soy milk, almond milk, tempeh, etc., but I kept trying them again and again. I tried different ways of cooking them, went to restaurants that knew how to cook them and eventually, I ended up loving them. But it took me over a year to like tofu and two years to love tempeh. Now I have a rule that I am not allowed to say I don’t like a food until I have tried it several times and in several different ways.
The point is: don’t give up if it’s hard for you in the beginning. Anything new takes time to get accustomed to. Keep learning. Visit a sanctuary and meet the animals. Practice makes perfect!
It’s sad to say, but there is a lot of judgment out there in the vegan world. It’s bad enough that vegans get judged by omnivores (or pre-vegans or whatever you want to call people), but then, vegans get judged by other vegans for not being vegan the “right” way, or for the “right” reasons, or fast enough, or angry enough, etc.
There are some vegans who were raised vegetarian or vegan, which is awesome. They didn’t eat much, if any, animal products and therefore, probably don’t miss those foods or understand why anyone would want to eat them. I wish that was my story. But most vegans saw the light later and the later in life it happened, the more years of consuming animal products they experienced. Going vegan at age 40 or 50 is not the same experience as going vegan as a teenager or in your 20s.
Some people become vegetarian and stay there for years before they transition to veganism. Some people go directly to vegan. Some people do it for ethical reasons, some for health. The important thing is getting there no matter what path a person takes. If someone stopped eating animal products because they think aliens told them to, fine. As long as animal lives are saved, that is what matters.
My husband and I went vegan in our 40s. We each had a lifetime of meat-eating habits to change and long-term, well-established relationships and activities that were affected. It doesn’t mean that we couldn’t make the change since we did, and we did it relatively quickly, but it does mean that we had a lot of challenges to deal with.
And while I am proud to say that we have never “fallen off the vegan wagon,” that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been tempted which leads to my next lesson.