Most commonly, we hear about individuals who went plant-based and lost 20, 40, 60... or even 100 lbs. or more. These amazing individuals (and their inspiring accomplishments) are highlighted each week on Happy Herbivore as part of our "Herbies of the Week" series.
Still, at least weekly, I get an email or I see a comment on Facebook a lot like this one:
"I keep hearing about how everyone loses weight going plant-based, but I haven't lost a pound!"
"I went vegan and I GAINED weight"
For some, the weight falls off at first then slows. For others, the weight never budged and some people experience weight gain.
which are mindful of calories and fat. We've had so many success stories with the plans. Even if you're not looking to lose weight, they're great for anyone who wants to eat better, maintain their weight, is new to being vegan/plant-based or just wants to simplify their life.
You can also try our 3-Day Reboot or our 10-Day Cleanse & Wellness Immersion programs (or both!). I can't recommend them enough if you're stuck in a rut.
Back to the topic at hand: Why isn't weight loss happening?
Through Happy Herbivore and the meal plan service, plus all the years I was a personal trainer, I've found weight gain (or lack of weight loss) tends to come back to diet more than anything. Exercise can help, but it almost always comes back to diet.
When I was a personal trainer, I had two clients who insisted it didn't matter "what" they ate, as long as they didn't go over a set number of calories. They trained hard, worked out 5-6x a week, scrupulously counted calories and nada. When the weight wouldn't budge, they set their calorie limit even lower. Still nada. Finally they tried my meal plan, which was full of healthy foods, and ta-da!
This is anecdotal evidence at best, I know — but my point is, when it comes to weight loss, in nearly every instance of every person I've ever worked with or talked to, it was diet that was the problem (or the solution) — not more exercise. Many of my clients don't exercise at all, and they are still losing.
In fact, just last week, I was talking to Dustin who sadly has a broken foot. Even though Dustin lost some of his mobility (and can't, say, go for a run), he's not gaining back any of the weight he lost. He thanks and attributes that to his plant-based diet.
So yes, "diet" is the key — but when I say "diet, " I mean the food you eat, not diet as in restriction or deprivation a la the cabbage soup "diet."
Over the years, I've found the same dozen or so culprits (most of which are "food, " but some are behaviors) that cause my clients to gain weight or slow their weight loss. In just about every instance, once the "culprits" were removed, the scale started moving again.
1. Oil. If you're not oil-free, that's your culprit. Even if you think you're oil-free, make sure you really are 100%. You'd be surprised how often oil sneaks into foods. Even foods that you expect to be oil-free like mustard, vegetable broth or hot sauce, can have oil. Check all your condiments. Check all your breads, crackers, etc. Anything that you didn't make yourself, check. Oil can even sneak into non-dairy milk.
2. "Vegan" Foods. Most vegan substitutes (i.e., faux meats, faux cheese) are junky and not healthy (and most contain oil). Make sure you're not eating vegan convenience foods if you're trying to lose weight. Just because something is "vegan" doesn't mean it's healthy. Oreos, Ritz crackers, French fries, Daiya cheese, Coconut Bliss ice cream — all vegan, but they won't help you lose weight. Also be weary of some non-dairy milks, as many contain oil. Also try to buy unsweetened "milks" if you can, and steer clear of flavored milks like chocolate soy milk. That's a candy bar in a glass.
3. High-Fat Plant Foods. Don't get me wrong, I love avocado and guacamole from time to time, but if you're eating high fat plant foods regularly, this is your likely culprit. As Dr. McDougall says, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear." If you're trying to lose weight, limit tofu, tempeh, avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut milk, coconut, nut butters (i.e., almond butter and peanut butter), chocolate, and olives. These foods should be used sparingly, as a condiment (i.e., sprinkle a few seeds on a salad) or a treat. I went on an avocado bender a few summers ago and was shocked how fast the weight crept back on.
4. Caloric Density. The bulk of your meals should be made from foods lower in caloric density that are satiating. Main food staples should be grains and starches, vegetables (particularly green vegetables), beans and fruit. (P.S.:This what we follow on the meal plans, reboot and cleanse.)
5. Salt. While I follow the advice of Dr. McDougall, who says a little salt is okay to make things palatable; salt can sneak into a lot of plant foods and then you're consuming too much. For example, canned beans and vegetable broth can have unruly amounts of salt. According to Jeff Novick, MS RD, salt should be a 1:1 ratio with calories in a prepackaged food. For example, if something contains 100 calories per serving, there should be no more than 100 mg of sodium per serving. Lastly, if you must salt your food, add salt AFTER you finish. Do not add salt during cooking.
6. Drinking calories. Chewing is a very important part of digestion and helps slow you down. I can slurp down a 500-calorie drink and be ready for more, but I can't chew 500 calories worth of foods that fast. Chances are, I'd be stuffed afterward if I could even make it through all those foods. Drinking calories doesn't provide the same satiety as chewed whole foods. Use your teeth like nature intended :)