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How to Lose Weight with a Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarianism has become increasingly popular in recent years.

This diet has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases and may aid in weight loss.

However, you may find it difficult to lose weight while fasting - especially if you eat too many refined carbohydrates or highly processed foods.

This article explains how to lose weight on a vegetarian diet.

How to Lose Weight with a Vegetarian Diet
How to Lose Weight with a Vegetarian Diet

What is a vegetarian?

Vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry.

Some people may follow this diet for religious or ethical reasons, while others are intrigued by its possible health benefits.

The main types of vegetarian diets are:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs and dairy but excludes meat, fish and poultry

  • Lacto-vegetarian: allows dairy but excludes eggs, meat, fish and poultry

  • Ovo-vegetarian: allows eggs but excludes dairy, meat, fish and poultry

  • Vegan: excludes all animal products, including honey, milk and eggs

Other plant-based eating patterns include the flexitarian diet (which includes some animal foods but is mostly vegetarian) and the pescatarian diet (which includes fish but not meat).

Vegetarian diets typically focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These foods are rich in fiber, micronutrients, and beneficial plant compounds, and tend to be lower in calories, fat, and protein than animal foods.

Since this diet emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, it has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Furthermore, studies show that following a vegetarian diet can be an effective way to lose weight.

However, the benefits of going vegan largely depend on the foods you eat and your overall dietary habits.

Eating too many or choosing too many highly processed foods will provide fewer benefits than a diet based on whole, whole plant foods — and there may be some downsides.

SUMMARY A vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry and focuses primarily on plant foods. It has been linked to weight loss and a reduced risk of chronic diseases, but these benefits depend on the foods you eat.

Barriers to weight loss with a vegetarian diet

Although fasting seems like an effective way to lose excess weight, a number of factors can prevent this from happening.

Eat large portions and not enough protein

Eating more calories than you need can lead to weight gain.

Even if you're filling up on nutritious foods on a vegetarian diet, you can still help yourself eat larger portions than you need.

This is especially common if you're conserving your protein intake.

Protein can increase fullness by reducing levels of ghrelin, a hormone that regulates hunger, which in turn can reduce your overall calorie intake and increase weight loss.

If you don't eat enough protein, you may eat more food to feel full - hindering your weight loss efforts.

While your protein needs can be easily met on a vegetarian diet, you may have a hard time eliminating meat from your diet at first.

Eating too many refined carbohydrates

Foods high in refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pizza, and pasta, can easily be eaten in excess on a vegetarian diet.

They are widely available and can sometimes be the only vegetarian option at restaurants or gatherings.

Foods high in refined carbohydrates tend to lack fiber and don't curb hunger as much as whole, complex grains. As a result, they may load you with excess calories.

What's more, some studies show that refined carbs trigger the release of extra insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. This can also contribute to weight gain.

In fact, one study including about 500,000 adults found a strong association between higher insulin levels after carb intake and a greater body mass index (BMI).

Making too many calorie-rich foods

When you switch to a vegetarian diet, you can significantly increase your intake of high-fat plant foods.

Vegetarian meals often incorporate nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, or coconuts. While these foods are incredibly nutritious and filling, they also provide 9 calories per gram - compared to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates.

For example, 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter contains a whopping 191 calories, 148 of which come from fat.

What's more, many people eat more than the recommended serving size of nut butters and other healthy fats.

Focus on highly processed vegetarian food

If you are relying on too many processed foods as part of a vegetarian diet, it may be difficult for you to lose weight.

Countless products are technically vegetarian but still harbor unnecessary additives and other unhealthy ingredients. Examples include veggie burgers, meat substitutes, frozen meals, baked goods, packaged desserts, and vegan cheese.

These foods are often packed with not only sodium, highly processed compounds, chemical preservatives and colorants but also calories and added sugars.

Therefore, they can contribute to weight gain when eaten in excess.

In fact, one review linked eating extremely processed foods to an increased risk of obesity, as well as higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure.

SUMMARY Some barriers to weight loss on a vegetarian diet include not eating enough protein and relying too much on refined carbs, high-calorie foods, and highly processed items.

Tips to lose weight when fasting

Several strategies can help promote weight loss with a vegetarian diet, including:

  • Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Choosing vegetables that are high in fiber, like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, leafy greens, and mushrooms, can help keep you full and reduce calorie intake.

  • Incorporate protein in every meal and snack. Protein-rich vegetarian foods include beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, eggs, dairy products, and soy foods (such as tempeh, tofu, and edamame).

  • Opt for complex carbs. These well-fortified foods include whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

  • Watch your portions of high-calorie foods. Pair nuts, seeds, and healthy fats with lower-calorie foods so you don't overeat.

  • Eat mainly whole foods. Unprocessed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, don't have any unnecessary ingredients.

  • Limit highly processed foods. Avoid meat alternatives, frozen meals, and other extremely processed foods, as they may contain unhealthy additives, added salt, and added sugar.

A balanced vegetarian diet that emphasizes whole plant foods and limits refined carbs and highly processed products can help you lose weight.

However, don't forget other important contributors to weight loss, such as proper sleep, hydration, and exercise.

SUMMARYIncluding protein in all meals, eating more whole foods, and eliminating highly processed foods are just a few of the techniques you can use to lose weight on a vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian food for weight loss

To boost weight loss, choose a vegetarian diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods.

Depending on your particular regimen, you can also incorporate milk or eggs.

Vegetarian foods that may aid weight loss include:

  • Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, celery, and cucumbers

  • Starchy vegetables: peas, potatoes, corn and winter squash bí

  • Fruits: berries, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, citrus, kiwi and mango

  • Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, farro, millet, barley and bulgur wheat

  • Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans đậu

  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and avocado seeds

  • Lean proteins: beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, nut butters, eggs, greek yogurt, milk and soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame

  • Healthy fats: avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and cheese

  • Water and other healthy drinks: naturally flavored seltzers, fruit juices, and whole coffee or tea

SUMMARY Eating a variety of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can help you lose weight on a vegetarian diet.

Foods to avoid on a vegetarian diet to lose weight

While most plant foods are naturally healthy, highly processed vegetarian foods tend to be less so.

You should limit or avoid the following foods if you are following a vegetarian diet to lose weight:

  • Highly processed vegetarian foods: veggie burgers, meat substitutes, frozen meals, frozen desserts, and imitation dairy products

  • Refined carbohydrates: white bread, white pasta, bagels and crackers

  • Sugary foods and beverages: candy, cookies, cakes, sugar, soda, fruit juices, energy drinks, and sweetened teas

Also, try to avoid excessively large portions of any food — especially those high in sugar and calories.

SUMMARY If you're looking to lose weight on a vegetarian diet, you should steer clear of highly processed products, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks.

Sample vegetarian meal plan for weight loss

This 5-day meal plan offers a few ideas for vegetarian diets for weight loss.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: steel-cut oats with apples, peanut butter and cinnamon

  • Lunch: salad with greens, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar

  • Dinner: black bean soup with some Greek yogurt, whole grain bread and side salad

  • Snack: almonds and dark chocolate

Day 2

  • Breakfast: scrambled eggs with broccoli and cheddar, plus a side of berries

  • Lunch: a bowl of burrito with brown rice, pinto beans, tomatoes, onions and avocado

  • Dinner: zucchini noodles with marinara, sunflower seeds and white beans

  • Snack: string cheese or an orange

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt with pineapple, shredded coconut and walnuts

  • Lunch: lentil soup, chopped bell peppers and guacamole

  • Dinner: Eggplant Parmesan served over whole-grain pasta and chickpeas

  • Snack: a whole grain granola bar or berries

Day 4

  • Breakfast: a smoothie made with unsweetened almond milk, spinach, hemp seeds, frozen berries, and a banana

  • Lunch: egg salad on whole grain bread with strawberries, carrots and hummus

  • Dinner: stir-fry with tofu, carrots, broccoli, brown rice, soy sauce and honey

  • Snack: dried mango and pistachio

Day 5

  • Breakfast: two eggs and a slice of whole-grain toast with avocado, plus a side of grapes

  • Lunch: salad with kale, pecans, dried cranberries, goat cheese and edamame

  • Dinner: homemade mung bean cake with sautéed mushrooms and baked sweet potatoes

  • Snack: Greek yogurt with cherries

SUMMARY Meal and snack ideas can help you get started with going vegan to lose weight.

Key point

A vegetarian diet that focuses on nutritious plant foods can help you lose weight.

However, it's important to eat enough protein while limiting your portion sizes and intake of foods high in calories, refined carbs, and highly processed items.

Remember that not all vegetarian foods are healthy.

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