The best way to use a vegan diet to achieve a healthy weight
Some people effortlessly lose weight when they go vegan, others gain it – diet change can have a different impact on each of us! It depends on what your diet was like before you changed it, what it looks like now, your metabolism, age, stress levels and gender. However, if you want to lose weight, a few tweaks to your diet may be all you need.
Fibre is your friend
If you go hungry or eat foods that give you a sugar-high followed by an energy nosedive, your chances of losing weight plummet because eventually you’ll give in and binge to satisfy your hunger. Foods that sate your appetite and give you a steady energy supply are the best to prevent that from happening.
In practice, it means eating fibre-rich foods throughout the day. Fibre binds water and increases the food bulk in your digestive system, which helps you feel fuller. It also slows down carbohydrate (sugar) absorption and so gives you a steadier energy supply.
Go for wholegrains (wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, jumbo oats), fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas) and nuts and seeds. Steer clear of white bread, white rice, processed snacks (either sweet or salty), sugar and sugary ‘healthy’ foods, such as sweetened morning cereals, granola bars or flapjacks.
Fruit contains natural sugars but there’s no reason to avoid it as all the fibre, vitamins and minerals it contains slows down sugar absorption. You should, however, avoid sweetened dried fruit and tinned varieties – they both have too much added sugar.
Good and bad fats
We’ve evolved to have a taste for fatty foods because fat is an extra-rich energy source and that’s why we often find them irresistible and eat way too much. The truth is, we need only a small amount of essential unsaturated fats, which you can get from a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds.
For the body to be able to use vitamins A, D, E and K we need a little bit of fat as these are fat-soluble vitamins – fat makes them available to your body. But again, you only small amounts are needed. As a rule of thumb, don’t use more than a teaspoon of oil per portion in cooking, use fatty spreads on bread only in a thin layer and when snacking, make sure you don’t have more than two tablespoons’ worth of nuts or seeds. When it comes to nut butters or tahini, one tablespoon per portion should be the upper limit.
If you fancy potato chips, bake them in the oven and throw in some other thinly sliced veggies, too! And don’t forget to read labels – ready-made foods can have surprisingly high amounts of fat.
Protein at every meal
Protein is an essential nutrient so we need it regardless of whether we’re trying to lose or gain weight. However, it takes your body longer to digest it so eating protein-rich foods delays hunger. Having a good protein source at every meal can help curb cravings later. It just so happens that many protein-rich vegan foods are also great sources of fibre – lentils, beans, chickpeas, soya and products made from it, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Treats and pitfalls
Most of us can’t entirely give up our favourite treats and maybe we don’t even want to. The best way to deal with this is to allow yourself a small amount of what you fancy and pair it with something healthier – two biscuits and a piece of fruit instead of five biscuits – or share your treat with a friend so you automatically eat a smaller portion. Don’t overindulge and pick your treats wisely so they’re a small addition to your overall diet but never a staple.
If you know that treat rationing isn’t going to work for you, try to go without entirely and replace your favourite treat with something healthier. After three weeks, you’ll start feeling that it’s your new normal.
One of the common pitfalls is bread and pastry-based foods. There’s nothing wrong with wholemeal bread as a part of a meal but if you eat bread (particularly white bread) along with pasta, rice dishes or potatoes, you may be increasing your calorie intake too much.
Pastry foods are another weight-loss enemy as most are packed with so much fat that it hikes up your energy intake a lot more than you’d expect. While losing weight, avoid pies, pastries and pasties.
Set your limits – or not!
If you make your diet low in fat, high in fibre, plentiful in protein, avoid processed foods and focus on wholefoods, you may find that you don’t need to limit your portion size at all. Your meals will fill you up sooner than if you eat fat-soaked, sugar-rich foods and you’ll be able to achieve healthy weight with no calorie counting.
If you think you may need at least some limits to feel in control, set sustainable rules – for example, having two slices of bread for breakfast, one cup of rice with a meal or two squares of dark chocolate as a dessert. If you’re too strict, you’ll likely fail so being ‘not-too-strict’ can help you succeed.
Get the blood flowing
Being physically active is natural and healthy for us – it makes us feel better because it releases feel-good hormones, stimulates our muscles and bones and lubricates our joints. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s always better to up your physical activity rather than severely limit your food intake. Go for a walk, hike, use the stairs, dance, cycle, jog or do yoga. The gym is an option but not a must. Walk to the shops instead of driving – or at least park your car at the far end of the parking lot.
There’s no magic formula but a wholesome vegan diet is great for achieving and maintaining healthy weight!