Start Here to Lose Weight! Answers to your top plant-based weight loss questions
1. What should (or shouldn’t) I eat and drink to lose weight?
First, you need to eat leafy greens. Examples of these are kale, lettuce, arugula and spinach. There are many more out there. Aim to eat at least 50% of your leafy greens raw. That way, they take up more room in your stomach and provide more satisfaction.
The second food group you should focus on is the ‘other’ vegetables. Salads are boring if they’re only lettuce and dressing. Add color and flavor to your salads and main meals by including colorful vegetables. My favorite examples of these are carrots, beets and onions. So vibrant!
The third most important group is the legumes. My favorites are chickpeas, soy (edamame and tempeh) and lentils. Legumes provide lasting satisfaction, calories and nutrition to your meal. They’re packed with fiber and help keep you full. Other examples include pinto beans, kidney beans, snow peas and black-eyed peas.
Next on the list are culinary vegetables, a.k.a. fruits you think are vegetables. I tend to put these on salads, too. My favorites are tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers. Pumpkin, eggplants and cucumbers are great culinary vegetables, too.
Last are high-water or high-fiber fruits. I love having fresh melon, oranges and apples around the house in case I’m craving something sweet.
While healthy, minimize following foods:
- High-calorie fruits (e.g. bananas, mangoes and dates)
- Intact whole grains (wheat berries, oat groats, brown rice)
I recommend avoiding the following foods altogether, save for special occasions
- Processed grains (e.g. bread, pasta, tortillas)
- Animal products (e.g. red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy)
- Refined grains (e.g. white rice, white bread, etc.)
- Oil (including coconut oil)
- Fiberless sugar (e.g. table sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, agave, honey)
Healthy liquids are an important part of weight loss, too. When losing weight, I encourage you to drink at least 2 liters (8 cups) of water/herbal tea every day. I find it best to drink 1 liter in the morning and 1 in the afternoon/evening. If you can drink more, even better!
2. Should I cut out my favorite foods, alcohol, sweets and unhealthy foods to lose weight? Can or should I have cheat days?
No, you shouldn’t. But let me get sidetracked for a moment.
I’ve made the mistake of making weight loss a chore. You constantly tell yourself that you need to bear with it until you’ve reached your goal weight. It took a while for me to realize I need to enjoy both what I eat, even as I lose weight.
You don’t want to eat a drastically different diet when you’re losing weight. True, you can make more ‘cheats’ when you’re maintaining your weight. Even so, you need to eat similar foods so you don’t regain weight. Reaching your goal weight is freeing, but you need to be cautious about allowing yourself to eat whatever you want.
Back to the original question… should you ban alcohol, favorite foods, sweets and other unhealthy foods? It’s best to reduce them as much as possible—if not eliminate them. But no, you shouldn’t. Doing so creates a mentality of living in the future and depriving yourself. I stick with the 90% principle. At least 90% of my calories should be healthy and promote my weight loss/weight maintenance goals. The other percentage (up to 10%) can be unhealthy. 10% of your calories is around 100-200 calories of unhealthy foods. The 10% rule forces you to be picky with your indulgences and make them worth it.
This way, you don’t have to have a cheat day where you eat unhealthily the entire day. An entire cheat day is going to cause more problems than a square of chocolate every day. Indulging once a day is going to keep you saner than if you agonize for 6 until your next cheat day. The reality is that you won’t wait. You could even end up binging, which is worse.
When you eat junk food less (or not at all), it loses its deliciousness. As I’ve become healthier over the years, I’ve learned that the many foods I crave don’t taste as good as what I remember. I crave the memory of the way they tasted and made me feel. In reality, the food doesn’t taste as delicious as what I remember.
The lowdown is this: make 90% or more of what you eat every day foods that help you achieve your health goals. Allow up to 10% of your calories to be unhealthy. If you eat within your calorie ‘budget’, you’ll be fine.
3. I am having trouble losing those 10 extra pounds on a plant-based diet. What am I doing wrong?
Without knowing what you eat, it’s hard to determine what the problem is. A common problem is that you’re eating healthy but are improperly counting calories. Eating healthy is easy. But losing weight can still be hard if you’re overeating healthy foods.
Two likely problems are:
- You need to reset your appestat.
- Your calorie-counting is off.
Resetting your appestat means counting calories and resetting your hunger so you need less food to feel full. It’s a pain, but it’s worth it.
To reset your appestat, you need to 1) your basal metabolic rate (BMR) 2) plan out what you can eat to eat within your calorie budget and 3) properly count calories and don’t eat more than your calorie budget allows. Excess weight on a healthy diet persist if you stuff yourself full. Both I and the Happy Herbivore know.
And I get it. Counting calories is a big pain. It’s annoying… at first. But once you get used to it, measuring your food is useful tool to help you gauge how much you’re eating.
When counting calories, you need to be aware of everything you put in your mouth. No food can go unnoted. Snacks and drinks tend to be calories that are forgotten. Make sure you write down if you snack on a Larabar or add milk and agave to your coffee. They add up and make an impact on weight loss, especially if you don’t have much weight to lose.
I recommend getting three items to help you count calories:
- Measuring cups (1/4, 1/3, ½ and 1 cups are enough)
- Measuring spoons (at least 1 teaspoon, ½ tablespoon and 1 tablespoon)
- A digital food scale. It should be able to measure in grams and ounces (at least)
A food scale is the single most important item to accurately measure calories. You can weigh almost everything. And anything you can’t you can measure with spoons or cups. Don’t rely on eyeballing because you’ll underestimate how much you’re eating.
I’ve been measuring my food for almost a year now and now it’s a habit. It’s not a pain anymore. It results in a few more dirty dishes, but it’s worth it.
The easiest way to lose the last 10 pounds is to eat more salad. If you’re not eating veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner then you can eat more salad. Personally (now, April 2018), I eat veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you don’t include veggies in every meal, that’s an easy way to fill up without adding many calories to your meal plan.
4. Which food is the biggest contributor to weight gain? How do I cut it out?
The biggest contributor to weight gain is oil. Oil is the worst processed ingredient or food for health and weight loss. The reason oil is the worst is because it is the most easily converted into fat. Sugar takes more energy to store as fat. The body converts sugar calories into fat calories to store it on the body. With oil, it’s simple to store because it’s already fat.
If you’re cooking at home and preparing foods yourself, oil has many replacements. In some cases, it doesn’t need to be replaced at all. The key to not using oil or (or minimizing it) is to know which replacements work in which cases. Oil replacements aren’t a one-size-fits-all.
One common use for oil is to sauté with it. I learned years ago that there are two alternatives to cooking with oil: water and high heat. High heat is my preferred method. Watch my short video to learn how to sauté and caramelize onions on high heat without oil.
Water or vegetable stock creates a liquid barrier between the food and the cooking surface to prevent sticking. However, if you’re not careful you can add to much liquid and alter the consistency of your food too much.
Another common use for oil is in salad dressings. My favorite dressings use a base of a wholesome fat, like flax or sunflower seeds, instead of oil. I’m fortunate to have a mini blender and blend up a fresh salad dressing for every meal. Other nuts and seeds as well as avocado can make amazing salad dressings. If you want to avoid high fat foods, dates and zucchinis can also make a great base for salad dressings.
Baking/cooking requires a bit of experimentation and learning. Other ingredients that can be used to replace oil:
- Mashed bananas
- pureed chickpeas
- blended nuts/seeds
Reading vegan recipes that work and making recipes yourself teaches you how to swap out oil for wholesome, plant-based options.
5. Could plant milks (and juices) be slowing down my weight loss?
Yes, definitely! While juices and milks are healthy in moderation, they don’t help with weight loss. Studies show drinking juice adds to total calories but doesn’t add to satisfaction. Yikes! That’s the opposite of what you want when you’re losing weight.
Aim to focus on eating foods that make you the fullest but also have the fewest of calories. Usually these foods are veggies and legumes. That’s one reason why I eat salads with beans all the time!
Select whole grains, nuts, seeds and processed high fiber foods are good, too. Examples of grains are rye and oats. They’re high in fiber and keep you full for a long time. Examples of nuts/seeds/nut-like foods are flax, chia, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Bran is an example of a processed high-fiber ingredient. I’ve used bran and juicing fiber to reduce calories in baked goods desserts to make them weight loss-friendly.
Another problem with milks and juices is that they tend to have added sugar, oil and or salt. The sugar and oil add even more calories to a fiberless food. The salt encourages you to eat more.
6. I’ve heard rumors that too many smoothies can be bad for weight loss. Is this true?
It’s partially true. It depends on the smoothies and where you are in your weight loss journey.
Do you have 30 pounds or more to lose? If so, you don’t need to worry about smoothies made with wholesome, plant-based ingredients. That means your smoothies should be made up of whole foods like fruits and veggies. Adding cooked beans or a few nuts/seeds are beneficial since they add satisfaction. No juice, milk (mylk), oil or fiberless sugar.
If you have fewer than 30 pounds to lose, it’s likely better to eat whole foods. Smoothies are healthy, but issues arise when calories and satiety come into question.
The first issue is satiety. Smoothies are so easy to gulp down quickly. It would take you much longer to eat the same amount of food if it wasn’t blended. Chewing, crunchy food and time spent eating all add to your satisfaction. Smoothies provide none of those.
The second issue is food type. Smoothies tend to be made up of quick digesting foods (i.e. fruits). Fruits digest quickly because they’re made of simple carbohydrates, sugar. Adding beans (i.e. complex carbohydrates) but doesn’t make up for making your food predigested. The food is pureed, so your stomach easily extracts the calories from the it.
Whole vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds take longer to both eat and digest.
7. What’s your perspective on calorie restriction?
Counting calories and caloric restriction help you reach your weight loss goals faster. It’s also a way to track your weight loss and make sure you’re staying on track. Without counting calories, you run the risk of overeating. If you don’t know how much you’re eating, you can’t problem-solve if you hit a plateau.
At the basic level, losing weight is about burning more calories than you eat. It can be more complicated than that, but that’s the core principle of weight loss.
I don’t advocate for severe caloric restriction, but moderate caloric restriction. To lose my last 10-15 pounds, I used Cronometer, which told me to eat 200-300 fewer calories than I burned every day. This amount kept me satisfied but also provided me with results. You shouldn’t eat fewer than 1000 calories per day unless you’re extremely short (less than 5 feet tall). You’ll have a difficult time staying full and eating the nutrients you need.
The Beauty Body Plan is Sara Binde’s 12-week course to help you transition from you unhealthy diet to a healthy, plant-based diet. Sara makes it easy to know what you need to eat (and not eat!) to lose weight and get your vitality back.
Read more about the Beauty Body Plan.