Some people think vegetarians sustain themselves off salad and raw vegetables, automatically making them lean and healthy. If you're considering a vegetarian diet for weight loss in a month — and significant weight loss, maybe 20 pounds or more — there are a few things you should know first.
While it is true that a plant-based diet makes it easier to eat more vegetables, a person following such an eating plan still has to meet certain nutritional needs. And giving up meat is no guarantee that you'll be able to lose weight quickly and keep it off.
How Weight Loss Works
No matter how you're eating, the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit through diet, exercise or a combination of both. A deficit of 3,500 calories will equal 1 pound of body fat.
Many people want to lose weight as quickly as possible. They hear about too-good-to-be-true diets that can help them lose 10 pounds in a week or even a few days. These goals are unrealistic because losing 10 pounds would require a deficit of 35,000 calories. If you aim to lose that in a week, you would need to cut 5,000 calories from your diet or burn off an extra 5,000 calories from exercise every day.
Instead, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends losing 1 to 2 pounds per week, which allows your body time to adjust. Any weight-loss plan that promises faster results than that is likely too restrictive and not a realistic long-term diet, and it will likely end with regained weight after a dieter returns to normal eating patterns.
Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss
If switching to vegetarianism means fast weight loss, does that make it a fad diet? Not necessarily. A healthy diet for weight loss, per the guidelines set forth by the Mayo Clinic, is one that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein sources. It includes foods you would enjoy eating for a lifetime, restricts nothing (even if some foods are eaten in small quantities) and includes enough calories and nutrients.
Vegetarians do tend to have lower body mass than people who consume non-plant-based diets. A study published in the May 2016 issue of Journal of Geriatric Cardiology looked at plant-based diets for the prevention and treatment of obesity and found that body mass index increased as the amount of animal foods in the diet increased.
The lowest BMIs were those of vegans, followed respectively by vegetarians, pescatarians (those who eat fish but no meat or poultry), semi-vegetarians (those who eat fish and poultry but no red meat) and finally omnivores. The study concluded that plant-based diets are an option for people trying to lose weight in a way that prevents or treats chronic disease.
One reason vegetarians have an easier time managing their weight is that plant foods tend to have fewer calories per volume than animal products. That means a person on a plant-based diet will feel full from the water and fiber content in vegetables, but they will have consumed less fat and fewer calories than they would have if they had eaten the same volume of meat or dairy.
This concept is referred to as energy density: Foods with large volume and fewer calories have a low energy density, and foods with a smaller volume but more calories have a high energy density.
Low-energy density foods like fruits and vegetables are great for satiety because it's volume consumption that makes you feel full, not energy consumption. Dieters don't even have to cut out meat completely. By simply including more vegetables in their diet, especially in place of higher density foods, they'll fill up faster and eat less overall.
It’s Not Automatically Healthy
If you've decided to try a vegetarian diet plan to lose 20 pounds, there are a few things you should know first, mainly that a diet isn't healthy just because it's vegetarian.
Though fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, there are a few nutrients that they lack — or, at least, they don't have in quantities as great as animal products do. The best-known nutrient is protein, which is essential for weight management because protein increases your metabolism and helps decrease your appetite.
Plant sources of protein include beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Vegetarianism works great for athletes too: Those who are looking for a vegetarian muscle-building diet plan don't need to worry about consuming more protein than the recommended 1.1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight for active adults.
This is because only strength training and exercise will change muscle. Instead, athletes should focus on upping their total calorie consumption, which will increase their protein intake as well as their carbohydrate intake for energy during exercise.
Vegetarians can take in too many calories if they aren't careful in watching what they eat. The Mayo Clinic points out that processed food like refined carbohydrates, fried snacks, desserts and sweetened drinks are high in calories and can lead to weight gain. You can access a vegetarian weight-loss meal plan PDF courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with tips for how to be healthy while going vegetarian.
Putting Together a Diet Plan
You see by now that losing weight as a vegetarian is the same as losing weight as an omnivore — it's all about calories in and calories out, and even though fruits and vegetables are lower in calories for their volume, you can still easily overeat as a vegetarian.
If you have a set goal, for example, of losing 20 pounds, focus on losing 1 or 2 pounds a week by creating a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit with a combination of diet and exercise. You could lose 2 pounds a week for 10 weeks, thus achieving your goal in two and a half months.
A vegetarian diet plan to lose weight in two months (or over a longer period of time) should bear in mind these tips from Harvard Health:
- Eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Replace saturated fats and trans fats with fat from nuts, olive oil and canola oil.
- Practice portion control and read food labels.
- Participate in regular physical activity.
Being vegetarian is no guarantee that you'll lose weight, but it's a great lifestyle for increasing nutrient-rich foods in your diet and naturally practicing calorie control. If it seems appealing, focus on cutting back on animal products and eating more vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and whole grains so that you can create the calorie deficit you need to drop excess weight.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Participant Guide: Burn More Calories Than You Take In"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Nutrition for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know About Fad Diets"
- Mayo Clinic: "Diet Plans"
- Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: "A Plant-Based Diet for Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Help People to Manage Their Weight?"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Low-Calorie Diets"
- Mayo Clinic: "Are You Getting Too Much Protein?"
- MedlinePlus: "Nutrition and Athletic Performance"
- Mayo Clinic: "If I Switch to a Vegetarian Diet, Will I Lose Weight?"
- ChooseMyPlate: "Healthy Eating for Vegetarians"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Becoming a Vegetarian"
- Choose My Plate: "Vegetarian Choices in the Protein Food Groups"