How can I eat a proper vegetarian diet without weight gain? - T. L.
Dear T. L.,
There are lots of ways to eat a proper (nutritious) vegetarian diet without weight gain. And research shows that vegetarians tend to be thinner.
But the principles of weight gain or weight loss apply to a vegetarian diet, the same as to a non-veg diet.
1. Your lifestyle and activity level. If you're physically active, especially if you spend time in outdoor activity every day, you won't have as much problem taking control of your weight, because you'll be burning calories as you eat them. Exercise is an inescapable part of weight control.
2. Vegetarian or Vegan: Vegans tend to be leaner, as a balanced vegan diet tends to be higher in fiber and lower in calories, because of the absence of dairy and egg. High fiber beans and whole grains are staples of a vegan diet, and the protein/fat/carb balance in those foods fall more into the recommended balance of 10 - 20% protein, 15 - 35% fat, and 50 - 70% carbohydrate per 100 calories. Tofu is the high fat low fiber exception. Nuts and seeds are very high in fats, but a little goes a long way, and they are prime high fiber sources of vital nutrients.
3. Your physical characteristics and metabolism. If you tend to gain weight, and be a slow moving, earth mother type, then you need to eat accordingly, and not like your friend who eats everything, never exercises, and is a stick. Each person is completely unique, just like everybody else. Which means that what's right for one isn't necessarily right for the next person.
1. Favor vegan sources of protein. That doesn't mean you have to go all vegan, just go easy on the high fat, low fiber foods.
2. Make every calorie count nutritionally, with high quality, fresh, organic whole foods, and very little processed food or instant food - that makes it easier to eliminate high calorie ingredients, and satisfy your appetite without overeating.
3. Eat all the fruit and vegetables you want. 6 - 10 portions a day is recommended. Go for 12.
4. Maintain 50% of your calories in carbs (whole grains, not white flour and sugar) - that's calories not volume - to keep your metabolism and your blood sugar steady and avoid food cravings.
5. Get plenty of liquids, especially warm liquids, like teas, but not soda, cold or sweet drinks. Favor high liquid, low fat, but nutrient dense foods, like soups, salads and fruits.
6. Exercise daily and consistently, on a program you can sustain, with 30 minutes of moderately vigorous excercise.
1. Don't cut fats and carbs out of your diet. High protein diets of any kind are harmful. You still need a good protein/fat/carb balance. For more info on this topic, read the SV Article: Vegetarian Protein - Myth and Reality
2. Don't starve and binge, or adopt a punitive exercise routine that you can't maintain. Think long term, and be consistent. Have realistic expectations and goals. Size 4 may be unattainable, but last I heard, size 12 or even 14 was perfectly respectable.
3. Avoid strict vegan or raw food, or macrobiotic diets to start with. It's better to learn what your individual body needs, on a daily basis and go on from there. Think holistic and sustainable.
4. Don't take diet pills, or other chemical or herbal weight loss aids. That goes right along with starving and binging.
5. Don't overeat - quit before you're full, don't snack, and eat light at night.
2. Anne Collins weight loss diet support site, with a vegetarian weight loss section, seems sensible and reasonable, and costs very little to join.
3. PCRM has inspiring weight loss stories connected with their 21 Day Vegan Challenge. I get the impression that they consider weight loss a natural side benefit of a low fat nutritious vegan diet..
4. The Maharishi Ayurveda Approach To Weight Loss, with Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. She's written several excellent ayurvedic books for women.
5. I recommend Scott Gerson's book on ayurvedic weight loss.
Thanks for writing! Your question was short, but significant.
Judith Kingsbury Savvy Vegetarian