Recently I received a question from a reader concerning the fact that since she went vegan, she gained some serious amount of weight. She was interested to know what might have caused it and any tips to prevent and reverse the situation.
I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ for this question, since it is a great article topic, very much worth exploring. I hear a lot of vegans say they are doing it for the animals, so they don’t care about weight gain – yet, I am a firm believer in taking care of our own body and shape. I am personally trying to keep in good shape all year round, and I can easily relate to someone struggling to find the balance when they first exclude all animal products from their menu. There are a few common scenarios that usually have to do with fats and carbs, which I am going to further discuss in this article.
7 Common Reasons Your Vegan Diet Made You Gain Weight And What You Should Do Instead
1. Eating peanut butter by the spoonful
OK most articles on vegan weight gain start with carbs. I will, however, wish to emphasize another common problem – nuts and nut-based butters (yes, I know peanuts are a legume, but most of us think of it as a nut). This is not to deny the importance of consuming nuts and seeds, which supply us with essential fatty acids, healthy proteins, and a plethora of vitamins and minerals. I am talking about portion control!
Nuts and seeds are extremely calorie dense, and despite the fact they contain healthy fats, we only need a small amount of them to meet our nutrient needs. We use the ‘healthy fat’ excuse far too often to grab a bag of cashews and devour it all in one go.
Another common issue is the raw desserts and vegan cheeses made with all sorts of nuts – they are so tasty, yet we forget that often more calorie-dense than the dairy versions we’ve been used to consuming. Portion control is key!
Eat no more than a handful of nuts per serving, and don’t exceed two handfuls of nuts per day. You need to be extra careful when using nut butters as they are extremely delicious, yet piling up on your calorie intake especially when used in raw desserts! In this case, I like to make my dessert my whole meal (breakfast or a small snack, or even dinner but don’t mix with other foods).
2. Overloading on carbs
The second most common mistake we make is overloading on starchy carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes and bread. And they might as well be our favorite foods! (if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know about the special love I share with potatoes and anything that has to do with them).
Since you often hear the advice by other vegans to ‘carb up’ you might actually get confused. While starchy carbs certainly can, and should be included in our diet, they must not be the star of every meal!
Remember that greens and fruits are also carbs! Good carbs! If you need to shed some weight, you can eat less root vegetables and grains, and focus on greens.
Also keep in mind that carbohydrate binds more water in our system than protein, so if your macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein and fat) content has shifted to a higher percentage of carbohydrates, this can explain water weight as well. To deal with that, make sure to include some regular exercise into your daily routine and hydrate with actual water to help you fight water retention.
3. Mixing carbs and fats
One important lesson I learned from my personal trainer is that you can never mix fats and carbs and expect to stay in shape. I am not going to go into the detail of high carb vs high fat diets, but you should choose one, or the other, or at least follow some food combining rules within each meal.
I am all for moderation, so I try to limit my fats, but still not go overboard with my carbs. What does this mean? Pasta with cashew sauce is an absolute calorie bomb and if you’re eating this on a regular basis you are likely to gain tons of weight! Should you never eat it, though? Of course you should – but not at every meal!
Mix fruits with nuts rather than nuts with pasta/bread for example. If you do the latter, make sure you keep very strict portion control.
4. Soy-Based Mock Meat Products
It can be very convenient to simply swap meat and dairy for fake meats and cheeses. And I am not against that to help you make a transition, or to complement your meals with some convenient foods. Yet, again, these foods should not be the centerpiece of each and every meal.
These items can contain big servings of hidden fats and sodium without the fiber advantage of whole foods.
Go for non-GMO, traditional soy products
Non-GMO, traditional soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame can boost your health, and give you protein and micronutrients.
5. Not enough protein
Too many vegans like to emphasize and rave about the ‘protein myth’. Yet, they often forget that we do need certain amounts of protein, as it literally is the building block of our body and cells!
Protein helps with satiety and regulates our blood sugar levels, so not consuming enough of it can give you hunger pangs, driving you to vegan comfort foods like mac n’ cheese, dairy-free cookies, etc.
Be sure to stock your kitchen with vegan sources of protein such as dry or canned beans, different varieties of tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy yogurt, and soy milk. For quick meals, packaged soy burgers, hot dogs, frozen dinners, and vegan deli meats are great to have on hand if consumed in moderation, as mentioned above.
Are you drinking smoothies? Smoothies are an easy way to overshoot our daily calorie need because of the disruption of fiber that happens in the process of making a smoothie a smoothie. This disruption of fiber impacts the satiety of the smoothie contents. You don’t get the same result as if you had eaten the vegetables and fruits whole.
Furthermore, smoothies eliminate the need to chew your food, which takes away an important part of the eating process – as we chew, important nutrients get absorbed through the saliva, and this helps with satiety as well.
Eat a banana with some nuts rather than making a smoothie, for which you might possibly need more quantities of the same ingredients, and feel less full in the end. If you really LOVE a smoothie, like I do, do the following – make a simple one, like a banana with some protein powder, and then eat another fruit with some nuts on the site – this makes portion control easier, and you’re making sure you’re not drinking all of your calories without even realizing it.
7. Junk-Food Vegan
French fries, soy ice cream, dairy-free chocolate, vegan cookies — are you so psyched these are made without meat, milk, or eggs that you devour them and don’t realize that they still contain calories?
Just as non-vegans need to enjoy treats in moderation, so do you. It’s okay to indulge, but remember to mostly eat a healthy, balanced diet.