Vegan Weight Loss
by Shayla Roberts
There is no question that a vegan diet is the healthiest and most compassionate choice for us. Vegans are less likely to have problems such as heart disease and cancer, and we are more likely to keep to a healthy weight. Some of us, however, need a little extra help with weight loss. I have found three different types of diet plans to be effective in their own ways: the well-balanced Weight Watchers system, the vegan, high-carbohydrate, low-fat McDougall program, and the low-carbohydrate, high-protein “Atkins” type diet. I am making no claims to the safety of any diet program, but instead want to introduce each plan and share a little real-life experience.
Our esteemed editor, Erin Pavlina, spent several months on the Weight Watchers Winning Points system. What attracted her to the program was the fact that there were no special foods to buy; she was able to eat her own foods. She didn’t have to worry about scrutinizing package labels, and there was no additional cost, beyond that of the program itself.
A quick rundown of the Winning Points system is as follows: You are given a range of points based on your current weight that you must stay within each day. Foods are all worth a certain number of points. As long as you stay within your point range, you will lose weight. Food points are determined by looking at the calories, fat, and fiber. Fat adds points to a food, but fiber brings the point value way down. Nearly all vegetables are 0 points so you can eat as many of those as you want. Fruits are usually 1-2 points per serving. Higher point foods are things like pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, and desserts.
Sounds pretty veg-friendly already. In fact, we vegans might just be at an advantage on this program, since vegan foods tend to be naturally lower in points than non-vegan foods. Meat and cheeses are very high in points (often 10-14 points per serving!). Erin was able to eat an abundance of food, since she didn’t even have to worry about finding room for foods like that.
A big plus to the plan is that there are no “forbidden” foods. If you are careful and you plan your day in advance, you can definitely enjoy anything you want, as long as you account for it in your points. Erin gives the following example, “If I really wanted a baked potato with margarine (6 points) one day, I was sure to eat it with a side of steamed broccoli (0 points) and a salad with low calorie dressing (1 point). So I could enjoy a 7 point meal and be quite satisfied.”
Erin also experienced successful weight loss at a healthy rate: “My initial goal was to lose 20 pounds. The first week on the program I lost 3 pounds and was pretty excited. By the 7-week mark, I’d lost 10 pounds. Average weight loss on this program is about 1 pound per week. Some weeks I would stay the same, some weeks I would gain ever so slightly, and some weeks I’d lose 1-3 pounds. It all depended on how good I was that week and if I cheated (admittedly, I did go over my point values on some days!). But it’s very easy to just get right back on track. At the end of 15 weeks, I’d lost 19 pounds.”
At that point Erin found out she was pregnant and had to immediately discontinue the program. You cannot be on the Weight Watchers Winning Points system if you are pregnant. However, you can go back on the program while breastfeeding and enjoy a very high point range while still losing weight.
For more information, visit www.weightwatchers.com.
The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss
The McDougall program is a vegan diet, with an emphasis on low-fat, whole foods. The basic rules are that you are allowed all the vegetables, beans, and whole, unprocessed grains that you need to satisfy your hunger, but it is recommended that green and yellow veggies make up at least a third of your diet. You are limited to two fruit servings a day. You are to eat no flour products, and to avoid oil and fatty foods (such as olives and avocados) like the plague. Refined soy products are not permitted. Sugar and salt are allowed in small amounts on the surface of your foods, but you are to refrain from cooking with them.
I followed this plan back when I first went vegan from being a vegetarian, and enjoyed a 30-pound weight loss over the course of about 8 weeks. From what I have heard from others who follow this program, a slower rate of weight loss than what I experienced is to be expected. You must remember that, at that time, I had just removed dairy and eggs from my diet, and I feel this helped to speed up the weight loss. A more normal rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds a week.
Overall, it was not a difficult plan to follow, but my biggest downfall was bread and tortillas. I was lost without them. After a two-year break from the McDougall Program, I have started to follow it again. I have discovered that using the flourless, sprouted grain tortillas and breads I can still lose weight, although at a slower rate. The slower weight loss is worth it because now I can enjoy things like bean burritos and tortilla-pizzas, along with veggie and hummus sandwiches and toast with bananas and cinnamon. It makes the program easier to stick with, because I am not being deprived of my favorite foods.
For pregnant women, McDougall offers a version of the plan, in which flour products, soy products and unlimited fruits are allowed, as well as a limited amount of higher fat plant products like nuts and seeds.
For more information, visit www.drmcdougall.com
The Low-Carbohydrate Diet
There are those, including Atkins himself, who say a low-carb diet isn’t compatible with a vegan diet. Those people are right, to a certain extent. It is not easy. That is not to say, however, that it can’t be done.
The rule is to basically eat as few carbohydrates as possible. Dr. Atkins has said that during the “induction” phase of the diet, or the first two weeks, you should eat no more than 20 carbs a day. The problem with this for vegans is that there are no plant foods with zero carbs, so we tend to reach 20 way before our omnivorous counterparts. When I tried this diet for a trial 2-week period, I subsisted on things like tofu, Gardenburger sausage patties, low-carb bread, broccoli, and Spectrum spread. Let it be known that there were other things I could have eaten, but these things were convenient for me.
It was a miserable two weeks, in which I felt as though I had been drugged. I had no energy, and food ceased to be a pleasure. I felt like I was only eating enough to keep me alive. If I felt shaky, I would drag myself into the kitchen, get a spoonful of peanut butter or quarter-sized piece of fresh coconut, pop it in my mouth, and flop back onto the couch. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, I could have eaten more, and perhaps handled it better, but I didn’t. The ketosis induced by eating almost no carbs left a bad taste in my mouth, so that nothing tasted good, therefore it didn’t matter to me what I ate.
That said, there was a huge plus to this plan, and that plus was the weight loss. Over a pound a day, 16 pounds total in 14 days. When the two weeks was up, I was feeling a little better, like I was becoming accustomed to the dietary changes. Plus, with the 16 pounds I lost, I was loath to discontinue the diet. Therefore, I stayed on it an additional week and a half, in which I lost zero pounds. That’s right. Zero. Not losing weight at all was definitely not worth the hassle of feeling tired and sick, so I quit.
Would I recommend this diet to someone else? Maybe. It was tough, but it’s 6 months later and I haven’t gained back an ounce, no matter what I’ve eaten. It could be a good jump-start for weight loss, but I would never recommend it as a long-term program. It’s not balanced, and would therefore put someone at risk for deficiencies. Also, I want to note that a low-carb diet in any form should not be used during pregnancy.
For more information visit www.immuneweb.org/lowcarb
So, where do you go from here? I would suggest that you examine your lifestyle to see which type of diet would fit best. I also want to stress that no single diet plan is right for everybody, and you should listen to your body. All three programs covered are compatible with a vegan diet, and this will perhaps give you a place to start in developing your personal regime for weight loss.
Are you trying to lose weight but need a program and some motivation? Want diet plans, worksheets, journaling, success stories, and other weightloss support? Check out VegFamily’s Weightloss Club VegDieters!