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6 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet & What to Do

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Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

You may be in a situation where you’re not losing weight on a vegan diet. You may even ask yourself, “Why am I gaining weight on a plant-based diet?” when everything about it is seemingly healthy.

The answer to these problems can vary, from eating vegan junk food and too many calories to unbalanced vegan meals and more.

In this article, we will learn about why some vegans are not skinny and how to healthfully incorporate a vegan diet eating plan into your lifestyle for weight loss. 

Plant-based Diets: Basics and Weight Loss

A common belief is that a plant-based diet only includes traditional vegetarian or vegan diets. However, the term “plant-based” simply means focusing on plant foods, such as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

There are also some food substitutes that are common in plant-based diets, such as the following:

  • Opting for vegetable oils, such as canola or olive oil, instead of butter, shortening, or other animal fats. However, you should use oils and other fat sources sparingly when cooking your meals. 
  • Limiting red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, cheese, and high-fat dairy. However, these foods do not need to be entirely eliminated for your diet to be considered “plant-based.” 
  • Emphasizing plant foods as protein sources, such as tofu, nuts, seeds, tempeh, and legumes, such as lentils or beans. 

Additionally, many individuals following a plant-based diet consider themselves flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, and more. Let’s describe these common eating plans in more detail.

Traditional vegetarians do not consume any meat but often consume different non-meat animal products. Here are some examples:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not consume meat but eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Lacto-vegetarians do not consume meat or eggs but consume dairy.
  • Ovo-vegetarians do not consume meat or dairy but eat eggs.
  • Flexitarians follow a primarily vegetarian diet without meat but occasionally will eat animal meat.
  • Pescatarians do not eat meat or poultry but do consume fish and seafood.

Finally, vegans do not eat meat or any animal product, including milk, eggs, butter, cheese, honey, gelatin, and more. 

Plant-based Diets Are Not Weight Loss Strategies

There are many reasons individuals decide to adopt vegetarian or vegan diet principles into their lifestyle. These reasons include environmental or sustainability concerns, health concerns, or a desire for weight loss. 

It is essential to note that these diets, specifically vegan diets as is the focus of this article, are not specifically designed to be a weight loss regimen or strategy. 

While research shows that a vegan diet promotes more weight loss than an omnivorous diet, it still depends on several factors whether you will lose weight following a vegan diet. [1] Your food choices, servings and portion sizes, nutrient and caloric intake, and much more dictate your ability to lose weight on a plant-based diet.

This is the same concept as if you’re following a diet that includes animal products. There are cases when even proven weight-loss strategies like intermittent fasting are not working.

In other words, these factors influence weight gain, maintenance, or loss regardless of the type of diet you are following.

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6 Reasons Why You Are Gaining Weight on a Plant-based Diet

If you are gaining weight on a vegan diet and wish to prevent further weight gain (and perhaps promote weight loss), we will cover some reasons why your vegan diet may contribute to weight gain.

You’re Replacing Animal Proteins With Carbs and Fats

Have you ever looked for a vegan option at your favorite restaurant, only to settle on a carb-heavy bowl of pasta or rice? 

When you cut out animal products from your diet, such as cheese, meat, and milk, many replace these foods with carbs and fat to feel full. 

While some carbs can be nutritious, such as fruits, whole grains, and more, many carb-heavy meals involve large portions of bread, pasta, and rice with little nutrition.

In addition, excess carbohydrates can lead to weight gain when they are not used by the body for energy.

Therefore, it is important to replace the animal-based protein encompassing meat, dairy, and eggs eliminated from your diet with plant-based protein and non-dairy alternatives to keep your meals balanced, satisfying, and nutritious. There are many ways to add protein, such as tofu or beans. 

You’re Eating Too Many Vegan Desserts

Similar to regular desserts, vegan desserts are still likely to be high in fat, sugar, and calories and low in nutrition.

Sometimes, they may contain even more calories to achieve the same flavor, texture, and mouthfeel as a regular dessert.

Limit your consumption of vegan cakes, cookies, baked goods, and more, and substitute them with fruit with nut butter, non-dairy yogurt with granola, or another snack that includes fiber and healthy fat. 

With these combinations, you are still getting your sweet fix and a filling combination of nutrition.

You’re Opting for Processed Vegan Foods

Many processed vegan foods and sweets, like all processed foods,  can contribute to weight gain.

Many believe that vegan equates to nutritious, but vegan processed food doesn’t necessarily have a health halo around it.

Vegan foods, including veggie burgers, vegan “chicken” nuggets, and other products made to resemble their animal-based counterpart, are highly processed and often high in sodium and sugar. 

Excessive sodium consumption can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, and too much sugar can contribute to weight gain.

You’re Drinking Smoothies, Juices, and Other Sugary Beverages

Many following a vegan diet also incorporate high amounts of smoothies, juices, and other plant-based sugary beverages. 

While a 100% fruit and vegetable smoothie can be a great snack every once in a while, make sure you are consuming them in moderation because of the sugar content.

This is especially true if you are drinking juice, as it lacks fiber to slow down the digestion of the sugars in the fruit. 

Opt for unsweetened tea, water, or coffee, and choose whole fruits and vegetables instead to get the most nutrition for the least calories.

You’re Consuming Nuts and Oils Excessively

To make up for the lack of protein from animal sources, many vegans eat a lot of nuts and seeds, including nut butter.

While these are healthy sources of unsaturated fats that can benefit heart health in moderation, they are also high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain. 

Even though unsaturated fat can benefit cardiovascular health, unhealthy weight gain can be counterproductive in this sense and increase your risk for chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke. 

To avoid over-consumption of nuts and seeds, stick with a handful of unsalted nuts and seeds each day or a two-tablespoon serving of nut butter. Make sure your nut butter only includes the nut in the ingredients list and does not have added sugars, salt, and oils. 

Your Meals Are Imbalanced and Low in Protein

As mentioned above, many vegan meals overcompensate for lacking protein with increased carbohydrates and fats rather than simply replacing them with plant-based protein sources. 

Protein is essential for muscle repair, growth, and much more. It is also needed to make a meal satisfying, filling, and nourishing, all necessary components for successful weight loss. 

Healthy plant-based protein sources include tofu, edamame, tempeh, seitan, beans, legumes, and more. 

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What to Do If You’re Not Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet

There are many ways to alter your vegan or plant-based diet to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss. Here are a few key tips for the most success.

  • Use minimal amounts of oils and fats in your cooking to reduce your fat consumption. Even though these ingredients are high in healthy fats, their calorie content can add up quickly.
  • Opt for desserts that are rich in fiber (such as from fruits or whole grains) and lower in sugar.
  • Substitute plant-based protein sources, such as tofu or beans, for animal proteins and meats. Do this instead of just adding more carbohydrate foods, such as pasta, rice, or bread. 
  • Replace processed vegan foods with whole-food-based meals you cook at home, where you can control exactly how much fat, sodium, and sugar are in your food. 

Additionally, if you are still struggling with your weight, consider reaching out to a registered dietitian-nutritionist for individualized guidance for your specific medical conditions, preferences, cultural considerations, financial situation, and more. 

And if you’re wondering where to start on your first dietitian appointment, here are a few questions you can ask your registered dietitian that are not so obvious.

Finally, an all-in-one weight-loss app like Omo provides guidance, support, and advice that can be helpful on your weight-loss journey. 

Final Words

Let’s summarize some key takeaways from this article. 

  • Are you not losing weight on a vegan diet? That’s primarily because a plant-based diet, including vegan, is not a weight-loss strategy. It means it still requires adopting some healthy eating habits and limiting your calorie intake.
  • The vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including honey, gelatin, milk, eggs, butter, and fish.
  • The most common reasons for gaining or not losing weight on a vegan diet are due increased carb and fat consumption instead of protein, too many vegan processed foods, and desserts, imbalanced meals, insufficient nutrient intake, and more.
  • Speak with a registered dietitian-nutritionist to aid in your weight loss journey, receive individualized nutrition advice, and ensure you are adequately nourished on a vegan diet. 
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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