When I first began my transition to a plant-based diet, I thought I’d immediately lose weight.
Surely, swapping cheeseburgers for chickpeas and donuts for dates would mean leaner legs and a bouncier butt, right?
Wrong! (Well, at least at first!)
Look around Instagram or even some spaces on Facebook that promote plant-based diets for health reasons. You will see so many super-slim women go on and on about how you don’t need to count calories or worry about portion sizes when you’re eating only plants.
I’m not saying they’re lying. I’m sure that works for some people. However, I’m not one of the lucky ones.
Going plant-based actually made me gain weight in the first two months. Even with intermittent fasting!
Now that I’m on the other side of it and have lost more weight than I ever could without plant-based living, I want to share what I learned with you.
That way, you don’t have to make those same mistakes!
Here are five reasons why you might gain weight on a plant-based diet (and what to do about it!)
1- Eating High-Calorie Plant-Based Foods
At the end of the day, if you want to lose weight you’ll have to burn more calories than you consume.
There are exceptions to this rule.
But for most people, eating fewer calories than they burn will help them lose weight.
It is a myth that you can eat as many calories as you want as long as they are whole foods. It’s simply not true.
I’ll admit that I had a horrible relationship with food before becoming entirely plant-based. I would binge on sweets, crave salty foods, eat processed foods and just devour them rapidly without a care in the world.
Well, the thing is, if you have problems managing food with your regular diet, those don’t automatically go away because you eat plants.
In my case, I gravitated toward the higher-calorie, sweeter plant-based foods, such as avocados, nuts & seeds, dates, higher-calorie sauces (made of nuts & seeds), bread, pasta, etc…
These things aren’t bad for you at all, mind you!
And by all means, if you eat whole-grain pasta, make your own plant-based desserts, and eat cheesy sauces rather than cheese – you’re far better off on multiple levels.
However, if you want to lose weight, all the items I listed above will not help you get there without portion control or calorie-counting.
If you want to avoid gaining weight when you first go plant-based, focus on lower-calorie plant foods.
Limit avocado, nuts & seeds, and dates. Increase leafy greens, whole grains (not in pasta or bread, but literal whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa). And if you make a sauce, use tofu as the base instead of nuts. (Then you can go wild!)
2- Eating “Vegan” & Not Plant-Based
“Vegan” and “plant-based” can be similar, but they aren’t the same thing.
Veganism is specifically an ethical position that advocates for eliminating anything that harms animals. As such, a vegan diet excludes all animal products – but anything else is fair game.
Choosing a plant-based diet or lifestyle has nothing to do with veganism.
I mean, it can and frequently does, but the two can also be completely separate.
A plant-based diet focuses on eating as many plant foods as possible – ideally as close to whole plant foods as possible.
Veganism and, recently, plant-based have become trendy, with many brands ready to cash in on consumers eager to meet their goals in convenient ways.
While this is a great thing (I love some of these brands and use their products from time to time), you might get confused.
Many vegan food products are incredibly high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt. You know, all the things that can make pea powder taste like a hamburger?
Eating too many of these processed foods just because they are “vegan” or “plant-based” can have you packing on the pounds.
Some are even worse on a calories-per-gram basis than lean meat!
The last thing you want to do (purely from a weight loss perspective, mind you) is avoid eating 100 grams of chicken breast at 165 calories because you’re eating a “plant-based” burger patty that’s 255 calories for the same 100 grams!
Please note I am not hating on these burgers.
I do enjoy them myself and think they have their place in a happy, robust, plant-based lifestyle.
What I am saying is that when you’re first starting out, you must be aware that just because something says it’s “vegan” or “plant-based” doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want without gaining weight.
What’s the fix for this?
Same as before. Focus on foods without labels. Pick the most complete versions of plant foods you can find. And start with a plant-based meal plan for weight loss.
3- Slipping On Your Other Weight Loss Practices
You might also gain weight on a plant-based diet because you think since you’re eating more plants, you can be lenient in other areas.
Over time, this tends to be true.
But not in the beginning.
At least for me, I first began losing weight with intermittent fasting.
I was very strict with 16/8 fasting, meaning I’d routinely skip breakfast, begin eating at noon, and have my last bite of food by 8 pm.
When I started eating more plants, I got a false sense of confidence.
I felt that maybe since I was eating lighter, I could immediately drop my fasting window a bit.
So I stopped tracking my intermittent fasting and tried to eat “intuitively” (like everyone on Instagram says, “listen to your body”!)
Well… ten pounds later, my body was telling me that wasn’t going to work for me.
Another pitfall would be exercise.
We tend to overestimate how much we workout versus what we eat anyway. So thinking you’re switching to plants, so you don’t have to be as consistent with your exercise would be another way you could mess up.
I didn’t do this so much (as I wasn’t working out consistently anyway by that point lol) but, hopefully, you get the point!
If you made it to a certain point with weight loss and want to switch to plant-based living to lose more weight, don’t abandon the practices that got you to where you are.
You must keep them and add a balanced plant-based diet to the picture to see some weight loss.
Then maybe some months down the line, you can start to relax.
4- Too Many Cheat Meals
Next, I think cheat meals have their place and all, but not at the very beginning of a transition to a plant-based diet.
When I first started, I ruled that my husband and I would eat plant-based most of the time, but we could have one cheat meal every weekend.
This sounds reasonable – and it is – but it didn’t stay that way.
We’d order enough food to last more than one meal. And sometimes wind up getting cheat meals on more days than we’d initially set out to do.
If you’re eating super low-calorie plant-based foods all of the time, then sure, you have more wiggle room.
But in my case, I was eating the calorie-dense plant-based foods as it was. I was avoiding portion control or paying any attention at all to the calories I was consuming. I was fasting fewer hours and not tracking. Then on TOP of that, I was having these decadent blow-out cheat meals at least every weekend, if not ALL weekend.
It was a recipe for disaster!
Of course, I gained weight, right?
Looking back, I probably would have taken cheat meals off the table – at least for the first entire month.
I’d have challenged myself to stick with it for just that short time to reap the full benefits.
You might want to consider the same!
5- Making It Too Complicated
Last but not least, when I first started with a plant-based meal plan, I fell in love with how delicious the food was!
All the other times I tried going vegetarian or vegan before, I found myself frustrated at how bland and boring the food was. So, I thought it would take so much discipline or self-sacrifice to eat plant-based.
But when I tried a meal plan that showed me how to make vegan food taste even better than animal-based foods, I fell in love.
I’ll admit, I dove in head-first.
It was at the beginning of stay-at-home orders, so I had tons of time on my hands.
I spent all that time learning how to make these meals, and they were just so delicious!
The problem was that I grew to expect and require that my foods be that fabulous ALL the time.
But with more ingredients comes more calories, pretty much 100% of the time.
I wouldn’t really have any snacks.
I was pretty much only eating super-decadent plant-based meals, and the calories added up.
Nowadays, I’ve learned that sometimes when I’m hungry, it’s okay to grab an apple, banana, or a few peaches and go!
SO few calories and honestly, quite filling!
These days I fast about 14 hours, enjoy one of those super-tasty quality gourmet meals to break my fast, snack on fruit, veggie sticks, and popcorn all day, then end with another restaurant-quality vegan meal at night.
Not only are the calories much more manageable, but plant-based living is so much more pleasant.
Leftovers go much farther, and it’s quick to pop a banana when I’m hungry rather than worry about what full-blown meal I’m going to eat.
For you, I think you could spend the time learning how to cook restaurant-quality plant-based meals, for sure.
But also get very comfortable with the notion of snacking on food the way nature prepared it. Straight out of the ground or off of a tree!
Quick, easy, lower-calorie, and filling.
Perfect for sustainable weight loss!
Thank you for reading this article about weight gain and plant-based living. I hope you learned something from it and can use some of these tips on your own journey!
I encourage you to seek out others’ experiences and journeys if you’re serious about going down this path.
Everyone is different. We arrive here for various reasons and at different points in our lives.
So, something I say may not resonate with you – but that’s okay!
I’ve found that hearing the perspectives and experiences of many people can help you expand your knowledge. There’s always something new to learn and discover.
It’s one of the things that makes me the most excited and passionate about this lifestyle.
I hope you find things that work for you to create a diet and lifestyle that helps you effortlessly get where you want to go with your body goals.