Going vegan can be a great way to lose weight. Studies show vegans have a lower average BMI (body mass index) compared to meat-eaters and even other vegetarians (source). But how long does it take to lose weight as a vegan?
The rate of weight loss on a vegan diet depends on several factors, including what diet you’re switching from and how much weight you have to lose. Studies have shown vegans losing anywhere between an average of 5.6 pounds in 18 weeks to an average of 7.5% of their body weight in 6 months.
Below, I’ll dive into a bunch of statistics on vegan weight loss, along with the factors that determine your rate of weight loss, and how to troubleshoot a fat loss plateau! As someone who has cut down to six-pack abs on a vegan diet, I have the strategies to help you get lean, too!
How Long Does It Take To Lose Weight as a Vegan?
Your personal weight loss journey will depend on many factors—and I’ll cover those factors below. But just to start, let’s jump into some real numbers based on the science.
Typically, ~3,500 calories are stored in each pound of fat (source). So if you want to burn 10 pounds of fat, that will require about 35,000 calories burned off.
One study found that vegans consume an average of 600 calories less per day than meat-eaters. So if we divide 35,000 calories by 600 calories/day, we see that based on that average figure, it might take a vegan about 58 days (~2 months) to lose 10 pounds.
At that same average rate of calorie burning, you could potentially lose about 63 pounds in a year on a vegan diet (if you have that much excess fat to lose). But again, that’s not a guarantee. In practice, it varies.
And indeed, some studies have found much less dramatic weight loss for vegans. This study found that people following a vegan diet for 18 weeks (just over 4 months) lost 5.6 pounds on average.
That doesn’t seem like very fast weight loss. And indeed, when I wrote my big post on “Keto vs Vegan,” one of the big takeaways was that keto is usually faster for weight loss. (But vegan is healthier and longer-lasting.)
This study found that overweight people who went a vegan diet for 6 months lost 7.5% of their body weight on average. (So if you were 200 pounds, that would be 15 pounds lost in 6 months.) That’s a little more significant.
But I also personally know of some people who did not lose any weight when they went vegan. So it really varies. Why is that?
Factors Affecting Your Speed of Weight Loss
Here are four of the biggest factors that will affect how quickly you lose weight as a vegan:
Factor #1: What diet are you switching from?
If your diet was already health-conscious, then it’s possible that a vegan diet won’t speed things up too much. But if you’ve been eating fast food and processed junk, you may see much faster, more dramatic weight loss after going vegan.
Factor #2: How much weight do you have to lose?
If you have more body fat to lose, you’re likely to lose more pounds per month. Whereas if you’re only slightly chubby, your rate of weight loss may be slower.
As your body approaches its ideal weight, weight loss tends to go slower. Your body doesn’t want to let you lose all your stores of body fat! (But I’ll share some tips below for losing “the last 10 pounds.”)
Factor #3: What body type do you have?
Genetics is also a factor. Ectomorphs are people who tend to be skinny as a baseline, while endomorphs tend to carry extra weight.
If you’ve always carried extra weight, you may be an endomorph. You can still lose weight as an endomorph—it just may not come as easily as for other body types.
Factor #4: Are you actually eating a healthy vegan diet?
The specific foods you eat have a big impact. Some vegan foods are still unhealthy and easy to overeat. I’ll cover more on which foods to avoid below.
What Does This Mean For You?
If you have a lot of weight to lose and you’re coming from a not-very-healthy diet, you could lose 10+ pounds in just a few months of being vegan. Others will lose weight more slowly. Veganism is not a crash diet meant to bring overnight results.
However, if you’re not seeing the weight loss results you want yet, there’s a lot you can do to tweak your diet to get more results. I’ll share those tips below!
Overall, try to be patient and just make adjustments as needed. It’s not uncommon for people to spend a year or two to achieve a major body transformation that lasts. You can get there, too. It just takes the right strategies applied over time.
How and Why a Vegan Diet Causes Weight Loss
A vegan diet tends to lead people to lose weight because usually, vegans will naturally consume fewer calories. It’s not always the case, but usually. (Again, this study found that vegans averaged 600 calories per day less than meat-eaters.)
First, a vegan diet makes you avoid a lot of processed junk food.
It’s less tempting to go to a fast-food restaurant when you’re vegan, for example, because you can’t eat much on the menu! And the same can be said for other junk foods.
Just getting rid of those worst processed foods causes many vegans to lose weight. This is part of why other restrictive diets like gluten-free and keto can also cause weight loss: Most processed foods have to be removed.
Second, a vegan diet tends to fill you up with fiber-rich and water-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains). All that fiber and water fill up your stomach without adding calories to your diet.
As a result, most people end up eating fewer calories and losing weight after going vegan—even without trying. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. Why is that?
Not All Vegan Diets Lead to Weight Loss
You aren’t automatically healthy just because you go vegan. There are many foods that are technically “vegan” but offer no health benefits. Oreos, for example, are considered vegan—but you’d never call them healthy!
Besides the obvious junk foods, eating too many vegan substitute foods can also hinder your weight loss progress.
Mock meats are a great tool to help you transition to veganism, but they’re often loaded with refined oils, isolated soy protein, excess salt, and other processed ingredients.
Make sure your diet is mostly whole foods. If you’re eating all processed stuff, you’re not likely to reap the benefits people are talking about when they say a vegan diet can prevent so many common causes of disease.
Other reasons that vegans may not lose weight, even on a whole-foods focused diet, include the following:
- Eating big portions of pasta, cereal, or other grains (even if they’re “whole grain”).
- Eating a lot of nuts or nut butter.
- Drinking a lot of calories (like in the form of fruit juice or smoothies with several bananas).
Protein for Vegan Weight-Loss
Protein has at least two important functions while you’re losing weight: (1) It provides food for your muscles, so you can maintain them and mostly only lose fat, and (2) It helps prevent hunger.
This is especially true if you’re trying to build muscle while losing fat. When I added a full plate of scrambled tofu into my daily diet (50g of extra protein), I made much faster progress in my weight lifting.
Luckily, there are quite a few plant-based foods high in protein to choose from. These are some of the most concentrated sources:
- nuts and peanuts
- veggie burgers and other mock meats
- plant-based protein powder (here is my personal favorite)
A common recommendation for athletes is to aim for 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. If you’re not trying to be an athlete, you can probably go lower. The actual official RDI for protein is quite low—0.8g per kilogram of body weight—and should be met by most vegans diets.
Exercise for Vegan Weight-Loss
Honestly, your diet tends to be a much more powerful tool for weight loss than exercise. But exercise still plays a few important roles:
- Exercise can burn a few hundred calories per day. This means you can either lose weight faster or eat a bit more while still losing weight.
- Exercise can help you achieve the body shape you want. Most people don’t just want to be skinny. Men usually want a bit of that V-taper from wide shoulders to a small waist (with strong arms). Women may want more developed glutes or other toned muscles. Even just a bit of muscle in the right places goes a long way.
- Muscle helps you burn more fat. Your body has to use calories to feed your muscles each day. So if you add significant muscle mass, it raises your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and allows you to eat a bit more each day without storing fat.
- Exercise will motivate you to eat healthfully. When you finish a workout, you’re likely to feel great about it and you’ll want to keep that healthy momentum going into your upcoming meals.
- Exercise just makes your life better. Exercise is known to improve mood and energy throughout the day. You won’t get out of breath climbing the stairs or playing with your kids as much anymore. It’ll make your body stronger and more capable. It just makes life better.
So, even though diet is more important for weight loss, exercise is still an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the long run.
So find an activity you enjoy. Do you like any sports? My dad likes doing yard work for his exercise. What about weight lifting? Running or cycling? Yoga? Even walking and listening to audiobooks or music is a great start.
Find something active you want to do because it’s fun and it feels good—not just for weight loss reasons. Then you can stick to it for life.
A Simple Plan to Lose Weight Healthily on a Vegan Diet
You could starve yourself and lose weight quickly, but it’s not healthy, and it won’t last. Have patience so your changes are lifelong.
Here’s how to set yourself up for healthy weight loss on a vegan diet:
- Start with a healthy plant-based diet focused on whole foods, not processed foods. Limit refined sugar, refined grains, and refined oils. Focus on beans, veggies, fruits, and whole grains, with some nuts and seeds, too. Make meals from healthy vegan cookbooks like these: one, two, three (Amazon links).
- Add regular exercise doing something you enjoy. Strength training will help you build the “shape” most people want from their bodies. But even walking is better than nothing! Sports, yoga, whatever. Just get moving. Any amount is better than nothing.
Those two points alone will make a foundation for a healthy lifestyle you can sustain for decades. They should also allow you to gradually reach an ideal weight.
Losing the “Last 10 Pounds” (Stubborn Fat)
After you’ve been on this healthy lifestyle for a while, you may reach a point where your body seems “reluctant” to let you get any leaner. It may be much harder to lose that “last 10 pounds” to get to your goal weight.
For me, this point is around 15% bodyfat. That’s where I naturally arrive with a healthy lifestyle like the one I mentioned above. It’s a healthy weight, but I don’t have a defined six-pack or anything.
If you’re at that same kind of point but you want to get leaner from there, I’d recommend adding one of these two tactics to your approach:
- (A) Start counting your calories. Use a calculator online to find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), then set a number of calories below that for your daily limit. A deficit of 500 calories/day will result in healthy weight-loss of about 1 pound/week for most people.
Or, if you prefer:
- (B) Add extra rules to naturally limit your calories, like intermittent fasting (only eating during a window of 6-8 hours of the day), filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, limiting your grains to ~1 cup per day, or only drinking zero-calorie beverages (like water). Here is a list I made of 18 ways to lose weight without counting calories.
Here’s What I Personally Do
For me, following points 1 and 2 above (overall healthy vegan diet + exercise) are my foundation for a healthy life. Those are habits I’ll maintain for life.
But if I ever want to “cut” my bodyfat lower at a specific time, I’ll start counting calories for a few months.
With a calorie deficit of 500 calories/day, I lose around a pound per week. So I can lose about 10 pounds of fat in two or three months. That can get my abs showing again.
Personally, I like how counting calories is the most precise way to lose weight. There are actual numbers I’m going by.
So if I’m losing weight too slowly (or too fast), I can adjust the calorie deficit a bit.
(That said, I don’t recommend going much beyond a ~750 calorie deficit. If you do, you may lose more lean muscle, slow down your metabolism, and mess up your hormones, sex drive, and mood. It can also lead to a skinny fat physique in the long-term.)
I recommend downloading the app Cronometer if you want to track calories (or any other nutrient). I’ve been using it to track my calories, protein, and other nutrients for years now—and it never fails me.
But some people hate counting calories. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with disordered eating with calorie counting, or it’s just not for you.
In that case, you can try other ways to naturally limit how many calories you consume each day. Again here’s my post with 18 specific strategies.
In any case, do be patient. Healthy, long-term weight loss can take time. In a culture that values instant gratification, be the one who’s willing to work for long-lasting results. It’ll pay off in the long run.
A Vegan Diet: The Best Way to Lose Weight?
I personally think adopting a healthy plant-based diet is the best way to achieve a healthy weight. It may not be as fast as some crash diets or extremely low-carb diets, but it’s sustainable, it’s compassionate, and there are many significant health benefits—not just weight loss.
It may take some time to adjust to vegan eating, but you’ll grow to love all the clean foods you’re eating.
Healthy weight loss can transform your body and your life. Veganism can help you realize these goals, and may help you feel the best you ever have. So best of luck on your weight loss journey!