Going vegan can result in different side effects for different people. While some people feel hungry all the time as a new vegan, others lose their appetite all together. Why is this?
Loss of appetite among vegans can be caused by adjusting to the extra fiber and bulk, a lack of exciting food options, zinc deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, or stress. Luckily, there are many methods you can use to regain your appetite and prevent excess weight-loss as a vegan.
Below, I’ll explore some of the main causes and fixes for low appetite as a vegan. I’ll share 9 specific tips that can help you get your appetite back—without needing to give up your vegan diet!
Note: I’ve made an effort to cite credible sources for all health claims and explanations given in this post. But please consult your own physician for personalized advice on how you should deal with loss of appetite.
What Causes Reduced Appetite as a Vegan?
There are many potential reasons for losing your appetite. But here are a few of the common ones that may be particularly relevant for vegans (especially new vegans).
Adjusting to the Extra Fiber and Bulk
If you look up lists of what suppresses appetite, one of the top things listed is usually eating more fiber. And when you switch to a vegan diet, usually your fiber intake goes up drastically.
Whole plant foods tend to have much more fiber than animal products or processed foods. Meat contains no fiber. In contrast, beans contain a lot of fiber. Whole grains have a lot of fiber, too. Fruits and veggies have some, too.
Whole plant foods also contain a lot of water. Many fruits and vegetables are over 80% or even 90% water. No kidding—kale is 95% water.
And here’s the bottom line: All this extra water and fiber is very filling, even though it doesn’t give you calories. This is great for weight loss, and it’s great for getting more nutrients, not just empty calories. But it can be a big change if you’re not used to it.
Lack of Exciting Food Choices
When you go vegan, you’ll likely be cutting out a lot of your old favorite foods. If you’re crafty in the kitchen, you can make pretty much any meal vegan—but you may not know how to do it right away.
This means you may have much less tempting options on the menu. You may be looking at the salad in the fridge and thinking, “Yeah, I’m not hungry…”
If you switched to a vegan diet based on whole foods, then you won’t have the same high-sugar, high-salt foods that feed into addictive eating anymore. And if you were used to those foods on your past diet, this may make whole foods feel boring at first.
If you’ve been vegan for months or longer, then it’s possible that a deficiency is behind your lost appetite. For example, zinc deficiency is known to cause a loss of appetite. (source)
Vegans tend to have lower zinc levels than meat eaters. (That’s probably because a lot of meats are prominent sources of zinc!) You can definitely increase your zinc intake as a vegan, if this is a concern, however. I’ll cover that more in the tips below.
Vitamin B12 is another deficiency that vegans can unfortunately get in the long-term, if you’re not careful about supplementing.
All vegans need to supplement with vitamin B12. And if you don’t, appetite loss is one of the many potential symptoms.
Again, this will not affect you after just 5 days of being vegan… but if you’ve been vegan for months or years without supplementing B12, this could be the issue.
In particular, loss of appetite from B12 deficiency is noted to come as a result of nausea. So if you’ve been feeling nausea or other symptoms of B12 deficiency, this may be more likely.
Stress, anxiety, and depression can all cause a loss of appetite (source). And depending on your motivations for going vegan and your social environment, going vegan can be stressful.
If you’ve got vegan slip-up guilt or anxiety about ingredients… if you’re struggling to deal with non-vegan family… or if you’re depressed because you’re thinking about all the suffering of animals on factory farms… those issues could make you less hungry.
Going vegan can be a very positive choice for many reasons… but if you’re stressing too hard about it, you may need to change your perspective to make it sustainable.
There are a ton of potential reasons you could lose your appetite. Many of them may not even have to do with going vegan. These include bacterial or viral infections, medication side effects, cancer, and more.
If the loss of appetite came in the first few weeks of going vegan, it’s more likely to be the fiber/bulk issue, or adjusting to a diet of healthier foods. But if you’ve been vegan for a while and you just now lost your appetite, it could be unrelated.
9 Tips to Regain Your Appetite
The following tips should help you get your appetite back without needing to give up on veganism. You might notice that a lot of these tips are actually the opposite of common advice for how to lose weight. Interesting, but it makes sense when you think about it!
1. Ease Into the Fiber Gradually.
If you remember from above, one of the most likely explanations for a lost appetite as a new vegan is the dramatic shift to higher fiber intake. That fiber may be making you feel fuller for longer—too full, for too long, as the case may be.
So scale back on the fiber for a bit. Ease into it. Limit very-high-fiber foods like beans for the first few weeks of going vegan. You may want to eat some transition foods like veggie burgers, or continue eating some processed foods while you transition.
You may want to use an app like Cronometer to track what your daily fiber intake is. You could even log a sample day of your previous diet before veganism, so you can compare the fiber numbers.
Cronometer is a great tool to become familiar with in general. It can help you track all kinds of nutrients and health goals. I’ve used it in my effort to get six-pack abs, clear up acne, and eat enough protein for strength training.
2. Eat a More “Normal,” Balanced Vegan Diet.
I’ve talked to a few people who experienced reduced appetite as a new vegan, and one of them was eating a raw vegan diet specifically. I think they were fruitarian. Others who experience this issue may be focused on 100% whole foods, avoiding grains, or other variations.
Now, don’t get me wrong—whole foods are fantastic. You should focus your diet on mostly whole foods. But going from a Standard American Diet to 100% whole foods may be harder for your body to adjust to.
And specifically, raw vegan diets don’t work well for everyone. It can be hard to make sure you eat enough. This fact has actually led to a strange phenomenon where certain raw vegan communities focus on ideas like eating thousands of extra calories per day.
That works well for some, but causes weight gain for others. See my post “Why Is Raw Till Four Weight Gain So Common?” for more on that.
3. Try Different Meal Sizes and Frequencies.
If eating a big meal feels unappealing to you, you may want to try eating smaller meals and snacks—but more of them. You might find it more appealing to just eat a light meal every few hours.
On the flip side, some people may find that just eating one big meal per day, combined with a few snacks before or after, is the better option. See if one or the other helps for you.
4. Find Ways to Add Pleasure to Meal Times.
There are lots of things you can do to make eating more fun. Here are just a few ideas:
- Eat with family or friends—bonus points if they’re actually willing to try your vegan dish with you.
- Cook an exciting new recipe (if you like cooking).
- Watch TV or YouTube videos while eating.
- Make a vegan version of one of your old favorite foods
- Go to a restaurant (see my guides to vegan options at restaurants here)
Do you associate any particular foods with fun? It could be something you ate during holidays or birthdays as a kid. Or something like popcorn or hot dogs (veggie dogs), which are often paired with movies or events.
Some of the “fun foods” are probably not very healthy. But you can find healthy versions. Look up recipes and products online with search phrases like “healthy vegan _______ recipe.”
5. Add Liquid Calories to Your Diet.
Drinking calories can be a great way to get the energy you need, even if you’re not very hungry.
Have you ever made a green smoothie or fruit smoothie? You can pack it with healthy ingredients, and add healthy fats like peanut butter to pump up the calories.
Along with smoothies, you can add things like protein shakes and juices. Smoothies tend to be the healthiest, though, as they allow you to get more whole fruits and vegetables.
6. Sneak Extra Calories Into Your Meals.
One of the best ways to add more calories to your diet is to smear peanut butter on everything. Personally, I’ve added peanut butter to my cereal, pancakes, fruit slices, toast, bagels, sandwiches, and more. It can quickly add 100, 200, or more calories.
You can do similar with other fat sources like olive oil or vegan butter. Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient—so eating healthy fat is the fastest way to get in extra calories and make sure you’re not losing weight on accident.
So consider adding some olive oil, avocado, nuts, or seeds to your salad. Eat a handful of nuts alongside any meal you have. Or grab an extra spoonful of peanut butter when you’re in the kitchen.
7. Eat From a Bigger Plate.
It’s common advice that if you want to eat less, use a smaller plate. Well, the reverse is true when you’re trying to get yourself to eat more. Go for the big bowl.
In a big bowl, even a normal sized portion will look tiny and very approachable. So you can use this psychological trick to get yourself to dive in, even when you don’t feel that much of an appetite.
It’s crazy how much your plate/bowl size actually affects how much you eat, by the way. I know this from experience! This is not just a cute “tip” that doesn’t actually work… It really makes a difference!
8. Exercise More.
This is a sneaky one, but it can have a big impact.
Regular exercise can stimulate your appetite through several different mechanisms. These include your metabolic rate, your hormones, and your muscle mass. (source)
Take note that the impact will be greater after several days of exercise—not just one workout.
Also, take note that very mild exercise like walking seems to not stimulate appetite in the same way that more vigorous exercise does.
9. Don’t Drink Much With Your Meals.
In the same way that fiber-rich and water-rich foods can fill your stomach without adding calories, so can drinking water at dinner time. You’ll generally eat more if you don’t fill your stomach up with water.
So be mindful of this. Don’t chug a tall glass of water at the beginning of your meal if you want to have room for a healthy-sized portion!
With the right steps, your appetite should be able to adjust to veganism and be back shortly. This blog post from Healthline has even more tips you can browse, as well.
That said, if you’re not seeing improvement, be sure to ask your physician or healthcare professional for their input.
Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey
1. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).
2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.