Weight loss is one of the many benefits often listed for vegan diets. But in reality, a vegan diet doesn’t spur weight loss for everyone. It really comes down to the details of the diet.ac
In this post, I’m going to share 18 specific ways you can adjust your vegan diet to ensure that it leads to weight loss—even without counting calories.
But first, I’ll cover the pros and cons of counting calories, along with the overall logic behind why these tips work!
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Pros and Cons of Counting Calories
For me personally, I’ve actually had some success with calorie counting.
I lost 13 pounds of fat and got six-pack abs by tracking my calories. I wrote about that in my post on “How to Get Six-Pack Abs on a Vegan Diet.”
What I do like about calorie counting is that it’s more precise than any other weight-loss strategy. I’m working off of specific numbers. I have precise goals.
For a data-driven nerd like me, I prefer that over something like Intuitive Eating.
But calorie counting is not for everyone. For many people, it feels unhealthy—in terms of mental health! It can make you feel kinda obsessed with food.
For many people, calorie counting is also not something you want to do every day for the rest of your life. I think most people who count calories do it as a temporary diet.
But for healthy long-term weight management, you don’t want to be ballooning up and then crash dieting back down. So-called “yo-yo dieting” is unhealthy in a bunch of ways. (source)
So personally I think adopting a few of the more sustainable tips below is a good idea for anyone.
Heck, even if you are counting calories to lose weight, the tips below will help you feel more full and satisfied while hitting those calorie targets!
Side Note: This is the best free video introduction I’ve found on adopting a plant-based diet—the right way. You’ll learn how to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity—all with plants. Watch the free Masterclass here.
How to Lose Weight as a Vegan Without Counting Calories
Ok, so here are the overall principles to feel full while naturally losing weight:
• Eat whole foods, not processed foods. Whole foods contain more bulk to fill you up—fiber and water. Your body absorbs them more slowly. All these factors help you eat an appropriate amount, even without tracking.
• Limit high-calorie-density foods. Even among healthy foods, there are some fatty ones that contain a lot of calories even in just one serving (nuts!). In contrast, it’s probably not even physically possible to fit enough green vegetables in your body to gain weight from them.
• Give yourself the time to feel full. When you rush your meals, you end up eating more than you intended. There are several specific tips below that will help you implement this principle in pretty smart ways.
So, without further ado, here are the 18 specifc ways to lose weight on a vegan diet—even without counting calories.
Note: Most people won’t need to do all of these! Pick a few to try. If those aren’t working, then you can add a few more.
1. Fill Up on High-Fiber Foods.
Fiber does a lot of good stuff for your body. It helps move things along, cleans you out, and keeps you regular. Fiber helps you feel full without actually eating more calories. And that’s key for weight loss.
Fiber is just a word for the components in our food that can’t be fully broken down by our digestive enzymes. That means they end up undigested in our intestines. They help push everything through, and they feed our gut bacteria.
The main way to ensure that you’re eating high-fiber is just to focus on whole foods, not processed foods. Because fiber is one of the biggest components you lose in most kinds of processing! But you may want to include a few specifically high-fiber foods, too.
High-fiber vegan foods include:
- Beans: Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain pasta, whole-grain cereal, etc.
- Vegetables: Artichoke, kale, broccoli, beets, spinach, brussel sprouts, etc.
- Fruits: Raspberries, avocado, pears, apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, etc.
You’ll notice the biggest impact with beans and whole grains—but eating whole plant foods in general will increase your fiber intake.
A word of caution! Only increase your fiber intake gradually. Adding too much too quickly is the biggest cause of vegan gas. Be especially careful as you add beans. I have a full post on 17 tips to reduce vegan farting—mind the advice in there as you increase fiber!
2. Fill Up on High-Water-Content Foods.
Besides fiber, the other major food component that fills your stomach without adding calories is water. (In fact, there are a couple more tips coming below that use this fact to your advantage, too!)
Fruits and vegetables are the foods that naturally contain the most water. Many fruits and vegetables are more than 80% or even 90% water!
But this principle also applies to how other foods are prepared:
- Boiled potatoes contain more water than baked potatoes.
- Wheat pasta contains more water than wheat bread.
- Grapes contain more water than raisins (raisins are just dehydrated grapes).
Eat more of the foods that contain more water, and you’ll naturally get full on fewer calories.
3. Eat Soup.
Why? How can adding something to a meal lead to eating fewer calories? It could be for a few reasons:
1. Soup is mostly water. Water, in all its forms, helps fill you up without adding calories. And that includes broth.
2. Soup is usually hot, so you eat it slowly. This slow eating allows more time for you to realize you’re getting full and stop before you over-eat.
3. Soup is usually packed with vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber, and high in water.
So, soup is great for weight-loss. And it’s a great addition to the beginning of a meal specifically!
4. Limit Oil.
A lot of the tips on this list are focused on eating low-calorie-density foods. But oil is the polar opposite of that. Oil is the most calorie-dense food present in a typical diet. Just one tablespoon is around 120 calories. That can add up fast.
If you learn to cook without oil, you can eat larger portions for fewer calories. Cooking and baking without oil could be a whole separate post. But this video will get you started:
The same goes for vegan butter (it’s mostly made from oil): If you make mashed potatoes without the vegan butter, you can eat more without consuming as many calories. And so on.
Popcorn without oil can be a challenge: How do you get the salt and seasonings to stick? But if you buy extra fine salt, it will stick more easily. Some people spray on a little water with a spray bottle to help it stick. Or you can mix the seasonings with water, then drip them on.
5. Limit Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters.
My personal weakness when it comes to weight loss is peanut butter. My most rapid period of weight gain in my adult life was when I started adding peanut butter to everything. I put it in my cereal, on my pancakes, on my apples, on my carrots… I was obsessed.
Don’t get me wrong: Nuts are healthy. Seeds are healthy. But they’re also very calorie-dense.
In nature, nuts come packaged in hard shells that take effort to break open. But in the store, you can buy a big bag of oily, salty nuts that are easy to gobble by the handful.
An open bag or bowl of nuts is an invitation to over-eat. It’s tempting. And it’s best to stay away pretty much entirely if you’re trying to lose weight without counting calories.
6. Eat More High-Protein Foods.
When I’m cutting down to get a six-pack, one of the foods I like to eat almost every day is scrambled tofu. All the protein really helps me feel full. And that’s backed by science, too: Protein is filling!
Eating more protein also helps you keep muscle while burning fat, especially if you’re strength training. Many people can even build new muscle while burning fat if their protein intake is high. This is called body recomposition, and it’s the holy grail of fitness transformations.
But if your goal is weight loss, I recommend high-protein foods, not necessarily protein shakes.
Liquid meals like shakes and smoothies are typically less filling than solid meals. You drink them faster than you eat meals, and they don’t take as long for your body to break down. (It’s already broken down to liquid form!)
So eat some of these high-protein foods:
- Other high-protein grains: Spelt, kamut, amaranth, teff, sorghum
I wrote more about protein and how much to get for muscle-building in my post on how to get six-pack abs on a vegan diet.
7. Eat Potatoes.
Boiled potatoes rank higher than any other food on the satiety index. 38 foods were tested for how full they make you feel. Boiled potatoes rank #1.
Why boiled potatoes, not baked? The extra water in the boiling may have something to do with it. Boiled potatoes are also known to have a significantly lower glycemic load than baked potatoes. So that’s good, too.
But even baked potatoes can help you achieve your weight-loss goals.
8. Drink Water Before Meals.
Research has shown that drinking about 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before meals helped obese people lose weight. In fact, the participants who did this before all 3 meals each day lost an average of 9.5 pounds in 12 weeks. (source)
Those are incredible results for just drinking water at 3 specific times throughout the day!
If you’re trying to lose weight without the hassle of counting calories, I would recommend taking advantage of this simple strategy. One easy way to do this: Get in the habit of drinking a big glass of water (or two) right before you start preparing your food.
9. Eat Mindfully.
Most people today do not eat mindfully. We eat in front of the TV or computer. We watch shows or YouTube videos while eating. (I do it, too.)
But if you want to actually enjoy your food more—and naturally eat less—then slowing down and paying more attention can absolutely help with that. I think everyone should try the following exercise at least once:
How to Eat Mindfully
1. Start by noticing the scent and appearance of your food. Notice the colors. Notice the steam rising off of it. Notice how the scent has filled the rooms of your house. Push on the food with your fork or feel it with your fingers.
2. Take a small bite. Notice what tastes are present: Is it salty? Sweet? Notice the texture. Really feel it with your tongue. Move it around in your mouth and appreciate exactly what this food is like.
3. Be grateful for the food. Eating is incredible. It’s a great pleasure we get to experience each day. And many people in the world don’t have access to the same foods as you. Really appreciate all the aspects of what is happening.
When you eat mindfully—even slightly so—you increase the likelihood of eating at a slower pace and noticing when you’re full. And you’re less likely to just keep packing in unnecessary extra food.
10. Do Nutriciously’s Free Vegan Weight Loss Challenge.
Nutriciously is one of my favorite vegan blogs. They have a number of e-books and free courses that are great for getting started on a plant-based diet. That includes their free weight-loss challenge.
If you sign up for the weight-loss challenge, you receive a series of 5 info-packed emails. You get a 3-day meal plan, and you basically get your hand held as you transition into healthy, lower-calorie, plant-based living.
Nutriciously’s approach to weight loss is completely free of calorie counting. You focus on eating whole foods that are good for you. And they teach you about calorie density, too, so you can also be mindful of that.
Learn more about this healthy weight loss challenge here.
11. Limit Grains (Especially Processed Ones).
Some grains can be pretty healthy overall. But many of them are easy to over-eat—especially the more processed ones.
The first step to take would be to limit foods containing white flour: White bread, pastries, cookies, cake, sugary cereals, etc. Those are kinda obvious. But I would honestly recommend going further, too.
Whole-grain pasta and whole-grain cereal are more of a gray area. Many are loaded with fiber, and they’re healthy food overall. But in my experience, they’re still kinda easy to over-eat.
Many plant-based weight-loss programs—like Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live program (Amazon link to the book)—advise you to limit grains all-together. Even whole grains like brown rice or quinoa are limited to about 1 cup per day on that program.
A good policy is to stay mindful of serving sizes when it comes to grains. Make sure the veggies and protein fill up more of the plate—not the grains.
12. Eat From a Smaller Bowl/Plate.
I know for me, I will finish anything I serve myself. Even if I actually got full half-way through the meal—I’ll just keep stuffing my mouth until the plate is clean.
My easy solution for this is to serve myself less. Sometimes I do that by actually measuring my servings—because I’m a nerd like that—but a simpler solution is just using a smaller bowl/plate.
If you’re still hungry, you can always serve yourself seconds. But using a smaller plate will take away that “autopilot” mode where you just keep mindlessly eating from a big plate until it’s all gone.
This also works for snacking. If you’re eating something from a bag, consider just pouring yourself a set serving size in a smaller container first. Eat that set amount, rather than just endlessly dipping into the bag again and again.
13. Wait a While Before Getting Seconds.
If you’re trying to lose weight without calorie counting, you don’t want to feel like you’re starving yourself. So you should allow yourself to get seconds when you’re still hungry. But you can be smart about this by just waiting a while after your first course.
It can take a little while for our body to really “register” that we are full. So pausing for 5 to 20 minutes between courses can be a good idea.
Don’t jump right from the main course into dessert. If you have the time, just sit and chat with family for a bit, or clean some of the dishes from the main course before you get out the dessert or serve yourself seconds.
In that time gap, you may realize you’re not actually that hungry anymore, and you won’t accidentally over-eat just because you were rushing.
14. Switch to Only Zero-Calorie Beverages.
This is a good policy for most people: Don’t drink your calories. They add up way too fast, without filling you up.
One of the “healthy” beverages to be careful of in this regard is “100% fruit juice.” I used to drink so much orange juice, apple juice, and grape juice. I didn’t realize how unhealthy they were.
Even if the sugar comes from 100% fruit, most of the natural fiber is removed when it’s made into fruit juice. Even when juicing at home, this is something to be careful of.
There’s a common saying: “Juice your vegetables, but eat your fruit.” That’s because fruit juice contains a lot of sugar. What about fruit smoothies? I’ll get to those in the next tip!
Here are some 0-calorie beverages to consider instead of juice or soda:
- Water (the best!)
- Seltzer, sparkling, or mineral water
- Black coffee (technically 2 calories per cup)
- Green tea (without sugar or milk added)
- Some kinds of flavored water (like Propel or Hint)
- Diet iced tea
- Diet soda
- Zero-calorie energy drinks (see my post on vegan energy drinks)
15. Be Careful With Smoothies.
Smoothies can be very healthy, as they’re often made from fruits and vegetables. But you’re still drinking your calories… and smoothies can include a lot of fruit sugar. So is there cause for concern?
Well, smoothies are definitely not as problematic as fruit juice. Smoothies still contain the fiber, which is not the case for juice. But we still drink smoothies quicker than we’d eat the same amount of solid fruit. Does that cause you to consume more?
This study tested just about everything you’d want to know about smoothies, satiety, and weight gain. What did they find?
When you drink smoothies, your body typically doesn’t fully register the calories. However, if you sip your smoothie slowly—or eat it slowly, in the form of a smoothie bowl—it does lead to the same satiation as eating solid food.
So, here’s the takeaway: If weight loss is your priority, don’t chug down smoothies. Instead, stick to solid food, or be sure to drink your smoothies slowly—just sip them over the course of a half an hour or something.
16. Find Exercise You Enjoy.
For most people, diet makes a much bigger impact for weight loss than exercise. There are two common sayings that reflect this:
- “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
- “Abs are made in the kitchen.”
And these maxims are true—to an extent. An intense hour-long workout typically only burns a few hundred calories. And exercising can stimulate your appetite, too. There are many people who go workout, then completely defeat their progress by eating extra at the next meal.
But there are still reasons to find a form of exercise you love doing, and to do it regularly!
It’s crucial for your cardiovascular health. It’s helpful for your mood. And when it comes to the shape of your body and your body composition, it really matters, too.
If you just eat less, you can become skinny—but you can’t become ripped or toned without exercise.
Building some muscle also helps raise your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Put in more simple terms, your body has to use up more calories each day just to feed the muscle you have. This means you can eat more calories without it being stored as fat.
Personally, I recommend heavy weight training to pretty much all vegans. I explain why in my post called “5 Reasons Why So Many Vegans Are Skinny Fat (And How to Fix It).”
But ultimately, the best form of exercise is one you can stick to and do regularly. So:
- Do you like any sports?
- Do you like anything that involves moving around? Dancing? Yard work?
- Even walking is better than nothing.
Actually, walking is one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss. Why? Because it doesn’t stimulate your appetite nearly as much as other kinds of exercise.
Many weight-loss programs recommend taking a 1-hour walk each day (or multiple shorter walks). And I would agree! Personally, I just take my dog on longer walks. She loves it.
17. Try Intermittent Fasting.
For some people, intermittent fasting (IF) helps them lose weight after they’ve tried everything and not found success. The idea is simple: During certain periods of time, just don’t eat anything.
There are different versions of IF. The most popular version is where you have an “eating window” each day. It might be anywhere from 2 to 8 hours long, but during that pre-set “eating window” is the only time you eat.
When I’ve done intermittent fasting, I usually eat between noon and 8am. It does help me eat less in the day as a whole. And that kind of 8-hour eating window works well for many people. See below for more discussion on when to set your eating window.
I sometimes do get hungry in the mornings during my fast, but I’ve found that drinking sparkling water helps me get through it. (Black coffee also helps without breaking your fast.)
What Time of Day Should Your Eating Window Be?
If you’ve decided to eat within an 8-hour window, or an even smaller window, is it best to do that early or late in the day? Does it matter?
From a health and weight-loss perspective, it may work a bit better to eat early in the day. For some reason, our bodies tend to be more insulin sensitive in the mornings, so we can tolerate more carbs and calories without having big insulin spikes. (source)
But from a convenience perspective, eating later in the day will work better for most people. Think about it: Most social eating happens later in the day. Breakfast is probably the most common meal to eat alone. So it’s the easiest to just skip.
The best solution is to just try one and see how it’s working for you. I know for me, skipping breakfast is usually easy and helps me stay lean. But on days when I’m going out to do something in the morning, I eat first. (Some people like exercising in a fasted state… but not me. I’m weaker when fasted!)
There is also “alternate day fasting” (ADF). It sounds “extreme” to only eat every other day… But many versions of ADF do allow ~500 calories on your “fasted” days. And it supposedly works really well for some people. Here’s Healthline’s guide to ADF.
18. Make Your Diet Kinda Boring.
This tip doesn’t sound very fun… And yeah, it’s not. I put it last for a reason!
But it works! Let me explain.
Dr. John McDougall, author of The Starch Solution, teaches a low-fat plant-based diet focused on starches and vegetables. But in his June 2006 newsletter, he explained a simplified version of the diet created by his wife Mary.
It’s called “Mary’s Mini-McDougall Diet.” Basically, what you do is pick one starch and one vegetable… and you eat them for every single meal.
Isn’t that crazy?
Actually, looking back at the original newsletter, it looks like you’re allowed to switch up the vegetable component between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So it could look like this:
- Breakfast: Rice and fruit.
- Lunch: Rice and carrots.
- Dinner: Rice and greens.
- Repeat every day!
This is not meant to be a life-long diet. More of a quick thing to get started on the right foot.
Well, being the curious person I am, I tried this. I ate brown rice and brussel sprouts for every meal for about a week. I can attest: It made eating boring to me, and I naturally ate a lot less.
And I’ve had another experience that taught me the same lesson. When I was eating an elimination diet for my acne, I was limited to just eating a few foods on repeat. Eating became so boring. And I noticed my abs coming in after a few weeks.
I was naturally losing weight because the foods on the menu were just a lot less tempting!
Side Note: If you struggle with acne, you need to read my big post on how to clear up acne as a vegan! In that post, I share everything I learned over years of studying acne science and then testing it on myself. I truly believe it’s the best resource on the Internet for vegans with acne. Read it here.
Another case study: High-Carb Hannah’s “Potato Cleanse.” For 30 days, she ate potatoes at every meal, combined with different vegetables. She did lose weight.
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