Healthy Weight Loss and Maintenance

Common Questions

We know everyone has lots of questions about weight loss - achieving a healthy weight is one of the top goals of the people we work with. We have a few answers to very common questions below, as well as some resources further down:


What is a healthy diet for losing weight?

The easiest and healthiest diet for weight loss is a whole food, plant-based diet. This means a diet composed of unrefined, plant foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and smaller amount of richer plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives, but that eliminates animal products and avoids or eliminates added sugar and added oil. Healthy weight loss occurs gradually and without starvation or deprivation - eating the high level of fiber in whole plant foods means feeling full and satisfied with fewer calories. There is no portion control, no complex points system, and no calorie counting. Most people who start eating a whole food, plant-based diet are surprised to discover the weight just melts away, and the process is painless compared to most other methods they've tried.

What about a vegetarian weight loss diet?

Many people do choose to eat a vegetarian diet to lose weight, and this might mean avoiding meat and fish, but perhaps including eggs, cheese, and other dairy products. While many people find some substantial level of success with a vegetarian diet for weight loss, many people find some initial improvements that subsequently plateau. This is often because eggs and dairy products are still relatively calorically dense and do not contain fiber, even though they are not meat. A whole food, plant-based diet shares a lot in common with a vegetarian diet, in that both emphasize fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. However, if you continue to include eggs, dairy products, and oils (as many vegetarian recipes do) may eventually pose a roadblock to losing "those last 5 lbs", even if you make some progress at the beginning.

How is a vegetarian diet different from a vegan diet for weight loss?

Vegan diets do not contain any animal foods - so the eggs and dairy present in vegetarian diets are gone, but vegan diets still may contain processed foods that have added sugar or added oil. Even though vegan diets too may emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes similarly to vegetarian diets (and without the animal food) there are plenty of processed foods on the market that are animal-free but still not good for you. Picture Oreo cookies, Cap'n Crunch cereal, Ritz crackers, Lays potato chips... uh oh! Switching to a vegan diet can be very helpful for some people because the decision to eat "no animal foods" more clearly draws a line in the sand that can help you steer clear of many foods that hold people back from achieving their ideal weight. However, when you're feeling tired, tired of saying no, or are faced with food choices at a party, the truth is there are plenty of nutritionally poor choices to make that are still part of a "vegan diet plan". If you want to achieve vegan weight loss, what you really want is to follow a whole food, plant-based diet, with its emphasis on unrefined foods. The best vegan diet for weight loss is simply eating unrefined, plant foods. You will be consuming a nutrient-dense, but less calorie-dense, diet that allows you to feel full without overeating.

Is it possible to achieve my ideal weight?

Is is absolutely possible. Achieving a healthy weight doesn't happen at the same pace for everybody, and some people need to be a bit more strict than others, or perhaps add in a bit more physical activity, but on the whole the biggest bank for your buck with weight loss will come from changing what you eat, not exercising. For people who are finding that even while eating a whole food, plant-based they still can't seem to shed those last few lbs, it may be necessary to cut back or cut out the richer plant-based foods even more. This might mean avoiding nuts, seeds, avocado, or olives.

The other place to try tweaking your diet is to stop eating smoothies. If you've made all the other changes that you can, but still have a couple lbs to go and you drink smoothies, you could try just eating a breakfast salad with all your smoothie ingredients instead - there's some research that suggests that when you blend fiber very finely and consume liquid calories, it doesn't have the same effect on satiety as intact fiber in unblended or solid food does. However, those two tweaks are refinements that might only be necessary after you've taken all the other steps towards a whole food, plant-based diet plan. In Sustainable Diet, we suggest first adding in more whole plant foods, and then move on to eliminating foods. Most people will see results right away with just these two steps.

Why am I hungry all the time? I miss eating meat.

Many diet programs require that followers accept a certain level of feeling hungry, but a whole food, plant-based diet is not one of them! If you are eating a diet based mostly or entirely on whole, plant foods, the high fiber content of the food will help you feel satiated with less calories and for longer. However, if you find that you're still hungry, or feel tired or headachey, that probably means you're not eating enough food. It's when you eat more calorie-dense foods like meat, cheese, or processed foods that you need to practice portion control and choose specific serving sizes. However, when you eat whole, plant-foods (and limit your use of nuts/seeds to condiments) it's not only possible but it's important to completely fill up every time you eat. This may actually mean your plates of food are bigger than you were used to!

What are the best vegetables for weight loss?

All vegetables are the best vegetables for weight loss! There are no magic bullets; healthy weight loss happens naturally when eating a whole food, plant-based diet. It's tempting to ask "should I eat lots of celery?" 

or "should I focus on radishes?" if you're used to one medication, or one treatment being used to reverse a health condition. The approach of looking at your total dietary pattern may take some getting used to, but the effect of nutrition on the body is due to the aggregated and synergistic effect of all the foods consumed by an individual in totality. That means that yes, if you eat this or that once a year during the holidays it's unlikely to have a substantial effect on your weight or health, but it also means that yes, if you eat small amounts of brownies, white flour, potato chips, soda, cheese, or meat on a daily basis, there's going to be some kind of negative effect on your health that you can't reverse just by eating lots of a specific food like sweet potatoes or blueberries. Specific foods don't act like antidotes to regular consumption of unhealthy foods.

Relevant Research

The research on weight loss is really exciting! Adults who eat plant-based diets have lower body mass indexes compared to adults who eat animal foods1, and a whole food, plant-based diet has been shown to help both overweight children2 and adults3  lose weight more easily than other diets, even without regulating portion sizes. Researchers at the University of South Carolina put five different diets to the test to see which one would help people lose the most weight3. The five diets were vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (plant foods and fish), semi-vegetarian (light on the animal food) and omnivorous. In this experiment, the vegan diet was essentially a whole food, plant-based diet, because the 

meal plan instructions all participants were given focused on low-fat, whole foods. The vegan group lost more weight than the semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, and omnivorous groups! And 

again - remember, they did this without any annoying rules like using points or cards or counting calories!

You May Want to Watch...

...Michelle McMacken, MD, talk about weight loss on a plant-based diet. Dr. McMacken is the director of the Bellevue Hospital Weight Management Clinic in New York City, and also one of the physician lecturers in Sustainable Diet! Her full-length lecture here is on weight-loss of course, but if you'd like to get some tips now, check out the clip of this interview she did on what happens when you stop eating animal foods:

Delicious and Tasty

For weight loss, the best place to start is with plant-based diet recipes for oil-free salad dressings that you enjoy, as salad dressing is one of the biggest (but most easily eliminated) sources of added oil in the diet. All of the recipes from Sustainable Diet are made of whole, plant foods and are oil-free, but for getting started with cutting a lot of fat out of your diet, the salad dressings are a great first step. Some of our favorites are Raspberry Vinaigrette and classic Thousand Island.



1. Orlich MJ, Fraser GE. "Vegetarian diets in the Adventist Health Study 2: a review of initial published findings." The American journal of clinical nutrition 100 Suppl 1 (Jul 2014): 353S-358S.
2. Macknin M, Kong T, Weier A, et al. "Plant-Based, No-Added-Fat or American Heart Association Diets: Impact on Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Children with Hypercholesterolemia and Their Parents." J Pediatr 166, no. 4 (Apr 2015): 953-959 e953.
3. Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Wilcox S, Frongillo EA. "Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets." Nutrition 31, no. 2 (Feb 2015): 350-358.





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