While most people will reach a healthy weight by simply adopting a low-fat whole foods plant-based diet, some may need additional strategies to achieve their weight loss goal. These strategies may be particularly helpful to those whose weight has plateaued after an initial period of weight loss.
Tips for maximum weight loss
- Eat enough moderate calorie density food to avoid becoming too hungry.
- Keep WFPB ‘fast food’ in the refrigerator and carry snacks when away from home.
- Aim for 100% adherence during the first 3-4 weeks.
- Don’t drink your calories as juices or smoothies.
- The food you have at home is the food you will eat – restock your kitchen.
- Upskill in food label reading.
- Limit or avoid whole plant foods that are high in fat – nuts, avocados, soy products.
- Limit or avoid dried and baked foods with low moisture contents (i.e. bread, cakes – even if whole grain).
- Dilute your ‘starches’ – whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes – by adding more non-starchy vegetables to your plate, but don’t go higher than half the plate.
- Sequence your meal by eating low calorie density food first. Start the meal with salad or soup. Eat a piece of fruit before considering the cake.
- Remember that this plan is about eating more low calorie density food not smaller portions.
NB The less a food is processed the better it is for weight loss.
McDougall’s maximum weight loss plan
Dr John McDougall has a maximum weight loss (MWL) program designed to assist people to speed up their rate of weight loss. It is not suggested that you aim to eat this way all the time – it might be something you try for 3 or 4 weeks before returning to the regular WFPB program.
Basic principles include the regular McDougall guidelines:
- Base your diet around starches
- Avoid all meats, poultry and fish
- Avoid all dairy products, eggs and oils
- Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and soybean products
- All dried fruit and fruit juices
- All flour products such as breads, baked products with flours/nuts/sugar syrups
There is a further tweak you can try for a short period of time to really give your weight loss a kick-start, known as “Mary’s Mini McDougall Diet”. It is based on the principle to make your diet as simple as possible for a short period of time to help you re-set your taste buds. You can choose one starch, e.g. potatoes, to form the centrepiece of your diet and eat this for every meal with the addition of a few other vegetables of your choosing.
Page last updated 15 February 2016
Some people have high energy requirements, and getting enough calories may be a challenge. Some of the “risk factors” for having high energy needs are: endurance sports, male gender, high muscle bulk and high resting metabolic rate. It is not difficult to plan a whole foods plant based diet to meet these needs.
Even for those with average energy needs there may be difficulties getting enough calories. Gastro-intestinal disease, gastric banding, chronic medical conditions, cancer and recovery from prolonged illness may all present challenges for eating enough plant based food.
We refute the common belief that Australian meal sizes are too large: they are small and too energy dense. Western meals are smaller than those in cultures that eat a more plant-based low-oil diet. When it comes to vegetables and whole starchy foods most Australians are seriously under-nourished.
This culture of small energy dense meals creates some problems for “high energy needs” plant eaters. After a lifetime of energy dense meals, some people find it difficult to retrain their stomach to stretch enough to eat a large meal without discomfort: “eating into the pain”. The common habit of only eating one substantial meal a day will not work with minimally processed whole plant foods: a full day’s allowance of whole plant foods will not fit into a normal stomach. This is normal for herbivores. See Humans are Herbivores page. Restaurants usually do not understand energy density and serve up inadequate portions to vegans – containing little starch and very few calories (Asian restaurants are most likely to understand “a lot of rice”). Large meals can even offend some people.
Strategies for getting more calories
- Eat larger portions* of starchy foods – e.g. potatoes, rice, oats, pasta and legumes.
- Eat more for breakfast and lunch. Don’t leave most of your food intake for the evening.
- Have between meal snacks, e.g fruit and dried fruits such as dates and figs.
- Eat or begin cooking before you are hungry.
- Add calorie boosters to meals: e.g. dried fruits to porridge or nuts and avocados to salads.
- Many athletes have a small snack before morning training.
- Drink some fruit juices or non-dairy smoothies in addition to your main meals (i.e. not as a meal replacement).
- Find some nutritious food – cakes/energy bars (preferably made from dried fruits and whole grains) and a good wholemeal bread.
* What is a large portion?
The following are examples for an average sized male (weights are dry weights):
- Morning porridge: 140g rolled oats, 40g dried fruit. Served with fresh fruit
- Lunch: 150g of pasta. Served with soup or vegetables
- Dinner: 200g brown rice or pasta. Served with vegetables and tofu
We recommend you purchase kitchen scales. Aside from getting some idea of your portion size, they are very useful for getting the proportion of water and rice/oats just right.
Welcome to our updated Weight Management page. We have revised the energy density page and created three new pages covering food addiction, satiety and low-fat diets. This incorporates much of the material we present in the weight management section of our one-day seminars. Click here to see upcoming seminars.
A whole foods, plant-based diet will enable you to lose weight and keep it off without portion control. It’s first and foremost a health supporting diet so you will feel yourself getting healthier as you lose weight, unlike Atkins-Paleo style low carb diets which have many side effects and are dangerous to health in the long term. There are no special products required – it’s food-based and you can buy everything you need from your local supermarket and fresh produce store. Going plant strong is not difficult or expensive.
Energy density is the key concept for understanding how the type of food we eat determines our body weight. It’s also the key to managing your weight – whether your goal is weight loss, keeping weight off or avoiding weight loss. Check out our simple calorie density chart – it may surprise you to see that some of the carbohydrate-rich foods for which we have a natural affinity are moderately low in calorie density. You can use the principal of energy density to build meals which are full-sized and satisfying yet modest in calorie content. And you won’t have to worry about nutritional deficiencies because whole plant foods have a higher overall nutrient density than animal-derived foods or processed plant foods. People who adopt a plant-based diet for weight loss often express joy and relief at breaking free of portion control, often after years of unsuccessful dieting.
Two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese. This is not the result of a design flaw in the human body, lack of will power or declining physical activity. The problem is that we are eating the wrong type of food for our species. Calling ourselves omnivores does not change the fact that our anatomy and physiology suggests that humans are herbivores. Modern processed foods and animal products provide a hyper-concentrated source of calories which goes beyond the operating range of our weight regulating physiology. The failure of our appetite and satiety regulating mechanisms to fully compensate for the richness of this food results in systematic overeating and gradual weight gain.
Eating food is pleasurable. We have dopamine-based brain reward systems that are designed to respond to high calorie food and other experiences that improved the chances of survival and reproduction for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But modern foods like cheese and processed foods are ‘hyperpalatable’, leading to a temporary state of enhanced pleasure followed by addiction. Moderation keeps you trapped in this state. Once you break free from addictive hyper-palatable food, you will find it easier to resist comfort eating.
There is a lot of debate about low carb vs low fat diets. We prefer to think in terms of food rather than nutrients – i.e. a diet based on whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. In nutrient terms this is a high carbohydrate, moderate protein, very low fat diet. There is a physiological basis for the saying, ‘the fat you eat is the fat you wear’, but the best evidence for this approach is the real world observation that people who eat low fat, plant-based diets are always leaner.
Our tips for maximum weight loss will help those who are still having difficulty losing weight even after changing to a whole foods plant-based diet. We also give advice on how not to lose weight for those who are at or below their goal weight.
General weight loss:
Calorie density and the ‘Pleasure Trap’:
When weight loss has stalled:
Food composition tables:
- Anderson, J. J., Celis-Morales, C. A., . . . Pell, J. P. (2016). Adiposity among 132 479 UK Biobank participants; contribution of sugar intake vs other macronutrients. International Journal of Epidemiology (first published online July 12 2016; abstract only free) – NB Concludes fat is the largest contributor to energy intake in obese individuals.
- Astrup, A., Grunwald, G. K., Melanson, E. L., Saris, W. H. M., & Hill, J. O. (2000). The role of low-fat diets in body weight control: a meta-analysis of ad libitum dietary intervention studies. International Journal of Obesity, 24(12), 1545-1552.
- Shick, S. M., Wing, R. R., Klem, M. L., McGuire, M. T., Hill, J. O., & Seagle, H. (1998). Persons successful at long-term weight loss and maintenance continue to consume a low-energy, low-fat diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(4), 408-413.
- Wright, N., Wilson, L., Smith, M., Duncan, B., & McHugh, P. (2017). The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes. Nutrition & Diabetes, 7(3), e256.
- I Lost 300 Pounds and Regained My Life … And My Entire Family Joined Me! – Kitten Barbossa (2016)
- I Lost 180 Pounds in a Year … Along with High Cholesterol, Pre-Diabetes, and Sleep Apnea! – Jon Bergman (2013)
- Janet: Losing 100 Pounds as Well as Her Unhealthy Food Cravings – Janet Carter
- Post-Pregnancy Weight Gain, High Blood Pressure, and Acne are Now Gone! – Mackenzie Holiday (written story, 2014)
- Goodbye to Disordered Eating, High Cholesterol, and Excess Weight! – Crystal Burman (written story, 2013)
- Cloudy Rockwell: Loses a Hundred Pounds – (8 min. video plus written story)
- Norm Weinstein: Lost 250 Pounds – (video)
- Cathy Stewart: Loses 150 Pounds – (written story)
- Dan Curtin: Depression, Hypertension, GERD, Obesity – (written story)
- Jennifer Bucheli’s NEW LIFE – (PBJ written story)
- Unsupersize Me (documentary film) – Watch Tracy’s amazing journey, losing 200lbs in one year on a plant-based diet.
Page last updated 14 February 2016