5 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet

Whether you went vegan for ethical reasons or health reasons, most people associate a vegan diet with being lean. Studies seem to back this up: an Oxford University study of 40,000 adults 1 found that meat-eaters had the highest BMIs, vegans had the lowest, and vegetarians or semi-vegetarians rounded out the middle.

However, the effect isn't universal. People don’t always lose weight on a vegan diet, and may even end up gaining weight. Why the inconsistency? Here are five common reasons for that happening, as well as tips to avoid it, so you can enjoy both the health and the weight-loss benefits of a vegan diet:

1. Your portions are too large

Foods that are healthy, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and avocado, contain raw materials that either fuel your body’s activity or help maintain, heal, or regenerate tissue, such as hair, skin, immune cells, and muscle. But we don’t need an unlimited supply of these nutrients. The amount needed is based on a variety of factors, such as your age, gender, height, ideal body weight, and physical activity levels. For example, a tall, young, active male will require larger portions than an older, petite, sedentary female.

2. You're not getting enough protein

Eating enough protein is key to maintaining muscle mass, which helps keep your metabolism going. Even on a plant-based diet, it's possible to meet your daily protein needs – it just requires a little strategy. One method is to track your protein intake using an app like My Fitness Pal.

Legumes (aka beans, lentils, and peas) are a great source of plant protein. One cup of cooked lentils contains seventeen grams of protein, as compared to the eight grams found in a cup of cooked quinoa or a quarter cup of almonds. Adding a plant-based powder, like pea protein (made from yellow split peas), to a smoothie can also boost your protein intake by as much as twenty-five grams per serving.

3. Your timing is off

Meal timing is important and can have serious impacts on your waistline, whether you’re vegan, omnivore, or carnivore. Most people save their largest meal for the evening, when they're the least active and metabolism starts to slow down. A more efficient strategy is to eat larger meals earlier in order to fuel the most active hours of the day. Skimping on food all day then gorging at night is a definite recipe for weight gain. At the least, it’s preventing weight-loss, even if you’re vegan. Instead, try making your evening meals light but filling, such as sautéed veggies and chickpeas over a bed of greens and spaghetti squash.

4. You’re consuming plant-based junk food

Even when eating vegan, you still need to be careful about indulging in too many "treats". Things like coconut milk ice cream and sweet potato chips might be “healthier” than the non-vegan counterparts, but they’re still full of extra calories that can add inches to the waistline. Plant-based frozen foods, desserts, and snacks are often made with refined flour and added sugar and stripped of nutrients and fiber. They’re fine as an occasional treat, but if they’re eaten daily, they easily pack on pounds. One study found that processed foods can decrease post-meal calorie burning by nearly 50%  compared to whole foods.(2) You can easily combat this by switching out processed plant foods for fresh snacks.

5. You’re drinking your calories

Drinks such as kombucha, drinking vinegar, green juices, chia drinks, coconut water, and alternative milk cold brew coffees can cause you to unknowingly sip hundreds of extra calories a day. While it may not seem like a lot, to burn it off could require an hour of speed walking. Remember, if it’s not water or unsweetened tea, your beverage should count as part of your meal or a snack. You should take a careful look at the ingredients, nutrition facts, and serving size to decide if it’s a good fit for your body’s needs.