Going Vegan Really Isn’t a Magic Diet for Weight Loss

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Going Vegan Really Isn’t a Magic Diet for Weight Loss

You may not recognize John Mackey’s name, but you definitely know his business. Mackey is the founder and CEO of healthy supermarket chain Whole Foods Market, and he has a new book out called “The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longetivity.” In his book, Mackey details how he became a healthy eater after growing up eating junk food, and the vegan diet he says revolutionized his life.

In a new interview with NBC News about his book, Mackey says he became a vegetarian in his 20s, but started eating fish when he dated a woman who wasn’t a vegetarian. “And gradually, over time, I was starting to gain weight,” he says. “My biometric measurements were not as good as they used to be. I was getting older. I just thought, ‘Oh, this is coming with age.’”

But Mackey says his health began to improve “almost immediately” after he adopted a vegan diet. “I started losing weight and I felt better,” he says. After a year, his health plateaued, so he cut out sugary and highly refined foods as well. “When I stopped eating all those processed foods and combined that with a plant-based diet, my health was just amazing,” he says. “I weigh the same as I weighed when I was 18 years old … I’m an extremely healthy person now.”

Mackey points out that he went from being a kid who wouldn’t eat vegetables to teaching himself to “love every single vegetable out there” — and he urges people to try to do the same. “You can teach yourself to enjoy any type of food, so why not teach yourself to love the healthiest foods in the world?” he says. “When you combine the things our body naturally craves — whole-starch foods (sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, etc.) with fruits and vegetables — you can eat all you want and you’ll lose weight.”


Experts say that while people can lose weight on a vegan diet, it’s not a guarantee. (Also, not that gaining weight is inherently a bad thing, but eating all you want — even if it’s healthy — can still affect how much you weigh).

If your goal is to lose weight, the process involves many more aspects than just what you eat and whether you follow a plant-based diet. Sure, exercise is a factor, too, but so many other things come into play. Components like stress and sleep, along with things you can’t fully control, like health conditions and hormonal fluctuations, can play a big role in your weight as well.

It’s true that there is some science behind veganism potentially promoting weight loss, but the reason why is simple.

Many studies have shown that veganism is associated with a lower weight, Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, instructor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF.

For example, a cross-sectional study of more than 70,000 people published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2013 found that vegans had the lowest BMI of people with different dietary habits (ranging from non-vegetarian to vegan), even though everyone ate the same amount of daily calories. And a meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients in 2014 looked at over 100,000 study participants and found that vegan diets are linked to a lower risk of developing obesity (as well as hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease). Another meta-analysis published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2015 discovered that people on a vegetarian diet — especially those on a vegan diet — saw better weight-loss results than dieters on other eating plans. Of the more than 1,000 people who followed a specific diet for nine to 74 weeks, vegans on average lost about 5.5 more pounds than non-vegetarian dieters (vegetarians lost about three pounds more than those on a diet that included meat).

Sonya Angelone, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF that veganism can cause weight loss simply because it’s a form of food restriction. “Anything that restricts food, even temporarily, can promote weight loss in the short term,” she says. Certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group, agrees. “When most people think of veganism, they think of eating strictly veggies and cutting out high-fat animal foods like cheese, burgers and bacon,” she says. “Naturally when you eliminate fatty animal foods, you may notice weight loss due to less calorie intake, and of course, animal fat is typically artery-clogging fat, which is not recommended.”

With that said, going vegan doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be eating healthier or less food than usual.

“There are many vegans who eat nutritiously with no problems, but being healthy while vegan can actually be pretty hard work.”

Although there aren’t as many processed vegan foods as non-vegan ones, they’re still out there. Plenty of foods like chips, nondairy ice cream and cookies may fall into the vegan category but still not be healthy, Angelone says. As a result, a person may end up eating a diet that’s technically vegan, but high in sugar, carbohydrates and calories. The limited category of things vegans can eat can lead to nutrient deficiencies, Angelone says, so vegans need to be careful to get enough calcium, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fats.

Vegans also may deal with cravings and have to work harder to be satiated, potentially leading to eating more than they used to. “It can be even harder to keep portions and calories in check when eating a strict vegan diet because, by eliminating good quality sources of protein like eggs, fish, dairy, and organic lean meats, it can be harder to stay full and keep cravings in check,” Moskovitz says. That’s why she recommends vegans focus on consuming more protein-rich foods such as beans, lentils, quinoa, soybeans or tofu, on a daily basis.

Of course, there are many vegans who eat nutritiously with no problems, but being healthy while vegan can actually be pretty hard work. Luckily, you don’t have to go vegan to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. If you want to go vegan because you truly believe in the lifestyle, have at it. But if you’re considering striking foods you love from your life and going vegan just in an effort to lose weight, it’s absolutely not necessary. If you’d like to eat a healthier diet — whether weight loss is a goal of yours or not — Stanford says it’s important to make sure you’re incorporating lean protein, vegetables, whole grains and fruits into your diet. “It is also important to realize that the less processed a diet the healthier it is overall,” she says.

It’s also important to remember that undertaking a diet that’s too restrictive for you can lead to dangerous bingeing and yo-yo dieting, which over time can contribute to problems with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

That’s why it’s key to figure out how to fuel your body and mind in a way that’s safe and realistic for you. “There is no one strategy that is universally effective in helping people to achieve a healthy weight,” Stanford says. And, of course, if you’re struggling to find a diet that works for you, seek out a certified dietitian — he or she can help guide you toward an eating plan that best suits your needs.

About the Author


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28 responses to “Going Vegan Really Isn’t a Magic Diet for Weight Loss”

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    Veganism is about the animals not a diet. A plant based diet is what you mean.

    • Avatar Sam says:

      Thank you I really didn’t think this article had full connections to the meaning of veganism. It’s a lifestyle, not a yoyo diet. Also in retrospect, there is an entire spectrum of vegans as there is for everyone else. This seems to be an uneducated article on the basis of veganism and plant-based diets. Sad to see it advertised on my app.

  2. Avatar Amy says:

    Its about the animals, the environment and your health.

  3. Avatar Stephanie Schaffer says:

    Vegans, the next most predominant predator for livestock animals are wolves etc who feed on their entrails while they’re still conscious, and next after that is disease. The only way to make a a cow’s life end in a happy rosy humane way is for them to not exist at all, extinction. Get off your pedestal, you look foolish up there.

    • Avatar Katie says:

      You can’t be serious. You think the occasional wolf attack compares to the millions of pounds of meat we eat? And why do you think disease would be a predominantly cause of death? Perhaps it’s the close quarters and horrendous conditions these animals are kept in? How about we make cows lives happy by not forcefully impregnating them just to produce more dairy products and beef? Is that too much to ask? You are the one looking foolish. “The cow is going to die anyway so let’s breed them unnaturally and slaughter them so we can have burgers.”

    • Avatar Gabrielle says:

      We kill 50 billion animals per year for food. Really let that number sink in. There’s about 7 billion humans. Then think about how many of those animals wouldn’t even be here if we weren’t specifically breeding them to be killed and eaten. Get off your animal eating pedistal. You look ridiculous.

  4. Avatar Pippa says:

    Veganism isn’t a diet. It’s a philosophy that seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation as far as is practicable and possible. You’re talking about a plant-based diet. Either way I’m sick of hearing people trying to discredit veganism and plant based diets. It’s easy and it’s 100% suitable for EVERYONE. Get out of here with your made up excuses as to why you need to consume rotting flesh that has been proven time and time again to cause cancer, heart disease and diabetes! Go vegan and all you’ll be missing is clogged arteries and high cholesterol.

  5. Avatar SK says:

    You have no clue what you’re talking about. Of course you lose weight eating vegan. It’s almost guaranteed since you eliminate most of the things that make you fat!

    • Avatar Zoe says:

      Um… I was vegan. I gained weight. And I was eating a whole food diet not junk. I realised it was a bad idea and not worth it and went back to a high protein diet. The weight has come off and I feel much better. Clearly different humans have different bodies and experiences. Veganism is not for everyone and certainly not a weight loss solution. I am confident carbohydrates cause me to gain weight and that tends to be the base of a vegan diet.

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Even if you eat plants you can over consume calories. If you eat more calories than you burn, you end up storing fat. I’ve learned that potatoes and beans and legumes are very satiating and lower in calories. To lose weight I also completely cut out cooking oils, I only eat overt fats like nuts, avocado, and olives.

  6. Avatar Aries Vapor says:

    Great article, you also forgot to add cigarettes and alcohol for a healthy lifestyle. Don’t talk about Vegan if you have no clue.

    • Avatar Darrin says:

      We all need to eat what works for us, vegan is not for everyone, you have to see how you feel after you eat foods. Vegan is definitely a better way to go, but some people need meat for protein. Bottom line, if u cut out ‘processed’ food, you will feel better and most likely lose the weight.

  7. Avatar Micahlan says:

    The vegan diet is has the losest calorie dense food. Obviously this makes weight loss sooo much easier!

  8. Avatar Gabrielle says:

    I’m deleting this app. This article is propaganda. I’ve been in a bad mood ever since I saw I when I went to log my dinner last night. Eating plant based is less restrictive because of its calorie and fat density. You can fill your stomach up at each meal while the meat and dairy eaters have to eat minuscule portions to lose weight.

  9. Avatar Gabrielle says:

    I don’t trust dietitians. It’s the reason I won’t go to school to be a dietician or nutritionist, or listen too much to what they say. The Physicians Committee recently filed a lawsuit against the USDA and the DHHS because there are people on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that come from institutions funded by the egg industry and rely on egg industry funded research. Google it.

    • Avatar Joseph N. Miller says:

      Gabrielle, I thought you deleted the app? Why are you still on here? 😉

    • Avatar murranlevi99 says:

      you are so right!! The diabetes organisations and heart disease organisations are all sponsored by the meat and dairy industries!! its sickening. don’t trust any of them. Meat is now classed as a number 1 carcinogenic by the world health organisation!!

  10. Avatar Carrie Tomasko says:

    Why can’t vegetarians, vegans, Pesca Terrains and meatasaurus coexist? No one is a better or worse person because they choose to eat plants vs animals. What we should be against is the terrible conditions that the animals are in and choose 100% farm raised. Humans are omnivorous by nature, so meat eaters shouldn’t be criticized for that alone. Vegans, vegetarians and Pesca Terrian can also be criticized for choosing plants that are genetically engineered not to produce seeds of their own. It’s not what nature intended for the animals or the plants. My older daughter and I have been Pesca Terrian for two years. We absolutely love it and have better overall health because of it. My younger daughter and my husband are meatasaurus, but I only buy farm raised (pasture fed) meat for them. They still eat all the fruits and vegetables we do, just with the meat and have also had an amazing improvement in their health. Maybe by skipping the pedestal comments and working together to support our local farms and farmer markets we can have better overall food for our country and cure many diseases that scientists have worked decades to cure. Be as kind to your fellow human as you would be to the animals.

    • Avatar Gabrielle says:

      Maybe you see it that way but I sure don’t. I don’t want animals killed for food, no matter how “humane” you think it is. I am 100% against it. Go watch some videos of cows being humanely slaughtered on YouTube. Is it ok to humanely slaughter and eat cats and dogs? What about babies? Then come here and tell us all to accept each other’s choices.

      • Avatar CarrieCat says:

        Comparing slaughtering animals to slaughtering babies is really twisted. You seem like an highly empathetic person which probably makes living in this world pretty hard. Keep on believing 🙂

  11. Avatar RLS says:

    Problems with this. Most vegans don’t calorie restrict They tend to eat plenty of food and feel satisfied. Those who restrict do for weight loss still don’t have a huge problem with satiation, since you get to eat more food. Plant based food have more bang for your calorie/nutrition buck. Less calories + more fiber = less bingeing. As far as the b-12, iron, zinc, omega-3 fats that’s something EVERYONE needs to look out for. Also We do eat fat, just healthy fat (avocados, seeds, nuts, nut butters, coconut oil).

  12. Avatar Sherry Hall says:

    While I agree with some of the comments that this article has some shortcomings, I also think it has some valid points. I have been vegan for 6 years. Before embracing veganism I had lost 90 pounds. Over the past 6 years I have gained 70 of them back. I do not blame the vegan diet for this and feel that I would probably have gained back much more weight if I were not a vegan. I am not someone who can just eat all of the plant-based foods without gaining weight. I am a chef and cook a lot of my own food, so I have control over the ingredients. My problem is not eating overprocessed vegan foods. When I wanted to try to lose some weight recently I was very frustrated by the lack of information available for overweight vegans. None of the major diet programs have a vegan plan. I went to the weight loss management clinic through my HMO. The doctor, who told me she didn’t know much about veganism, suggested that I give up beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, avocados, tofu and hummus. She also said I should have twice as much protein a day as fat. When I pointed out that she had just suggested that I avoid all of the major protein sources she said I could drink protein shakes and eat processed meat substitutes. I quit going and have struck out on my own. I have lost 35 pounds in the past 100 days. I do think that some of the points in this article are valid — veganism is not a magic bullet for weight loss. At least for me, I still need to be careful with portion size, amount of fat, and maintain a good exercise regimen. If you convince people to try veganism solely as a weight loss strategy, then you are likely to lose them if it doesn’t work. I think it is better to emphasize the overall health benefits — even though I was overweight, I still felt a lot healthier than I had before going vegan — as well as the benefits to the environment and for the well-being of animals. I do think that mainstream nutritionists need to understand veganism better as it is a very healthy way to live. Skinny vegans need to also be aware that some of us that are just as committed to the principles and moral arguments in favor of veganism struggle with weight issues.

  13. Avatar Pauline Pantaleo says:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e0f8818abba5ce18bcd67acd2ca24c4fbde1d9003ed9aca61e8417bff5a7165d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0c63840c5a388d9598fdf2693ff99bfd17be0b913e30db2f4b2a1f7a79242dee.jpg Veganism is a lifestyle choice. Plant based diet is a method of nutrition that mimics veganism but the fundamental principle is to improve health. There are ethical vegans who are into the healthy living and there are “junk food” vegans. Having been converted to a plant based diet has become veganism for me. Weight loss may or may not be a side effect. What I know is having become a vegan is the best thing I have ever felt.
    The interesting thing I find is how people often have such hostility toward the word “vegan”.

  14. Avatar Kim says:

    To say that you don’t need to go vegan to have a healthy diet is sort of correct. They suggest eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein however all of those things are in a vegan diet. A healthy diet with animal products would be healthy despite the dairy and meat, not because of it. Unfortunately most of the information that dietitians get is sponsored by some kind of animal agriculture business. The WHO recommends a vegan diet. I personally wouldn’t trust any diet information from a North American institution. Too many conflicts of interest. Look for a truly unbiased source.

  15. Avatar Gwen Ranslam says:

    I was disappointed and disgusted that the only Vegan article you have on your entire website is negative towards those who don’t eat meat, I was upset by this…you offer zero support to healthy eating or what Vegans and Vegetarians can do to eat and maintain a healthy lifestyle instead to slam them, insult them and tell them there most likely to fail. I am not even Vegan and I find this to be a bias, somewhat insulting, unhelpful and very disappointing article. I eat dairy and have been Vegetarian since I was a teenager with no bad health effects….my weight issues are solely due to overindulgence in my sweet tooth. I was hoping to search for helpful articles to suit my Vegetarian/Vegan (Meat, Fish, Animal By-Product Free) diet but instead this is all you can offer??? REALLY!!!! You do not have to eat meat to get what your body needs and hello have you heard of supplements vitamins people. C’mon MyFitnessPal more helpful articles please, more support here. And to everyone else SAVE ANIMALS and BE HEALTHLY 🙂 🙂 🙂

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