Many people – and you may be one of them – embark on a vegan diet with the hopes of not only getting healthier, but also becoming leaner. And with good reason – a whole food, plant-based diet is your most powerful ally for peeling off excess fat pounds.
For most people who need to lose weight, this is exactly what happens when they begin following a healthy vegan diet.
Yet what if, a few days into your vegan food plan, you step on the scale and the numbers haven’t budged? Or you discover that your weight is even up a pound or two. What’s happening?
First, it is important to recognize that just because it’s vegan it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You can dine on coke and fries and technically still be eating vegan. Yet if weight loss and easy weight management are a part of the passion that brings you to veganism, getting the basics of a healthy vegan diet down are your first necessary stop.
But what if you’ve done your homework and know that a healthy vegan diet that promotes ideal weight means eating whole plant foods, elimination of animal products, and keeping processed foods at a minimum – preferably only an occasional treat, if that? What if you are doing everything ‘right’ but you still can’t nudge the numbers on the scale. Or worse, what if you’ve gained?
There are several possible explanations for initial weight loss stall – or even a temporary nudge upward on the bath scale. If your vegan diet measures up the scrutiny of higher quality, then more often than not any stall or gain will be resolved with time and persistence with your new healthy diet. At the same time, to set your mind at ease, let’s take a look some possible causes for what might be causing the problem. I know how important this is because, as I will explain, that is precisely what happened to me.
The scale might not be telling the full story.
The scale may – or may not – be telling the full story. It doesn’t differentiate between water, fat, or muscle weight, unless you have a scale that is designed to do so. Before letting disappointment derail your healthy plans, let’s take a closer look at what might be causing disappointing numbers on the bath scale.
Increased fiber content means more hydration (water) in your digestive tract. A distinct advantage of a whole foods plant-based diet is that it is healthfully rich in dietary fiber, quite likely much higher in fiber content than your diet may have been previously. The average American eats barely 10 grams of fiber a day. When you incorporate more plant foods in your diet, that daily fiber tally can jump substantially, often to 40 to 60 grams – a distinct benefit.
This means that you have more fibrous content in your system – and fiber holds water in the digestive tract. More fiber-bound water content in the digestive system is actually a good thing, and we’ll talk about that more in a minute. Yet it may translate to increased poundage according to the scale – the last thing you may have wanted – but that doesn’t mean it’s poundage of body fat.
To give you an example, this is precisely what happened to me when I decreased the processed food content of my diet and upped my intake of vegetables, starchy vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. In a couple of weeks’ time, the scale showed that I had gained two pounds. I was surprised and disheartened. Yet I decided not to let this discourage me, or to let it derail my healthy mission. I knew that even though I was eating more, my calorie intake was naturally less than before – due to the higher fiber, lower fat, less calorie-concentrated nature of the food that I was eating . This, I reasoned, should have resulted in weight loss. And an honest look in the mirror and check in with the feel of my clothes told me I wasn’t getting fatter – it was just the scale that gave me the weight feedback.
I decided to keep faith in the process and persisted with my higher fiber, low-fat plant-based eating plan, confident that given a little more time, my body would adjust to the increased fiber and shed the two pounds. I was right. Within another two weeks, I dropped those two pounds easily and effortlessly by continuing to eat abundantly of whole plant foods. Soon thereafter, I dropped another two pounds.
Rest assured, you actually may be losing fat yet holding a bit more water in your system in the initial stages of building your healthy plant-based body – water that is simply bound up with the dietary fiber. And water has weight to it.
The increased passage of fiber in your system is a desired outcome for several reasons. For one, as your internal broom, fiber helps you excrete toxins from the body. A high fiber diet also helps your body eliminate cholesterol as some of the cholesterol molecules are bound to soluble fiber and then cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. Fiber also mitigates appetite since it contributes to satiety – that feeling of being full and satisfied. In other words, fiber is your new best friend.
Read more about water, hidden fats and more in part two of Vegan Weight Loss: what might be slowing you down next week…