Last week we started talking about things that can contribute to the discouraging feeling of not losing any weight when you are eating a healthy vegan diet. We talked about fiber, and its importance – and the fact that if you are eating more fiber than you were previously, you likely have more water in your digestive tract now (which is a good thing, even though it might cause the numbers on the scale to “stall” temporarily). To read the first part of this article, click here. And now, more about water, processed foods, liquid calories and hidden fats…
If you were eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet before getting started on a whole foods plant-based diet, you may have been dehydrated. It helps to have a basic understanding of how our bodies store that all-important glucose, which is our primary fuel. Your body stores glucose from dietary carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver. You usually store enough glycogen to meet your energy demands for 12 to 18 hours. With each gram of glycogen, your body also stores almost three grams of water.
When you follow a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, your body necessarily resorts to utilizing these stores of glycogen in your muscles and liver, rapidly depleting them. On a high-protein diet, without sufficient carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, glycogen is quickly diminished and the water that was bound up with the glycogen is purged from your body. This results in losses of large amounts of fluid and explains the dramatic loss in weight you can experience – by the scale – when you undertake a low-carbohydrate diet. The numbers may look good at weigh-in time, but this is very taxing to your body as you lose precious fuel stores and dehydrate.
If your macronutrient content (carbohydrate, protein, and fat are macronutrients) has shifted to a higher percentage of carbohydrates than before – as it would if you are coming off of a high-protein, carbohydrate-insufficient diet – your body will restore normal levels of hydration in the form of water bound with the glycogen being stored in your muscles and liver. This can explain weight gain in the form of water. This is a natural result of your body restoring normal levels of muscle and liver glycogen from the increased healthy carbohydrates in your diet.
Look at eating plenty of carbohydrates as becoming healthfully hydrated, especially if you are coming off a dietary plan that is high in protein. That early gain you might experience after switching to a carbohydrate-sufficient diet may just mean your system is normalizing. You are becoming healthfully hydrated.
Other things that might be slowing you down?
You are eating more processed foods than you think. When flours are refined and starches and oils are highly processed, they lose the important fibrous quality of whole foods. Without the fiber, your appetite is not as readily satisfied as it is with whole plant foods. It becomes easier to overshoot your calorie needs before you feel full. In addition, highly processed foods can be very compelling to the taste, urging you to eat more, especially if added sugars and salts are part of the picture – which they frequently are. Without an energy deficit, you don’t lose weight.
Liquid calories bring calorie concentration without hunger satisfaction. Are you drinking fruit juice? Smoothies? Both are an easy way to consume more than your daily calorie need. This is because of the disruption of fiber that happens in the process of making a juice a juice or a smoothie a smoothie. This fiber disruption impacts the satiety value of the smoothie contents. You don’t get the same result as if you had eaten the vegetables and fruits whole. It can be easy to consume beyond your calorie needs by drinking fruits, nuts and vegetables – that’s why we call them “liquid calories.”
Hidden fats may be sneaking in. It is also possible that a weight gain is fat gain, if you have been consuming a lot of high-fat foods such as nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocado, and olives. If you are eating packaged foods, and you haven’t scrutinized the labels, they may be sneaking hidden fats into your diet, too. These will rapidly raise the calorie concentration of your diet. And, if you are still eating plant oils, then they may easily be the weight-gain culprit. Remember, vegetable oil, though plant-based, is not a ‘whole food’. One tiny tablespoon contains 120 calories yet barely contributes to your hunger satisfaction, resulting in a higher calorie intake for you overall. Along with that comes stalled weight loss and even possibly, weight gain.
Faux meats. Are you including regular servings of TVP (textured vegetable protein) and soy ‘meats’? These items can be fun and useful for transition and special occasions with a plant-based diet. However, they can also contain hidden fats and sodium without the fiber advantage of whole foods. The fats add unwanted calories that may not be compatible with your healthy weight goals; sodium is famous for helping your body retain water, and not in the beneficial way that fiber does. You may need to stick to whole foods and limit these items to occasional condiments or festive occasions.
Our bodies do everything for a reason. If your weight loss is slow to start or has stalled, it just may be that you need to give it a little time. Take an honest look at what you’ve been eating, and make a reasonable assessment. If higher fat and fiber-deprived foods are playing too big a part on your plate, make some adjustments. Take care and have compassion for your body. Stay focused on incorporating more whole plant foods in your diet, cultivate patience, and you too will experience the slender, energetic joy that eating a whole-foods veegan diet delivers.