The Beginner’s Guide to a Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet for Weight Loss

The Beginner’s Guide to a Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet for Weight Loss

Losing weight can be a major challenge — or a major triumph, depending on your approach.

Every year, thousands of people begin their weight loss journeys to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Yet, without the proper planning and research, trying to lose weight can feel like throwing stones in the dark.

Despite this, weight loss continues to be an incredibly popular personal goal amongst Americans.

whole food plant based

According to a poll of 2,000 Americans, 95% have attempted to lose weight in the last five years. On top of this, 44% actually report weight gain over the past five years as a result of their weight loss struggles.

Where are so many going wrong with weight loss and are there any diets out there that can help?

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about the whole-food, plant-based diet and its benefits for weight loss — from the research backing this diet to how to get started.

Keep reading to find out how a whole-food, plant-based diet can help you reach your weight loss goals!

What is a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet?

A whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet is comprised of only plant-based and unprocessed foods.

This diet can be either vegetarian or vegan, so long as all the foods you consume are whole foods. The term whole food refers to food that has received little to no processing. For example, a raw potato is a whole food, while French fries or potato chips are common examples of highly processed foods.

Of course, eating whole foods does not mean eating unprepared foods — you can bake a potato and it is still considered a whole food. When you begin to introduce all sorts of processed ingredients, such as oils, to your cooking recipes, that’s when the potato starts to venture into the “processed food” category.

In general, however, buying whole, raw foods and preparing them at home is ideal in a WFPB diet.

Scientific Research on Plant-Based Diets and Weight Loss

In the era of fad diets and lose-weight-quick schemes, it can be difficult and frustrating to find the right nutritional advice to achieve your weight loss goals.

If you are wondering whether or not a WFPB diet is right for you, look to the research.

Plant-based diets can be advantageous for weight loss, as well as for promoting a person’s long-term health by helping to prevent the development of disease.

Let’s take a look at five recent research publishing to find out more:

  • A 2022 Dutch study presented at the European Congress on Obesity found that overweight people lost an average of 16 pounds after eating a plant-based diet for three months. The study observed 800 overweight adults, with one researcher attributing the weight loss to three key factors — reduced calorie intake, lower fat content in meals, and higher dietary fiber intake.
  • In a 2020 systemic review of the effects of plant-based diets on weight, researchers found that a plant-based diet poses significant health benefits to individuals who are overweight or with T2DM, risk of cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. The review notes that nutrient composition and energy content play major roles in the effectiveness of a plant-based diet.
  • A 2022 study published in Volume 9 of the Obesity Science & Practice journal found that dietary advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) decreased after 16 weeks of following a low-fat plant-based diet. This reduction in AGEs was associated not only with weight loss but also with reduced body fat and increased insulin sensitivity.
  • A 2023 European Heart Journal article reviewed studies published between 1980 to October 2022 to determine the impact of plant-based diets on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The article found that both vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with reduced total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (aka, “bad” cholesterol), and apolipoprotein B.
  • One 2023 study found that switching from an omnivorous (plant and animal-based) diet to a vegan diet did not result in a loss of strength over the first 8 weeks. Though not directly related to weight loss, this contrasts a common misconception that switching to a plant-based diet can minimize strength and muscle development. The study notes that the lack of change is partially due to a high calorie and high carbohydrate intake for both the omnivorous and vegan groups.

Do Health Experts Recommend Using a Plant-Based Diet for Weight Loss?

Plant-based diets have steadily gained recognition and support from the health and wellness community over the last decade As more and more research comes out in support of the health benefits offered by plant-based diets, health experts are taking note.

While a plant-based diet is not the cure-all for weight loss, it is often recommended by health experts thanks to several key factors that make it advantageous for this goal.

These factors include:

  • High Dietary Fiber: Plant-based diets often contain a higher dietary fiber content than omnivorous diets, as foods like vegetables and fruits are high in fiber. This nutrient is crucial for any dietary weight loss regimen, as it helps you to feel full and can reduce your appetite throughout the day. Examples of plant-based foods high in fiber include carrots, chickpeas, broccoli, leafy greens, apples, pears, berries, and oats. [Source]
  • Nutritional Density: Along with being high in dietary fiber, many plant-based whole foods are rich in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients do not inherently cause weight loss but are vital to a balanced diet, which can help to promote overall nutrition and weight management. [Source]
  • Reduced Calorie Content: Compared to highly processed foods, plant-based whole foods are much lower in calories. This is beneficial for numerous reasons, one of the biggest being that you can eat more while still maintaining a calorie deficit for weight loss. A key consideration here is to ensure you are eating enough calories in the day, rather than too many. Remember that calories are fuel for your body, so don’t deprive yourself of the energy you need. [Source]
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: For many people trying to lose weight, one of the hardest hurdles to overcome is avoiding processed foods that pack in calories and unhealthy fats. Eating a WFPB diet inherently limits the types of foods you can eat and encourages at-home food preparation. As a result, you have to make meaningful lifestyle adjustments to follow this diet, helping you to overcome the challenge of avoiding fast food and other highly processed goods.

An incredibly important note that many health experts stress is that following a plant-based diet does not guarantee you will reach your weight loss goals. To reach your goal weight in a way that is both healthy and sustainable, you need to ensure your diet is balanced and that you are staying within a reasonable caloric range that matches your height, weight, and daily activity levels.

Focusing on making a long-term lifestyle change can be the key to getting the most out of the WFPB diet. By doing so, you can establish a long-term goal that you can adapt to over time, rather than trying to rush the weight loss process over a few short months.

No matter what diet you choose to follow, it is always important to include your primary care practitioner or a nutritionist in your dietary decisions. This helps ensure you are making choices that are beneficial to your body and not secretly harming your progress.

How to Lose Weight with a Plant-Based Diet: 8 Tips From Experts

Healthy eating

For anyone striving to lose weight and keep it off, it is essential to tackle this goal with a well-laid plan.

Adequate planning can be the key to your success. When you know exactly what you can eat and how much you can eat, it is much easier to plan your daily meals and snacks. Moreover, proper dietary planning can be crucial for consuming the correct amount of calories and nutrients each day.

With this in mind, here are eight expert tips for losing weight on a WFPB diet:

1. Transition Slowly

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare — but have you ever thought to apply this famous fable’s lesson to your nutritional health?

Rushing into a new diet is the best way to burn out quickly. After all, your body takes time to adjust to dietary changes and even healthy changes can leave you feeling out-of-sorts while you adapt.

What matters most with your transition to plant-based eating is consistency. Rather than trying to change your entire lifestyle in one to two weeks, start by switching out one meal with animal products for a plant-based meal each day. When you get used to this change, switch out another meal, and then a snack, and continue this process until the entirety of your daily menu is plant-based.

2. Avoid the “All-or-Nothing” Mentality

Many of us feel like we have something to prove when it comes to weight loss.

In truth, the health and wellness industry can sometimes push feelings of urgency on us. Lose weight now, or face the consequences — or so they say.

However, just like trying to transition too quickly to a plant-based diet can burn you out and confuse your body, so can adopting the “all-or-nothing” mentality. This mentality is particularly detrimental due to the insane highs followed by the bleak lows you can experience depending on if you achieve the “all” or the “nothing” on any given day.

Instead, set small goals for yourself to ease yourself into this new lifestyle. If you’re not used to plant-based meal preparation, consider starting out with pre-made meals or plant-based delivery services to help supplement your daily menu until you develop better plant-based cooking skills.

3. Never Skip Meals

You may be tempted to fast-track your weight loss via drastic calorie deficits and skipped meals. While this may produce more immediate results in the short term, the weight loss you achieve by skipping meals will likely not be sustainable and, in the worst-case scenario, can even lead to disordered eating.

A 2022 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetes found that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality while skipping dinner is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.

In fact, you should arguably be eating more when switching to a plant-based diet — as we have discussed, plant-based diets are lower in caloric content. This means that your standard amount of food provides you with fewer calories, making it necessary to ensure your caloric and nutrient intake is balanced.

4. Eat Your Whole Grains

When you cut out processed foods and animal products from your diet, you may initially experience a drop in the amount of protein and carbs you eat daily. This is due mainly to processed goods, like white bread and sugary products, being high in carbs while animal products are high in protein.

As you work to keep up your carb and protein intake, make whole grains your best friend.

Whole grains can come in many forms, from bread and pasta to oats and quinoa. Oats in particular are a favorite amongst plant-based communities thanks to their nutritional density.

According to the USDA, one serving of oats (equal to a half-cup or 40 to 50 grams) contains:

  • 4 grams of fiber (15% of your daily value)
  • 28 grams of carbs (9% of your daily value)
  • 5 grams of protein

To calculate your daily value for protein, you can estimate that you need around 0.3 to 0.4 grams of protein for each pound of your body weight.

5. Cut Out Oils

Oils are a bit of a gray area when it comes to a WFPB diet, that's why many experts recommend cooking without oil.

On the one hand, there are many plant-based oils that you can use for your cooking needs, such as olive oil and coconut oil. On the other hand, these oils are processed goods and often have a high-fat content.

If you plan on making a long-term lifestyle change to a WFPB diet, it may be worth your while to research different plant-based oils to decide which (if any) are best for your cooking and dietary needs.

However, if you are trying to lose weight, it can be beneficial to limit or cease your use of oils entirely.

It can take some time to get used to cooking without oils but with a few key tips and tricks, you can start whipping up delicious meals with no oil required. To learn how to become a true oil-free, plant-based chef, check out our Ultimate Guide to Oil-Free Cooking.

6. Avoid Highly Processed Foods

In case we haven’t stressed it enough, avoid highly processed foods as much as you can. This is one of the main reasons, you should avoid fake meats like impossible meats and beyond meat.

These days, many foods are processed in some way or another. The only way to buy unprocessed foods is to purchase organic goods straight from local farmers and, though this may be beneficial for you and your community, it can also be time-consuming and costly for a beginner.

As such, start your plant-based weight loss journey by first focusing on eliminating the worst offenders on the processed foods list, such as:

  • Fried foods
  • Pre-packaged baked goods
  • Candy
  • Alcohol
  • Sugary drinks

7. Curb the Calorie Counting

Calorie counting can be a vital tool in your weight loss journey — but it can also be a hindrance.

If you have very little nutritional awareness, counting calories can be a great way to teach yourself about the caloric content in foods. Your ultimate goal, however, should be to transition to a more intuitive way of eating that listens to your body’s natural hunger signals and nourishes it with whole foods.

For many people trying to lose weight, and especially those struggling with body image issues, counting calories can often develop into a more serious negative relationship with your nutrition. In some cases, it can even lead to disordered eating behaviors that threaten your health and well-being.

The key here is to remember that counting calories is merely a tool at your disposal, not the be-all-end-all of weight loss success.

8. Don’t Give Up!

Everybody’s body is different and we all react differently to dietary and lifestyle changes.

As you progress in your weight loss journey, it can be easy to compare yourself to other plant-based diet practitioners and judge your own success against theirs. When you allow yourself to fall into the trap of comparison, you stop fostering your personal health and begin fostering a negative mindset.

If left unchecked long enough, this negative mindset can lead to what you perceive as failure, and ultimately to your decision to give up.

Listen up — don’t give up on yourself!

Changing your diet and lifestyle is no small task. You need to give yourself not only time to adjust but also the grace to understand that we all make mistakes and that progress isn’t always linear.

To give yourself the best chance at perseverance, center your weight loss goals around your health and well-being. By doing so, you are less concerned with the aesthetic benefits of weight loss and more concerned with the long-lasting health benefits you are providing to your future self.

Key Takeaways: Supplement Your Meals with Plant-Based Meal Delivery

As you get started on your whole-food, plant-based journey, it is crucial to find your pillars of support.

Getting used to a new diet can be a much more enjoyable experience when you supplement your daily meals with a WFPB meal delivery service. With meals crafted by hand and recipes designed to showcase whole, plant-based foods, you can enjoy your meal and learn a thing or two along the way.

Whole Harvest offers whole-food, plant-based meal delivery services that include 100% whole foods, menu customization, and shipping to most U.S. states.

Build your custom Whole Harvest meal box today to jumpstart your plant-based weight loss journey.

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