The 'veggie' trap: how to reach your weight loss goals on a vegetarian diet

  • Becoming a vegetarian doesn't guarantee weight loss
  • Plant protein products may be the culprit as they contain a lot of fat and sodium and are high in calories
  • Refined carbohydrates cause blood sugar spikes that can also sabotage weight loss 

A common misconception surrounding a vegetarian diet is that it guarantees health and weight loss. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth as avoiding animal protein is not the key to dropping kilos. There are many hidden challenges within a plant-based diet, which are not obvious and may surprise you.

Trap 1: Choosing the wrong types of protein

Unintentional self-sabotage can occur when changing over to a plant-based diet. Many newbie vegetarians switch to eating processed plant protein as a replacement for animal protein. Unfortunately, often these plant protein products are high in the three enemies of weight loss: fat, sodium, and kilojoules. The worst offenders are processed soya products.    

Trap 2: Choosing the wrong type of carbs

Vegetarians can also struggle to lose weight if they eat the wrong types of carbs. Consuming carbs that are not "whole-food-based", such as white and brown bread rolls, pizzas, tramezzini, shwarmas, wraps, white rice and mashed potato, causes sugar spikes and consequent high insulin response, which is a major weight gain culprit.

Carbohydrates that work well for weight loss are high-fibre, wholegrain options that digest more slowly, control blood sugar levels and consequently enhance satiety.

Give preference to seeded and rye bread, sweet potatoes and baby potatoes, corn on the cob, brown rice, pearled barley, quinoa, spelt and bulgur wheat instead. 

Trap 3: Not consuming an adequate amount of protein

Consuming enough plant-based protein has been proven to help individuals with weight loss and maintenance. However, getting enough plant protein can be difficult if you do not know where to find it.

Balancing protein and carbs in the correct ratio is important, and a well-constructed plant-based meal plan can be an incredibly beneficial weight loss tool when based on a calculated energy (kilojoule) intake that promotes fat loss. Proteins to include are almond milk, soya milk, soya beans, tofu, lentils, beans chickpeas, pea plant protein powder and nuts.

Identify the problem

To fix a weight problem, we first need to establish what went wrong. Understanding your personal relationship with food is the first step to achieving your weight loss solution.

Try keeping a food and mood journal and diarise your daily food intake, noting when, how much, how fast, where you eat and most importantly, why you eat.

Hunger is not the only reason why we eat, and sometimes certain situations, people, events, circumstances specific moods or feelings causes us to consume food, independent of hunger. Recording your food and feelings allows you to reflect on your eating habits and to see the link. 

Create change

If you want to change your weight, you'll have to change your lifestyle. But change can be difficult and doesn’t happen overnight – it's a slow process, and that’s okay. Start small and commit to two to three lifestyle changes at a time.

Once you have your changes in mind, create a clear action plan, making sure to include specific steps and goals that are realistic and attainable. 

Stay accountable

 Falling back into old bad eating habits or losing motivation is a common hurdle in any weight loss plan. It is important to keep yourself accountable and track your progress. Whether it be weekly weigh-ins or keeping a consistent food journal, it can help to keep your momentum. As change is never easy, you can seek support from a healthcare professional.

Partaking in activities that are not centred around eating, and finding non-food related rewards can help you to avoid food as a constant focal point. 

Top tip 

Mistakes are part of the process. It’s okay to occasionally stray outside the lines of your plan, and one or two mistakes won’t drag you back to square one. It's important to consider your relationship with food through a holistic lens and to always be kind to yourself. Success lies in the small, consistent actions we take every day to remain healthy and care for our bodies. 

Last but not least

Weight loss has no one-size-fits-all strategy – every plan will be different because every person is unique.

Seeking the advice of a registered dietitian can provide you with invaluable support, accountability, and motivation. They can design an individual eating plan and menu for you, taking your lifestyle, culture, budget and preferences into consideration. 

Let the team of registered dietitians at Nutritional Solutions help you make 'healthy happen'. Our dietitians pride themselves in offering expert nutritional advice, grounded in evidence-based practices. Go to for more information.

READ | How the pandemic is highlighting the role of the dietitian

READ | I need to lose weight. Where do I start?

READ | Why does my blood sugar drop after eating?

Image credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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