This is a comprehensive guide for transitioning to a plant-based diet solely for the purpose of losing weight.
*First, determine if you are ready to change your lifestyle in a major way. If not, there is no point in reading on.*
If you are okay with the commitment to eating more plant-based foods so that you can finally lose weight, this article will show you how!
*This post contains affiliate links
What Is A Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet?
A whole foods plant-based diet is based on making healthy choices that involve consuming minimally processed, unrefined foods.
When you start to eat a whole food plant-based diet, you’ll be cutting out all meats and animal products in addition to any highly processed or refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, or anything made with high fructose corn syrup.
What Is The Difference Between Vegan and Plant-Based?
Sometimes, “vegan” and “plant-based” are used interchangeably. While they do share some similarities, they are not the same thing.
A vegan diet excludes all animal products, which includes meats, dairy, and eggs. Veganism is also an ethical position, however. Therefore, in addition to abstaining from animal-based food products, vegans will also avoid all products tested on or made from animals (like household cleaners or makeup that has been tested on animals, or leather purses and shoes.)
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, has nothing to do with animals, other than you don’t eat them or anything that comes from them.
While plant-based living means eating loads of plant-based food, you also won’t be consuming anything processed or refined.
What’s More Flexible? Vegan or Plant-Based?
In some ways, a vegan diet is more flexible than plant-based. Vegans, after all, eat things like Oreos and Doritos, while plant-based eaters do not.
However, there is some flexibility with plant-based dieting.
Some people say that you have to be 100% plant-based or it doesn’t count.
But many people (myself included), try to focus on eating more plants and less other stuff.
Not zero other stuff!
Just significantly less!
Vegans consume no animal products — ever.
So I’m going to tell you right here and right now that you don’t have to swear off meats, cheeses, milk, and ice cream forever.
Not at all!
Just eat those things far less than you do plants, and you’re on the right track!
The Right Mindset For Plant-Based Diet
First, it’s going to be important to have the right mindset before starting your transition.
It will take time to settle into a pattern, and I’ll be honest — it’s not always going to be the easiest thing.
Getting your mind right is a very critical first step that will help you so much as you move forward.
1. Know Your Reason Why
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No matter what others say, wanting to lose weight is good enough for a reason. But get into the feeling of why.
Do you lack confidence because of your size?
Do you worry about long-term health issues related to obesity?
Are you tired of having a “cute face” or a “funny personality” but never really being called attractive?
Whatever your reason is, acknowledge it and keep it at the fore.
When times get tough, your reason why will be your compass.
2. Don’t Worry About Being Perfect
Like I said before, being plant-based may seem more restrictive than “vegan”, but there is actually more flexibility.
Someone who is plant-based may focus on whole, plant-based foods as little as 70-80% of the time, and enjoy other foods the rest of the time.
And it still counts.
It’ll still help you lose weight!
Know that you don’t need to be perfect to be successful.
Go into it with the mindset that it’s easy to succeed because it’s not that restrictive, and you’ll be on your way to victory!
3. Educate Yourself
Blogs like this one are great, and I think you should read as much as you can.
But you should also read many of the books written by scientists, nutritionists, and MDs that can help you learn more about the science behind why a plant-based diet is great.
Here are the top books I recommend:
How Not To Diet by Michael Gregor
This book is like my plant-based Bible! Since I first purchased it, I’ve read it THREE times! I wound up getting the Kindle version, print version (to take notes), and also the Audible version so I could listen while cooking, in the car, or any other time.
It’s so full of quality information and it never gets old. If you only buy ONE book on this topic, it should be this one.
The Starch Solution by John McDougall
Runner up for best book is The Starch Solution. This book teaches all about calorie-density in a way that is easy to understand, and drives home the importance of eating the lowest calorie-density foods.
If you hate counting calories but still want to lose weight, follow exactly what this book says and you’ll be completely amazed!
4. Prepare For The Commitment
There are ways to make transitioning to a plant-based diet easier, but if you’re used to eating fast food every meal you will be in for a shock.
There is quite a bit of cooking involved even if you take the easiest approach.
So, prepare for the commitment.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
-Meal prep: Meal prepping involves preparing most of your food for the week ahead on Sunday. That way, you’ll have food ready during the week without too much fuss.
-Meal plans: You can go it alone and pick a few items for meal prep, but it makes so much more sense to follow a plan! You’ll gain exposure to tons of new flavors & textures, plus receive a grocery list and exact instructions for what to prepare, when and how, to make every meal a masterpiece.
-Find simple recipes: There are tons of plant-based cookbooks out there that will make transitioning to a vegan lifestyle easy with quick and healthy meals.
-Find like-minded people: You’re not in this alone, so find other people who have made the switch.
-Recipe books: There are tons of great recipe books on the market.
Two of my favorites are as follows:
The Vegan 8 by Brandi Doming
Sweet Potato Soul by Jenne Claiborne
How To Transition To A Plant-Based Diet
1. Crowd out and replace
Find animal product replacements and substitutes that you enjoy. For example, substitute cow’s milk for almond milk. Make your own low-calorie salad dressings and sauces. And learn how to season and prepare tofu or seitan to replace meat.
2. Start adding way more plants
Put every dish on a bed of greens. Add more veggies to what you already eat to fill it out. Add sprouts/greens to sandwiches, soups, and pastas. Make your salads larger. Swap out some of your snacks for low-calorie, plant-based food items such as apples, veggie sticks, and popcorn.
3. Make one meal of every day 100% plant-based
Dinner is a great option.
4. Reduce meat and dairy intake.
Gradually reduce it further and further until you get more and more days as plant-based as you want to go.
5. Don’t give up your favorites.
Almost anything can be turned into a plant-based version. Think about what foods you enjoy most, and find ways to “veganize” them, to make them lighter and healthier.
It’s a process, and you never know how far you’ll go!
Plant-Based Food List For Weight Loss
The following foods are plant-based and healthy, making them ideal for weight loss:
Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemons, limes, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pineapple, plums, pomegranate, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries
Vegetables: arugula, asparagus, artichokes, bean sprouts, peppers, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens (and all other greens), cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, green onion, green beans, peas, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radishes, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, zucchini
Legumes & Beans: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, mung beans, cannellini beans, black eye peas, lima beans, soy (miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame)
Nuts & Seeds: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
Whole Grains: brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, barley, bulgur, buckwheat, oats, steel-cut oats, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, whole-grain cereal, tortilla, popcorn
Dairy Alternatives: almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk, cashew yogurt, almond yogurt, soy yogurt, coconut yogurt
Meat Alternatives: textured vegetable protein, soy curls, tempeh, seitan, tofu, vegan meats (limited)
Calorie Density Is Key To Success
For the most part, weight loss is about releasing more calories than you consume in a day. If you’re eating more calories than your body needs, weight loss will be difficult.
As such, learning which plant-based foods have the least calories by weight, then filling up mostly on those, will have you melting fat so fast you’ll think it’s magic!
Calorie density is the number of calories in a given amount of food, by weight.
Raw vegetables are low calorie-density foods that can fill up space on your plate and satisfy hunger without you consuming too many calories. You can eat as many of these foods as you want (without calorie counting!) And you run little to no risk of ever gaining weight on a plant-based diet.
Lowest Calorie-Density Foods From Plant Sources
As a general rule, a food is considered to be on the lower end of the calorie density scale if it is below 300 calories per pound.
Examples of low-calorie density foods include the following:
-Veggies like broccoli, asparagus, and cabbage
-Fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and apples
Start with these foods to fill up your plate when you’re transitioning to a plant-based diet. Eat as many of these foods as you’d like. And use these to “dilute” other higher-calorie foods, to bring down the total calorie density of a meal.
Medium Calorie-Density Foods
Foods around 500 calories per pound are considered medium-density. Anything between 300 and 600 calories per gram or so falls into this category.
These foods are safe to eat in relative abundance, but to lose weight, you still need to be mindful.
Here are examples of medium calorie density plant-based foods:
Potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Yams, Corn, Hot Cereal (Oatmeal, Grits, Cream of Wheat), Beans, Peas, Lentils
It’s best to make most of your plate come from low-calorie density foods. Like 2/3 low-calorie density, and the last third comes from this column.
High Calorie-Density Foods
Finally, high-calorie density foods are those that you should use very sparingly, if at all.
This is where many people mess up, in fact. There are high-calorie plant-based foods that can trip you up if you eat too many of them while losing weight.
It’s easy to think “I’m eating plants!” and overdo it on these foods, not realizing you’re messing up!
Here are examples of high calorie density plant-based foods:
Bread, bagels, dried fruit, sugars (syrups, molasses), avocados, nuts & seeds, pretzels, crackers
Once you reach your goal weight you can add these foods to your lifestyle as a healthy overall diet. However, during the weight loss process it’s best to avoid them as best you can.
More Tips To Make Transitioning To A Plant-Based Diet Easier
If you follow most of the tips in this guide, you should find success losing weight as you transition to a plant-based diet.
1. Make it a focal point of every day.
Don’t let your new lifestyle choice be something that operates in the background! That’s the easiest way to slip.
Make it an intentional part of every single day.
Read books, listen to podcasts, find blogs you like where people share their experiences, watch YouTube videos and vlogs. Find something you like and go deep every single day. #nodaysoff
2. Put it on your to-do list every morning.
Start every morning by writing your list of to-do’s? Add “eat plant-based” to that list! It’s such a small step but it feels so satisfying to cross it off each day.
3. Try meditation & visualization exercises.
Sometimes you need to visualize the end to stay motivated with the process. Close your eyes and envision yourself living in a lighter, leaner, more beautiful body. Visualize yourself eating and enjoying vibrant plant-based foods and feeling all the benefits of your new lifestyle.
It’s such an effective practice to help you achieve your goal so much easier.
4. Add gentle movement that feels good to you.
Hardcore workouts at the gym have their place if you enjoy them. But some say weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise.
Based on personal experience, I argue it’s even less than that.
You can lose weight just by eating a clean, plant-based diet. So you don’t have to puff and sweat at the gym if you don’t want to.
However, adding movement to your day will help you accelerate weight loss, tone up, and feel good about yourself overall.
I’m a huge fan of walking in place while watching TV with my husband at night.
I can get in 5,000 steps during a show or two, and it works!
5. Try intermittent fasting.
If you haven’t tried intermittent fasting yet, you’re missing out!
All it means is that you restrict the time of day which you allow yourself to eat.
The most common method for most people is to only eat between 12 noon and 8 pm. Just doing this cuts out so many calories, and makes eating so much easier and more enjoyable.
6. Don’t be afraid to eat a LOT
Finally, when you’re eating the right foods (mostly plant-based foods from the low and medium density columns), you can eat as much as you want and never gain a pound!
It took me some time to figure this out, as I was eating a lot of avocado, pita bread pizza, and dates for dessert.
But once you get the hang of this, you couldn’t stop losing weight even if you tried!
In fact, when you’re eating the right foods, the more you eat, the healthier you become. You literally can NOT lose.
Plant-Based Items That Give Flavor & Texture
If you’re transitioning to the plant-based diet for the first time, you’ll likely encounter so many new items that you’ve never heard of before.
Do you need them all? No. At least not all at the same time.
But I do recommend you at least try them out. They make the difference between eating boring, bland foods that you think vegan eating is all about, and eating restaurant-quality meals that you actually prefer more than what you were eating before.
Here are some of my favorites:
1. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a flaky powder that gives vegan items their “cheesy” flavor. I use it to make cheesy sauces, cheesy pasta, or just as a flavor sprinkle over salads and in soups.
2. Miso Paste
Miso paste is a salty item that I use in salad dressings for the most part. You can also make miso soup out of it, which is absolutely delicious!
3. Black Salt
Replacing eggs was a little hard for me, I’ll admit. I used to love whipping up scrambled eggs for breakfast! But did you know that you can just scramble tofu or chickpeas instead, and if they’re seasoned properly, they taste even better than eggs?
The secret is black salt!
A dash of black salt in your egg recipes goes a long way! (Without it, eggless dishes fall flat.)
Have you ever heard the saying “variety is the spice of life?” Well, with vegan and plant-based cooking, it’s reverse. “Spices bring variety to life!”
Getting the flavors right and robust will make this journey so much better for you!
I’ve grown my collection of herbs and spices so large that I had to buy TWO spice racks to hold them all! (But my food is SO good lol.)
Some spices and seasonings that you may not be used to, but can take your meals to the next level) include:
There are many more but you will encounter those as you move along. Just starting with these will give you much to work with!
Plant-Based Diet For Weight Loss FAQ
I often get so many questions about going plant-based, so I wanted to answer them for you here!
1- How quickly can I lose weight on the plant-based diet?
While this obviously varies from person to person, if you commit and select the right plant-based foods you should see at least a few pounds within the first week or two. I lost ten pounds the first month I got serious about this, and it snowballed from there.
2- What are the negatives of a plant-based diet?
Some people have trouble with lower energy levels that come along with plant-based eating. This is likely due to not consuming enough calories. Make sure you are eating enough calories from plant-based foods and you should be all set!
Another problem could be adjusting to the increased fiber content, leading to excess gas. Give it a week or two and this should clear up.
3- How long does it take for your gut to adjust to a plant-based diet?
For many, the gut will take about two weeks to adjust. (This is where probiotics come in). It can be difficult at first and some people feel more tired than usual or have a headache that lasts for days before they start feeling better. But not everyone experiences this.
I recommend starting with one day of plant-based eating per week so you don’t overwhelm your system too quickly, then gradually work up from there if needed!
I hope you enjoyed this guide to transitioning to a plant-based diet for weight loss!
After struggling with my weight for so many years, I finally shed those pounds and couldn’t be happier. And I owe it all to this lifestyle.
I know if you give it an honest try, you’ll be amazed at your progress (and how delicious and fulfilling it can be!)
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