In these weight obsessed times it seems almost normal, at least if certain elements of the media are to be believed, to see fat as bad and thin as good. Therefore it seems almost normal to make decisions about what we eat based on whether said food or meal is going to help us lose or gain weight.
But for those people who have made a decision to follow specific food plans for whatever reason, which includes a vegan or vegetarian diet, managing weight isn’t always the first priority. After all, it’s quite possible to have a 100% vegetarian diet but eat poorly and gain weight, so what’s the best way for a vegetarian to lose weight?
The rules of weight loss don’t change for vegetarians, and despite what some experts might have you believe, it really is down to calories. But eating less might result in only temporary weight loss as too little forces the body into famine mode and can encourage muscle breakdown. The most effective method is to lose weight slowly, and eat in a way that doesn’t make you so hungry that you have to use will power to stick to your chosen plan (after all, we all know that will power can be limited).
Calorie intake differs for men and women, level of fitness and activity, but as a rule of thumb, 1200 – 1400 for a woman and 1400 – 1600 for a man should be about right for sensible and sustainable weight reduction. I generally don’t like counting calories as it can make eating rather joyless, but if you download an app on your smartphone and enter what you eat it does help guide you. It’s an easy process and helps give you an idea of how many calories are in that handful of nuts we can all grab without thinking about it.
An easy way to reduce hunger is to eat small portions of food at regular intervals, each containing complex carbs, protein and a little fat. By combining the food groups you can take advantage of the way that the human body breaks down food to make energy. The food groups break down at different speeds, and so mixing them up provides short and medium term energy. By the time the body has digested the food and used up the glucose created from it you should find that you are naturally hungry. By eating little and often you won’t have to rely on your will power and hope that you can be ‘good’ today and not ‘break the diet’.
Here’s a typical day;
Small bowl of porridge (complex carbs)
Apple (carbs and fibre)
Palmful of walnuts (protein and omega 3 fats)
Mid morning snack
Almond butter (protein and fat)
Two oat cakes or one rye cracker (complex carbs)
Hummus (fat and protein)
Granary bread (complex carbs)
or lentil and tofu salad (protein and fibre)
Pumpkin seeds (fat and protein)
Half a small avocado (fat and protein)
Mixed seeds (protein and fat)
Crumbled oat cake (complex carbs)
Roast vegetables (fibre)
Mixed bean curry (protein and complex carbs)
Brown rice (complex carbs)
Soy yogurt and fruit (protein and fibre)
You might have to really watch quite how many nuts and seeds you use to stick to the ideal calories count, but remember that the fat is useful for several reasons, not least managing appetite and increasing satiety.
I am not an exercise expert (just as most personal trainers aren’t nutrition experts) but my best advice is not to overdo it and exercise every day for hours, instead to find something that you enjoy and that you can manage on a regular basis. Don’t just do cardio, it’s important to do weight bearing exercise as well, as toned muscles use up glucose and help maintain metabolic rate even when you are sitting on the sofa. Exercise doesn’t have to be gym based, as sports, walking briskly uphill and even bouncing on a trampoline will do just as well so don’t feel obliged to break out the Lycra.