Can I Go on a Vegetarian Diet without Weight Gain?

Question: How can I eat the proper vegetarian diet without weight gain? – T.L.

Dear T.L.,

Vegetarians tend to be thinner, on average, particularly vegans, but the same principles of weight gain or weight loss apply to a vegetarian diet as to a non-vegetarian diet. There are quite a few variables, but there are lots of ways to eat a proper nutritious vegetarian diet without weight gain.

Some of the Main Variables

1. Your lifestyle and activity level. If you’re physically active, especially if you spend time in outdoor activity every day, you won’t have as much problem with weight gain, because you’ll be burning calories as you eat them. I have to say it: Exercise is an inescapable part of weight control.

2. Vegetarian or Vegan: Vegans tend to be leaner, because a balanced vegan diet tends to be higher in fiber and lower in calories, because of the absence of dairy and egg. High-fiber beans and whole grains are staples of a vegan diet, and the protein/fat/carb balance in those foods falls more into the recommended balance of 10-20% protein, 15-35% fat, and 50-70% carbohydrate per 100 calories. Tofu is the high-fat, low-fiber exception. Nuts and seeds are very high in fats, but a little goes a long way, and they are prime sources of vital nutrients.

3. Your physical characteristics and metabolism. If you tend to gain weight and be a slow-moving, earth-mother type, then you need to eat accordingly, and not like your stick-thin friend who eats everything and never exercises. Each person is unique, which means that what’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for the next person.

Ways to Control Your Weight

1. Favor vegan sources of protein. That doesn’t mean you have to go all vegan, just go easy on the high-fat, low-fiber foods.

2. Make every calorie count, nutritionally, with high quality, fresh, organic whole foods, and very little processed food or instant food – that makes it easier to eliminate high calorie ingredients, and satisfy your appetite without overeating.

3. Maintain 50-70%of your calories in carbs, to keep your metabolism and your blood sugar steady and avoid food cravings.

4. Get plenty of liquids, especially warm liquids, like teas, but not much soda, cold or sweet drinks. Favor high- liquid, low-fat, but nutrient-dense foods, like soups, salads, and fruits.

5. Exercise daily, consistently, with at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous excercise.

Dietary Don’ts

1. Don’t cut fats and carbs out of your diet. High-protein diets of any kind are harmful. You still need a good protein/fat/carb balance. For more info on this topic, read the Savvy Vegetarian article Vegetarian Protein: Myth & Reality.

2. Don’t starve and binge, or adopt a punitive exercise routine that you can’t maintain. Think long term, and be consistent. Have realistic expectations and goals. Size 4 may be unattainable, but last I heard, size 12 or even 14 was perfectly respectable.

3. Avoid extreme diets, like extreme vegan or raw food diets, or macrobiotic. It’s better to learn what your individual body needs on a daily basis and go with that. Think sustainable.

4. Don’t take diet pills, or other chemical or herbal weight loss aids. That goes right along with starving and binging.

5. Don’t overeat – quit before you’re full, don’t snack, and eat light at night.


Becoming Vegan, and The New Becoming Vegetarian, by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis. Excellent and indispensible vegetarian nutrition primers – they cover this issue pretty well.