There is a swirling vortex of misinformation regarding diet and health floating around in the public consciousness. Do not allow yourself to be sucked into this whirlpool. If you’re eating in an unusual way, and eating a whole food plant-based diet would be classified by many as unusual to the extreme, it is sometimes hard to buck prevailing ideas. Well-meaning friends and family, already worried about the direction your diet is taking, will seize upon any hiccup in your plans to drag you back to their idea of healthful eating. Even your own uncertainty about the wisdom of your radical change in eating habits can sabotage your resolve, especially when it seems that you stand alone in your dietary choices.
When it comes to weight loss, most people who switch to a plant-based diet are overjoyed by how easily their excess weight falls away. However, in some, the weight loss goes too far. At this point there might be a temptation to switch back to eating animal based foods. Sure, you can easily gain weight that way but what about the abundance of health benefits that you will leave behind?
First of all it is important to understand why weight loss is so easy when you eat only plants. It all has to do with calorie density. Different foods provide different calories by weight. A food high in calorie density contains a large number of calories in a small weight of food while a food low in calorie density contains much fewer calories in the same weight of food. You can see from the picture below that when you are eating plants, naturally low in calorie density, you will ingest much fewer calories than from eating the same amount of animal-based food. Because human beings are generally comfortable after eating a certain weight of food, eating less calorie dense foods leads to weight loss. (1)
Image from Forks Over Knives.com website (1)
To give you an idea of the calorie density of foods, here is a list of the number of calories per pound of various food types (1).
Green, yellow and red vegetables 60 to 195 calories per pound
Fruit 140 to 420 calories per pound
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, rice, corn, hot cereals 320 to 630 calories per pound
Beans, peas, lentils (cooked) 310 to 780 calories per pound
Breads, bagels, dried fruit 920 to 1360 calories per pound
Sugars (including honey, molasses, maple syrup) 1200 to 1800 calories per pound
Nuts, seeds 2400 to 3200 calories per pound
Oils 4000 calories per pound
With this in mind, here are my suggestions for adding calories to your plant-based diet. Try to add two or three of these ideas to your daily diet and you will soon find that your weight will not only stabilize but begin to increase.
First and foremost, be sure you are eating enough food. Most people, especially women, have spent a lifetime consciously or unconsciously restricting calories. The standard Western diet makes gaining weight almost inevitable leaving most people in a never-ending battle to keep their weight in check. However, living a plant-based lifestyle is completely different. You can eat until you are satisfied. You can even overeat sometimes with no weight consequences. If you are losing weight you do not want to lose, simply EAT MORE FOOD. Take larger portions. Have second helpings. Enjoy your food to the fullest. If you feel hungry during the day, don’t ignore it. Take pleasure in the fact that you need to snack when you’re hungry.
Don’t avoid grains. It is the fashion today to look at breads and pastas as empty calories and, even more sinister, the bearer of gluten, current villain of nutrition. The vast majority of people need have no worry about gluten and unfortunately, if they are shunning healthy grains because of that fear, they are avoiding one of the very food types that can lead to better health. Whole grains are linked to increased longevity and reduced risk of chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity (4,7). The estimated incidence of wheat insensitivity (including wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease) is about 2% of the total North American population. There is no evidence suggesting that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Before shunning grains, visit your doctor for investigation into your own body’s reaction to gluten. (2,3)
Make sure you eat at least one serving of beans every day. Beans are supremely healthy and satisfying and are on the more calorie dense side of the plant kingdom. (5,6)
Increase your intake of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Try our soul-warming recipe for Curry Vegetable Stew that you can find on my website blog entitled “Chilly Weather Comfort Food”.
Try out an appetizing Thai recipe with peanut sauce.
Add extra nuts and seeds to your diet. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds onto your morning granola or your evening stew. Add walnuts to your salads.
Harken back to your childhood and slather peanut butter or other nut butter on bread. Top it with banana rounds or apple slices. Be sure to check the label and buy nut butter made from only nuts and with no added fats or sugars.
Eat nuts for snacks and be sure to include snacks between each meal. Peanuts, pecans, almonds and walnuts are calorie dense but healthy snacks.
Add ground flax or chia seeds to your morning smoothie or your evening meal.
Dried fruit is also a more calorie dense food. Sprinkle it on your morning hot cereal or into salad.
Eat avocados. They are unusual in the fruit kingdom in that they are high in fat. As always, eating fat as an integral part of a fiber-rich whole fruit or vegetable is a healthy way to consume fat. You can also add avocado to your morning smoothie or add some slices to your sandwich or salad.
Enjoy hummus on whole wheat flat bread for a filling snack.
Make up some “Parmenon” (see recipe under the blog “Three Recipes To Get You Started”) and toss it on to meals such as pastas, stews and soups. It boost both the taste and the calorie density on your plate.
Relish velvety hot chocolate on a cold evening by heating up soy milk with added cocoa and a small amount of stewed dates.
Search the internet for recipes for some of the following favourite dishes that have a higher calorie density. Look for a couple of these recipes on next week’s blog.
Discover the joy of “cream” sauces made from cashews or almonds. They are often used for tasty plant-based pasta sauces. These plant-based creamy sauces are a wonderful substitute for sauces made with cows’ cream. They will add calories without adding unnecessary extra fat.
For a healthy sandwich filling, make up a recipe of “tuna-like” salad made from chickpeas and raw cashews.
Try a plant-based potato salad recipe with a soaked cashew base sauce.
Lasagna is luscious when made with tofu “ricotta” and nutritional yeast.
Make a sinfully delectable “cheese” cake using cashew cream.
2 Sapone, A., Bai, J.C., Ciacci, C., Dolinsek, J. et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: Consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Med 2012 10:1.
3 Gaesser, G.A., Angadi ,S.S. Gluten-free diet: Imprudent dietary advice for the general population? J Acad Nutr Diet 2012 112(9):1330 – 1333.
4 Slavin, J. Whole grains and human health. Nutr Res Rev 2004 17(1):99 – 110.
5 Darmadi-Blackberry, I. Wahlqvist, M., Kouris-Blazos, A. et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(2):217-220.
6 Chang, W., Wahlqvist, M., Chang, H., Hsu, C. Lee, M., Wang, W., Hsiung,C. A bean-free diet increases the risk of all-cause mortality among Taiwanese women: The role of the metabolic syndrome. Public Health Nutr 2012 15(4):663 – 672.
7 Messina, V. Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans. Am J Clin Nutr July 2014; 100(Supp 1): 437S – 442S.
I’m glad I’ve found this article, I was wondering if others were nervous about weight loss too. I’ve been WFPB since October about 80/20% and have lost, without effort, 40 pounds so far. I really don’t think I should lose anymore, but, I don’t know if there’s anything to do about it. I eat plenty of well balanced meals, I’m not depriving myself at all. At some point do you stop losing weight and level off?
How wonderful that you have lost so much weight without much effort! Don’t worry, if you keep eating WFPB, you most likely will reach a new setpoint weight and your body will remain a pound or two on either side of that weight. If you think you are too thin, you can adjust this up by increasing your intake of higher calorie foods such as nuts and dried fruit. It seems that many people find their weight settles back at their weight from their late teenage years or early 20s. Keep up the healthy eating!
Hi Judy, I found this article after having the same concerns. I started plant-based eating 2.5 years ago. I lost 10 lbs within the 1st year and was pleased with the results. I just got on the scale to discover that I am down another 10 lbs. I eat voraciously! Avocados, nuts, hummus, you name it. I am getting older now and don’t want to look emaciated. Sure do hope that this levels off.
Hello Judy and Janet, I understand your worries about losing too much weight. However, studies show that with weight loss on a plant-based diet, your body weight will eventually level out at a point that is healthy for you. Many people find that they go back to the weight that they were in their teenage years. This can be a shocking discovery. In these days of well filled-out people, a person of healthy weight can sometimes appear to be too thin. This is rarely the case though, unless they are suffering from a health condition of some time that causes weight loss. Sometimes, it just takes a little adjustment in your perception of yourself and your own view of what a healthy weight looks like. In addition, losing weight can leave excess skin that may appear like new wrinkles and unsightly folds. I suggest you try some extra exercise to tone up your muscles. Brisk walking can help. Jogging and cycling are great. But probably your best bet is to try exercising daily with light weights, concentrating on exercises targeting your core, your arms and your legs. You can find exercise programs on-line to suit your own lifestyle. Finally, I commend you for your healthy eating choice. I hope that you are now seeing other benefits of a plant-based diet besides weight loss and I wish you well in your continuing journey towards better health. Here is an excellent article from Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s Center for Nutrition Studies website that you might be interested in reading.
I meant……Not good for a triathlete in the previous post.
Hi Maggie, when you are an athlete who expends a high amount of energy, it’s important that you are eating enough calories. Of course, I do not know what you are actually eating but I assume that you are eating lots of healthy vegetables and fruits. This is great but these foods are not dense in calories. Make sure your diet contains copious amounts of legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and healthy grains (whole grains such as whole wheat flour, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice) along with starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and squash. This will help keep your energy level high. Nuts and seeds are healthy and energizing snacks. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your plant-based diet. A bit of tweaking and you will find that you have more than enough energy to get you through a day, even if it includes a triathlon. Good luck!
This article came to me at just the right time! I didn’t make these changes to lose weight, but 60 pounds have already melted away and I could lose more to be in a more healthy weight range. But, my self image is not changung as fast ad my body is. I was afraid to go to a dietitian and be told something like “add some dairy back into your diet.”
I’ll try these tips and see what happens!
Hello Lulu, good for you for changing your food choices. Losing 60 pounds is awesome but sometimes it does take awhile to get used to such a big change. Make sure you incorporate some exercise into your life. That will help tone up those muscles of yours that are now getting a chance to show themselves! Hope the tips work out for you and enjoy the “new you”.
I was about to rush to the doctors because I have lost so much weight in 6 weeks. Have gone from 7stone 6lb to 6 stone 12lb. Feel week and wobbly…… good for for a triathlete !!!! Think I might still check in with my Doc for a check over.
This is exactly what I needed! I have been WFPB for about 8 weeks but because I do a lot of kickboxing and cycling, I have lost a stone in weight. I was getting worried but your article was a great relief to me and had given me more motivation to continue my new lifestyle. Thankyou
So glad to hear this Rob. Keep up the healthy eating!
Exactly the type of article I was looking for! I have been wfpb for the last six months and was already thin to start. I’ve lost a couple pounds, not something I wanted, and the comments have started to roll in. At times it feels like a double standard. Surely no one would openly call another person overweight. I am trying to add more natural fats into my diet and this looks like a great place to start. Thank you!
Hello Chantal, I’m so happy that this article is useful to you. I agree that there is something of a double standard regarding weight where people are quite comfortable letting you know that they think you are too thin. Words like “skinny” have a derogatory connotation for sure. Why can’t people just say that you look slender or fit? At any rate, ignore that sort of talk and keep up the healthy eating. You’ll find that your weight will stabilize and you’ll keep feeling better and better. Soon your friends and acquaintances will begin to ask you what you are doing to look so good! Deb
I loved this article. Very cool. This was exactly what I needed as I was one who was not overweight and started WFPB for health reasons but then was very discouraged (and frustrated) with all the skinny-shaming I was getting. I will follow your blog.
So glad that you are finding some useful tips on my blog. Never feel bad about being called “skinny”. Take it as a compliment (even if a back-handed one) and keep on the WFPB journey. 🙂
I really appreciate this article! I’ve been wfpb for 8 months and I’m underweight now. I’ve always been a big eater and still am. I’m relieved to know I can stick with this healthy way of eating. I’m 66 and haven’t felt this good for years!
Blessings to you, Debra!
It’s so good to hear how well you are doing on the wfpb lifestyle. Definitely stay with it. There are so many benefits for your health, longevity and general feeling of everyday wellbeing. The bonus is that you can enjoy eating lots to keep your weight in the normal range!