Many people – in fact, MOST people – are overweight or obese.
Three in four adults in the US are overweight or obese, according to the CDC.
It isn’t that people aren’t trying to do something about it. Weight loss centers, programs, and products are more popular than ever.
According to a Market Research report published in 2019, the total U.S. weight loss industry hit a new peak in 2018, growing 4% to $72 billion.
You read that right: Americans spend BILLIONS on weight-loss products and services, but we have nothing to show for it.
More Americans are overweight and sick than are healthy.
Here are some alarming statistics from that article:
- Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
- In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
- 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.
- Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.
- 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.
- Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
More than 100 million adults in the U.S. – almost half the entire adult population – have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million people and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year, or about 2,300 deaths each day.
Poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, causing more than half a million deaths per year.
About half of the adult U.S. population will have obesity and about a quarter will have severe obesity by 2030, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Approximately 17 percent of U.S. youth have obesity, and nearly one in three children and adolescents are either overweight or have obesity.
Researchers estimate a staggering 9.4 percent of children ages 2 to 5 already have obesity.
The obesity rate for children ages 6 to 11(in the US) has more than quadrupled during the past 40 years – from 4.2 to 17.4 percent – as well as tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19, climbing from 4.6 to 20.6 percent, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
Is there a way to combat this problem?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, people ARE trying to lose weight. But even the ones that succeed have trouble maintaining their new weight. Habit change plays a huge role in this problem – if you don’t change your habits, you will likely go back to your old ways and regain the weight you lost (plus a few extra pounds).
But maybe there IS a solution…maybe there IS a diet (or, “way of eating”) that can provide sustainable weight loss.
Every year, U.S. News & World Report evaluates popular diets and publishes a report on their findings. They place diets in various categories, including Best Diets Overall, Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Commercial Diet Plans, Best Diabetes Diet, and Best Heart-Healthy Diets.
Recently, they published their best diets report for 2020, and of the 35 diets (or “ways of eating”, which I abbreviate as “WoE”) that were ranked, guess which one was ranked #2 for weight loss?
The Vegan diet!
This is of no surprise to me.
I switched to a vegan diet in early 2019 and easily lost the extra 30 pounds I’d been lugging around for quite some time – without even trying. The main reason I changed my diet was to manage some chronic health conditions that I was tired of dealing with, including psoriasis, tinnitus, and sinus congestion. All of those conditions cleared up within the first two weeks of being on a vegan diet. The weight loss was more gradual and was a surprise – a bonus of making this lifestyle change.
Prior to going fully plant-based, I tried other diets/ways of eating including low carb, low carb high fat (sort of like keto, but not as high in fat), keto (lasted about a month on this, and it was a struggle), and Paleo (strangely enough, a bad psoriasis flare I was having got WORSE on Paleo and I gained a little weight…inflammation might have played a role).
Here’s why U.S. News & World Report ranked the Vegan diet second best for weight loss:
Research shows vegans tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body mass index (a measure of body fat) than their meat-eating counterparts. If you’re doing it right – i.e., eating lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains – you’ll likely feel full on fewer calories than you’re allowed each day. With that “calorie deficit” and a little physical activity, you’re bound to shed pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you.
Here’s what several key studies have to say about veganism:
A meta-analysis of over 90 studies found significantly lower levels of body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and glucose levels in vegetarians and vegans versus omnivores. The Italian study from 2017 also linked vegetarian and vegan diets to significantly lower rates of ischemic heart disease and cancer.
In one study, 99 participants with Type 2 diabetes followed either a vegan diet or a diet based on American Diabetes Association guidelines. After 22 weeks, the vegans lost an average of 13 pounds versus 9 in the ADA group, according to findings published in 2006 in Diabetes Care. If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.
Over 50 overweight adults were randomized to one of four low-fat, low-glycemic index diets: vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or omnivorous. All participants lost weight. However, the vegan group had the most significant weight loss at both two and six months. Vegan participants also decreased their fat and saturated fat more than the pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous groups. The study was publish in a 2015 issue of Nutrition.
More than 60 overweight, postmenopausal women were split into two groups: Half followed a vegan diet, and the other half followed a National Cholesterol Education Program diet (low in fat and dietary cholesterol). After a year, vegan dieters lost more weight than did the NCEP group: 10.8 pounds compared with 3.9 pounds. The pattern held up after two years, when the vegans still weighed 6.8 pounds less than they did when the study began, compared with 1.8 pounds for the NCEP group, according to findings published in 2007 in Obesity.
In a study published in 2014 in Nutrition, researchers followed a group of 50 overweight or obese adults for six months. They found that those on a vegan diet lost significantly more weight than those on other plans, including vegetarian, semivegetarian and omnivorous – by about 4.3% or an average of 16.5 pounds. The study authors suspect that’s because the vegan dieters were focusing on high-fiber foods, which help you feel full for longer, and their diets were low in fat and likely had fewer calories.
Why does the vegan diet work so well?
Researchers often report that participants on vegan diets lose more weight than those following calorie-restricted diets, even when they’re allowed to eat until they feel full.
The natural tendency to eat fewer calories on a vegan diet may be caused by a higher dietary fiber intake, which can make you feel fuller.
Calorie density also seems to play a role, as explained by Shivam Joshi, MD, in the article Calorie Density Is the Key to Weight Loss:
So how are some people—despite all the odds—keeping the weight off? Research shows that one of the best strategies hinges on the concept of calorie density. Calorie density is the amount of calories in a gram of food, which is important because humans eat a consistent weight of food from day to day. Knowing this, one could surmise that by eating lots of foods that are low in calories, one could lose weight. And you can, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective; humans have been eating mostly low-calorie fruits, leaves, tubers, and vegetables for the better part of our ancestral history.
Studies of low-calorie-density diets have found that people can reduce the amount of calories they need to eat to achieve satiety. In the first study to test this hypothesis, in 1983, participants eating a low-calorie-density, plant-based diet took in a mean 1,570 calories a day while those on a high-calorie-density diet took in 3,000 calories per day before feeling full. A later study showed that those committed to low-calorie-density, plant-based diets (which, in this study, happened to be a Hawaiian fare) could lose weight at a remarkable clip: an average of 17 pounds over 21 days. Long-term studies have shown that these results are maintainable.
By eating so few calories per day, dieters should have gone hungry, but they circumvented this problem by eating a larger volume of low-calorie foods. Paradoxically, by eating more food with fewer calories, dieters were able to lose weight and feel full at the same time. Low-calorie-density foods like legumes, fruits, and vegetables can help dieters avoid the siren call of hunger that can doom the best of intentions.
The proportion of plant foods eaten is an important facet of success. Eating more plants further lowers the calorie density of a diet and results in additional weight lost. Studies have shown that vegetarians, for example, eat 363 fewer calories per day than omnivores and have higher resting metabolic rates—up to 11 percent higher in some cases, which may be why vegetarians weigh less too.
The research is promising, and so are all of the success stories out there.
Forks Over Knives has a massive “success stories” section on their website. All are people who lost significant amounts of weight and improved their health by switching to plant-based eating. Take a look at these:
There are MANY more incredible stories – read them here: Success Stories
In Part 2 of this article series, I’ll explain HOW to lose weight on a vegan diet, with Dos, Don’ts, and other tips, so stay tuned! Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss anything.
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Here’s a list of studies that show plant-based diets can be very effective for weight loss.
Here are some studies (some of these are the same ones U.S. News & World Report referred to in their analysis) that show vegan and vegetarian diets are very effective for weight loss. Each link will take you to the published study, and the blurbs below them are the published conclusions of each study.
Conducted in 2017, this study’s conclusion states:
This programme led to significant improvements in BMI, cholesterol and other risk factors. To the best of our knowledge, this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise.
Many patients are interested in making dietary changes, and the WFPB diet can be offered as a safe and effective option for losing weight and obtaining some reduction in cholesterol, without necessarily increasing exercise. The main advantage is in eating to satiation without restricting the amount of food eaten. This small study also showed several improvements with chronic disease risk factors and quality of life, which were largely maintained to 12 months. Future research could identify participants who are currently likely to succeed with a diet change, which could reduce dropout rates and increase effectiveness. Given the low cost of this intervention and the relative benefits of this dietary approach, this could be offered by policy makers and practitioners as promoting weight loss, and suitable for consumption in hospitals.
This study was conducted in 2015. Here is a summary of the findings:
Children on PB had 9 and children on AHA had 4 statistically significant beneficial changes from baseline (mean decreases): body mass index, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, insulin, myeloperoxidase, mid-arm circumference, weight (−3.05/−1.14 kg), and waist circumference(−2.96 cm). Adults on PB and AHA had 7 and 2, respectively, statistically significant beneficial changes. The significant change favoring AHA was a 1% difference in children’s waist circumference.
Interestingly, the participants in this study were not told to restrict food intake, yet they still lost more weight than the control group:
Adoption of a low-fat, vegan diet was associated with significant weight loss in overweight postmenopausal women, despite the absence of prescribed limits on portion size or energy intake.
Here are the results of a two-year follow-up on that study:
A vegan diet was associated with significantly greater weight loss than the NCEP diet at 1 and 2 years. Both group support and meeting attendance were associated with significant weight loss at follow-up.
These preliminary results suggest that engagement with social media and adoption of a vegan diet may be effective for promoting short-term weight loss among women with PCOS; however, a larger trial that addresses potential high attrition rates is needed to confirm these results.
An 18-week dietary intervention using a low-fat plant-based diet in a corporate setting improves body weight, plasma lipids, and, in individuals with diabetes, glycemic control.
Both diets led to reductions in HbA1c levels; however, glycemic control was better with the vegan diet than with the conventional diet. Thus, the dietary guidelines for patients with T2D should include a vegan diet for the better management and treatment. However, further studies are needed to evaluate the long-term effects of a vegan diet, and to identify potential explanations of the underlying mechanisms.
This study found that vegan diets were more effective for weight loss than other diets.
This study found that vegan diets improved macronutrients more than other diets.
Vegan diets may result in greater weight loss than more modest recommendations.
(Note: NIDDM means “non-insulin-dependent diabetes”)
The use of a low-fat, vegetarian diet in patients with NIDDM was associated with significant reductions in fasting serum glucose concentration and body weight in the absence of recommendations for exercise. A larger study is needed for confirmation.
In summary, individuals consuming PBDs tend to have lower BMI than those consuming non-PBDs. The adoption of PBDs also appears effective for weight loss. Additional research that examines the use of PBDs for obesity management among more diverse groups and for longer periods of time is needed in order to address weight loss maintenance. Based on the available evidence, however, PBDs should be considered a viable option for patients who are interested in losing weight and improving dietary quality consistent with chronic disease prevention and treatment.
Non-adherent vegan/vegetarian participants lost significantly more weight at six months (-6.0 ± 6.7%) than non-adherent omnivore participants
Vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets. Further long-term trials are needed to investigate the effects of vegetarian diets on body weight control.
Following the 16-week study, body weight was reduced significantly in the vegan group (treatment effect average -5.8 kg), particularly due to a reduction in fat mass (average -3.9 kg) and in visceral fat. Insulin sensitivity also increased significantly in the vegan group.
All calories may not be created equal, at least when it comes to utilizing dietary patterns for weight loss. A new controlled study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition finds a plant-based vegetarian diet leads to greater weight loss compared to a calorie-equivalent diabetes diet.
A group of 74 adults with type 2 diabetes, split nearly equal among men and women, adopted a 500-calorie reduced diet for six months. Half adopted a vegetarian diet and half adopted a conventional diabetes diet. Those in the vegetarian diet group lost nearly twice as much weight, 13.67 pounds, compared to those following the traditional diabetes diet, with an average weight loss of 7.05 pounds, despite consuming equal amounts of energy.
Our findings demonstrate that, in the context of a low-fat vegan diet, decreased intake of saturated and trans fats and increased relative content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly linoleic and α-linolenic acids, are associated with decreased fat mass and insulin resistance, and enhanced insulin secretion.
The associations between total and insoluble fiber and changes in BMI and fat mass remained significant even after adjustment for energy intake. Increased carbohydrate and fiber intake, as part of a plant-based high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, are associated with beneficial effects on weight, body composition, and insulin resistance.
Based on the evidence of the research analysis by this systematic review, it can be concluded that plant-based diets accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve psychological health, quality of life, HbA1c levels and weight and therefore the management of diabetes. Furthermore, plant-based diets could potentially improve diabetic neuropathic pain and the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in T2D.
Eating more plant-based foods, which are rich in substances called phytochemicals, seems to prevent oxidative stress in the body, a process associated with obesity and the onset of disease.
In this population-based cohort of middle-aged and elderly participants, a higher adherence to a more plant-based, less animal-based diet was associated with less adiposity over time, irrespective of general healthfulness of the specific plant- and animal-based foods.
Eighty-six cross-sectional and 10 cohort prospective studies were included. The overall analysis among cross-sectional studies reported significant reduced levels of body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and glucose levels in vegetarians and vegans versus omnivores.
A higher resting energy expenditure was found in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians. Resting energy expenditure was positively correlated with a specific component of the vegetarian’s diet, i.e., vegetable fats.
(Note: This means that vegetarians and vegans might burn more calories while at rest, making their weight loss efforts more effective.)
The plant-based vegan diet proved to be superior to the control diet in improving body weight, fat mass, and insulin resistance markers. Only the vegan group showed significant reductions in body weight. The decrease in fat mass was associated with an increased intake of plant protein and decreased intake of animal protein.
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