Losing weight on a vegan diet: Here’s what you need to know

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Last updated Apr 17, 2023

Does going vegan help you lose weight? | How to lose weight | Not losing weight on a vegan diet?

  • Veganism comes with many health benefits, but it doesn’t automatically result in weight loss
  • Vegans face the same weight loss challenges as non-vegans, like overeating, stress eating, and thought distortions that sabotage your success
  • The key elements for losing weight on any diet are addressing the emotional side of eating, maintaining a sustainable calorie deficit, and building healthy habits that you can maintain well after you lose the weight

Maintaining a vegan diet already requires a lot of mental juggling—constantly checking food labels and asking questions at restaurants to make sure you’re not consuming animal products.

And if you want to lose weight on top of that, eating vegan can feel very stressful.

To help navigate the challenges, we spoke to Noom Coach Manager JL Fields. 

She’s a 12-year vegan (and 20-year vegetarian), a national board-certified health and wellness coach, and the author of 8 vegan cookbooks. 

Fields also happens to be a former Noomer who has experienced successful vegan weight loss.

So whether you’re already a vegan looking to shed some pounds or are considering trying a vegan diet for weight loss, here’s what you need to know. 

Note: Consult with your health care provider before making dietary changes.

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

Does going vegan help you lose weight?

Following a vegan diet can help you lose weight, but it’s not automatic.

A healthy, whole-food-based vegan diet eliminates the saturated fats, added sugars, and additives that are found in processed food. 

But just because a food is labeled “vegan,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. 

“A vegan diet can lead to weight loss, it can lead to weight gain, and it can lead to weight neutrality,” said Fields. “It’s not a silver bullet.”

Just like any other diet, a vegan meal plan for weight loss is about the nutrients you put into your body. You can choose to eat whole foods, or food that’s highly processed.

“I always joke that I’ve never met a vegan cupcake that I didn’t want to eat,” said Fields.

A vegan diet could, technically, consist entirely of vegan cupcakes. But you probably wouldn’t lose any weight (and your body would miss out on important nutrients).

How long does it take to lose weight on a vegan diet?

Things like age, sex, and starting weight all play a part in how quickly you lose weight, but the CDC’s recommendation for safe weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week—whether or not you’re following a vegan diet. 

Losing more than that usually requires eating a highly restrictive diet that leaves you feeling hungry and deprived. 

And in our experience, that’s not very sustainable in the long run. Because when that diet ends (or fails), you’ll likely gain the weight right back. 

How to lose weight on a vegan diet: 6 essential tips

Not all vegan weight loss plans are created equal.

To increase the likelihood of losing weight long-term, you need to focus on making small, sustainable changes to your eating habits. 

There are also common weight-loss tactics that aren’t necessarily unique to vegans.

Here are six of the most important ones that we’ve used to help over 3 million people lose weight (vegans included!):

1. Understand the emotional side of eating

We all wish that losing weight was just about eating the right foods. But there is an emotional reason behind everything we do.

So while your diet is arguably the most important weight loss factor, it isn’t the only factor.

For example, if you‘ve had a tough day at work, do you reach for a cookie (or ten) or a bag of chips when you get home?

That’s a form of stress eating

And overtime it can derail even the most disciplined efforts to lose weight.

Thought distortions can also stop us in our tracks. 

These are the unhelpful (and inaccurate) things we tell ourselves—like “I haven’t lost any weight in 2 weeks, I might as well give up”—that can sabotage your weight loss goals. 

Slip-ups will happen. Plateaus will happen. It’s just part of being human. The important thing is to move past those obstacles and stay on track. 

“Progress over perfection,” said Fields.

2. Maintain a calorie deficit

To lose weight on any diet, you need to be in a calorie deficit—which means you burn more calories than you consume.

Let’s say you burn 2,000 calories per day, but you only eat 1,500. You’ve created a 500-calorie deficit. Over time, this deficit leads to weight loss.

But for most people, being in a calorie deficit = deprivation and hunger.

That’s why the key to a successful calorie deficit is not to cut out foods that will limit your caloric intake. 

Instead, it’s all about figuring out what foods you can add to your diet that fill you up on fewer calories (while keeping you just as satisfied).

And that’s where tip #3 comes in:

3. Focus on low-caloric density vegan foods

To stay in a calorie deficit, it helps to fill up on foods that have a low-caloric density (meaning they have few calories relative to their volume).

Compare a 4-ounce vegan burger patty to 4 ounces of fresh spinach. It’s the same volume of food, but the patty has 10 times as many calories.

You might assume low-calorie foods aren’t filling. But many low-caloric density foods (like spinach) are satisfying because they’re packed with water, fiber, and even protein.

At Noom, we categorize all foods according to their caloric density: green foods are the least calorie dense, while orange foods have the highest caloric density. Yellow foods fall in the middle.

Ideally, Noomers are eating mostly yellow and green foods. But orange foods aren’t inherently “bad”—the orange designation is simply a signal to moderate your portions.

“I recall as a vegan who became a Noomer,” said Fields, “the first time I put flaxseeds into my app, or walnuts, and they were orange—I was like, ‘What do you mean they’re orange? These foods are amazing!’”

Flaxseeds and walnuts are great—they’re delicious healthy fats that deserve a place in your diet. But you don’t need a whole cup of them to get the nutrients you need.

“I can have 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds on my oatmeal and get those amazing omegas,” said Fields. “It was a great learning moment for me.”

With Noom Weight, no food is off limits. We want you to include orange foods in your diet.

But using the food tracker will help build awareness around which vegan foods are high in calories (like nuts and seeds) and understand what a proper portion size looks like.

Fortunately, many vegan foods fall into the green and yellow categories, which makes it a great diet for weight loss.

4. Track your food intake

To stay in a calorie deficit, you need to know how many calories you’re consuming. A food tracker app like Noom can help.

Research shows a strong correlation between diet monitoring and weight loss. Why?

Because food logging helps you:

  • See how many calories you actually consume
  • Learn which foods you can fill up on for the fewest calories
  • Become familiar with proper portion sizes

With a food tracker app, you simply provide your age, sex, and weight loss goal, and it will calculate your daily calorie budget for you. 

Then, as you log your meals, it tracks your calorie intake. 

Noom’s food tracker automatically tells you whether the item you’ve entered is categorized as green, yellow, or orange, which helps you eat a nutritious balance of foods. 

The tracker also has a barcode scanner for quickly logging prepackaged foods and a searchable database of delicious vegan recipes.

5. Explore new vegan foods and plan meals ahead

If you eat the same foods all the time (vegan or otherwise), you’re more likely to get bored and give up on your weight loss goals.

Thanks to how many vegan resources and recipes there are, you’re not limited to munching on salads and raw carrots. Vegan cooking has come a long way (hello, cauliflower bechamel sauce).

“Playing around with spices is a fun way to take one vegetable and have it taste three different ways three days in a row,” said Fields.

Make sure your pantry is stocked with a variety of spices—like turmeric, cumin, and kala namak (a.k.a. black salt, a magical seasoning that makes tofu scramble taste like eggs).

And meal planning is key.

“We get aspirational,” said Fields, telling ourselves things like we’re only going to eat whole, fresh foods all week. But then something unexpected happens, and the next thing you know, you’re sitting in a drive-thru.

We’re not saying you can never eat fast food again. You just need to plan ahead, so it’s easy to come up with healthy meals. 

Fields recommends always having these staples (what she calls the five vegan food groups) on hand:

  • Vegetables (fresh, frozen, and canned)
  • Beans and legumes (e.g., chickpeas, black beans, and lentils)
  • Tofu and/or tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains (e.g., brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa)

Fields, who authored the Vegan Meal Prep cookbook, even shared a hack for one of her favorite healthy vegan breakfasts for weight loss: 

She makes enough oatmeal for the whole week and then decides each morning whether she wants to add toppings that make it sweet or savory.

6. Develop healthy habits

What are the habits that got you where you are today? 

Like do you have a hard time saying no if someone offers you a slice of vegan chocolate cake?

Noom’s daily lessons help you understand the reasoning behind your choices. Then you can start developing new, positive habits—like taking a walk, journaling, or calling a friend after a rough day.

But developing new and healthy habits takes time. You won’t be perfect every day. No one is. (Besides, vegan chocolate cakes are a gift to be cherished—in moderation, of course.)

With Noom, your 1:1 coach and community of fellow Noomers are there to provide you with encouragement and support. That could be a pep talk after a slip-up, a high five after a win, or suggestions for a nutritious swap for vegan cookies. 

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

Why am I not losing weight on a vegan diet?

Everyone’s situation is unique, but if you’re not losing weight on a vegan diet, it’s probably because you’re eating too many calories. 

Several things can cause a vegan to overeat:

1. You assume all vegan foods are healthy

You might assume that because you’re only eating vegan foods, you’re consuming fewer calories. 

But that’s not always the case.

Relying too much on vegan-friendly processed foods that are high in calories can get in the way of weight loss.

2. You’re not getting the right balance of nutrients

Maintaining a vegan diet plan for weight loss can be a lot of work, especially if you’re just starting out. 

Without meat or dairy on your plate, you might be more likely to fill up on things like grains, potatoes, and other starches.

There’s nothing wrong with carbs—our bodies need them for energy. But too many can be a problem.

When you eat carbohydrates, glucose goes into your bloodstream. Excess glucose (or blood sugar) gets stored as fat.

And when your blood sugar rises, so does insulin—which makes you hungrier and likely to overeat.

3. You’re jumping in too quickly

Many new vegans start the diet by going cold turkey (no pun intended). 

One day, they’re eating cheeseburgers; the next, they’re saying goodbye to both the cheddar and the beef forever.

The cold-turkey approach does work for some people. But for most of us, giving up familiar comfort foods right away isn’t sustainable.

And worse, it may lead you to binge on non-vegan foods.

A newbie vegan might try to follow the diet by eating what seems to be like the “right” vegan foods—salads, apple slices, rice cakes. But after a few days, they’re not feeling satisfied—and eat a whole pizza.

“I think a lot of times, when we want to try something new, we’re like, ‘this is who I was yesterday, and then I’m going all the way over here tomorrow,’” said Fields. And when we slip up, we feel disappointed—or like a failure.

If you love meat and cheese but want to go vegan for weight loss and other health benefits, consider taking baby steps. 

For example, introduce more veggies to your diet before you start eliminating other foods, or start with a vegetarian diet before cutting out dairy products.

“Instead, say, ‘here’s where I am today, and I’d like to start to move toward this way of doing things,’” said Fields. “‘What’s one small thing that I can do right now?’”

Noom helps you achieve sustainable vegan weight loss

Don’t juggle a vegan diet and weight loss on your own. 

Get the support you need from lessons, coaches, and peers with Noom Weight. Learn more about how our program can help vegans lose weight here.