How to Lose Weight with a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet?
By Dr. Silvia Odorcic, MD, FRCSC, DipABLM (IG: @dr.silvia.md)
Obesity rates in the US have now reached the highest levels ever recorded: 42.4%! The COVID-19 pandemic has only added fuel to the fire, driving up obesity and exposing weaknesses in our healthcare systems.
With all of our current stresses, many of us are abandoning our exercise routines, reaching for processed foods and adding extra weight to our waistlines. The standard American diet is called S.A.D for a reason: it is calorically dense but nutrient poor!
So how do we lose the extra weight and become confident and resilient in our physical bodies? Here are 3 strategies that can help you shed those extra pounds.
1. Become a Caloric Density Expert!
Caloric density refers to the amount of calories per pound in a certain amount of food. There is a massive range when it comes to caloric density. Greens and other non-starchy vegetables are around 100 calories per pound while oil comes in at a whopping 4000 calories per pound. Don’t worry about counting calories or spending hours inputting your food in a calorie tracker. If you opt for plant foods in their whole, unprocessed form, you will naturally be choosing the food that is most nutrient dense but has the lowest caloric density.
Nutrient Dense Lower-Calorie Foods:
Examples of these types of foods include fruits, veggies, starchy and non- starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. You can eat these foods in abundance! The larger volumes of these foods will also cause satiety and a feeling of fullness to naturally prevent you from overeating.
Nutrient Dense Higher-Calorie Foods:
Higher caloric density plant foods are great to have in your diet, but just be mindful as the calories here can add up quickly. Examples include avocados, nuts/seeds, nut butters, and tahini. Remember, one serving of an avocado is actually ⅓ of a medium sized avocado and a serving of nuts/seeds is a small handful.
Unfortunately, animal products including meat/poultry, fish, dairy and eggs are some of the highest calorie foods. They are also devoid of fibre (which helps keep you full and satisfied), and packed with saturated fats which drive heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Reducing or eliminating these foods altogether will drastically lower your risk of chronic disease and help you lose the added weight. Win-win!
2. Ditch the Added Oils and Sugary Drinks
When I first transitioned to a whole foods plant-based diet, I did a lot of research on oil. I decided after reviewing the literature that the majority of added oils were not beneficial for my waistline or my health. Plus, they are the most calorically dense foods known to man! Here are 3 quick tips to help you reduce or ditch added oils. 1) Replace store-bought dressings and condiments with oil-free homemade options. Thinning out some tahini with lemon juice and water, adding some sriracha for a kick, or whipping up an herby homemade oil-free dressing can help you quickly cut the oil. 2) Most take-out and processed foods are made with added oils, so opting for fresh fruit instead of a bag of chips will go a long way. 3) Batch cooking and meal prep at home using veggie broth or water to sauté instead of oil will help reduce your oil intake, as well as your take-out (most of which is loaded with inflammatory oils).
Now let’s talk about drinks! When it comes to liquid calories, one of the quickest ways to reduce your caloric intake is simply to drop the sugary drinks. Did you know that a grande pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks contains 12 teaspoons of granulated refined sugar? It’s insanity. Dropping sodas, fruit juice, alcohol, and sports drinks will go a long way. Try loading your body with water, herbal teas, matcha green tea (my favourite) or homemade lattes devoid of sugar. You will be surprised what this will do for your health and your waistline!
3. Try out Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is all the rage right now and with good reason. Intermittent fasting or “time restricted feeding” is when you consume all of your calories in a certain window of time. While there are many ways of doing this, a simple way to start is by restricting all of your meals to a 10 or 12 hour time window. This means you would wait an hour or two in the morning before eating breakfast (you start eating at 10 am) and stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime (you stop eating at 8 pm). Sounds doable right? Intermittent fasting has been shown to help you shed pounds, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammatory biomarkers, and reduce hypertension. If you want a deep dive into the subject, I would highly recommend reading Valter Longo’s book “The Longevity Diet.” Before undertaking any extended fast, always consult a qualified healthcare professional. Additionally if you have a chronic disease like diabetes, intermittent fasting is an extremely powerful way of reducing your insulin requirements so always consult your doctor before starting a fasting protocol.
4. Move your Body
Ok, I tricked you. Here is a fourth strategy and while it seems unrelated to nutrition, moving your body will help get you into a caloric deficit, improve your insulin sensitivity, and add years to your life (5-8 to be exact). This topic is too large to cover in detail in an article, but I’ll give you 3 quick takeaways to get your body moving. 1) Start with cardiovascular exercise and aim for 150 minutes/week of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise. How can you tell what’s moderate or vigorous intensity? Use the “talk test” - if you can say more than a few words or easily sing, you are not working out hard enough! Cardiovascular exercise can range from jogging and cycling to swimming or dancing. Find what you enjoy because the best exercise is the one you will actually do! Once you have a routine established, add in resistance training twice a week. Resistance training can include lifting weights at the gym, using resistance bands, or simply body weight exercise like push ups, pull-ups, or squats. Getting in 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise plus twice weekly (or more) resistance training may seem like a big task. It may take you many months to build these habits and to find what works for you (apps, training partners, exercise programs, etc.). However, making a commitment to yourself and your health and starting small will help build habits, momentum and confidence. Remember, it’s not that person that runs the fastest that wins...it’s the one that slows down the least!
By becoming a caloric density expert, cutting out the sugary drinks and added oils, trying out intermittent fasting, and moving your body, you will embark on an incredible journey of transformation. I believe in you. Now let’s start your journey.
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