With obesity in the western world population reaching epidemic levels, the option of switching to a vegetarian diet is appealing to an increasing number of people. The stereotype of vegetarians is of active, lean people and it is often thought that adopting this lifestyle will bring about these changes, resulting in weight loss, increased activity and overall better health.
But the concept of weight loss through vegetarianism is one similar to the chicken or the egg: are vegetarians healthy because of their life choices (including being vegetarians) or are they vegetarians because they are healthy, and have adopted vegetarianism as the logical choice? While this article does not propose to end this debate, it can certainly offer possibilities and options to those who wish to explore it.
The key to weight loss is to do things incrementally; after all, the extra weight an obese person carries did not show up overnight, unannounced: it took months and in most cases years to accumulate. Similarly, it will not disappear through drastic action, but through the compound application of careful and consistent steps. Going from eating steaks on the barbecue to being a vegan is not a good idea: whoever does this is likely to fail and fall back, gaining back the weight lost, and more.
There are three main types of vegetarian diets; there are also smaller, more specific types, but we’ll concern ourselves with the principal groups:
The Vegan diet – Vegans will not consume anything derived from animals; besides meat and fish, they avoid dairy products as well as eggs. This is the most difficult diet to follow, as well as the most demanding in terms of rigor in replacing animal protein.
The Lacto Vegetarian diet – Lacto vegetarians will not eat meat or eggs, but will consume dairy products such as milk, cheese and cream.
The Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian diet – Lacto-Ovo vegetarians will eat eggs and consume dairy products; they still avoid direct animal products. Of all vegetarian diets, this one is the easiest to switch to for current meat-eaters.
When switching to a vegetarian diet for weight loss, health or ethical reasons, it is best to take things one step at a time, and to make sure to replace all protein and nutrients at every step. In almost all cases, the first step would be to cut out red meat. Red meat contains the most fat and cholesterol, although it is possible to obtain relatively lean cuts
As time passes and other types of meat and animal products are progressively cut out from the diet, meal planning becomes a necessity. Making sure that your body and metabolism have all the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients to run at peak efficiency is essential to weight loss; a complete vegan diet is difficult to balance, despite what its most ardent supporters claim. It is of course not impossible, but requires thought and planning.
Being a vegan or a vegetarian is not necessarily a guaranteed way to lose weight, or even to be healthy. If the animal proteins are not efficiently replaced by another source, a significant proportion of people will tend to compensate with carbohydrates – pasta, rice, bread. This category of food should not be consumed in any significant quantity by anyone wanting to lose weight.