I believe, and I think it’s clear to anyone who does a little research into this, that adopting a whole food plant-based diet and minimising added salt, oil, and sugar is the best way for everyone to achieve their ideal healthy weight permanently.
On a whole food plant-based diet/lifestyle there’s no counting calories, no portion restriction (eat as much as you want), no worrying about macronutrient proportions – fat, protein and carbohydrate ratios take care of themselves, and there’s no yo-yo dieting effect where you restrict and then binge and then repeat while watching your weight rise and fall accordingly. On a whole food plant-based diet, your body reaches a trim and healthy weight that suits its environment and is able to maintain that weight regardless of the quantity of food that you eat.
Being trim and having a healthy BMI is very important to me and helps to reduce the symptoms of my rheumatoid arthritis. Being overweight or obese is not helpful to anyone with rheumatoid arthritis or any other chronic disease.
Many people know how difficult it is to lose weight by following any one of the hundreds of diets that are out there, and I feel very strongly that the majority if not all of them, are misleading people. Just in my personal experience, I’ve never met anyone who has achieved permanent weight loss by following a weight loss diet. Never mind that many of these diets are extremely unhealthy and sometimes dangerous. It’s extremely hard for many people to lose weight and failing to lose weight or maintain weight loss, can have negative emotional consequences. I have great respect for anyone who’s trying to lose weight and I think they deserve to have the best available information so that their time and energy is not wasted.
How to lose weight permanently
On a whole food plant-based diet a person’s weight is self-regulating, this is partly because whole plant foods contain a lot of fibre, and vegetables and fruits contain a lot of water. This fibre and water adds a lot of bulk to each meal which helps to fill your stomach and trigger its satiety receptors/transmitters, signalling to your brain that you are full.
In terms of volume, whole plant foods tend to be less calorically dense per unit of volume than junk foods and most animal foods. It’s therefore possible to eat more calories via animal and junk foods before you become full or satisfied – think of burgers, pizzas, and ice cream; and compare that with apples, broccoli, and beans for example. Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 cal per gram, whereas fats and oils contain 9 cal per gram. Whole plant foods are typically low in fat and high in fibre; animal and junk foods tend to be high in fat and contain little or no fibre. This is why when you eat whole plant food meals it becomes very difficult to overeat and consume too many calories, therefore excessive weight gain is much less likely. In fact it’s only really possible if you increase the fat content of the meals significantly by consuming very large amounts of nuts and seeds or avocados for example.
Even if you manage to consume an excess of calories on a whole food plant-based diet (with low added salt, oil and sugar), those calories are being provided largely by carbohydrates which are used either for fuel immediately, or are converted and stored as glycogen in the muscles. It’s very difficult and inefficient for your body to convert carbohydrates into fat.
This sets you free, since you can eat as much as you want as often as you want :-) and maintain your ideal weight permanently. Surely that’s the dream of anyone who’s trying to lose weight (or for underweight people to gain weight)! I’m not saying that this is easy, but the principle is very simple. It can be extremely difficult for most people to change their lifestyles significantly, if you’ve tried dieting and calorie restriction in order to lose weight you will know how difficult it can be. However, a whole food plant-based diet is a sideways transition from the typical standard UK diet (SUK) or standard American diet (SAD), it’s a change in lifestyle and not a diet in the typical sense of the word.
A whole food plant-based diet offers the most benefits to humans at every stage of life. It’s the most health promoting diet, it significantly reduces the risk of developing most chronic diseases, it improves energy levels and focus, reduces inflammation and pain, and alleviates depression, it’s the cheapest diet/lifestyle and the best for the environment. If you can make the transition and you do it with the right knowledge, after a relatively short time (as you begin see the benefits) it becomes relatively easy to make the transition permanent. In other words, it’s not like a weight loss diet or a calorie restriction diet, or diet for diabetes for example, it’s just a healthy satisfying way of eating that’s in line with our bodies physiology and evolution.
For overweight and obese people with rheumatoid arthritis, losing weight and getting closer to a healthy BMI (around 23 would be ideal) will reduce overall pain and inflammation. This is for many reasons including a gradual improvement in the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio at a cellular level, increased insulin sensitivity, improved circulation, and less weight/stress on many of the joints. This article discusses the relationship between excess weight and inflammation, including its effects on various forms of inflammatory chronic diseases.
If you are seriously overweight or obese, you would need to make this transition slowly with the help or supervision of your medical practitioner. This is also true if you are taking any medications for diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure as these diseases will almost certainly improve as you transition to a whole food plant-based diet, and medications would need to be reduced slowly in line with those improvements.
So if you want to lose weight or achieve your ideal weight permanently, adopting a whole food plant-based diet is the best approach in my opinion and experience. I’ll go through some of the science that backs this up later in this post. Of course, it’s also important to take regular exercise and get some sunshine, get plenty of sleep, and try to relax while you are eating.
As I mentioned above, I understand of course, that many (if not most) people on the Standard UK diet i.e. the SUK diet :-) or the Standard American Diet; SAD, will find changing to a whole food plant-based diet difficult, daunting or maybe even impossible. As with my rheumatoid arthritis, if your goal is to reach an ideal weight permanently and be healthy then adopting a whole food plant-based diet is probably the best option despite its difficulties. You have to decide if it’s worth it to you. Bear in mind, when you adopt a whole food plant-based diet, it’s not technically a diet any more since your weight will remain stable and your appetite will always be satisfied – once adopted, restriction and willpower are no longer required.
Resources in Support of a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
here are a few anecdotal but very encouraging success stories regarding health improvements and weight loss on a whole food plant-based diet, just to provide a bit of inspiration :-)
Here’s a study relating to weight loss on a whole food plant-based diet carried out on people with diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. The results showed many benefits, including weight loss and a reduction in A1c.
This article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, provides a detailed and easy to follow guide to healthy weight loss on a whole food plant-based diet.
Here’s a video by Dr Gregor explaining the benefits in terms of weight reduction/management, of whole plant foods compared to high-fat foods/animal foods including energy density i.e. the amount of energy/calories provided per unit weight of food.
“Apple and tape measure” image is public domain