Pros and Cons of the Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss

With 1 in 20 Americans identifying as vegetarian, it’s one of the most common diets followed today. Vegetarians say no to meat but still consume other animal products such as honey and dairy products. You will find some vegetarians who consume eggs, and others who don’t, although the traditional vegetarian diet allows eating eggs.

People become vegetarian for many reasons, from moral and ethical reasons to health and weight-loss. But how beneficial is a vegetarian diet for losing weight and your overall health? By the end of this article, you will thoroughly understand the benefits and drawbacks of a vegetarian diet when it comes to your health and your waistline.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Good for Weight Loss?

The question that most of us ask ourselves when considering adopting the vegetarian diet is this: what it will do for our health? Will it make us healthier, and even more importantly, can it help us lose weight?

We will answer these questions by examining the pros and cons of following a vegetarian plan for weight loss and overall health.

Pro #1: Vegetarianism Can Help Us Lose Weight

Research suggests that the vegetarian diet can help some people lose weight when compared to a diet that contains meat. In a 2016 meta-analysis of human clinical trials, it was found that those following vegetarian diets had significantly improved weight loss when compared to those following control diets that contained meat. This may be due to the higher fiber content and lower calorie content associated with some vegetarian diets. However, other vegetarian diets can still be loaded with processed carbohydrates and calories that blunt weight loss.

Pro #2: Vegetarianism Can Be Good for Health, Especially Heart Health

The vegetarian diet has been shown in numerous studies to yield a variety of benefits for your health. Vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, and other ailments. Many people will see reductions in their blood pressure and cholesterol when they cut out meat from their diet.

The Downfalls of the Vegetarian Diet

While vegetarians as a whole tend to be healthier than non-vegetarians, this doesn’t mean that every vegetarian diet is healthy or will promote weight loss. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that this kind of diet is right for you. Some downfalls are that this diet still includes many unhealthy foods which some vegetarians consume liberally.

Con #1: Not Every Vegetarian Eats Healthy Food

The biggest flaw with a vegetarian diet is that it is not guaranteed to be healthy. You can follow a vegetarian diet and still eat lots of foods that aren’t good for you. Refined and high calorie foods such as cakes, refined pasta, and ice cream are just a few unhealthy foods that are allowed within a standard vegetarian diet. When these are preferred, along with large amounts of dairy and eggs, the potential health and weight loss benefits may not be present.

What If I’m Not Losing Weight On a Vegetarian Diet?

If you’re not losing weight on a vegetarian diet, it may be because a vegetarian diet is not automatically a healthy diet. That’s why we preferentially recommend a plant-based whole foods diet. To quote Michael Pollan, author of several books on nutrition, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

A healthy diet is one that’s very limited in empty calories like processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars. A healthy vegetarian diet is one that also cuts out sodas (diet soda, or traditional soda), white bread, fast food, and unhealthy desserts like cake, ice cream, and brownies. If you adopt a plant-based whole foods diet, your odds of weight loss improve dramatically.

Con #2: Vegetarianism Can Be Tough for Some People to Follow

Not everyone finds the idea of living a life without meat appealing. If you and your family are meat-lovers, the vegetarian diet can be tough to follow through on–especially during the holidays. This matters, because the best diet for you is the one that you can stick with long-term.

That said, if you know that you can cut out meat long-term, then a plant-based vegetarian diet can be a good choice for your health and waistline.

The Best Vegetarian Plan For Weight Loss

The best vegetarian plan for weight loss is a whole foods plant-based diet. It’s important to fill your plate with healthy, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, as well as sources of plant-based protein like beans and quinoa.

At the same time, it’s important to avoid eating processed foods and added sugars.

Should I Follow a Vegetarian Diet to Lose Weight?

Vegetarian diets appear to be better for overall health and weight loss when compared to diets that contain meat. If you are someone who could see yourself leading a life without meat, a vegetarian diet plan may be right for you.

If you switch to a vegetarian diet and find that you’re not seeing your weight drop, do not get discouraged. As long as you are eating plenty of whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds, your body is reaping the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Alternatives to the Vegetarian Plan for Weight Loss: Weight Loss Surgery

If you’ve tried many different diets, and you’ve lost 50 pounds or even more only to watch helplessly as the scale creeps back up, then please understand that this is not your fault.

If you suffer from obesity, then your body is hardwired to gain and maintain weight. Diets like the vegetarian diet, even a plant-based whole foods vegetarian diet for weight loss, can help if you want to lose 20 or 30 pounds. But if you need to lose more than that, then dieting alone is unlikely to give you the results that you’re looking for.

If this is you, then we strongly recommend that you consider bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgery, when combined with lifestyle modification, is a powerful tool to help you level the playing field in your battle with obesity. A surgery like the duodenal switch or gastric bypass, when paired with lifestyle modification, can help patients to lose 100-150 pounds or even more.

If you think bariatric surgery may be right for you, then go ahead and schedule an appointment with our friendly staff.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: January 6th, 2023

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