COMMON MISTAKES WHEN FOLLOWING A PLANT-BASED DIET
Throughout this article, I’ve been using the terms “vegan diet” or “veggie diet” and “Plant-Based Diet” interchangeably.
At this point though, we need to differentiate.
Pizza, fettuccine alfredo, bowls of sugary cereal, grilled cheese sandwiches, and calorie-bomb burritos can be vegetarian.
Donuts, pasta, and bread can be vegan.
Plant-based? Technically, sure.
If your goal is weight loss and a healthy check-up at the doctor, eat plants. Full stop.
You know the drill: vegetables, fruits, tubers, etc.
Things that you can pluck from a tree or pull from the ground, clean, and then eat. Those are whole foods that will have a lot of the fiber and nutrients intact.
Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, sums it up well: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
Now, I’m personally not saying to never eat pizza or donuts. Pizza and donuts are amazing. Just know that these processed, calorie-heavy foods are easy to overeat and are part of the reason for expanded waistlines.
In other words, if you treat them as a treat, and know your calorie goals, you can make it work.
I’ll say it again: if you’re gonna be a vegetarian, please eat vegetables. Some of the unhealthiest people I know are vegetarian, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them eat a veggie.
This highlights one of the greatest mistakes people make when going vegetarian or vegan. They only think about what they are cutting out (meat), without actively considering what they are replacing those foods with.
Remember our example of protein in plants vs. animal products:
- If you’re gonna cut out chicken, make sure you start eating black beans as a replacement.
- Also, remember that your plant-based replacement will likely have less protein and more calories than meat.
If you are going to follow a Plant-Based Diet, you won’t have as much leeway as your omnivore friends. They can gobble down a serving of steak and receive 62 grams of protein from that piece of meat alone.
62 grams of protein is almost half of the requirements of our imaginary friend from earlier.
We had to figure out breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks to get us to 150 grams of plant-based protein. Compare this to an omnivore who could eat some eggs, steak, and a chicken salad and be pretty much at 150 grams of protein (and a lower calorie count too).
That’s why the American Dietetic Association’s states “vegetarian or vegan diets” need to be “well planned.”
- In our sample day above, we ate 2,024 calories of plant-based food to get to our goal of 150 grams.
- We calculated that our imaginary friend needed 2,522 calories per day to maintain his current weight. If he wanted to gain muscle and lose some body fat at the same time, he’d need to be in a caloric deficit to do so. Meaning less than 2,522 calories per day.
When you do the math, because a pound of body fat equals around 3,500 calories, a 500-calorie per day deficit would result in 1 pound of weight loss per week for this person.
Unless of course, he overeats on donuts and Oreos and vegan burgers and pizza.
So, minimize the vegan junk food and prioritize foods that will help you meet your goals.
Another mistake I see vegetarians specifically make is simply replacing meat with buckets of cheese.
Let’s go with another comparison:
- 100 grams of cheddar cheese: 25 grams of protein and 416 calories.
- 100 grams of chicken breast: 30 grams of protein and 165 calories.
So be careful of just swapping out meat for cheese, because you’ll end up with less protein intake and more calories overall.
Another common mistake we see over and over again is people just switching to “fake meat” when they start a Plant-Based Diet.
Let’s dive into this with its own section.