Don’t Expect to Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet

By Nicole German (RD, LD)

vegetables and scaleResearch has shown us repeatedly that eating vegetarian will result in more health benefits over the course of time.

Those who are vegetarian tend to have less heart disease, less incidence of diabetes, and generally, live longer lives. 

Unfortunately, Weight loss is not necessarily on the list of benefits.

So, what gives? Why are we not guaranteed to lose weight by eating vegetarian?

3 Vegetarian Weight Loss Downfalls


1. If You do not Eat Enough Protein

You may have difficulty staying full and satisfied. Proteins are large molecules made from complex amino acids. Our body has to work to break these proteins down resulting in slower absorption. Many report feeling fuller when eating the more complex animal proteins.

How to fix this: Make sure to get a source of protein at every meal and snack. This will ensure that you get complete proteins in your day. Include nuts, plenty of beans, and quinoa. If you eat eggs, make sure to include this high quality protein.

2. Beware of Vegetarian Health Halo

cheese-pizzaJust because you are eating vegetarian does not mean you can overeat that healthy granola or hummus you just bought. Every food and calorie counts!

Another example: pizza is often vegetarian, but not health food!

How to fix this: Make sure to fill-up on the fruits and vegetables first. Then, include the healthy fats and carbohydrates in the correct portions. Measure them out if you need to.

3. Too Many Carbohydrates!

pastaThe main problem I find with my vegetarian (or vegan) weight loss patients is that they are still not eating enough protein, and eating a few too many carbohydrates. It is common and acceptable to eat a few more carbohydrates when eating vegetarian and vegan, but keep track of what you consume.

How to fix this: Continue to enjoy oats, brown rice, beans, peas, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and whole grain breads. But, make sure to avoid white processed breads and snack products. When you do eat those healthy carbohydrates, make sure to dish yourself out the correct portion for you. Usually this is about a ½- 1 cup serving, but varies depending on the person.

What Else Can a Vegetarian Do to Lose Weight?

You could always meet with a Registered Dietitian to make sure you are eating the way you think you should be eating. Often, a Dietitian can help pin-point one or two key factors that may be stalling your weight loss.

Eat more leafy greens. A big green salad will fill you up for very few calories, just don’t drench it with a lot of high-calorie dressing.

Have you been successful losing weight on a vegetarian diet?


  1. Jane

    Michael Lewis, non-dairy drinks are not better for you…most have sugar, almond milk has a tiny amount of almond and a lot of filler, unless you make your own…read the label, it’s probably the sugar hitting the sweet spot that makes you think they are great!
    Michele, I eat peanut butter too, its an addiction actually, but its a legume, not a nut 🙂

  2. Michael Lewis

    I went vegan a couple of years back, from hardcore meat-eater! Loved meat, loved cheese, and all that other stuff. I have to say it’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s far easier these days to go vegan. Non-dairy milks are tastier and better for you anyway.

    For those of you who feel you absolutely need tonnes of protein (bodybuilders, people trying to lose weight etc) try something called ‘Seitan’.

    I’ve been making this stuff at home (method is pretty much adding water to ‘flour’) and Seitan (Vital Wheat Gluten) has an incredible nutritional makeup…. far higher than most other foods, take a look:

    75g protein per 100g

    2g Fat.


    Easy to cook and if you steam it, it gets the texture of pork. Obviously not for those with a (medically certified) gluten intolerance or celiac desease, but for the rest of us (The vast majority) this is the protein source you’ve all been waiting for. 75g protein and 2g of fat per 100g! Get in… 🙂

  3. brian

    Ive noticed if I eat ALOT of beans ( increasing to about three cups a day) I lose weight like crazy, then noticed a study out of purdue university showing this amount promotes weight loss, so far ive dropped ALOT of weight adding in beans in this amount in addition to my huge salads, and that’s amazing to me.

  4. Shellie

    The lack of protein assumption always makes me cringe. I easily get 20% of my calories from protein without any tofu or protein shakes or fake meat. I eat yogurt, lots of bean, eggs everyday, nuts (peanut butter!), seeds (love sunflower seeds), and some complex carbs like quinoa. All have protein. I’ve never met these protein-deprived-only-eats-carbs vegetarians, but somehow every person I know who doesn’t like vegetarians has a “friend” who “had to” eat meat or he/she would die LOL.

    • Alice

      I am one of those protein-deprived-only-eats-carbs vegetarians, but obviously its unintentional and due to lack of research on my behalf about things vegetarians should eat to sustain a healthy diet. So we do exist, but from what I’ve seen its generally only people who haven’t figured they’re diets out yet

  5. Dan

    I lost most of my weight before I went Vegetarian. Since going Vegetarian and almost Vegan, I haven’t gained any weight, but actually lost a little bit more. This may be because at times I increase how much I exercise. I control my calorie intake as well- I think it really is calories in by diet, and out by exercise that is the most crucial, rather than whether the diet is meat free or not. I do, however, think that the fiber in plants is more satiating that eating animal products which don’t have any fiber. I don’t terribly restrict calories, but I make sure I get enough without eating too many. However, I cannot in good conscience eat any meat, since I don’t want my diet to be a product of bloodshed and violence. I minimize, but don’t strictly avoid free range eggs and dairy in my diet. I eat a lot of nuts, beans, grains, and flaxseed for protein. I eat a turnip green salad mixed in with carrots and beets each day. On my off days, I eat soybeans and black beans and brown rice. I don’t eat faux meats at all- they are so expensive! Dried black beans and soybeans are very cheap. Beans are very delicious, when I add spices, such as garlic, cumin seed, chili powder and hot sauce to them. I also consume fortified products, such as Soymilk and Clif Bars for the B12. Since I exercise a lot, I can consume enough calories to get enough protein without gaining weight.

  6. Bethany

    I salute anyone who can go veg and do it in a nutritionally balanced way. It takes effort and creativity. That said, the few vegetarians I know are pretty healthy people. I guess it depends on why you are going veg. If it’s for health reasons, you might be more likely to pay attention to your diet. If it’s to avoid eating animals, maybe you don’t care about the nutritional aspect as much.

  7. Julianne

    I have been a vegetarian for almost 20 years. Yes my weight has fluctuated through the years but that is only due to figuring out the right foods to eat. It can be harder to deal with calories and carbs when I go out to a restaurant since there can be maybe two items I can eat. I now talk to the waitress and create something that is more suiting. I had a friend try to be a veg for a month and he ate more candy! Therefore when deciding on a vegetarian diet one must be mindful of not substituting bad/fattening food into your diet to compensate. I have never been happier with my body and recommend the vegetarian diet to everyone including those who want to lose weight! Even if you can’t go full veg at least increase your amount of fruits and vegetables into your diet – forgoing a “steak”. Meat takes forever for your body to breakdown and digest – where as vegetables and lots of leefy greens can help clear your system – making you feel 10x lighter!!!!! Give it a try you won’t reget it and your body will thank you!

  8. Sue K.

    You can successfully eat vegetarian and not gain, and even lose weight, if you’re careful to eat mostly vegetables and some fruits and small amounts of legumes for your carbohydrates, eat at least about 15-20 grams of a concentrated source of vegetarian protein with each meal (tofu, soy”meats” seitan, or egg whites if ovo-veg) and add monounsaturated fats l such as olive oil, avocado, or almonds. I do this sometimes; it’s actually the vegetarian version of the Zone diet. That said, most of the vegetarians I know are overweight . I notice they either eat little to no protein and an overload of grains and legumes, or they smother everything in cheese (usually some kind of bread or pasta is involved). Needless to say, they’re also overweight.

  9. Jim

    I’ve known of vegetarians whose diet consisted in lots of fries (potatoes). This doesn’t mean that all vegetarian choose poorer foods, I just think it takes a lot more planning and effort to eat well.

  10. O.

    I believe it. I am on Jenny Craig and when I go to their forum there are often clients asking for more vegetarian foods on the plan. That would be one indication that vegetarians can have weight problems too,

  11. Heather

    When I was a vegetarian I was fatter, felt worse, and my bloodwork was not as good. It’s much easier for me to be healthy eating meat… Less thought and bloodwork is pretty optimal. Improvement all around

  12. Spectra

    I tried going vegetarian for a while but since I hate tofu and fake soy “meat” products, I had a lot of problems eating enough protein. I most definitely didn’t lose much weight because I was eating too many carbs to make up for the protein I wasn’t eating. I do better when I eat a diet where it’s mostly plant-based, but I do add lean poultry and fish and eggs to get enough protein. I do remember that I had a vegetarian friend who was overweight–her favorite meals were french fries dipped in ranch dressing and mac and cheese…I wouldn’t consider those to be “healthy” vegetarian options, haha.

    • brian

      Exactly, I knew a vegetarian who ate oreos and chips.When people GAIN weight on a vegan diet, their ruining it by making shitty food choices.You eat greens and beans , not Nabisco and coca Cola and ben and Jerry’s.