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Vegetarians and Weight Gain?

I am not a vegetarian myself but I am curious; is there anyone on CH who found that when they switched to a vegetarian diet that they gained weight? I'm asking this because I have a friend who turned vegetarian (not vegan) about a year ago and has gained some considerable poundage. While he does love french fries and pizza I know that is not what he eats on a daily basis. I've seen him eat a variety of food; leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, tofu, nuts, etc. My guess is that he's simply eating too much calorie dense food. I can tell he's frustrated because he wants to stick to it but he needs to lose weight... and by being on a vegetarian diet he's already limited in what he can eat.

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  1. I also know someone who went vegetarian & gained a large amount of weight. In his case, it seemed to be due to a lot of pasta and cheese. Eliminating meat doesn't necessarily mean the person is eating lighter, or healthier. He has lost some of the weight, with a commitment to exercise. Becoming a healthy vegetarian takes some research and planning to meet all your nutritional needs, as well as to feel satisfied and not constantly hungry.

    1. I have a friend who always considered himself vegetarian, but from the kind folk here on CH, I was corrected and told he was actually a Pescatarian......whatever he is, he was always the fattest one of either I knew, even while working out a couple of hours each morning in the gym and playing golf 5 times a week.... I know he always had cheese and yogurt as part of his regular diet.....and eats canned tuna and fresh salmon .......I suspect his weight issues stemmed from his love of cookies, cake and ice cream.

      1. It's those hidden calories in spinach.

        2 Replies
        1. re: beevod

          Nothing grosser than a person with a spinach gut.

          1. re: beevod

            I knew it! :} That explains Popeye's arms:}

          2. Yes! This happened to me in January. I tried to switch to 100% vegetarian cooking for the entire month, and I started to, slowly but surely, gain weight (only about 1-2 lbs, but before switching I had actively been losing weight). I like to think I was also very conscientious about eating very healthy- lots of non-starchy fresh vegetables, legumes and beans for protein. I didn't suddenly start eating french fries, or a ton of bread and pasta, and I made a concerted effort to keep my protein intake up (LOTs of eggwhites and non fat cottage cheese). It just didn't work for me, within two weeks I realized it just wasn't a good fit and went back to my normal style of eating (relatively high protein/low carb).

            Objectively, it was probably pretty healthy, I just didn't feel good eating that way. I found myself getting very full, very fast while eating a vegetarian meal, so invariably I would stop eating. Then about 2 hours later, I would be FAMISHED! The worst part was the sugar cravings- I've found that eating more protein help keeps my sweet tooth in check, but with the vegetarian diet it came raging back. I did try out a lot of new dishes that are still in my cooking repetoire, but I find adding about 2 oz of lean meat to a meal just works better for me.

            Interesting question- thanks for posting, I thought I was the only one! But my rec for your friend would be to try a different type of diet if his only concern is with losing weight. If someone responds well to a high protein diet, then it will be very hard for them to have weightloss success on a vegetarian diet, at least that was my experience.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mjhals

              Your experience mirrors my friend. Before he switched, he was eating a high protein diet. I'm trying not to judge him or his reasons although it is leaving me a bit perplexed. (He says its for ethical reasons but he wears leather all the time. ??)
              Not that I've tried going veggie, but whenever I eat a high carb meal (i.e. pasta) I seem to crave dessert much more than if I eat a more well rounded meal with protein... which is similar to what you experienced. A co-worker of mine who used to be a veggie kept telling me the protein in pasta is enough. Somehow I'm doubting that.

              1. re: NicoleFriedman

                This is very interesting, as I have 3 vegetarians that I work with and they all profess a completely incontrollable sweet tooth.

                1. re: rockandroller1

                  I'm the opposite. I'm a lifelong veggie with almost zero sweet tooth (well, besides recently, but I'm pregnant).

                2. re: NicoleFriedman

                  I have higher sugar cravings lately, but my mother also tells me she got this way around my age too, so what do I know (I've also craved sugars alot during chemo).

                  Pasta wouldn't have anywhere near enough protein on its own imho. It's fine as long as you've incorporated proteins into other parts of the day, which you pretty much have to do if you're veg.

                  mjhals experience with lack of fullness does not mirror mine at all. If I eat beans or some whole grains and protein in some form, I stay full throughout the day, and don't even have an energy drop. But, it's whatever works for an individual, right.

                  As for the leather .... don't judge. Your friend is attempting to make a difference in perhaps baby steps at this point, and may only be comfortable getting to a "harm reduction" lifestyle instead of an all-out. I avoid leather products, but I still own a couple of pairs of shoes that are, I didn't toss everything out. And I still have a couple times a year "treat" of a seafood dinner (usually when I visit home), but am completely veg at home and such. I still feel I'm making a difference, and I'm ok with that.

              2. Yep, my wife did the veg thing for awhile and was surprised to find that she gained weight. Not that she expected pounds to just melt away (nor did she make the switch with the intention of losing weight) but she was surprised to see her weight creep up over time.

                I think there's a couple factors - heavy protein foods (read: meat) tend to make you feel full, so you compensate by eating more of everything else. "Everything else" happens to include a lot of high calorie stuff. Plus you sort of think in the back of your mind that "It's vegetarian. It's healthy! I don't have to focus so much on portion control!"

                But you do. In a sense the false sense of security makes paying careful attention to calories in vs. calories out and balance of vegetable/starch/protein even more important.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jzerocsk

                  You may have hit the nail on the head. It reminds me of when I was a teenager and ate as much "fat free" frozen yogurt and muffins as I wanted... and couldn't figure out why I was chubby.