How to Go Plant Based and Not Go Hungry

A very sad salad, circa 2015

A very sad salad, circa 2015

No one wants to be out and about and and suddenly be slammed by a lack of energy caused by under eating, but we've all been there. 

Often we hear people say that they tried a vegan diet and gave up because they just never felt satiated, and this something I dealt with at first too. When you give up meat, dairy, and processed foods, which are very dense in calories, and try to replace those calories with plants, you're going to inevitably run into trouble if the plant foods you are choosing are calorically dilute. For example, when replacing your beef burger with a portobello mushroom, that's about a 500 calorie loss. Of course you're going to be hungry! Or another food trend: replacing whole wheat pasta with zuchini noodles, which are also much lower in calories. 

Mushrooms and zucchini are great whole foods, but they hardly contain any calories. This might seem like a good thing at first, especially if you're trying to lose weight, but restricting calories in this way might actually do more harm in the long term as it's not sustainable. Say you have a bowl of zucchini noodles for lunch- an hour later you are going to be starving. When you become that hungry due to caloric depletion, it's going to be incredibly difficult to say no to the cravings you'll inevitably have for super calorie dense processed foods. In a world where hyperpalatable factory made foods are everywhere, those unhealthy foods will somehow find their way into your shopping cart, and at that point after your bowl of watery zucchini noodles, when your willpower is at it's weakest, your biological adaptation to seek out the most calories possible will set in. Once you become that hungry, having a couple potato chips will turn into eating a whole family sized bag (been there too many times to count). 

Instead, we must base our meals around the whole plant foods which are more calorie dense. These are typically starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain breads and pastas, beans, lentils, winter squash, etc.

Instead of that portobello mushroom burger, put a mushroom on top of your black bean burger. Now you've got a healthy meal that will also keep you feeling full. Instead of zucchini noodles, eat a bowl of whole wheat spaghetti and add some chopped zucchini into your sauce. It's not that these low calorie veggies shouldn't be in our meals, it's just that they need to not be the base or focus of the meal.  

I know it can be tempting to choose lower calorie options, as the current paradigm around weight loss in our culture is all about losing weight as fast as possible, but when you lose weight that quickly by restricting calories, it will cause initial rapid weight loss but it will not be sustainable long term because you will eventually give in to your body's cravings and overeat at some point down the road to make up for the deficit. 

On a whole foods diet based around hearty plant foods like whole grains, starchy root vegetables, and legumes, you will be fueling your body so that you will have actually have energy. While the weight loss will happen more slowly, (about a pound or two per month is healthy and typical), the changes that come will be long lasting and you don't have to sacrifice your quality of life by restricting food and running on empty all the time. 

In a randomized control trial called the BROAD Study, a whole foods plant based diet was shown to be the most effective all you can eat, no added exercise diet, for weight loss. So you can reach your ideal weight, without having to starve or even exercise! Though you should exercise lightly anyway, probably not for weight loss, but for plenty of other benefits. 

I can't finish this post without talking about salad, specifically the very sad raw kale salads my partner and I used to make in the first few months we were vegan. I'm so ashamed of how much time was wasted, hours of chopping low calorie veggies: kale, onions, cucumber, and tomatoes with some oily dressing... all for a meal that took so long to chew that you'd probably burn most of the calories off just using your jaw muscles. As soon as I was done eating I'd be already hungry, so it was back to the kitchen for me, and after all that preparation you'd better bet my next meal was a damn frozen veggie burger or otherwise processed microwave entree.

These days, I like my kale cooked, usually mixed into bean soups or pasta sauces. Or if I choose to eat it raw, I have it over a bed of filling whole plant foods, like quinoa and beans, and never add any oily dressings. 

Hopefully, now you've learned from my mistakes and won't ever have to suffer through unreasonably complicated meal prep for a measly low calorie meal that will leave you with no energy. Stay away from recipes that focus on watery vegetables, base your meals around starchy carbohydrate rich foods, add in some healthy whole plant fats, and enjoy the boundless energy that comes with meeting your caloric needs. 

Try out these satisfying, filling, whole plant recipes: