Comfort Eating without Weight Gain

October 13th, 2020 | Posted in Info

The colder weather and longer nights of autumn and winter often lead to increased comfort eating and weight gain. But what if you could eat heartily without gaining weight? This month’s blogs will look at sneaky ways of reducing weight gain and improving health without going hungry.

Think Plants

Numerous studies show the benefits of a plant based or vegan diet on weight and health.

For example, one study compared the amount of weight lost by those on vegan diets to those on a mostly plant-based diet, and those eating an omnivorous diet with a mix of animal products and plant based foods. At the end of six months, individuals on the vegan diet lost more weight than the other groups by an average of 4.3%, or 16.5 pounds or 7.5kg.

Interestingly, given the fashion for low carb diets, the vegan diets were relatively high in carbohydrates but, crucially, they were carbs with a low Glycaemic Index (1).

Why Plant Foods Don’t Pile on the Pounds

We know that calorie density, water content, protein source, glycaemic index, prebiotics and other factors significantly influence the effectiveness of different dietary regimes on weight loss.

One of the reasons why plant based diets aid weight loss is that when unprocessed plant foods are eaten some of the calories remain trapped within the indigestible cell walls which blunts the glycaemic impact, activates the ileal brake, and delivers prebiotics to the gut microbiome. This may help explain why there is so much evidence to suggest that a whole food, plant-based diet achieves greater weight loss than other dietary interventions that do not restrict calories or mandate exercise (2).

Further Benefits of Being Vegan

Two meta-analysis of over 100 studies found that vegans have a lower body mass index, a smaller waist and lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose and blood pressure than meat eaters (3).

Often low fat diets are used to treat heart disease but evidence shows that consuming a normal amount of fat on a vegan diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other data shows that atherosclerosis is decreased when nuts are added to a Mediterranean diet. These data imply that as long as most of your fats and oils come from plant foods, such as nuts, seeds and unrefined oils, you do not need to eat a low fat diet to protect your cardiovascular health. This is good news given that oils and fats enhance the flavour of food, increase the absorption of nutrients and antioxidants, and keep you feeling full for longer (4,5).

And if you exercise . . .

Based on the available literature it seems that plant-based diets are as good as omnivorous diets for strength, anaerobic, and aerobic exercise performance in athletes (6). As a bonus plant-based diets typically require fewer natural resources for production compared to meat-containing diets (7,8).

In short, a diet based on plant foods appears to be a safe, sustainable, environmentally friendly way to improve human health and that of the planet.

You might also like to read the blog posts on When to Eat and Meal Sequencing for more tips on how to eat for health without having to feel deprived or needing to follow complicated, restrictive regimes.

1. Gabrielle M. Turner-McGrievy, Charis R. Davidson, Ellen E. Wingard, Sara Wilcox, Edward A. Frongillo. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition, 2014;
2. Greger M. A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Is Effective for Weight Loss: The Evidence. Am, J Life Med. April 3, 2020
3. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3640-3649. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Dinu M et al.
4. Med Hypotheses. 2019 Jan;122:103-105. Diets with customary levels of fat from plant origin may reverse coronary artery disease. Sanchez A et al.
5. Orv Hetil. 2016 Nov;157(47):1859-1865. [Plant-based diets: a review]. Szabo Z et al.
6. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 22;11(1). pii: E29. Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores-Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2). Wirnitzer K. et al.
7. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 1;10(12). pii: E1841. Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance. Lynch H et al.
8. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018 Oct 2. Health and sustainability outcomes of vegetarian dietary patterns: a revisit of the EPIC-Oxford and the Adventist Health Study-2 cohorts. Segovia-Siapco G, Sabate J.