Why So Many Vegetarians Are Obese
In my practice serving seriously overweight people seeking medically based solutions, I see a very high number of obese patients who described themselves as vegetarians. Many of these individuals chose vegetarianism out of a belief that doing so would help them lose weight or maintain a lower weight. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.
While there are many reasons a person chooses vegetarianism, selecting this diet to lose weight will be unsuccessful as a strategy in and of itself. At the end of the day, or at the end of the year, one’s weight is determined by the balance of net calories in, against the net calories the body has burned. A great many vegetarians are consuming far more calories than their bodies’ burn through the course of the year and are thus gaining weight. The successful strategies for losing weight or maintaining a healthier weight involve a conscious, mindfulness of overall calorie intake and a reduction in the net calorie intake to levels below that which the body is burning through resting activity and exercise. One can dramatically improve that equation by increasing exercise, using muscles and cutting down on the types of foods that tend to stimulate appetite and stimulate fat storage, namely simple carbohydrates.
Evidence has mounted over many years that simple carbohydrates serve to provide rapid, transient satisfaction when we consume them, but this is followed by increases in our appetite and even cravings for those nutrients, in addition to the hormonal cascades stimulated so potently by the simple carbohydrates leads, in fact, to storage of fat and stimulus of more appetite. Epidemiologic data reinforces the understanding of simple carbohydrates as being the most closely linked nutrient group to the obesity epidemic. There is a virtual parallel increase in the prevalence of obesity in the last thirty years and the per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners over the same time period (something that is not the case for consumption of fats and proteins).
If a person wishes to change his/her diet to lose weight, the most compelling strategy would appear to lie with a shift away from the consumption of simple carbohydrates to other nutrient classes. Certainly, this strategy is further born out in our clinical practice where we have success employing such a strategy in the real world of medically based weight loss programs. There is little data to support a shift away from animal nutrients toward vegetable nutrients as a successful weight loss strategy.
This is not to say that a vegetarian philosophy cannot be a successful weight loss strategy if one works not only on the vegetarian aspect, but also on the weight loss aspects, which should be viewed as independent objectives.