How to Maintain Weight with a Dairy-Free Diet

Jul 26, 2019

Guest post by Rick Scott (#veganhockeyplayer)

Making a major lifestyle change like ditching dairy and adopting a plant-based diet can seem like a challenging process. Last month, I wrote about two of my fellow hockey players who tried to make the switch, but were initially unsuccessful. The male athlete complained of hunger, while the female athlete claimed that she had gained weight while going dairy-free. I turned to Dr. Cyrus Khambatta to help my teammates overcome these hurdles, and in this article, we will specifically focus on the weight gain issue. 

As a type 1 diabetic who has a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from Cal Berkeley and adheres to a dairy-free, plant-based diet, Dr. Khambatta is a trusted resource and the ideal person to assist when people bump into barriers regarding diet change. When making the switch, Dr. Khambatta advocates for the “walk slowly” approach, which is the cornerstone of Mastering Diabetes—his program that teaches how to reverse insulin dependence through diet and exercise. It’s all about baby steps and easing into a new diet, meal by meal.

Let’s move onto the female athlete’s weight gain after she attempted to eat plant-based. She is a lean and leggy model-type raising a daughter on her own in addition to running a nonprofit organization. Admittedly, she doesn’t prepare meals at home often and subscribed to one of the popular plant-based meal delivery services during her trial. She subscribed to the Purple Carrot TB12 plan, which was developed in partnership with the legendary Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Tom Brady. The meals are described as being higher in protein and calories since the recipes are designed specifically for athletes. Dr. Khambatta weighed in on her weight gain. 

“It could be as simple as eating too many calories. The number of calories that your body burns each day is called your total energy expenditure (TEE), which includes your basic metabolic rate (BMR) – the total amount of energy required to operate your body at rest. It also includes the amount of energy that you expend in exercise. And it includes your TEF, the thermic effect of food, which is the total amount of energy required to digest the food you eat. If you add your BMR plus your activity plus your TEF together, you get your total energy expenditure. Let’s say that your total energy expenditure is 2,400 calories. If you consume a diet, any kind of diet, that equates to 3,000 calories per day, you’re taking on an extra 600 calories per day. If you do that over the course of time, the calories will get stored inside of you and that will translate into a greater body weight. So, if someone says they’re gaining weight on a plant-based diet, one thing that it could be is too many calories. 99 percent of the time, that’s the cause,” he explained. 

Through my own experience as a vegan athlete, I’ve learned that adherence to a whole-foods, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to ensure one doesn’t consume excess calories, because this way of eating eliminates (or significantly limits) processed foods. 

“A simple way to eat too many calories on a plant-based diet is [by eating] packaged and processed food. If you go to the grocery store, you see the word ‘vegan’ on the packaging, because they know it’s a hot thing right now. But just because something is vegan does not make it healthy. Oftentimes, [these products] have hidden sweeteners or a bunch of additives that are technically plant-based, but in the process of adding sweeteners and texturizers and a whole slew of ingredients that you and I might not recognize, the calorie count can go up. When [people] start substituting packaged foods for real foods like potatoes or beans or lentils or bananas, that right there makes a huge difference,” said Dr. Khambatta.  

He went on to explain the importance of getting enough fiber in your diet and the role it plays in maintaining bodyweight. Eating whole grains and a variety of fruits and veggies is the best way to make sure that you get plenty of fiber which aides in the process of digestion, along with other health benefits.   

Dr. Khambatta advised, “The presence of fiber in your food is absolutely paramount. Eat as much fiber-rich food as possible and by doing so, it limits the total number of calories going in your mouth and it keeps you full at the same time. It is a simple way to maintain your bodyweight or to lose [weight], which gets you out of the ‘gaining weight unnecessarily’ problem that tends to plague people who eat too much processed food.”                   

So, in answer to my fellow teammate, and anyone else who may have experienced weight gain by going dairy-free or plant-based, the expert advice is to really look at what you’re eating. Are you snacking more, or eating more convenience foods? You won’t have to pay this close attention to your diet forever, but when you’re starting out it’s beneficial to find that sweet spot and get into a rhythm. Don’t deprive yourself of the incredible selection of dairy-free ice cream out there, but perhaps limit yourself to a pint a week instead of every two days. It seems like common knowledge, but with work and kids and everything else life throws at us, sometimes we lose track of what we put into our bodies. No one needs cows’ milk or yogurt to stay trim. As with any diet, it’s about what you put into your body, not just what is left out. 

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