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How To Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind

Getting enough calories in a plant-based diet.

The hardest part of a new diet is getting the right amount of calories to reach your goals. This is especially true when the diet switch is bigger, like moving to a vegan diet or even a more strict vegetarian one.

While yes, one of the major reasons for moving to a diet can be to lose weight, we still have to pay attention to how many calories we’re taking in, how many are being burned, where they’re coming from, and what nutrients we might be missing as we move towards our goal.

Based on my training and experience, there are a couple of issues with a major calorie deficit. Some manageable, some downright dangerous.

So I wanted to take some time this week to share what I know and what I have experienced myself after several weeks on a plant-based diet. Hence the catchy title!

What Happens When My Calorie Intake Is Too Low?

There are a number of reasons people tend to fall off the plant-based wagon and not get back on, but one of the most common might feel a little counter-intuitive.

They aren’t eating enough.

Hold up, Dave. What? Yeah. Fewer calories is great, but too few calories is a surefire way to abandon the idea of weight loss altogether.

I am not in the business of giving up, and if you’re reading this, my guess is you aren’t either. So let’s dig into some things that can happen when our “caloric deficit” is too great.

You Lose Out On Essential Nutrients And Amino Acids

Remember my previous post about getting enough protein? That can get pretty hard when you’re limiting total calories to an extreme.

Amino acids are—literally—one of the critical building blocks of a human body. They are the bricks we use to build hormones, neurons, neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and a lot more.

It is an indirect and subtle effect of too few calories, but the issue compounds over time.

Your Craving For Sugar Goes Up

Satiety! The silver bullet. A lower caloric intake means an increased likelihood of wanting more to eat, particularly fast-acting or “empty” calories (e.g. sugar).

I am sure you’re thinking, “Well, DUH,” but you would be surprised at how many clients have been caught off guard by this. For whatever reason, this fact gets lost in the shuffle.

You Increase The Risk Of “Yo-Yo” Dieting

I probably don’t have to tell you this is not the most healthy option. Unfortunately, the standard American diet is largely built on filling you to the brim with highly processed food and a lot of sugar.

This causes your insulin levels to spike like an Olympic-level volleyball player.  Hence the “sugar crash” that tricks your body into thinking it is hungrier than it actually is.

You can guess what happens next.

We are taught—day in, day out—that more of something is always better. So if we want to lose more weight, we should be eating as few calories as possible.

Categorically untrue, at least in my experience.

How To Tell You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

You body’s got your back. Seriously. If it is not getting what it needs, it will tell you. When it comes to calories, there are a number of telltale signs.

In my experience, a lack of calories leads to headaches, mild confusion, even light-headedness. This is my body telling me to find more calories in my nutrition program. Let’s look a little deeper.

You’re Getting Hangry More Often

Turns out those Snickers commercials were right on the money.

See, your body is constantly working through its energy supply. The brain alone burns off about 20% of any available glucose-based energy!

So if you’re too short on calories, you can be sure your brain is going to find a way to “tell you”, and it often does that by being irritable.

All you need to remember is to follow this cue in a healthy way, and while that is easier in plant-based diets, you do still need to be mindful (vegetarian and vegan junk foods are definitely a thing).

You’ve Got Food On The Brain

I feel this one! If my overall level of calories is consistently too low, I will eventually find myself daydreaming about future meals more and more until it is all I can think about!

Your Energy Levels Have Plummeted

Losing weight is not something our body “prefers” to do. It’s engineered to adapt and survive, and that means there are tons of mechanisms hard-coded to help with that.

So if your calories have dropped too far, your body says, “Oh ok, there is not enough food around here. I’ll burn a little body fat and slow things down just in case.”

You’ll feel sluggish (often alongside being hangry). If your blood sugar is too low, you may also feel confused or light-headed.

Again, the solution is to replenish with calorie-dense foods that also prevent your insulin from spiking—because the spikes will ultimately make the feeling worse.

Plant Foods Need To Be Planned Foods

It is a pretty straightforward idea, right? Whatever you eat, you will benefit from having a meal plan. Plant-based eating is no exception, and in fact, benefits from a good plan even more.

Here are a couple things I have learned when it comes to planning (and optimizing) a plant-based diet.


One of the most well-rounded solutions to low calories in a plant-based diet is snacks. But in the pursuit of healthy eating, a lot of people will go for foods that are marketed as healthy, but are also lacking in certain essential nutrients.

For example, there are quite a few vegan desserts out there that have replaced healthy fats with starches, pectins, and other ingredients for texture. Several frozen fake meats also are pretty lacking in things like vitamin B12 and iron.

Your best bet is nuts, seeds, and (if necessary) keto-based snacks. These are good options to have on hand because they’ll give you the calories you need, keep you satisfied, and all without heavily affecting insulin levels.

Another helpful method of keeping calories up is to switch out a snack with a protein shake or smoothie. The protein will keep you satisfied even longer, and if you add fruit, bonus calories and vitamins!

Carbs Are Not Your Enemy

I like to think of carbohydrates as kind of exercise equipment. You can use them properly and benefit…

Or not.

Carbs are a fast resource for the body. They are absorbed quickly, and they are necessary for overall health, so I am not as “against” them as the mainstream trends are.

Plus, in most plant-based diets, carbs are going to be pretty common. So you might as well plan around the healthiest carbs you can—while of course leaving room for the occasional batch of french fries!

For example, eat whole grains instead of refined grains. Brown rice is also a great option. Legumes will amp up your protein intake, which is obviously great for fueling your exercise routines.

The challenge is when eating nutrient-dense foods, we feel fuller faster (meaning the body signals time to cut off eating while not getting enough calories), carbs are a substrate that is a  fast resource for the body, via absorption and availability.

Calories Versus Calories Versus Calories

You have probably heard the old adage “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie”. This is a topic that still surprises me how controversial it is, so I wanted to mention it.

It is true that a calorie is the same wherever it comes from. But that is not because all foods are the same, it is because a calorie is a measurement.

Depending on where the calories are coming from, our body will use a percentage of those calories to metabolize or store what we eat. This has a few different names, but it is mostly known as the Thermic Effect of Food.

Protein typically has the highest thermic effect. It is about 4 calories per gram, but 20-30% of that is burned off as the body breaks it down into amino acids and stores it to use later. Only 5-10% of the same amount of carbohydrate is burned off.

All this being said, the Thermic Effect of Food does not have a huge impact on things; maybe 10% of a healthy diet’s calories are burned off this way. Still, it is a good thing to consider.

Final Thoughts

I started this plant-based journey to see how it would affect my energy levels, especially after intense exercise.

The nutrition program I’ve mapped out for myself has been working wonderfully so far, but it is just as important on a plant-based diet to make sure my calorie intake is high enough. Otherwise, I become one hangry Dave.

So take inventory this week. How many calories are you taking in, and where are they coming from? Because while counting calories is useful, it is not the whole story.

And as always, I am more than happy to answer any questions or set you up with a plan that will work for you!

Two Awesome Plant-Powered Meals

Did you think I was going to finish this post without leaving you a couple of fantastic meals to try?

These two recipes are heavy on the vegetables, calorie dense, and pack a powerful flavor punch.

First, lentil soup with butternut squash and kale. Whole plant foods, check. Loads of nutrients, check. 8 different vegetables, check. Plant-based protein, check. This was awesome.

Second, a roasted vegetable salad with curry. This is so easy to make, and you only need a single pan. The salad dressing has a great balance of brightness from the apple cider vinegar and sweetness from the honey. Be careful not to eat the whole thing at once!

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Sticking To A Plant-Based Diet: Is It Sustainable?

Well, it’s been a whole month since my partner and I began our little plant-based journey. It’s given my energy levels a big boost, I have new meals to cook, and tons of new knowledge to chew on alongside the whole foods.

But…A couple weeks in, I was reminded of just how tough old habits are.

You know, I was wondering if I would be able to keep up with my plant-based nutrition plan, and when my more “traditional” eating habits would kick in! Here’s the story.

While attending a men’s group meeting, where we have each brought an item for the past two years, I instinctively made myself a plate of the entree without really considering what was prepared for me.  It was a pulled pork sandwich, and the fact that pork is a meat didn’t even register for me until I was finished! Whoops.

And like a lot of folks, my mind filled up with questions and doubts. Things like “Is eating plant-based really sustainable for you? Should you be stricter and start a vegan diet? Will you run out of new foods and get bored?”

I’m sure your mind has said similar things.

But! Instead of continuing down that road and kicking or shaming myself for falling off my plant-based wagon, I chose to see this as an opportunity. Slipping up gives me a chance to…

  • Forgive myself
  • Reaffirm my intentions behind switching to plant-based foods
  • Reboot my mindful eating practice
  • Re-evaluate what parts of plant-based eating were working for me
  • Dig into why we slip up diet-wise in the first place

Do I think a plant-based diet is sustainable long term? Yes. Do the results speak for themselves? So far, yes!

But we need to give ourselves a solid platform for success. So I have made this post into a deep dive on how to make plant-based eating something you can stick to more easily.

In case you too find yourself downing a pulled pork sandwich all of the sudden!

8 Reasons We Slip Up, And How to Work With Them

In order to make a diet stick, it is best to start looking at some of the reasons it doesn’t. These come from all over. Perfectionism, cultural expectations, lack of planning, and more can impact your eating in ways that snowball over time.

Below I have listed 8 major things to understand about making a plant-based diet sustainable in the long term. You will also find some helpful tips and tricks to help!

#1: Habits take time

It has been shown by numerous studies that a new habit needs at least 3 weeks to become “sticky”. It takes a bit longer for that habit to become a fundamental part of your day.

There’s a trick known as the 21/90 rule: take 21 days to make something a habit, and then take another 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change.

Breaking habits can unsurprisingly take a longer time, particularly if it is a habit connected to your identity. Some studies show it can take up to 254 days to fully break a habit. Nearly an entire year!

So if you are early in the plant-based diet adventure and feel like it is impossible to keep up, make sure you are giving yourself the time you need to really develop that “stickiness”.

Good thing there are so many amazing plant-based recipes out there!

#2: The perfect is the enemy of the good

It’s an age-old proverb, but it is true. Being one thousand percent strict with a plant-based diet (or any new diet for that matter) will increase your likelihood of quitting before the diet becomes part of your lifestyle.

That might sound harsh, but based on the work I have done with clients, your chances of sticking to it go way up if you A) start slow, B) be a little flexible with your diet every now and again.

Every nutrition program will be hard to adhere to 100% of the time, so planning out breaks that are mindful and healthy for you to indulge once in a while is part of the process. 

For example, a couple weeks after my pulled pork sandwich incident, I was at a restaurant to watch an Avalanche playoff game. I found myself blindly ordering an appetizer without going through every ingredient. 

Fast forward a few minutes, and I was presented with Buffalo Chicken French Fry Nachos when I believed I was ordering solely french fries dressed up with buffalo sauce, blue cheese, and sinful goodness.

Nope, definitely chicken on there. Yes, fries technically are plants, but it was definitely not a plant-based meal! But, I had chosen that evening as a break from the healthy focus of my plan.

I ate what I wanted while putting the fried chicken off to the side, eating the fries, wing sauce, blue cheese, and enjoying every bite dipped in ranch dressing.

Which brings me to #3…

#3: Deliberately “Cheat”

If nothing seems to stick, and you find yourself daily wanting to give up, try this.

Take a single meal (or even a full day) to not just relax those diet restrictions, but eliminate them. Meat, dairy, whatever. Cook, eat, and enjoy!

For a plant-based diet this can vary widely. You could have one day a week or month for animal products, or simply indulge the way I did.

Because here’s the deal: a plant-based diet (or anything-based diet!) should not feel like punishment. What you to feel better should not make you feel worse.

So if you need to take a break, do it. 100% plant food 80% of the time can be a lot easier to adhere to! Just remember to do it mindfully and deliberately.

#5: Plan ahead

Planned food is fast food. Take some time in the week to research new recipes, and/or draw up meal plans. For times when you know are going to be extra busy in some way, substitute some of your favorite meals or eat simple recipes instead (stir fry is a great example).

This will help make a plant-based diet more sustainable by lowering the number of decisions your brain has to make. Decision fatigue is a real thing; our brains go for the simplest option possible when they’re exhausted.

Another way is to make plant-based snacks easily accessible for when hunger hits, like in your bag or car. Nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, fresh produce, for example. Think of these like your hidden “arsenal” of delicious plant-based alternatives to animal products or processed foods.

Keep in mind though, nuts and seeds tend to have lot of fat in them. Don’t go overboard!

(Pro tip: don’t just leave the fresh fruit in your car. Trust me on that one!)

#6: It’s in the culture

Many of our eating habits actually have a base in social convention, and that is perfectly normal. We grow up with our parents saying things like “eat what’s in front of you” or “clear your plate” or “it’s impolite to not finish your meal”. I am sure you have some pretty distinct stories to tell regarding your “eating history”.

This is 100% me. When it came to the pulled pork, the old habit of eating what was prepared for me out of politeness and social acceptance overcame my mindfulness of my new nutrition goals. 

Being mindful of the food you eat is important, but being mindful of your ultimate goal is critical. For me, plant-based eating is about feeling better and boosting energy levels.

The more clarity around that goal that I have, the easier it is for me stay aware. The easier it is to stay aware, the less likely I will eat something I’d prefer not to!

#7: Check your macros

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. When starting a plant-based diet, it is common to run a little low on protein (unless you plan ahead).

Remember the essential amino acids from my last post? Our bodies know what they need, so we will start craving animal products more to get the amino acids we can’t make ourselves.

Protein cravings can also be mistaken for sugar cravings. This can also happen if we are not getting enough calories.

Often, we are also craving satiety, or to feel satisfied after a meal. Thankfully, there are solutions to satiety, like…

  • adding an extra scoop of protein powder to a smoothie
  • eating more high-protein vegetables (e.g. lentils, quinoa, chickpeas)
  • cooking meals focused on high-protein, plant-based foods like tempeh or tofu
  • eating whole plant foods (e.g. potatoes with the skin on)
  • adding more fat to recipes (e.g. a dash more olive or coconut oil)
  • having several meals throughout the day instead of the usual 3
  • introducing more slower-digesting veggies, like beans
  • switching out “white carbs” like rice or flour for whole grains
2 great recipes for satiety (vegan diet fans, take note!)

This week, I found a couple great, 100% plant-based meals to hit that satiety button. One is high in protein, both are delicious.

They are also some of the tastiest vegan options I have found so far! Plus: very simple, more so if you have an air fryer.

This crispy tofu recipe is a game-changer. Easy prep, 30 minutes from start to finish. Plant-based eating at its finest.

My partner and I also tried a potato wedges recipe from the same website. The parmesan and garlic powder combo was so satisfying, I might have to make some more after finishing this blog!

#8: It is ok. Really!

When I reframed my diet slip-up, the feelings of shame and guilt passed quickly. I still felt them of course, but I reminded myself that this is a journey.

I gave myself an opportunity to practice forgiveness and reset my intentions around being mindful of my choices.  I was able to reconnect with my purpose for starting to eat plant-based originally; to feel better and boost energy!

Health is obviously important, and self-forgiveness when you make mistakes is a big part of that, even just from a scientific percentage!

Final Thoughts

I let the cat out of the bag near the beginning. I still believe that a plant-based diet is sustainable. But I hope you enjoyed reading and learning more about plant-based eating. Trust me, there is more to come!

Honestly, the final word of the day is self-forgiveness. Like any habit we want to train ourselves into, a plant-based diet is only doing to be sustainable if we acknowledge the fact that mistakes happen, it’s ok, and we have all kinds of ways to move forward.

Healthy food is healthy food, right? You don’t have to let one slip-up cancel out weeks of effort. So stay mindful, take care of yourself, fry up some sweet potatoes, and keep moving forward!

And as always, I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Comment below with your questions and I’ll be sure to answer them quickly!