Can You Lose Weight Being a Flexitarian?

Rachel Lark - May 3, 2024

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Can you lose weight being a flexitarian? Flexitarian diets are gaining popularity because they focus primarily on plant-based foods, offering health benefits and aligning with environmental and ethical concerns. The flexibility to include occasional meat appeals to those seeking a balanced approach.

What is a Flexitarian Diet?

Flexitarianism is a dietary approach centered on predominantly eating plant-based foods while occasionally including small amounts of meat or other animal products. The key idea is flexibility, allowing individuals to enjoy the health and environmental benefits of a plant-focused diet while still having the option to consume animal products in moderation. It provides a balanced and adaptable way of eating.

Benefits of Adopting a Flexitarian Diet

Adopting a flexitarian diet can offer several benefits, including:

  • Healthier lifestyle: Increased consumption of plant-based foods can lead to better overall health, as it is often associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. In a study with people having type 2 diabetes, within two weeks, their fasting blood glucose levels dropped by an average of 35% and five participants improved so much that they no longer needed medication to lower their blood sugar.
  • Weight management: A plant-centric diet tends to be lower in calories and saturated fats, contributing to weight control and a healthier body weight.
  • Environmental impact: Choosing plant-based options more frequently helps reduce the ecological footprint associated with meat production, including lower greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

The specific benefits may vary among individuals but these general advantages highlight why many people find the flexitarian approach appealing.

Weight Loss Benefits of a Flexitarian Diet

Over one billion people globally are dealing with obesity, including 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents and 30 million children, with this number on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2025, around 167 million individuals, both adults and children, will face health challenges due to being overweight or obese.

Weight loss depends on factors including overall calorie intake, physical activity and individual metabolism. Consulting with a health care professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance based on specific health goals and needs.

Calorie reduction plays a crucial role in weight loss by creating a calorie deficit, where the calories consumed are fewer than the calories expended. This deficit prompts the body to utilize stored energy, usually fat, to meet its energy needs. 

Flexitarian Diet and Calorie Reduction

A flexitarian diet supports calorie reduction in several ways:

  • High-fiber content: Plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are often rich in dietary fiber. Fiber adds bulk to meals, promoting a feeling of fullness and satisfaction without adding excess calories. This can naturally lead to reduced overall calorie intake.
  • Low-calorie density: Many plant foods have low-calorie density, meaning they provide fewer calories per unit of weight. This allows individuals to consume large portions of these foods while managing their overall calorie intake. For example, a plate of vegetables or a fruit salad can be more filling and lower in calories compared to smaller servings of high-calorie, processed foods,
  • Nutrient-dense choices: Plant-based foods are often nutrient-dense, meaning they contain a high concentration of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients relative to their calorie content. Choosing nutrient-dense options helps ensure the body receives nutrients while reducing overall calorie consumption.
  • Balanced macronutrients: A well-balanced flexitarian diet includes a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, supporting overall nutritional needs while focusing on calorie control. This balanced approach helps prevent nutrient deficiencies and promotes sustainable weight loss.

By emphasizing high-fiber, low-calorie plant foods, a flexitarian diet provides a strategy for weight loss that is not solely reliant on restricting food intake but instead focuses on making nutritious and satisfying choices. Additionally, the flexibility of the diet allows individuals to adopt a sustainable and enjoyable approach to weight management.

Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Diets for Weight Loss

Can you lose weight being a flexitarian? Vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets can work for weight loss when balanced, nutrient-rich and suited to individual preferences. Prioritizing overall calorie balance, nutrient quality and sustainable habits is key. 

When comparing diets for weight loss, vegetarians can eat more while consuming fewer calories due to plant-based foods’ lower calorie density. Their high fiber content helps control appetite and nutrient-packed choices support overall health.

Non-vegetarians benefit from high-quality protein in lean meats, aiding muscle maintenance and reducing calorie intake. Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner suggests including meat up to five days a week, equivalent to around 26 ounces. Some find including animal proteins makes them feel satisfied, supporting weight loss. 

Balancing Macronutrients

Macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins and fats—are essential to a balanced diet. Each plays a unique role in supporting overall health and well-being.

Carbohydrates provide energy, proteins aid muscle maintenance and repair and fats contribute to various bodily functions. Here are some strategies for achieving macronutrient balance on a flexitarian diet:

Incorporating Whole Grains, Legumes and Starchy Vegetables as Carbohydrates Sources

Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and oats provide complex carbohydrates with fiber, promoting sustained energy release. Legumes such as lentils and beans are excellent sources of carbohydrates and proteins, contributing to satiety. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and corn offer nutrient-dense carbohydrate options.

Optimal Protein Sources for Weight Loss and Satiety

Include plant-based protein sources such as tofu, tempeh and edamame to support weight loss and enhance feelings of fullness. Incorporate a variety of beans, lentils and chickpeas for plant-based protein alternatives with additional fiber content. Choose lean animal proteins like poultry and fish for those who include meat in their flexitarian diet, as they provide high-quality protein.

Choosing Healthy Fats from Plant-Based Sources

Avocados provide monounsaturated fats that support heart health. Individuals consuming at least one avocado per week experienced a 16% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease. 

Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds and flaxseed are rich in healthy fats and contribute essential nutrients. Olive oil, used in moderation, is a source of healthy fats for cooking and dressing.

Choosing Healthy Fats from Plant-Based Sources

Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating, even when consuming healthy foods. Monitor calorie intake, considering the energy balance for weight management. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods to ensure a nutrient-dense and balanced diet.

Sample Flexitarian Meal Plan

Around 30% of consumers wished to eat less meat, believing plant alternatives are better for the environment. Sales of plant-based meat in the United States increased by 28% between 2017 and 2019. 

A sample flexitarian meal plan for weight loss includes fiber and protein-rich breakfast options like overnight oats with fruits and nuts or tofu scramble with vegetables. Lunch ideas focus on satiety and nutrition, featuring quinoa, black bean salad, sweet potato and chickpea curry.

Dinner options balance macronutrients with a lentil and vegetable stir-fry or grilled tofu with steamed broccoli. Snacks to curb hunger include hummus and carrot sticks or Greek yogurt with berries.

Can You Lose Weight Being a Flexitarian?

So, can you lose weight being a flexitarian? Adopting a flexitarian diet can be an effective and sustainable approach to weight loss. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and controlling portions will help individuals lose weight while enjoying a flexible and healthy lifestyle.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.