Image Credit: Kristina DeMuth. This image has been modified.

How to Lose Weight Eating More Food

What happens if you add fruit to your regular diet, eating three apples or pears as between-meal-snacks every day? I explore this in my video Eating More to Weigh Less, which I titled as a nod to Dr. Dean Ornish’s smash bestseller.

Fruit is low in calories, but it does have some. It isn’t calorie-free. So, if you add food—even healthy food—to people’s diets, won’t they gain weight? No, subjects who ate three apples or pears every day added on top of their regular diet lost a couple of pounds. Was that reduction because of all that fiber since our gut bacteria can create anti-obesity compounds from fiber? (See my Beans and the Second Meal Effect video for more on this.) Good question. That’s why, in addition to the fruit groups, the researchers had a cookie group!

Subjects ate either three apples, three pears, or three cookies with enough oats in them to have about the same amount of fiber as the fruit. Despite the fiber, adding cookies to one’s diet did not lead to weight loss. The researchers thought the weight-reducing secret of fruit was its low energy density, meaning you get a lot of food for just a few calories, so it fills you up.

“Energy density is a relatively new concept that has been identified as an important factor in body weight control in adults and in children and adolescents…Energy density is defined as the amount of energy [calories] per unit weight of a food or beverage….” Water, for example, provides a significant amount of weight without adding calories. Fiber, too. “Thus, foods high in water and/or fiber are generally lower in energy density. On the other hand, because dietary fat provides the greatest amount of energy per gram [calories per unit weight], foods high in fat are generally high in energy density.”

The CDC offers some examples. High energy density foods are like bacon, which have a lot of calories in a small package. A medium energy density food is like a bagel, and low energy density foods are typified by fruits and vegetables. In general, the lower the better, but there are two exceptions: Soda is so heavy that by energy density it looks less harmful than it is, and nuts have so much fat that they appear less healthy than they are.

Otherwise, though, the science “supports a relationship between energy density and body weight…such that consuming diets lower in energy density may be an effective strategy for managing body weight.” This is because people tend to eat a consistent weight of food. So, when there are fewer calories per pound, caloric intake is reduced.

A small drop in energy density can lead to a small drop in weight, and the greater the decrease in energy density, the greater the weight loss.

“Energy density can be reduced in a variety of ways such as the addition of vegetables and fruits to recipes or by lowering the fat or sugar content.” Indeed, that’s how we evolved—eating predominantly low energy density foods such as fruits, vegetables, plants, and tubers (starch-filled roots like sweet potatoes). The first study emphasizing how fruits and vegetables could affect energy density and food intake was conducted more than 30 years ago.

Researchers were able to cut people’s caloric intake nearly in half—from 3,000 calories a day down to 1,570—without cutting portions. They simply substituted high energy dense foods with less calorie dense foods. That means subjects ate lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, compared to having high-energy density meals with lots of meat and sugar. They ate nearly half the calories, but they reported enjoying the meals just as much.

Researchers tried this in Hawaii by putting people on a traditional Hawaiian diet with all the plant foods they could eat. The subjects lost an average of 17 pounds in just 21 days, resulting in better cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugars, and blood pressure. Caloric intake dropped 40 percent, but not by eating less food. In fact, they lost 17 pounds in 21 days while eating more food—four pounds of food a day. But, because plants tend to be so calorically dilute, one can stuff oneself without seeing the same kind of weight gain.

“The energy density of foods is of interest for weight management not only because it allows people to eat satisfying portions while limiting calories, but also because reductions in energy density are associated with improved diet quality.” For example, lower energy dense diets are associated with lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

Lower energy-dense diets tend to be of healthier foods, so we get the best of both worlds.

I talk more about the energy density concept in The Ice Diet and Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management. Are There Foods with Negative Calories? Find out in my video!

The amazing Hawaii study was done by Dr. Terry Shintani. Find out more about the natural human diet in What’s the “Natural” Human Diet?.

Doesn’t fruit have a lot of sugar in it? Check out my videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

57 responses to “How to Lose Weight Eating More Food

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  1. So ! THATS ! why I don’t loose weight.. The energy density of my home brew beer is off the chart…… But it’s vegan!! …

  2. I just hope you know how much you are helping people each and every day. I hope you can feel our thanks through the internet! Your writing and your videos break it down into such an easy way to understand. Especially when we’re navigating between all the bad info that’s out there. Thank you to you and your stafff for such incredible work!!!

  3. The concept of caloric density changed my life in a good way. I do so much better eating a higher volume of low caloric density, whole food plant-based food. I have more energy because things digest more easily. I also have a glow. I easily maintain my weight loss. I have better moods and sleep, as well as balanced hormones. As a small woman in my mid-40s with hypothyroidism, I can’t just eat whatever I want. I know in some whole food, plant-based circles, there is advice to “eat whatever you want, as long as it is whole food, plant-based food. To roughly quote a class I recently took by The Happy Herbivore, plants don’t have magical calories that don’t count. I also have been so enlightened by her synthesis of information on the thermal effect of feeding. Such an eye opener!

    1. Lisa,

      I am going to tell you that I am a post-menopausal woman who has had hypothyroid for years and I am doing the WFPB, no portion sizes, no calorie or carb counting, just no oils, and I watch the vegan junk food, and I watch the nut milk and nut cheeses, because I don’t know how many servings of nuts they are, but I do eat a handful of nuts and I eat avocado once or twice a week, but not every day.

      I am still losing weight at a two pound per week rate. Actually three pounds this week.

      I am doing time restricted intermittent fasting, but I had already lost 30 pounds before I started that.

      I say it, because I stood at those two cross roads and decided to not keep track of anything and it is the easiest I have ever lost weight and it came on the heels of me spending a year and a half of trying to lose weight by getting rid of sugar and snacks and carbs and I didn’t lose even a pound.

      1. I also did switch to steel cut oatmeal, rather than instant oatmeal and Ezekiel bread, rather than other breads.

        All I know is that I am never hungry and that I am not focused on food at all, except on making sure I actually eat the produce in my refrigerator, because I really am not hungry ever.

        Looking at the Hawaii study, if I didn’t force myself to eat the produce, I might be losing a pound a day.

        1. I don’t know about everybody else, but once I started eating oatmeal, and beans and rice, my produce intake dropped, because the oatmeal and beans and rice are so filling.

          That is more the problem I am pondering.

          I still force myself to eat my super food veggie wrap after my beans and rice, because I don’t want to lose the variety of vegetables.

          But I am still losing so well that I am not worried about the weight loss, I am worried about the shift away from attraction to the fruit and veggies.

          I have to eat them first, I think, but the others are more satisfying to me.

      2. Deb, that’s very awesome :) I also don’t eat vegan junk food and I don’t do much avocado and no oils either. I only track my food to make sure I’m hitting my iron targets since I still have my period monthly ;) My weight maintenance has been pretty easy, even given hypothyroidism challenges the past few years since switching to eating a low fat, whole food, plant-based vegan diet. My integrative physician and I are monitoring me closely to get my T3/T4 combo meds at the right dose. I’m pretty much the same weight I was in 8th grade and I’m 46. It’s a miracle, given my past history of having supposedly 5 autoimmune conditions. I no longer have antibodies showing up in my blood tests and no more Hashimoto’s. My family history is filled with obesity, diabetes, cancer, strokes, and thyroid issues. I guess I rebelled against all of that and decided to get better with age. Yay for us!

  4. so, what is the bottom line? Eat apples or do not eat apples. Still confused, as this post did not really make it clear as to the message of fruit.

    1. See 2nd paragraph:
      “No, subjects who ate three apples or pears every day added on top of their regular diet lost a couple of pounds. “

  5. I watched the other videos and, hooray, I am burning 11% more calories in my sleep.

    I love that, because, being post-menopausal, and a woman, there are all these “lies” which are “true” but they are only true on different ways of eating.

    Men lose weight faster than women.
    Post menopausal women can’t lose weight.
    My metabolism is slow, because I don’t get enough exercise.

    All of it is true and false.

    My brother on Keto has lost weight, but I have pulled ahead, because he cheats.

    Yes, I am still trying to get my exercise in, but I lost three pounds this week baby-sitting my dog and didn’t get to the gym and didn’t take my normal dog walks, so it isn’t that.

    I like this video, too:

    1. Back to my brother “cheating” on his Keto. He is fighting against willpower and I am not thinking about food at all, because I am so satisfied.

      My other brother and his wife are exercising for weight loss and I pulled ahead of them, too, and they are doing much longer walks than my dog and I have been doing. Double the length of the walks and steps.

  6. And I am going to wonder if people really need the “food addiction” concept, too, but if it makes them feel better, then good for them, and some may really need it.

    I just thought I was a food addict and did the OA thing, when I wasn’t even very heavy, but felt like I had no self control with food and felt like I was emotional eater and felt like I used food to comfort me and felt like coming from abuse had caused some sort of weight-related protection, but, no, I just wasn’t understanding calorie and nutrient density and wasn’t eating my fruits and vegetables and wasn’t eating organic and was eating too many processed foods and too much oil and too many sweets and too much cheese.

    I ponder the whole Cheese trap thing, even, because it is a trap, while you are eating it, and so is sugar, but once you sling-shot out, it no longer has any control at all.

    None at all. I don’t think about them. I don’t miss them. I have a small amount of sweets on holidays, but it is like an old boyfriend, who I have stopped having feelings for and he is nice enough that we say “Hi” on birthdays and Christmas, but he isn’t hanging out in my house anymore.

    1. I think, satiety was never something I experienced, because I was missing so much nutrition on top of not having understanding of calorie density. I was hungry all the time, because my brain and thyroid were screaming, “Could you eat some chocolate, so we could have some Magnesium, so we could function, please?” Then, two hours later, they were saying, “I know you have eaten a few candies and cookies and birthday cake, but could we please have some more chocolate, because it doesn’t provide that much Magnesium without a bigger portion?”

    1. Hi Lida,

      My super food veggie wrap starts with me walking around the organic foods at Whole Foods and other local grocery stores.

      It is a low carb wrap, but I might move to an Ezekiel wrap, because that is a little bigger and I need the space.

      It is whatever you like in a salad bar, in a wrap.

      I put white button mushrooms, tri-colored peppers, carrots, grape tomatoes, shredded red cabbage, Kale, pomegranate seeds, broccoli sprouts, Microgreen or Supergreen salad, Crunchy Sprouts, Dandelion greens, sometimes Collard Greens and depending on what is available, I alternate tempeh or jackfruit or artichoke heart or sprouted tofu or edamame and chickpeas. I have also used variations of broccoli, cauliflower or riced broccoli and cauliflower, which helps keep it so I can actually wrap my wrap at the end.

      I always add Nutritional Yeast and some other spices and herbs. My turmeric is usually in my hot dish and my flax seed is usually in my oatmeal, so I don’t do those or much fruit here. Fruit is my snack, throughout the day if I need it. The fact that I never need it, is something I am pondering, but I make myself eat some anyway.

      I dress it with salsa and/or guacamole and if I went too spicy with those, I add a little Veganaise and often like that better. The Veganaise makes it more comfort food, but I still haven’t read the label on Veganaise, and highly suspect that is the bad guy in the room, but it causes me to enjoy the whole experience more and John McDougall saying, “In the end, you need a program you will do.” and a little Veganaise doesn’t scare me.

      1. I don’t know where you live, but my local grocery stores have their own brand of pre-cut organic veggies and I can get organic riced broccoli and cauliflower and there is only an 11% chance that they are conning me about it being organic. It is cheaper than Whole Foods and Whole Foods often doesn’t have organic pre-cut veggies. I find I am more likely to eat it if they are already cut.

        That is a big deal.

        I try to get past my “laziness” but pre-cut, I succeed every time and not pre-cut I fail most of the time. I am working on seeing if I can change, so I can have cheaper produce, but it is more important to succeed and not waste produce.

      2. Deb, I like to use collard greens as the wrap. I lightly steam (30 seconds), to make them more pliable, pretty deep green color also. Then turn leaf over and just reduce the thickness of the spine of the leaf by running a sharp knife parallel to the leaf so they roll better.
        I’ll do a whole package, and just keep in frig ready to go.
        I use hummus instead of veganaise.

        1. Laughing at the collard green wrap. It has to hold a lot of veggies.

          When i started the wraps, I had Cancer symptoms and wanted a little bit of everything.

          Dr Hreger did a series how our body has different receptors for each type of plant food and it came down to one side of the body might respond to apple skins and the other side of the body might need blueberries or broccoli.

          That was too confusing for me to figure out, so a little bit of everything is what I choose.

          Dr Greger I loved that receptor series. If you find out any more receptors, let us know. That is untapped potential!

          If I was a young person, that would be a fun science project.

          I already struggle with making decisions.

          As for hummus, I like it.

  7. Thank you Dr. Gregor for pointing out that volume and nutrients are more important to satisfaction than calories.
    However, some types of fruit, apples, pears, grapes, for instance, contain a lot of fructose which some people find raises their blood sugar, and then causes weight gain. (I work with diabetics.)
    For those people, they can fill up on low carb veggies instead. Veggies with hummus makes a great snack, or celery with some almond butter.
    Start each meal with 2-3 cups of veggies, berries, add protein like beans, and you will feel satisfied.
    Even those insisting on keto can add lots of veggies.

  8. The photo at the very top of the blog shows a gorgeous array of veggies. They look to be raw but I cannot imagine eating that veggie bowl without some type of dressing. Does anyone have a suggestion of what may make those veggies less dry and more digestible?

      1. curciotara,

        Thanks for posting that link.

        The salad with no fat having no nutrient absorption is something I need to remember.

        Yes, it will still help us to lose weight, if we eat it before a meal, but we won’t absorb the nutrition.

          1. Thanks for the suggestions but I need something that will not just add fat but will add some liquidity to all those veggies so that they don’t require such long masticating in order to facilitate swallowing. I would love it it if Dr. Greger or someone with the same approach would create a product available in markets for someone like me who wants to eat well but not spend hours preparing. Wish he would bottle his fat free salad dressings.

    1. I use a two step approach. I have a bottle of a mix of ⅓ mustard, ⅓ vinegar, and ⅓ maple syrup. Adjust the ratios to taste. It’s a nice sweet and sour mix. I squirt some of that on my salad, then squirt on some tahini. I found this much easier than mixing it up in one bottle.

      1. I just add mustard, a very good pure horseradish (no junk, just prepared horseradish), or both, into my salads along with tons of fresh and dried spices and then use organic spray olive oil for a spritz. I then add in some avocado, maybe 1/4 of one, usually no more than 20 grams. Then I add a vinegar of choice, usually apple with the mother and touch of balsamic or red wine for taste.

        Overall, I use about 6 spritzes of spray olive oil all day…in my salads and on a couple of my cooked dishes. In a pan, if I really can’t use water or vinegar, I will use a spritz of organic avocado oil because it has the highest smoke point..but I really don’t get to very high temperatures, but that’s just to be safe…

  9. No offense to those struggling with weight issues, but how exactly is this new: “Energy density is a relatively new concept…” Do people really walk around that ignorant in 2018?

    BTW, I HATE this email discussion, BRING BACK DISQUS!!

    1. Joe momma,

      I don’t know where you learned it, but I would say that zero of the people around me have ever heard of it and that most of America hasn’t heard of it.

      Science geeks who are nutrition oriented would be the ones who have heard of it.

      I honestly had never heard of Dr. Greger or Dr. Barnard or Dr. Esselstyn or most of the doctors before last year.

      I had heard of Pritikin, sort of, on the news, when I was young.

      But they didn’t teach this in school.

      1. Dr. Greger,

        I sincerely am not putting you down saying that I had never heard of you.
        Not one person that I know in any area of my life has heard of you or Whole Food Plant Based or John McDougall or any, any, any of the other doctors, but they have heard of Pritikin, so he must have been talked about when there were fewer channels on television.

        1. In fact, I was researching health for over a year on the internet before I saw any of you doctors, but something interesting has happened, NOW, I never am offered ANY of the other doctors or chiropractors or self-hacking, truth about people’s sites, ever.

          Google has learned what I wanted and only gives me that.

          Google can either behave like good or bad gut bacteria.

          1. I still haven’t seen Forks Over Knives.

            I don’t even know if there is one Vegan anything in my State.

            I did look and didn’t find much.

            Continuing ed course in one town.

            There are a few restaurants far away from me.

            There is one closer to me, which says they have Vegan fare, but it is more a place about healing with food and all the menu I have seen them advertise is Keto – strong meat-oriented fare and I don’t want any extra meat bad guy gut bacteria while I am trying to heal my sick dog.

            I am suspecting other areas of the country might have things, but my guess is it would be California and some cities.

            1. I think some of the people who grew up with it, might take it for granted.

              I am watching people die and know they have never heard the message and it is like some of the people who come here are kind of bored with all of it.

              There are people who come to argue with Dr. Greger.

              There are people maybe who are here wanting him to entertain them.

              Some people are looking for where he is wrong and they analyze people like him like “backseat drivers”

              None of it matters to me.

              Right now, I found enough on this site that I think I am going to save the life of my dog and I didn’t have a nutritional concept like that a year ago.

              What a godsend this site is to me.

              And, yes, I will defend Dr. Greger all day long, because I am still researching so many topics and he has the ability to simplify things, which are so complicated.

              I have been listening to all these talks on this topic, right here.

              And it is explained so well here.

              It may save many people’s lives around me.

              My friend is sticking to her Keto diet so well, but her Diabetes is through the roof and I am patiently waiting for her to want WFPB. She said that even after her insulin last night, it wouldn’t come down and she has not eaten bread or pasta or rice or potatoes just salad with meat. I am not going to interrupt her process. I am going to let her do it and I already told her that there was another way and she chose that way.

              I have another friend whose daughter was in the ER all last night and she might have had a stomach aneurysm. She is a young person.

              And my step-mother found out yesterday that she has an enlarged heart.

              Life and death drama all around me every day.

              So, I will not lose focus if people come here bored or thinking it is “old hat”

              It will never become “old hat” to me, because it is a message the whole world hasn’t heard yet.

  10. What I like is that Dr. Greger has not gotten bored with the message and hasn’t lost passion for the subject.

    He isn’t saying, “Ha. I learned all this when I was 6 years old. What’s wrong with all of you?”

    1. The truth is, what makes Dr. G so great is that he keeps learning as he “researches the research.”

      If it weren’t for him, I’d still be using liquid fish oils instead of algae based DHA now!!!

  11. Joe momma,

    I am not aiming those comments at you.

    I understand that you are probably right. Those concepts have probably been around quite a long time and it is a blessing that you were taught them by someone.

    95% of America has never heard it. I know that, because of the statistics on disease.

    The worst part is that it is so much harder to get the information out there at all, because there is no single source of information.

    There used to be a handful of television channels and people used to watch them and that was part of the common experience.

  12. Where in Earth did you get that the Hawaiian diet is plant foods? I was surprised too, but from what I see, it is meat. (Not to mention the forever long line at Macdonald’s)

    1. Cool Tom.

      I didn’t know there was a book.

      I looked at the follow up and

      “An average weight loss of 15.1 pounds was maintained over 7.5 years of follow-up (p < 0.0005) even when stratified over two year intervals"

  13. 10 years ago this fall I found that I had a kidney issue. As a kid I had a twisted ureter…for a year, they had me on penicillan and weekly catherization…40 years later, when the eGFR was first reported, I did my research because my doctor thought a low eGFR was OK!
    I was made sick by a nutritionist who forced meat on me with the “high quality protein” mantra. Luckily, I was practically vegetarian at the time, quit that meet within weeks, and I quickly started inventing my OWN plant-based diet…went completely vegan (just nibbliing on a few walnuts as of recent months)…

    As I started transitioning, the first thing that happened was that I dropped 10 lbs. effortlessly. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was in the “normal” range, but I did. I am stable and can fit in my high school clothes! My my numbers are great at age 68!

    I am SO GLAD that Dr. Greger and others are now out there educating people about plant-based eating! I’m happy to report that my kidney doc, whom I now see only once a year, has gotten on the bandwagon by urging patients to eat less meat. She actually wanted to know my diet. Over time my eGFR has improved to being only slightly below the lower end of normal!!

    I keep track of everything I eat…for extra calories, since I am very active, I do have to eat a bit of “junk” white products.. 0 protein things like tapioca bread and mung bean starch glass noodles. I have also cut back on fat a lot which has helped my numbers even more. I take pharmaceutical grade amino acids and keep my protein intake from food at about 20 to 25 grams (rarely) a day tops.

    But overall, my diet is very clean….whole foods, freshly prepared, microwaved or raw…
    Dr. Greger’s book is something I dip into often as a boost for keeping me on track!

    I also grow my own greens all year round, too…so I know I’m getting them as fresh as possible!!!

    Most people would think this is all a lot of work…but, by being so controlled, I actually gain freedom by being healthy and being told by my doc that I will never go on dialysis. A lot of people just don’t want to learn or make any effort to do any research…but it’s worth it….You don’t have to be a victim!!!

  14. It’s not exactly nutrition related, but I found this study: that showed that those who did “intermittent energy restriction” lost more weight than those who were on a continuous and constant calorie deficit. They basically ate their maintenance calories for 2 weeks and then cut back by a third for 2 weeks and then alternated back and forth. Dr. Greger, what do you think of this study? Do you think it’s wise to follow a program like this one if you are eating a whole foods plant-based diet?

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment

      Intermittent fasting or intermittent energy restriction have shown to have benefits, not only for weight loss, but for improvements in metabolic biomarkers. There’re several protocols or variations for this weight loss trend, not only the one you mention; the most popular and suitable for most people would be the 16/8, where go on fasting for 16 hours and eat your caloric requirement in the remaining 8.

      No matter which patter or diet you follow you can go on intermittent, but it’s important that it is supevised by a registered dietitian.

      1. Hi Janeth, I think intermittent fasting is a little different. Apparently with intermittent fasting, you’re not supposed to cut calories (as far as I’m aware). The concept behind intermittent energy restriction is that you do cut calories but only for some of the time.

  15. This is a safe and effective weight loss program for most people that are otherwise healthy but overweight. When in doubt, always check with your doctor.

    Dr. Ben

  16. This is a picture in HTND, where Dr. Greger is trying to make the point that calories might not count because most plant foods are naturally nutrient dense and low in calories, and so we (quoting from the book) “can basically eat as much as you want without worrying about counting calories.”

    I still say there are inconsistencies to this logic. For example, 100 calories of brown rice is just 62 grams – smaller portions than the animal products shown in the diagram.

    I find I definitely need to control calories when it comes to the starches. And of course there are nuts as well. You have to be careful about those. Why? Because they are high in calorie.

  17. Why am I burning muscle instead of fat. I am about 40# overwt. I work in a place that allows staff to have full dexa scans. Af few years ago, following a keto diet, I was pleased to see that I lost a little fat and gained muscle. Then I went on a Plant based diet for almost a year. At the end of that time, the scale was 14# less, but a repeat dexa showed FAT gain and over 14# of muscle lost! Help! What would cause me to burn muscle when I have sooo much fat. I have walked 3 miles every day for years, moderately active and started lifting wts after discovering the muscle loss. I’ve increased my protein in addition to the wts (beans, nuts and for awhile an egg every day). In addition to the muscle loss, I had severe fatigue. This has improved with increasing the protein. But now I’m gaining wt instead of losing. I have celiac issues and absorption issues. I think that I need to eat more protein than most plant based people to absorb enough protein.
    Again…what would cause me to burn muscle instead of fat?

  18. Hello AJ. Thanks for sharing!

    I know it might be frustrating to you. Despite there’re might be several reasons to explain your case and there’re dozens of factors to take into account, have you heard about sarcopenia? “Sarcopenia has been defined as an age-related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life”

    There’re many reasons for this phenomenon to happen, inclunding environmental causes, disease, inflammation, and other physiological causes. Among the environmental causes, we have physically activity.Sedentary people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.

    However, you’re on a good path. Improving exercise and protein intake is a good way to minimize muscle loss.

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