In our last post we talked about some of the physical changes you might expect when you go vegan. When this topic comes up, weight loss is one of those issues that is well worth discussing. Today will be our first post regarding this subject, but we’re covering everything in the next few posts, from debunking some of the myths surrounding weight loss and veganism, guiding you towards some amazing resources, showing you what my experience has been like and much more. Here’s how we’re getting this party going:
Weight Loss and Veganism Part 1: Debunking myths, and my personal journey (that’s today!)
Weight Loss and Veganism Part 2: Tips and Resources
Weight Loss and Veganism Part 3: Emotional Eating
Weight Loss and Veganism Part 4: Acceptance and Love
I have purposely wanted to sit on this post for a bit waiting precisely to publish it in January, the month in which many diets and weight loss plans are started and also dropped (and with good reason). I love new beginnings too, and January is always a great time to look forward and make plans and promises to ourselves. After years of trying out many diets, it was by going vegan that I understood what my body had been trying to tell me all these years. Let’s start this off by saying that what we have learned to know as diets DO NOT WORK. They might work for a bit while you’re on them, they might get you excited about sudden results, but a restricted life (and eating joyfully is certainly an important and wonderful part of life) works only in the short term. As soon as we’ve just about had it, our old habits come back, our anxious eating comes back, our bad choices come back, and the pounds come back (usually twofold!). Here’s a definition of diet I can stand behind, Alicia Silverstone starts off her book The Kind Diet by stating that for her, diet still maintains its original meaning “A way of living, or thinking… a day’s journey”. This definition, when we wrap our head around it, is incredibly powerful. The food we put into our bodies day in and day out needs to stop being the enemy, and by that I mean that we need to stop fearing food and also stop filling up on food that is causing us harm. As we walk through our day’s journey, we realize that our choices also have an impact on the ground we walk on, and on the creatures that share the planet with us. It is a journey that we will have to take many times over, and that starts again tomorrow. It happens one day at a time, a set of choices at a time. When you look at veganism under this light, it most certainly is an utterly beautiful diet. In my opinion, it is not a diet one chooses to embark on to lose a few pounds, not because these results won’t be a possibility, but because for me, being vegan is so much more than the size of my hips. It was however, the only thing that made sense to me after I saw the cruelty I was participating in by buying animal products, when I saw the damage animal food production was causing the planet, and when my eyes were opened and I saw the harm these foods were causing my body.
It was precisely feeling that this was the day’s journey I wanted to take, that made all the other pieces fall into place. But veganism, for me, was not an adventure I began in order to lose weight. Strangely, it was moving away from the focus on weight loss and setting my eyes on living a more compassionate life that made me feel great about myself, inside and out. You have to wait a tiny bit longer to read what happened to my body when I went vegan, let’s start by debunking the most common myth and setting it straight.
True or false? When you go vegan, you will lose weight, guaranteed
In spite of all the complications and contradictions we can find when we approach this subject, it turns out, that weight loss is actually pretty simple math: calories in, calories out. People who want to maintain their weight simply need the same number of calories taken in through food as expended through their daily activities (including everything from our body’s functions to exercise). People who need to lose weight, simply need a deficit, meaning, the number of calories they expend needs to be higher than the number of calories they take in. So when we look at veganism as a way to lose weight, the answer is most definitely: it depends on what you eat and on your level of activity. As an example, potato chips, chocolate cupcakes and pasta can all be vegan, but what do you think will happen to your weight if you base your vegan diet on these foods?
There is of course, another side to this story.
Where did we get the idea that going vegan equals weight loss? Research has shown time and time again that the only nutrient that has been continuously linked to sustained weight loss (the kind you lose and don’t gain back) is a high intake of fiber. Due to the fact that fiber is only found in plant foods (there’s absolutely no fiber in animal foods, none!), well planned vegan diets are choc full of these magical foods, and have thus been highly associated with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Top this with the fact that by avoiding animal products you’re eliminating all dietary cholesterol from your diet (plant foods contain absolutely no dietary cholesterol), and reducing by almost 100% your intake of saturated fat (only some plant foods such as coconuts contain saturated fat), you are reducing two of the greatest culprits that cause disease and of course weight gain and obesity.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Diabetes Association that looked into the BMI’s of people in four different dietary groups (BMI = body mass index, the number that determines whether you are at an optimal weight, overweight or obese), vegans appeared to be the only group in the US to actually have, on average, a healthy BMI number. Meat eaters, flexitarians (who consume meat only a few times a month) and even vegetarians (who consume eggs and dairy but no meat, poultry or fish) all had higher BMI’s than what is considered healthy, and were all within a BMI that classified them as overweight, some very close to obese. Take a look at this incredible video that highlights the results and sources of this study.
Let’s top this off with one of those wonderful little ‘nature rocks’ moments. Most whole, unrefined plant foods, are the most nutrient dense and calorie poor foods we can feed our bodies with. This means that when you base your diet on as many whole foods as possible, you’re getting an extremely high source of nutrients for fewer calories when compared to other foods (by whole foods I mean the actual goodies that grow and we eat in their unprocessed form: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, mushrooms, beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds with all the thousands of edible plants we’re blessed to have in each of these groups). This is kind of like going to a very expensive store you love, and suddenly realizing that everything is half off and that you can now afford to buy anything your heart desires. Big bang for just a couple of calorie bucks, so to speak.
So let’s get back to our original question: Will I lose weight if I go vegan? The answer is, some people do, and some people don’t. It depends entirely on what you eat and how active you are. Because going vegan marks a change in ‘your day’s journey‘, having that very clear ‘before’ and ‘after’ also means any possible weight loss will also depend on how you were eating before you went vegan. For many people who were overweight or obese, had very unhealthy eating habits and even a chronic illness or two, going vegan can mean the only weight loss tool that will work. Some have lost hundreds of pounds by eating a vegan diet. But don’t feel like a freak of nature if you’ve made this life altering change and your weight remains the same. You are a rockstar by just being awake to the truth about why this is such an important choice, and of course there are things you can do to adopt healthier habits if you need to lose weight, especially for health reasons (we’ll cover more of this in our Part 2: Tips and resources). You might also not need to lose weight in spite of firmly believing that you have to! Imagine that strange thought!
So if weight loss isn’t guaranteed and veganism implies a change in my diet… why bother?
It’s time for me to tell you my story.
I’ve already told you that I did not become a vegan to lose weight, I did it because after finding out the truth about what animal agriculture entails, I saw no other choice. It was the only road ahead of me and it was that beautiful path you see when you walk through a forest and can’t resist exploring. You can read more about my journey to veganism here and about what I experienced after I went vegan here, but today I’m just going to tell you my weight loss story.
I was in my healthy weight range when I went vegan, I was slim, I was healthy, I was fitting fine in my jeans. I did not however (nor do I do now) have the Victoria Secret abs, surfer arms or perfect ballerina legs we all picture in our heads when we envision weight loss. I did however want to become vegan. I began my journey and soon saw a few pounds lost, not a huge number, just the few my body seems fine with leaving behind without going wackadoodle and resisting to no avail (we all have a set point when it comes to weight, more on this in the next few posts). These pounds have come and gone depending entirely on how I eat. When I bake pies every day to come up with the perfect recipe for you or discover a new vegan cheese at the store and can’t stop eating it, these last few pounds show up. As soon as I realize that I’ve been out of balance (hello tight jeans!), I start eating my yummy super clean whole foods again with the occasional indulgences (I refuse to live without dessert!) and the pounds come right back down. So here’s what did happen for me, after years of struggling emotionally with food and diets to maintain my weight or lose the last few pounds, with all the joy veganism had already given me, I found a system that worked with my body and not against it. I became completely attuned to my body’s signals, I became aware of when I had had an overindulgent week and I went back to neutral and my body immediately responded. I mean immediately! This was quite unusual because my previous experience with weight loss had been: easy going up, impossible going down. I was also extremely happy that veganism allowed me to have healthy versions of my favorite comfort foods which of course makes everything more fun (vegan pizza, burgers and mac & cheese anyone?). I have no idea how much I’m weighing now (you’ll see why in our next post), but I do know I’m wearing the same jeans, I feel healthy and great in them, I even had to get rid of a pair recently because they were a bit too big! All I know is I can feel and see how my body is doing with every ‘day’s journey’ I take. I can adjust when I need to, and my body responds. I buy, cook and eat products that are in line with my values of not causing harm to those I love, and that makes me smile. I can also tell you this, when you become vegan and center your diet on whole foods, your awesome healthy body (and this does not necessarily mean chiseled arms) will shine through every little step you take, and that is truly a gift.
In the next post we’ll be discussing some tips and sharing some resources to help you along the way if weight loss is your goal. Then in the following posts we’ll be discussing emotional eating, and of course acceptance of where we are and the imperfect world in which we live in. Stay tuned!