Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vegan Equals Healthy Weight Loss Success?

With movies like Food, Inc and Ellen and Oprah both featuring shows on veganism, many people come to believe that being a vegan is inherently more healthy and will lead to weight loss success. While going vegan, or vegan-ish as Oprah has said she is moving, is certainly one option, it is not the only option and may not be the best choice for you.

The most important thing to understand is the definition of "vegan." Veganism is a form of vegetarianism, but one with a more narrow focus. Interestingly, the precise definition varies depending on the source, but most seem to define vegan as a person who chooses not to use animal products in their lives. This is the most strict sense of vegan and includes foods you eat as well as items made from animal hides and furs and things that are testing on animals (typically done as part of "safety" testing.) Therefore the strictest vegans would not use leather, not in the seats of their cars nor in their shoes, belts and bags.

However you can also be a "dietary vegan" and decide that it is okay to wear wool even though it comes from sheep.

Going from a typical American diet to a vegan diet and lifestyle requires a huge shift in mindset as well as taking time to educate yourself on nutrition, learning how to buy and cook differently. That is not a bad thing...just something that does take time and retraining.

If you are looking to lose weight successfully then this could be a great time to try going vegan since you will be changing habits anyway. For some people it is too much and it is better to take things in smaller steps.

That is what I suggest for most people. Start by learning more about nutrition. Choose one day a week to have no animal products in your diet (or try vegetarian meals instead of vegan.)

Do NOT just go out and buy a bunch of food products at the store just because they are labeled "vegan" and assume that you will lose weight. Did you notice that while a lot of pounds were lost on the Harpo challenge (Oprah's studio where almost 400 staffers pledged to go vegan for a week) some people actually GAINED weight?

This is possible because going vegan does not mean healthy. It just means no animal products. So this may be "healthier" it does not mean that it is inherently the best choice if you are wanting to drop pounds.

One of the reasons many people lose weight on a vegan diet is because of the emphasis on plant-based diet.More vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein in the form of beans and legumes. Eating this way can be more filling and lower calorie per mouthful than eating an animal based diet. Because you are eating things that make you feel more full while the caloric density is lower you are eating fewer calories. Without making any other changes in your lifestyle then chances are really good you will lose weight. Which is good, because this plant-based diet requires a mindset shift and as I mentioned earlier, more work on educating yourself.

So why didn't everyone lose weight?

Not everyone lost weight because there are lots of high calorie vegan foods out there as well. If all you do is substitute your current diet with vegan versions of the same food you are probably not going to lose weight. There is vegan frozen dessert that substitutes for ice cream, for example, that is loaded with sugar and fats just like the original. There are vegan chips, which are prepared using vegetable oil but are not lower in calories. Also, if you go for the prepared meat-substitutes you have to read the labels to see what they are putting in them and how much you get per serving. I picked up one package at the store that was 7 ounces and that is 2 servings. While a 3.5 ounce serving of meat is also appropriate, if you are accustomed to eating a 16 ounce sirloin and you want to switch it for vegan alternatives you may not lose weight (but you will definitely lighten your wallet!)

There are still people who want to become a vegan--that's an awesome goal and one that I support if that is where you heart is telling you to go.

However, the key to weight loss success is to make a radical shift in your mindset not your diet! Decide to focus on your health. Decide that you CAN lose weight and that you DESERVE TO. The same mindset shift has to take place for you to lose weight and keep it off whether you are a vegan or a meat eater.

Then make small changes to your current lifestyle. Make changes that you can and will keep. Then when those changes are incorporated into your life you can make more.

Will this get you to drop 10 pounds in a week? Probably not. But it will allow you to successfully lose weight over time until you reach a weight that is healthy for you. It will also allow you to live your life and not feel like you are a slave to counting calories (vegan or otherwise.) And then you will look back in amazement at the changes in your body and find it hard to believe that you accomplished so much so easily.


Anonymous said...

Excessive carbs, in the form of grains and/or legumes, are the cause, and not the cure, for obesity.

Laurie Tossy said...

I disagree. Obesity is generally caused from excessive SIMPLE carbs, like found in white flour, sugar, processed foods.

See my post on 2/24/11 for a more detailed response.