diets · eating · food · Uncategorized · weight loss

Vegan for Weight Loss? Not Necessarily but Don’t Let That Discourage You!

Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.
Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.

It’s making the rounds again–the idea that a vegan or at least vegetarian diet is the best way to lose weight.  According to this article:

Overweight and obese adults who wanted to lose weight were randomly assigned to one of five low-fat and low-glycemic index diets: vegan (no animal products), vegetarian (dairy products included), pesco-vegetarian (dairy products and seafood included), semi-vegetarian (all food included, but red meat no more than once a week and poultry no more than five times a week), or omnivorous (no restrictions on food type and frequency).

Participants were told they could eat small amounts of nuts and nut butters, avocados, seeds, and olives in their diets but were encouraged to focus on lower-fat food options. The dieters were not given goals for limiting the number of calories they ate. As the researchers put it, “participants were free to eat until they were satisfied.”

After six months, those in the vegan group had lost the most weight, an average of 7.5 pounds. The vegetarian group was not far behind, with an average loss of 6.3 pounds. Those in the other groups lost only half as much weight (an average of 3.2 pounds for the pesco-vegetarian and semi-vegetarian groups and 3.1 pounds for the omnivores). There was no significant difference in reported activity level among the five groups.

I’ve blogged before about why this kind of thing bugs me.  First of all, any diet that restricts whole food groups for the purposes of losing weight is really just a fad diet that’s not likely to stick.

Not only that, and probably related, dieting to lose weight is for the vast majority of those who do it, doomed from the outset. It’s really hard to keep off all the lost weight.  We’ve had lots to say about that on this blog and are basically anti-diet in our approach.  See here and here and here and here for example.

Don’t get me wrong. There are all sorts of good reasons to be vegan or follow a plant-based diet.  Lots of athletes do well on a diet that’s free of animal products.  Like Rich Roll, an ultra-triathlete, and Scott Jurek, an ultra-runner.

I’m vegan, but I can’t say it helped me lose weight or perform better athletically. I continue with my vegan lifestyle (which goes beyond the diet) anyway because my motivation is ethical not based on health or weight loss or performance.

I don’t mind if people are convinced by articles like the one I quoted above to try this approach to eating. But I hate to make its virtues dependent on losing weight or improving athletic performance.

Not everyone is going to respond the same way to every approach to eating. For some people, there may be dramatic weight loss on this kind of diet. But for others, there may be none, or even weight gain.  Especially after they learn how to cook and realize that for every amazing non-vegan food out there that tempts us, there is an equally delicious vegan alternative!

So yes, try eating a plant-based diet.  It’s a perfectly legitimate and morally worthwhile way to satisfy your nutritional needs and keep your palate happy at the same time.  But it’s not a miracle diet.

Here’s a link to a recipe for “Everyday Pad Thai” from one of my favourite vegan blogs, Post Punk Kitchen by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

5 thoughts on “Vegan for Weight Loss? Not Necessarily but Don’t Let That Discourage You!

  1. Great post! I follow a mostly vegetarian diet for a mix of ethical reasons and personal preference, but so many assume it’s simply for weight loss. It’s so important to remember that there are plenty of high calorie vegan/vegetarian foods too, and blanket elimination diets do not in and of themselves cause weight loss or gain. It’s got to be about the big picture!

  2. Good reminder, Tracy. I’ve never been vegetarian. I just eat meat 3-4 times per month. About a fistful of meat per meal.

    Remember, being vegan is a luxury in some parts of the world. Just go to Canada’s far Arctic where fresh food can be very expensive because of shipping costs.

    I’m probably a living example of how to remain fit, reasonably good healthy weight for my whole life and….this includes other members of my family by simply reducing fatty /red meat consumption, keep on whole veggie cooking and eating fruit daily. have some daily exercise integrated into lifestyle and live in a walkable, cycleable neighbourhood where you’re not always dependent on a car.

    If one sticks to being vegetarian easily –great.

    Even better, weigh loss might be helped on discovering completely different types of recipes/dishes that can be creatively adjusted in a myriad of ways. I went to chat up with a boss who is on Weight watchers for past 2 years. She’s lost an impressive 100+ lbs. but now trying to do exercise for toning, etc. Her lunch: slices of raw pepper and a tiny tin of tuna. Seriously: I wouldn’t be eating that type of lunch several times a year. I eat that type of lunch when I’m sick and don’t feel like thinking about a meal.

    How uninspiring to me….since I’ve been raised on dynamic Asian whole food cooking at home (which is different from restaurant style.). For certain I would be reaching for a bag of chips, if I had such an uninspiring lunch.

  3. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    We here all sorts of things about plant-based diets and how if you follow one you’ll lose weight. That’s not necessarily true. But that’s not a reason not to do it. People ask me all the time whether it’s an easy transition. My answer is always, “It’s easier than you think it will be.” That’s not to say it doesn’t mean making changes that take some thought and sometimes planning. But all in all, despite it not being a miracle diet, it’s a good way to eat and it’s not difficult to do.

  4. Thanks for the re-blog, I hadn’t seen this post before. 🙂 I’ve been vegan for ethical reasons for six years now and I have neither lost weight nor gained any. 😀 There are so many vegan sweets and things that I really don’t see why people often assume it’s about health or losing weight. I like to tell people who ask me about it or say things like “Oh, you must be very healthy!” that beer and chips are vegan, too. 😉 (They are, in Germany. :D)

    But yes, it is an excellent and above all compassionate way of life and I encourage anyone who is interested to give it a try. 🙂 I discovered so many new flavours and recipes and really learned to cook when I went vegan.

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