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.