In this post, we’re looking at the reasons why veganism is not a weight loss diet and why going vegan for weight loss can cause more harm than good.
Are you looking to eat vegan to lose weight? In this post, we’ll be discussing the reasons why veganism doesn’t automatically result in weight loss and why eating vegan for the sole purpose of weight loss can be harmful.
Before I start discussing the complicated topic of weight loss diets and veganism, I want to be clear that I’m not here to tell you what to do with your body. This post is simply to encourage you to reflect on the harm caused by dieting and why veganism is not meant to be a weight loss diet. I encourage you to do what feels good for your body and to be aware of diet culture, plus the nutrition misinformation that’s present in our society and in the vegan community.
That being said, let’s discuss weight loss and veganism.
Why Veganism is Not a Weight Loss Diet
Veganism is an ethical movement against the exploitation and harm of animals that goes beyond food. There are many reasons why people decide to go vegan, including the animals, the planet, religion and more. That being said, it’s not a weight loss diet and when we reframe it as such, we forget about the real purpose of veganism.
Some say that someone’s reason for going vegan doesn’t matter, as long as it gets them to eat less meat. As a dietitian, I understand that it’s much more complicated than that. Here are some reasons why we shouldn’t frame veganism as a weight loss diet:
- It creates temporary plant-based dieters, not long-term vegans.
- Dieting is harmful. It’s not a long-term solution and it’s linked to poorer health and an increased risk of developing an eating disorder.
- No eating pattern can guarantee weight loss, including a plant-based way of eating. Body diversity is real. We can all eat the same way and we would still all look different. Plus, veganism doesn’t have rules about what and how much to eat (other than excluding animal products). This means that veganism will look different for everyone and can’t guarantee weight loss.
- Veganism is not a size. Not all vegans are thin and they don’t need to be. Weight stigma is harmful and has no place in a movement focused on liberation.
- Exaggerated health claims are harmful. Healthism in the vegan community is very much present, in part due to the plant-based diet trend. Veganism doesn’t guarantee health and being healthy is not necessary to be vegan. This mentality only perpetuates ableism. Promoting veganism as the solution to curing diseases will leave vegans with those diseases feeling judged.
It’s possible to eat vegan without being restrictive. Going vegan doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) mean following a whole food plant-based diet that also restricts oil, sugar and processed foods. Again, restrictions don’t work.
How can you be vegan without being a part of diet culture and without restricting your diet? I’m sharing more information and tips at the end of this post. But first, let’s discuss the popular Whole Food Plant-Based Diet.
Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
The Whole Food Plant-Based Diet (WFPBD) is a diet that excludes meat, dairy, eggs, refined sugars, oils and processed foods. There are many variations of the WFPBD, but most of them have one thing in common: They’re overly restrictive and not sustainable for most people.
While I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with eating mostly whole foods (fruits, vegetables, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds), if it’s used as another set of rules, it’s just another diet that will result in guilt and shame when people inevitably eat “processed” foods. Plus, the trendy version of this diet excludes very nutritious foods and often makes false health claims. For example, some versions of this diet exclude refined sugars, but allow less refined sugars, such as coconut sugar or maple syrup. I love these types of sweeteners, but to say that they’re healthier is an exaggeration. Both sugars will have a very similar effect on your body. The extra trace elements that you will find in the “less refined” options are miniscule and no one should depend on these sugars to get those nutrients. Plus, the difference in their glycemic indexes are negligible.
Again, I’m not here to tell you what to eat and what not to eat. I don’t want to make you feel guilty for following a WFPBD. Instead, I want to encourage you to reflect on your reasons for following this type of diet and whether or not you’re turning it into a rigid diet.
I truly believe that a plant-based way of eating that focuses mostly on whole foods, but that also allows fun foods and convenience foods when you want or need them, is a very nutritious way of eating and one that has been shown to offer many health benefits. Keeping that flexibility is simply important to protect your relationship with food and to prevent yo-yo dieting. If you can follow this type of eating while staying flexible and while maintaining a healthy relationship with food, then I’m all for it.
What Can You Do Instead? A Non-Diet Approach to Veganism
If you’re interested in shifting towards veganism using a non-diet approach, I’m sharing some thoughts and tips below.
Reflect on Your Relationship with Food
Instead of jumping on another weight loss trend, I encourage you to reflect on your relationship with food. This is not easy, but working with a non-diet and intuitive eating dietitian can help. Support from a psychologist can also be important in your journey to improving your relationship with food and your body.
What Is Your Why?
If you’re interested in eating a vegan diet, or simply eating more plants, consider your reasons. This is an important question to ask yourself before making any diet changes. Why? Because as we discussed earlier, dieting, weight loss and restrictions are not long-term solutions for most people. This also applies to plant-based eating.
If your reason to eat vegan is for health, that’s of course valid. There are many potential health benefits to eating plant-based. However, be careful not to turn veganism into a diet or a method to control your weight and your health. We don’t have complete control over our health or our weight, which means that any diet changes with a strong focus on these can be harmful to your relationship with food or your mental and physical health.
Again, it is possible to be vegan in a sustainable, non-diet way, whether you’re doing it for your health, the environment, the animals or other reasons.
It’s Not All or Nothing
In the diet culture that we live in, it can be easy to get trapped in a black and white mindset. Some foods are “good”, others are “bad”. I’m eating a “perfect” diet or I’m on a “cheat” day. This way of thinking not only harms your relationship with food, but it can also harm your physical and mental health. Having an all-or-nothing mentality around food and nutrition most often leads to feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety. It also triggers a binge and restrict cycle or yo-yo dieting, which has been shown to negatively impact health.
Letting go of an all-or-nothing mentality is an important part of improving your relationship with food. That also goes with plant-based eating. All too often, people want to jump all-in to a vegan diet, without consideration of their relationship with food, nutrient intake or the long-term sustainability of their choices.
I truly believe that eating more plants is an important step in doing our part for the animals and the planet. That being said, I also understand that millions of people eating one plant-based meal per day is more impactful than just a few “perfect” vegans. Don’t aim for “perfection”. Instead, eat more plants in a way that feels good to you, in a sustainable way that will not negatively affect your relationship with food. This might be one vegan meal per day or it might be a fully vegan diet. Do what works best for you, while caring for the animals and our planet in a way that is possible for you. And if you’re a new vegan, it can be helpful to get help from a dietitian regarding nutrients and supplements to make sure that the transition goes smoothly.
Non-Diet Tips for Vegans
This post was focused on discussing the harm of dieting and introducing a different, more sustainable approach to plant-based eating. Now, if you’re ready to shift towards a non-diet vegan approach, you can learn more in the other posts below. You’ll find my gentle nutrition tips for vegan, tips to practice intuitive eating while eating plant-based and more.
- How to Practice Intuitive Eating as a Vegan
- 10 Gentle Nutrition Tips for Vegans
- How to Feel Full on a Vegan Diet
- Different Types of Plant-Based Diets
- How to Prepare Balanced Vegan Meals
- 10 Tips for New Vegans from a Registered Dietitian
You can also find my tips to stop dieting here.
This information is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace individualized nutrition or medical advice.
Looking for dietitian support? Book a free 15-minute discovery call or an appointment with me here.