Go vegan, get skinny?

Last week P. came across a German so called women’s magazine, which announced a “new” diet on its cover. It was called the “veganista diet” and promised to get skinny with the help of a “detox effect”. And surprise, surprise, the featured article was about losing weight on a vegan diet. It opened by mentioning celebrities who follow a vegan or almost vegan diet. Then it stated that veganism was more than a celebrity trend. According to this article, whose authors quote an association for German vegetarians (Vegetarierbund), 600 000 Germans (out of 83 millions) are vegans right now. That is not too much, is it? But the authors continue their argument by explaining that the numbers were rising.

And yes, this article shows that veganism has reached the German mainstream. It is not a celebrity trend, I have to agree. It seems to be a popular weight loss diet trend. But basically that means, this is not about veganism. it is not this lifestyle that has become popular. Much more popular are the myths which surround this lifestyle.  While the authors take the time to explain ethical veganism very briefly, it soon becomes very clear that ethics, compassion  and animal welfare are definitely not what this article is about. Instead they ask: “How can  I profit from a vegan diet?”
They mention some health benefits of a vegan diet and claim that vegans are leaner than omnivores. Their explanation: vegans pile more vegetables on their plates than omnivores, their diet is free from (animal based) chemicals and they do not have to digest animal protein leftovers. This will help them to “detox” their body. That means, so the article claims, that after eating vegan for two or three days, people feel “lighter”, more satisfied, and full of energy. Then the authors give some tips on nutrition. They mention calcium and B12. According to the article you can get B12 from algae and sauerkraut. And when it comes to protein, the only source they mention are nuts. And because nuts are included, this diet is not as rigid as usual women’s magazine weight loss “plans”. 1500 calories per day are suggested as the upper limit, to lose weight slowly and without hunger pains.

Where do I start? That people should aim at slow weight loss is, in my opinion, the only decent advice this article gives. The rest is based on myths and misinformation. Some of it is even dangerous. I think it is great if people go vegan. For ethical reasons, for health reasons, for environmental reasons. But if they go vegan for whatever reason, they should have the chance to make informed decisions based on solid information, so that they can thrive on this vegan diet.  B12 in algae and sauerkraut? Last time I checked no plant food was a reliable source of B12. Vegans need to take supplements or make sure to eat a decent amount of B12 enriched foods every day. (In Germany there are not enough of those foods though.) To be fair, the article mentions supplements. But there already is so much misinformation on B12 available everywhere. It is frustrating that this article makes just another contribution to this mess. It is exactly this kind of misinformation that makes veganism seem complicated for many and dangerous for some. Further, veganism is presented as a fad diet that you follow for two weeks and then you quit because that diet is too restrictive or because you don’t get the results it promised you. Vegans come in all shapes. They all have different bodies, different metabolisms and even different diets. Some eat a lot of vegetables, others don’t. If people feel sluggish, that might be for a ton of reasons. And if they feel energetic and light after two days of eating vegan, that might have more to do with a placebo effect than with their diet. Oh and for the record, vegetables can contain chemicals, too. Vegans don’t live under a bell jar.

The way veganism is presented here really concerns me. To me, veganism is about compassion and about critical thinking. It challenges many views we have not only about food or the food industry, but generally it challenges views we have about power and hierarchies. It’s is not a quick-fix for weight loss. It is not another fad diet. It should not be about weight or looks but about ethics and compassion. I know that many people go vegan to lose weight. What if they are not successful? Not only will they likely go back to the diet they followed before, they will probably also feel bad and disheartened. (For example because they are told that vegans are leaner than others. Well, statistically that may be true. But still many vegans to not fit into this statistic.) And that might also be because of articles like this, where someone tells you that vegans weigh less than omnivores and that you can lose that weight, too. Sounds so easy, right? But if you ever tried losing weight, you know how hard it is and that it is not about diet alone.

It makes me angry that veganism is used here to reinforce gender stereotypes, when in fact one of the biggest advantages of veganism is that by challenging society’s view on animal exploitation, we also learn to see and challenge many other levels of exploitation. For me it is important to remember that veganism is not about “How can I profit?” but about “How can I contribute?”, for example to a society that is less cruel not only to animals, but also to humans, especially women.

18 thoughts on “Go vegan, get skinny?

  1. This article makes me chuckle. I went vegan from being a vegetarian (for ethical reasons) and I actually gained a few kilos. Ate too much simple carbohydrates and basically became a junk food vegan, but now I want to try more healthy recipes. I did start feeling a lot lighter though, no after dinner deep :)

  2. ich finds schön, dass hier mal erwähnt wird, dass es Veganer-wie andere Menschen auch in allen Gewichtsklassen gibt…wäre ja auch schrecklich wenn alle Veganer gleich wären ;-)

  3. i’ve heard the thinking before that if people don’t go vegan for the animals then it usually doesn’t stick. i agree with this entire post— especially the last paragraph. it’s also strange to me in general how much knowledge people lack about basic nutrition and food science. i remember a coworker who was on a two week “detox diet” and she explained that she couldn’t have meat, dairy, or added sugar. i just remember thinking “that is not a detox. it is just a mostly raw + low sugar vegan diet. . . i do that everyday.”

    it also really bothers me that i have never seen a television show/movie where veganism (or even vegetarianism) is normalized. i mean, not that i should expect that from the media but how after all this time is being compassionate the punchline of every joke? blerg.

  4. Urgh. I hate that kind of coverage of veganism. I’m sick of the idea that there is one form of veganism, that it’s something you do for a period of your life like a hobby (‘Hey remember that summer I was on a vegan diet?’) rather than principles you hold and make judgements based on. Bah.

  5. I’m overweight as well as my husband and we have both been vegan for almost 5 years now. Neither of us lost any weight since going vegan. I don’t try to loose any weight, because when I’m trying I always gain weight. The problem with these articles, besides the things you already mentioned, is that it can make overweight people feel awkward or un-welcome at vegan events/places, because they don’t fit the stereotype. It also leads to “Wait, how can you be vegan, you’re fat” exclamations and that sort of stuff.

    1. Thank you , thank you for writing this post and thank you to all those who took the time to comment. I cannot lie, became a very lazy vegetarian, both in terms of my diet and in terms of my interest/ awareness of animal and human rights. Therefore, my decision to try and try again to stick to vegan diet was borne out of a desire to be healthier with weight loss hopefully being a happy side effect. I’m not all that different in size actually, although I’m confident I won’t fluctuate. What IS wonderful though is the fact that I met my wonderful partner, made a whole bunch of like-minded friends, re-connected with animal rights issues, started talking openly about the topics that matter to me and re-ignited my love of cooking. My teenage son is now vegan too :-) I’m not immune to all the diet bullshit, (big gulp, confession time, I struggle with an eating disorder) but it completely saddens me that the vegan waters are muddied by publications such as ‘skinny bitch’ (I hope that last bit makes sense, I’m reading it back and it sounds silly) It seems that there are so many Celebrities that make it onto those ‘famous vegan’ lists, but how many of them are doing it because it’s popular Hollywood diet fad?

    2. I have heard these things over and over, when I was an overweight vegetarian. I wish people would understand how difficult weight loss and then keeping the weight off is.

  6. I completely agree that veganism is about compassion and not about jean size. I do admit that when I went vegan 5 years ago, a huge part of it was my desire to lose weight. However, once you start reading about veganism and immersing yourself in information, I think it’s possible for that decision to turn ethical really quickly. I don’t think anyone going vegan strictly for weight loss is a good long term strategy. I am a 60-70 lb overweight vegan and have been the whole time. There is no magic cure for weight loss, only hard work. My hope is that people who get into it for weight loss will stay with it for animals.

  7. I feel this way so often. As someone who runs a vegan bakery, I often have to explain to people that a vegan cupcake is the same as eating a regular cupcake. Yes, you aren’t getting any cholesterol, but you’re still eating sugar & oil. And that’s ok. It’s just as important to treat yourself to nice things! And to not make yourself feel terribly guilty over it!

    I remember trying to explain to someone in college how animal rights are intertwined with human rights. I remember mentioning that in the USA, factory farms are often staffed by undocumented workers who can’t speak out about the terrible conditions they work in and the infections they get from the dirty factories without the fear of being deported.

    1. That is a good point! It’s always important to question where ones food, but also so much other stuff (clothes, computers, smartphones) come from. We have all these huge vegetable farms in Europe, where people have to work under terrible conditions, too.

  8. It’s so disheartening to see these kinds of things. I completely agree with you on all accounts.
    Firstly, it’s incredibly irresponsible to give people incorrect nutritional advice- but, like you I hate that through these articles veganism becomes associated with fad diets and a solution to one’s personal problems when it’s not about us at all but the animals, lessening our impact on the world and cultivating compassion. I bet there was absolutely no mention of any reason to go vegan except weight loss in the article.
    Great points about gender stereotyping and exploitation on a wider level too.

  9. Ich stimme dir voll und ganz zu! Trotzdem freue ich mich auch immer über solche scheinbar oberflächlichen Artikel :-) Führen die doch auch gelegentlich völlig Ahnungslose an das Thema ran, die sonst bei (Tier)Ausbeutung gleich weiter blättern würden.

  10. I agree with everything you say. it just reminds me of how much we live in a “me” society. If one goes on a vegan diet to lose weight, then it’s for the wrong reason and shouldn’t be promoted as that type of diet, It’s a way of life and if anything diet related, than it is one of compassion.

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