Haven’t you heard? Simply everyone’s talking about it. Celebrities all over the world are going wild about it. Influencers won’t shut up about it, and everywhere you look on social media, people are extolling its virtues. We’re constantly told how important it is, and scientists and nutritionists appear to be crawling out of the woodwork lining up to tell you why you should be doing it. We’re talking of course about veganism. Men and women of all sorts of ages from a wide range of backgrounds are ditching the animal products in favor of a completely plant based diet. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who’s tried Veganuary this year, you’ve likely been swept along on a tidal wave of promised benefits and rewards. You’ve likely seen clips from documentaries like What The Health and Cowspiracy about how eschewing meat, dairy products fish and eggs can rapidly decrease your stored body fat, help to build lean muscle mass and even help to reverse issues such as diabetes and heart disease while helping to keep cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease at bay.
A couple of weeks in and you should start to see the benefits by now, right? The weight should be falling off and you should start to feel better both in your body and your conscience, right? Then why do you feel so underwhelmed, lacking in energy and even a little sick? Well, for starters you may be in withdrawal. Believe it or not, dairy products (particularly cheeses) are surprisingly addictive. Cheese is rich in casein (dairy protein) and when this protein is digested, it fragments into casomorphins which stimulate the reward and pleasure centers of the brain which is why tucking into a pizza or lasagne feels so darned rewarding. While only the most sensationalist online journalists have tried to liken cheese to hard drugs, the fact remains that going cold turkey on a dairy heavy diet can lead to withdrawal symptoms that take a toll.
If your faith in the vegan lifestyle is wavering, here we’ll delineate some reasons why you might not be reaping the rewards you were promised on a vegan diet as well as explaining why you owe it to yourself to stick with it. But first, a caveat...
Weight loss should not be your reason to go vegan
There are a whole host of reasons why people go vegan, although if you’re hoping for a quick weight loss fix veganism probably isn’t for you. You’d probably be better served by The Atkins diet or any number of faddy diets that offer a quick and unsustainable weight loss fix as you over saturate your diet with one food group at the expense of all others. Veganism is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle and one that is not only beneficial for your health but for the welfare of all creatures on the planet as well as the environment itself.
Not only are plants a healthier source of dietary nutrition, they consume far less resources to grow. Of all the intensively farmed animals, the slaughter of cows for beef is among the hardest to justify. While omnivores may consider beef the gold standard of protein (even though it contains less protein per 100 calories than broccoli) the environmental cost compared to cleaner protein sources is pretty hard to justify. Just 1 calorie from beef requires 27 times more energy to grow than a calorie from soybeans. A single pound of beef requires upwards of 2500 gallons of water to produce compared to 25 gallons for a pound of wheat. That’s why vegans who are hankering for a burger turn to seitan- a gluten based meat substitute can be engineered to a similar taste and texture to beef with just a hundredth of the water footprint.
That’s before we’ve even gotten into the senseless animal suffering. It’s a widely held justification among omnivores (and indeed British Conservative MPs) that animals lack the intelligence to experience pain and suffering the way that we understand it or that they are not cognizant of their fate when sent to slaughter. Unfortunately, this just does not jive with scientific fact, nor will it ring true to anyone who’s actually been to a slaughter house.
A vegan diet is not a miracle diet
While a vegan diet is widely believed to be the best diet for weight loss, we’re wary of the strange cycle of “miracle” fad diets that pops up every few years promising to relieve you not only of the excess weight that’s damaging your self image but the health issues that may have plagued you for years. In the ‘70s it was all about the low fat craze, in the ‘90s and ‘00s it was all about Dr Atkins and his high fat, low carb polemic, then came Dr Dukkan and the paleo enthusiasts with their insistence that we should not only cut out all processed foods (which is great) but also that legumes, peanuts and grains couldn’t be trusted either (which is nonsense).
Veganism, unlike these unsustainable fad diets does not extol the virtues of one food group at the expense of all others and contains healthy amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and fats which are easily assimilated by the body. That said, perhaps the paleo mob may have a point when it comes to foregoing processed foods and getting more whole and homemade foods into our diet. This brings us to...
The whole(foods) truth
Any diet that is packed with empty calories from processed convenience foods will impede weight loss and general health whether it contains animal products or not. One can technically live a vegan lifestyle subsisting entirely on Pringles, Coca Cola and gumdrops but one can clearly see that this is as far from being a healthy diet as it’s possible to get.
A healthy vegan diet should consist mainly of fresh veggies. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that of all the fad diets out there, none disagree that we should all be eating more veggies, especially leafy greens like spinach, kale, cabbage and chard. You should also have a healthy smattering of fruits in there too and some cereals. The gluten intolerant amongst you will be delighted to know that there’s little that can be done with wheat that can’t be done with oats.
A rookie mistake that many neophyte vegans make is to lean too heavily on processed foods (particularly meat and dairy substitutes) to plug the gap and keep their cravings at bay. While meat substitutes tend to be less harmful than processed meat products (more on that later), they should by no means form the bulk of a vegan diet. Don’t worry though! If you have a hankering for a burger, there are plenty of delicious and nutritious homemade vegan burger recipes to choose from!
The health benefits that you may not see but you’re definitely getting
It’s a sads but unavoidable truth that we tend to focus too much on the outside rather than what’s going on inside. While a lean looking body may belie an unhealthy interior, our superficial and image obsessed society will always see a slim body as a sign of health. Thus, while you may not be seeing the outward results that you were hoping for a few weeks into Veganuary, you’ll likely be experiencing changes on the inside that will make their way outside in due time.
You will likely experience lower cholesterol since you will be eating far less saturated fat than an omnivore, and sorry Dr. Atkins, fats do matter! By reducing your consumption of processed foods and using coconut or oilve oils rather than margarine in cooking, you’ll be consuming far fewer synthetic trans fats. You’ll likely also be consuming far fewer refined sugars combined with saturated fats as all butter cookies, for example, will be a thing of the past. These factors will all contribute to a severely reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. Processed meats like bacon, salami and pepperoni are graded as type 1 carcinogens. That’s the same category as cigarettes.
Always be measuring
Sometimes gains in lean muscle mass and body fat reduction are small but meaningful. You may not be able to see them in the mirror for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t taking place. For this reason it’s always a good idea to measure yourself around the chest, waist, arms, legs and hips on a weekly basis to track your progress. You can find a guide to doing this at https://www.tonebodyfit.com/coaching/take-body-measurements-weight-loss. Measuring yourself regularly will keep you cognizant of your progress and help you track your goals.
Why you should stick with it
Depending on your previous diet, weight, health and fitness, it may take weeks or even months for the benefits of a vegan diet to become visible to the point where you see them in the mirror or are noticed by your friends and family. In the meantime, though, you should chomp away at your veggies, fruits, grains and pulses safe in the knowledge that you’re eating nutritious and sustainable food that is benefiting the environment and doesn’t come at the cost of animal suffering.