Media Buzz: Veganism is Not a Crash Diet
September 18, 2011

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Hey all! Hope you’ve had lovely and relaxing weekends so far.

Late last week, my friend JL called attention to some recent media buzz about vegan diet on her brand spanking new website, Stop Chasing Skinny. For those of you who don’t know, JL—who is the author of JL Goes Vegan—created Stop Chasing Skinny to host conversations about surrendering unrealistic and damaging standards of body shape. I was thrilled with this initiative, because

  1. I think JL’s a wonderful and an honest writer
  2. I think she’s an ideal role model and advocate for healthy body image
  3. I, too, care about starting healthy and safe dialogs about the pressure to be thin

But most importantly, I’m excited about JL’s new site because she is taking huge strides to show her readers that vegans come in all shapes and sizes. Veganism is not synonymous with thinness, nor do vegan diets guarantee weight loss; you can go vegan to lose weight if you want to, but given the wide array of vegan eating styles, it’s hardly a guarantee.

If you were to listen to the stories of starlets who experiment with vegan diets, though, you might never know that veganism isn’t some sort of crash diet. Over a year ago, Amanda Seyfried described her experiment with a raw diet as

“…Spinach. Just spinach. Spinach and some seeds.”

And recently, Megan Fox also halted a vegan diet, saying:

‘For a year and a half, until about four months ago, I followed a strict vegan diet based on raw fruits and vegetables, no bread, sugar and coffee. But I had lost too much weight.

As JL points out, it’s fantastic that a Hollywood role model wanted to be curvier and to regain the weight she’d unintentionally lost: three cheers to Megan Fox for not aiming to look like a waif! What troubles me is the fact that she, like Amanda Seyfried, seemed to equate veganism and raw food with a “detox diet” (or so these no-bread-no-coffee-no-cooked-food-no-fun regimens are often called). And that’s simply unfair: being vegan has nothing to do with tossing away one’s morning coffee, or refusing to eat bread. I can’t imagine my life without either my morning java or my beloved Ezekiel sandwiches, or without a healthy balance of raw and cooked food.

Yes, my veganism is related to a strong interest in healthy eating, and that’s true for many other vegans. But that doesn’t mean it’s synonymous with deprivation. A healthy and responsible vegan diet allows for tremendous variety and range: fruits, vegetables, grains of all types, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy foods, sea vegetables, healthy, EFA-rich oils, and even the ever-growing array of vegan imitation foods that are wholesome and made with integrity (think Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss, Field Roast sausages, or Daiya Cheese). There are likewise many approaches to veganism: there’s the high-raw approach, the macrobiotic approach, and the good old fashioned “I’ll eat anything so long as it’s vegan” approach. These are all reasonable ways to enjoy a plant-based diet.

What isn’t reasonable is eating nothing but greens, watery vegetables, and fruit. I touched on this in my summary of the Vida Vegan Con nutrition panel: one of the major arguments that my colleague and friend Ginny Messina makes is that many of the cases in which vegans fail to thrive have nothing to do with the elimination of animal products: the problem is that the person who got sick had also eliminated a slew of other food groups (soy, grains, fats). It’s important to be able to make this distinction: eating an animal-free diet is not the same thing as eating a green-vegetable-only diet: if anything, the elimination of all animal foods forces us to think responsibly about getting enough density and nutrition with plants. It’s not hard to do, but it certainly demands a little forethought and dedication.

Ultimately, we all make our own dietary choices. Megan Fox is now on the5-Factor Diet; I personally think that’s a rather regimented and limited protocol, but if she feels well, she feels well. Nevertheless, I think it’s important for us all to remember that it was the “strict” part of Fox’s “strict vegan diet” that was most likely to blame for her weight loss: not the fact that it excluded animals.

The take home message? Veganism is not synonymous with lettuce, seeds, and deprivation. Approaching veganism that way is not only dangerous, but also shares a misleading image of the lifestyle with the world. I like to think that all plant-based eaters are humble ambassadors: let’s all of us show the world that it’s possible to be healthy, happy and well fed while also living with compassion.

Your turn, all! What are your thoughts? Do you see veganism as synonymous with deprivation? Why? Who do you think perpetuates that message? And what can we do to combat it?

xo

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    69 Comments
  1. No way! I think I actually have MORE choices when I eat vegan, because I don’t fall back on mindless eating of what’s easy and quick- when I eat vegan, I think about preparing a new fun dish, trying a new veg or fruit or grain, or making something in a different way. I’m new to vegan stuff, but I think eating vegan is exciting & fun. I think it’s sad there’s this misperception of deprivation. Don’t get me started on stupid Hollywood diets 😉

  2. Love it!

    I was a vegan for years and very much enjoyed it. I’m now mostly vegan but decided, for the sake of my psychy to lose the labels. I’m a rule follower and sometimes I give myself too many rules and they start ruling my life. Recently I just made the choice to eat a healthy, plant based, GMO free, diet. It’s been really great. I don’t really eat much, if any, meat and minimal dairy because honestly it doesn’t make me feel great.

  3. Gena – I’ve been a bit of a lurker on your blog for a while now, but you keep writing such amazing posts I can’t keep myself form commenting any longer!

    It really upsets me that people see Veganism as restrictive and synonymous with deprivation because eating Vegan means the complete opposite for me. When I truly was depriving myself by eating a calorie restricted diet and working out excessively – no one said a thing about my food choices. Eating a high raw vegan diet saved me from what was on the cusp of becoming a serious eating disorder so it really bugs me to hear people describe it so unfairly.

    When I get the whole “what DO you eat?” from people my initial response is “what DON’T I eat!”. I’m like “Man if you could see how much/what I eat every day, you sure as hell wouldn’t be calling me deprived!” but I guess such is the beauty of blogging.

    Anyways thank you for this post – you are inspirational as always.

  4. Far from it. Eating plants for the past 30 years keeps me placing in 5K races for my age group, running half marathons/marathons and coaching and often running faster than the high school girls cross country team. Plenty of protein, calcium and energy. Has kept me from breast cancer that got my mom, aunt and both sisters. Most all adults in my family have/had heart disease and diabetes, along with arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and more. Will somebody please study why my life has been a successful experiment to beat the odds? Ooops…no money in broccoli. And almost all studies require that you have cancer first. I’m available just in case…

  5. I’m a good example that veganism is definitely not a crash diet… In the past two years since I cut out eggs and dairy (I was vegetarian for 16 years or so til then) I’ve gained probably 8-10 lbs…. My activity level hasn’t changed, I’ve just become so fascinated with veganizing rich, creamy foods that I end up eating more fats in the form of nuts, avocados, oils, etc.

    When I ate cheese and milk they weren’t tempting enough to have them all the time, but learning vegan cooking has improved my skills (and enjoyment) in the kitchen tenfold so now I make indulgent meals way more often 🙂

    • I totally hear ya on the increased enjoyment in the kitchen. Animal-free meals have turned my kitchen into the most well-stocked, sociable room in the house! I also think that plant-based meals have broadened my palate. I have a greater understanding of the balance of hot, sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and earthy flavours that combine to make a truly satisfying dish now that my taste buds aren’t perverted by excessively salty or sweet foods convenience foods. (I guess that’s less about avoiding animal foods than it is about avoiding junk food. I digress.) Anyway. I second the joy of veganizing traditional meals and discovering new flavour combinations!

  6. Love this post. I am veg and my partner is vegan, and we aren’t in to raw or super foods. Sometimes it’s hard when all the prominent vegans also seem to be health obsessed, especially in the consumer driven western world.

  7. I think one of the other major issues of veganism is when people simply do not eat enough volume of food. It is really easy to under eat when you cut out meat and dairy, because plant based foods are much higher in water and fiber content, which can lead you to feel fuller faster. Also when people take their meat eating portion sizes and transfer it to a vegan diet. It is not enough to eat a 1/4 cup of rice, a 1/4 cup of beans and a side salad with 1/2 and avocado! Even if people do not restrict food groups, they still may restrict portion sizes to much. You should feel comfortably satisfied after every meal. If you are hungry all the time, you need more food! It is important not to restrict to many types of foods as a vegan, but also not to restrict your calories, to a reasonable level.

  8. And even if Veganism doesn’t make you thin if you are eating Vegan Cookies everyday, I still don’t think that Vegans are the ones in the gastric bypass lines.
    There is a whole new subset of TV programs just on bypass surgery! And health insurance covers it! So even if you eat total crap and are vegan, I still don’t think you are going to get that huge. A nice vegan fat maybe, but then you will be Phat. I just wonder how many vegans do have to do gastric bypass a year…….anyone know??

  9. I think veganism can be whatever you want it to be, but the word vegan implies more than diet. It implies that you consider what material you sweater is made of and that you don’t really consider your dog different than a pig or a cow. Girls shouldn’t feel pressure about anything, but then the truth is that 75% of people are overweight in the States. So if you are living on the coasts, people might be thin. But in the rest of the country they are killing themselves with cattle!! I think if you do want to lose weight that eating plants, nuts, fruits, grains is the way to go. But I started being vegan about 15 years ago, and was vegetarian at least 15 prior. For the animals. Now, at 40 I am so happy that I don’t eat cheese or chicken for a myriad of reasons though. Girls shouldn’t have to fit into any category of anything ever-but at the same time, people in the states need to address the fact that “fat” is costing us billions of dollars a year. I also think Hollywoood stars are going to do whatever with any diet and there isn’t a way to prevent it. Going on a few day juice feast may be perfectly healthy but if some celeb does it they will surely pass out and then it’s a media frenzy, omg, so and so is living on juice! The benefit we can take from any of it, is that it creates a dialogue. If celebs are doing it, it’s actually picking up steam. So it creates dialogue, just like your blog, to talk about what veganism really is. I tend to be on the healthier side of that at this point in my life, trying to eat food close it it’s sources and not overly refined-but I like to advertise as well that you can make sticky gooey butter cake vegan, and any ridiculously decadent dessert or food can be veganized and still be better for you than a forklift full of lard.

  10. I don’t think veganism is synonymous with deprivation at all because, to me, vegans choose to avoid animal products for ethical and health reasons and not for disordered eating. These high profile cases of celebrities using veganism as an excuse for restrictive dieting annoys me! Especially that most assume veganism is a crash diet and not that they’re doing it wrong, like my grandma thought about me when I first went vegan. But I think things will get better as veganism goes more mainstream and more accurate information about it gets circulated.

  11. Thank you Gena and JL! Celebrities and other people on news and talk shows who talk about eating almost nothing and water and calling it ‘veganism’ makes me so angry. It’s so frustrating to have that much misinformation spread to the public.

  12. At first i was a bit skeptical of a raw food diet, but what made me keep reading your blog is that it does not have to be an “all or nothing” choice. I initially thought that I am already limited in my food repertoire as I have Celiac – but in actual fact, it made me more aware of what I am feeding my soul with and fueling my day, feeding my children, and shopping for in the stores. No, it does not equal deprivation, just as Celiac disease does not equal deprivation. It provides a new door to open, investigate and examine choices we did not earlier knew existed. Thanks for not being preachy, but approaching this as another choice in our lives.

  13. Veganism is not a crash diet unless you make it that way. Some people thrive on a vegan diet. Some don’t. Everyone is different, and each person’s approach can be classified into “vegan” or “omnivorous”, but regardless of which category it falls into, if someone ate only fruits, vegetables, and bacon, they wouldn’t be very healthy either now would they?

  14. I have found my way to JL’s blog via your site previously, and I applaud her “stop chasing skinny” project. However, as a skinny person, I’ve found that it’s equally important to stop chasing acceptance. There will always be people who attribute my low weight to disordered eating, and all’s I can say is unless you’ve been there and back, you are in no position to judge. Maybe not even then. I eat in a way that gives me peace of mind. That I’m still relatively thin, and healthy, is pure accident.

    • Hmm — I agree that we shouldn’t make accusations about thinness; as a thin person, I’m well aware that thinness can be unfairly misconstrued! There’s nothing wrong with being thin, so long as it doesn’t involve unhealthy measures and/or deprivation.

      That said, I do think it’s a worthy thing to chase acceptance, if that means continuing to battle for more realistic standards of shape. The number of people who maintain a very slim frame without deprivation is not high (I’m not saying it’s unheard of, either — it’s just not a widespread norm), even among healthy eaters. I think it’s commendable to argue for ideals and imagery that are more in keeping with reality as most women experience it, and to speak for the many plant-based eaters out there who don’t fit into the stereotype of the vegan woman as a “skinny” woman.

      • Gena, just to clarify, I was referring to acceptance of various ways of eating, and not to shapes and sizes! I think the battle for acceptance of “health at any size” (or, at least, at many sizes) is a valiant one! What I meant, and perhaps I wasn’t clear, is that we should eat in the way that feels right to us, and not worry what other people think. It applies especially to people who’ve had eating disorders: we don’t have to adopt a “normal” diet so that people will think we are “normal.” As long as we remain “thin,” there are going to be people who will think we eat the way we do because we’re on a diet. These people will never accept our way of eating, unless we’re willing to gain 15 lbs. It’s this acceptance I have decided to stop chasing.

        • E, sorry not to reply sooner. I’ve battled the same sorts of skepticism I would assume you have regarding my green juices, my vegan diet, my slender build, and the fact that I’m not going to eat vegan pizza every night (though I do enjoy it some nights) simply to prove that I am “normal” and “recovered.” I suspect we have slightly different “redefined” relationships with food post-ED, but I agree completely that subscribing to a mainstream eating paradigm is not the true mark of recovery. If that’s your avenue, that’s great, but for the many of us who didn’t take that route, but still recovered, the dogma rings very false indeed.

  15. How strange – English isn’t my first language, and up until now I always thought that ‘waif’, judging by how magazines use it, was rather a positive word. I just now looked it up for the first time to find out what it actually means. And they tell us to try and learn new words based on the context they appear in…

  16. it’s unfortunate when vegan becomes synonymous with ideals that misrepresent it. it turns people off and increases the idea of vegan being “the other.” this is shown time and time again in sitcoms and other general media scenarios with some family member going vegan or vegetarian, and having it make the rest of the characters uncomfortable. it then easily becomes uncomfortable for the viewers, instead of increasing awareness or openess. viewing it in the diet realm does the same. only it disregards the moral ground and exploits the lifestyle for weight benefit (and not necessarily *health* benefit). this equates it with slim fast and cayenne/lemon/maple syrup juice and other “not real food” views on diets.

    I also have to say it’s kind of ironic that below that eloquent weight and health based blog entry, an ad for south beach diet prevails.

    i love the thoughts and conversation on topics like this.

  17. I did lose a good deal of weight as I moved from a junk food vegetarian to healthy veggie and then vegan diet, but I’d been fat my whole life and it was weight I very much needed to lose. Now I’m hardly skinny, but I am at a healthy weight; I’ve never looked better but most importantly, I’ve never felt better! And I am hardly deprived – I consider it practically a matter of principle to eat chocolate every day, and while I love my green smoothies, I also cannot wait to get my hands on a Macnocheeto from Homegrown Smoker on my upcoming trip to Portland! 🙂

    One of the best side effects of bringing my lunch to work every day is showing people that vegan food is varied and delicious, so much more than the “roots and twigs” image they have. I love provoking envy in my omni coworkers!

  18. I loved reading this! I have a lot of people who think that my thinness is attributed to my vegan diet, when in all reality I feel that I have more foods and food groups open to me than ever before. I’m eating a wide variety of foods and trying new things (and even getting the boyfriend to try some of the more “socially acceptable ones, think sprouted tofu) and my diet is better balanced than anyone I know (in real life). I know I eat enough calories to sustain life, and I eat enough GOOD calories to sustain a HEALTHY life. I don’t even like plain iceberg salads. but people assume that’s what makes up the majority of my meals. When I first went vegan, my boyfriend asked if my main protein source is tofu. In actuality, I probably get the least of my macronutrients from tofu. He was surprised to see how varied my diet actually is. Thanks so much!

  19. Stories like these along with stories about how parent’s have had their children taken away from them because they were malnourished on a ‘vegan’ diet show that ignorance about the true nature of a vegan lifestyle is still high.

    When it comes to any sort of dietary change people should put in the time to research the changes they are making rather than jumping in blindly and assuming they’ll figure it out as they go along. I know that getting everyone to put that type of effort in is wishful thinking, but I believe that as long as people think of their diet as inclusive rather than depriving, they will nurture their bodies at least somewhat appropriately.

    When any diet is based on restriction, it is doomed to fail. Though veganism does cut out animal products, in my opinion it’s more about finding new products to replace them than just going without.

    Thank you for your insight into the issue and I hope that these kinds of conversations can lead to a better understanding of vegansim as well as a discussion of ways in which we can approach breaking down those stereotypes.

    • Indeed: these cases take the worst abuses and turn them into perceived norms. It would be as if we took every case of heart disease or obesity due to SAD diet and declared that all omnivorous diets are de facto deadly.

  20. It’s definitely ignorance making people think veganism is about deprivation. When you’re out and deny the fried chicken everyone is eating and see the only thing vegan is a salad, people like to judge. I don’t think I lost weight as a vegan, I think I just felt thinner because my stomach wasn’t hurting all the time!

  21. While I’ve mentioned before that I’m not fully vegan (yet), transitioning has opened my eyes to so many new foods and pushed me to come up with combinations outside the boring old turkey sandwich/chicken noodle soup realm. Things like tempeh, pumpkin seeds, millet and lentils had never been on my radar before now – these days, I’m all about the new foods! Rather than limiting my diet, it’s actually expanded it!

    However, I do see how the idea in conventional attitudes does = very limited. This weekend my boyfriend and I headed to breakfast at Sweet Tomatoes, where the only vegan choices were salad from their salad bar or roasted potatoes. Although it wasn’t ideal, I ended up with a plate of eggs because salad at 9 am isn’t exactly appetizing and thanks to the standard, extremely limited approach to veganism, the buffet had practically no choices. I’d love to see the day when they added some soy milk, tofu scrambles or peanut butter oatmeal to the menu!

    • I definitely know what you mean, Faith. I rarely ever eat breakfast out, because I find it to be the most difficult meal to find vegan food at. Most places generally have oatmeal, and most make it with water, not milk, but with that as the only option, it is very frustrating!

  22. I definitely do not see veganism as a diet of deprivation. Back when I was vegan, I ate a lot more than I do now! I was underweight beforehand, and was actually able to gain weight while being vegan. If you eat the right foods, and enough of them, veganism can be just as fulfilling (sometimes even more so) as an omnivorous diet.

    I think the people who perpetuate the idea of veganism as being unhealthily restrictive are those who are ignorant about what a vegan diet has to offer. They’re the people who look at it as being less caloric (another misconception) or lower in fat (yet another). When you subtract animals, a lot of people go straight to thinking that fruits and vegetables are all that’s left, which is not true in the slightest.

    We can combat this by sharing with people how inclusive veganism can be. I take friends and family to my favorite vegan restaurants, and bake vegan treats to show people how delicious vegan food can be. So many times, someone will say, “This doesn’t even taste vegan!” I find this funny. What does vegan taste like? Haha. Nevertheless, I love when people say that, because I know what they’re trying to say, which is that they don’t miss meat and dairy in the dish. It’s all about spreading the word, and helping people understand what veganism really means (and doesn’t mean). Great post, Gena!

  23. I suppose it has a lot to do with the approach that one takes. I certainly felt deprived on all of the “diets” I tried in the past. It was all about “no”: No fat, carbs, processed foods etc. When I chose to become vegan, it wasn’t for dietary reasons. Instead it was a positive and conscious choice based on “yes”: Yes to animal welfare and whole foods. Since I feel good about the foods that I include on my plate, I don’t in anyway miss the foods that are not included.

  24. Thank-you, Gena!

    It irritates me to no end when I tell people that I’m vegan and they go, “Oh, so that’s why you’re so skinny. You don’t eat anything!” This could not be furthur from the truth; I’m at a relatively normal weight and my thinness comes from an awesome metabolism. But I’ve had friends who want to try being “more vegan” so that they can lose weight.

    This makes me really confused. On one hand, I don’t want to encourage them to lose weight, when they clearly don’t have any weight to lose. On the other hand, I want to promote veganism in any way that I can.

    I also worry that the medias depiction of veganism will have my friends eating nothing but spinach and seeds and then giving it up in two weeks. The number one comment I get from omnivores when I tell them I’m vegan is “Oh, that must be so hard.”

    I guess that as vegans, the only thing we can do is positively demonstrate that it is possible to eat beautiful, rich, delicious food without animal products. Show them that it is possible to stay at your natural weight easily and effortlessly. And promote the idea that Veganism is sustainable for life, NOT a crash diet.

  25. I think that veganism only implies deprivation if you’re not socially, psychologically or emotionally ready for the shift that excluding animals foods from your diet may bring. There’s more variety in the plant world than there is in the animal food world, so with the exception of what I just mentioned (especially the social aspect, I find), I am always confused when people say that plant based eating is restrictive and limited. I actually find that plant based eating has provided me with the least dietary limitations because I can finally enjoy my food in nice sized quantities, AND feel great physically. 🙂

  26. Interesting post! I wrote something on veganism/heath/thinness yesterday and didn’t see this earlier. I am an ethical vegan and I guess I mostly follow the “I’ll eat anything as long as it’s vegan” approach. For me it is important to stress that I am a vegan for ethical and not for health reasons. I definitely don’t see it as a kind of deprivation, in fact my diet now is much more varied than it used to be before I went vegan. And I don’t read celebrety mags. That keeps me sane 🙂

  27. Gena, first thank you for being so kind about my attempt to build a community in which we stop chasing skinny and instead start pursuing health. As always, you really get to the heart of the issue.

    I have never been more compassionate to myself, or to animals, than now. Veganism has led me to nurture my body and in the process toss aside body image expectations and simply let my body get round and full (BTW, I’m not round from Oreos, I’m round because I no longer shun healthy breads, grains, fats and beans and I no longer excessively exercise).

    In the process of nurturing my body I have discovered an even stronger commitment to doing my part to help animals live full, cruelty-free lives.

  28. Bravo Gena! What a thoughtful post. I cannot tell you how many times I have people accuse me of being on a raw, vegan diet for weight-loss. While this diet has been truly liberating for me as a result of having eating issues growing up, the reasons extend far beyond how I look into how am I treating the environment and our fellow inhabitants (the animals) on this planet and how I am feeding my body so that I can be a healthy, vibrant role model for my children and live a long life. Love this post!!!

  29. Thank you for addressing a misconception almost as large as “where do you get your protein?”.
    I’ve re-posted this blog title on my FB page 🙂
    Be well,
    Dinneen

  30. I am really surprised that all of these celebrities with their unlimitted resources and private chefs can say that veganism is restrictive. Veganism is all about being creative with your food and since I’ve started introducing more vegan days into my diet, I have discovered some brand new foods that I now enjoy!

  31. Once again a great post, Gena! I’m ‘only’ vegetarian, but with a strong emphasis on fruit, vegetables, and salads, and I often get comments about my “strange” food and “depriving” way of eating. My meat-loving co-workers often ask me, “if you don’t eat meat or fish, what the heck DO you eat?”. My answer is: A lot! Since becoming vegetarian, my diet has been much more diverse, I’m healthier than ever and I’ve never felt deprived or starving. I’m also nowhere near skinny.
    I wish that more people would understand that you can live very well on a veg*n diet, while still enjoying lots of delicious meals.

    • My usual response to that is “Everything you do, and so much more!” There are vegan versions of just about every omni product you can think of, but like a lot of people, my diet expanded well beyond those standard omni offerings when I went vegan.

  32. I heartily agree with this brilliant post! I’ve actually put on a few pounds since becoming vegan, and although it occasionally stresses me, the fact that I have such a love of food now, and know that I have minimal impact on the natural world and the animals I love MORE than makes up for it! 🙂

    I’ve also been enjoying baking all kinds of cakes and biscuits for friends, family and co-workers to share the vegan love, so that may have contributed 😉

    One thing is for sure, my hair, skin and heart (both physical and metaphorical) are SO much better on a vegan diet 🙂

  33. Dear Gena,

    First off, I’m a new member of your website and have been making your recipes for two weeks now! Love it all and thank you!

    In reply to this post: Amazing. Just this weekend I visited my hometown and went to a Denny’s with my old friend. She ordered a grand slam: bacon, eggs, huge mound of oily hash browns, pancakes, and orange juice. As she bit into her bacon she grinned widely in my face and said, “Mmm..You’ve got to live a little! Indulge and relax sometimes.”

    When I ordered a “Seasonal Fruit” as my dish, because everything on the menu had dairy or animal products, my boyfriend said, “That is her indulging. That fruit isn’t organic.” She then proceeded to ask if I was seeing a psychologist because she thought I had an eating disorder! Needless to say, I’m not underweight or have any psychological problems. I just love to eat and cook plant-based meals (And now prepare raw things thanks to you). Indulging for me is having frozen-banana soft serve and topping it with shaved dark chocolate, but to most people I know, this is “depriving” myself and not “living the life the way it is supposed to be lived.”

    Constantly, I am ridiculed and questioned for loving to cook and eat so healthfully. No matter what study I show them, documentary they see, or cancer-survivor story they hear, they continue to think Veganism is eating a head of lettuce, a religious-type cult, or “hippie-ish.”

    My question to you is: How can we get people to understand us, or believe the mounds of data supporting the facts? Should I even try to help people around me, or just keep my mouth shut to forgo the ridicule?

    • When people question my food choices, I usually respond with the argument that eating a (mostly) plant-based diet is better for an overpopulated planet and that, whether it is natural for humans to eat a vegan diet or not, it’s certainly gentler on our resources. It’s not that I don’t want to have a discussion about health or the ethics of animal consumption, it’s simply that most people are more open to the “green living” response and are more interested as a result — at least where I live anyway.

      Fortunately for me, when people see my food choices over time, they are stunned by the breadth and originality of the meals I make (thanks to blogs like this!). My diet is so much richer now that I eat mostly vegan food. They also tend to be surprised by the sheer quantity of food that I eat, ha ha.

      But this brings up an important point for me, which is: Why do people think that it’s acceptable to comment on my food intake at all? I find it invasive. Anyone who worked as physically demanding a job as mine is would probably eat as much just to keep her muscles fueled, and if that diet was plant-based, well, the volume of the food would look as large.

      It’s inappropriate to comment on others’ food choices except in the spirit of sharing and genuine interest — not judgement. And I think that goes both ways.

      • Jessica – I COMPLETELY agree with you. It shouldn’t be acceptable to criticize other people’s food choices. It also shouldn’t be acceptable to tell someone they’re “too thin”, for me that’s just as horrifying and offensive as someone telling me they think I’m overweight.

        Also the “green” argument sounds intriguing – I’ll try that next time!

    • Like preaching religion or politics it is not recommended to preach veganism to those who eat grand slam platters. What you can say is that this is a very personal choice that you have made and that you are sorry they are not able to understand right now and suggest next time you go for a meal together its at a more vegan friendly restaurant. Dont hold your breath that they will read an article and change.

    • In my experience, time is what helps most: people see that you are happy and healthy and eating good food, and that starts to make an impact. I am first and foremost an ethical vegan (although the health benefits are a nice side effect), and I’ll talk about that if people want to, but what I’ve found most effective at breaking through those stereotypes is just cooking and sharing excellent food.

    • I get a very similar deal as you I’m afraid. To me banana soft serve is heavenly! I wouldn’t want anything else, even if I ‘could’.

      I have stored up a few one-liners to throw out if I’m challenged which helps matters. A few key unimpeachable facts caven really help along the way…
      http://www.vegansociety.com (good place to get them from, as well as Gena’s great blog!)

  34. Hi Gena!
    First off, love your post! It is unfortunate how often veganism gets misconstrued with deprivation when it’s anything but! I’ve been a half time vegetarian for ten years (50/50 custody, veg diet at dad’s), a full time vegetarian for a little over a year (my decision), and my roommate and I recently made the commitment to become “at home vegans!” We’re easing into this new diet, especially since my roommate used to be an omnivore. Anywho, I’ve been flirting with veganism for the last few months or so and felt after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives I was ready to make the commitment, at home that is, which is where I eat most meals. Already, I’ve been finding your blog quite helpful! We LOVE your banana soft serve, especially with peanut butter mixed in with fresh fruit toppings! Can’t wait to recreate your other dishes cuz they look good!
    I love the message in Stop Chasing Skinny, such a powerful one that needs to be spread more! By the way, I do agree that being a vegan requires forethought and dedication, but it is totally worth the ethical, economical, and health pay off!! Sadly, I feel like Americans are brainwashed to think that meat, eggs, dairy, etc are the corner stones in a healthy diet primarily thanks to companies trying to make a profit and selling these products to consumers and making invalid health claims that the average consumer either simply accepts or believes and doesn’t know any better. Plus, that’s been the mindset for centuries now, it’ll be hard [but not impossible] to change it.

  35. Amen! I’m going to have to go meet Ms JL–sounds like a healthy influence for sure.

    And absolutely: neither of those stars were describing a vegan diet: they were describing a (semi)-starvation diet that happened to feature plant foods. The aesthetic of that kind of diet isn’t that different from a skim milk and tuna fish diet (or whatever) (ick).

    I do think, and I am needing to remind myself over again, that if you are vegan, especially if you don’t eat ‘fortified’ foods and/or especially if you have health issues, have had an ED, etc, you need to pay more attention to covering your bases than if you just ate ‘everything.’ Or maybe even that isn’t quite accurate.

    What I do know (and am trying to share frankly on my blog) is that I’ve run into some serious health problems as a result, first, of cutting my fat and protein way too low (again) and then second, more recently, backing off from that extreme point somewhat but subsisting mostly on fruit, cold boiled potatoes and undressed salads and justifying it by saying that I’m too busy to fix my husband’s omni food _and_ something more elaborate for myself. Anything can turn into an excuse, but to me, being vegan is about being ‘more’ conscious, not letting things slide like that…
    love
    Ela

  36. As always a beautifully written piece.

    When I read the Megan Fox in the paper last week my initial thought was , who designed this way of eating for her? She said herself ‘strict vegan diet’. If strict, then yes you are going to see changes within the body as you have obviously gone from one extreme to the other. We all know what happened in Super Size Me, which went in the other direction.

    Veganism isn’t synonymous with deprivation, whatever is taken out of the diet is replaced with a healthier option or simply and alternative that had never been considered before.

    If only there was more news of Ellen’s vegan site. Then people would see on the home page that vegans can have cake too…..

  37. Eek, I wish Megan had left out the “vegan” in her quote because the issues in her diet have nothing to do with veganism; instead of eschewing them, some vegans LIVE off bread, sugar and coffee. In describing her diet as “strict vegan”, she continues to encourage that silly notion that being a healthy vegan is challenging, if not impossible. What I don’t understand is why Megan didn’t consult a good vegan-friendly dietician – surely, as she started noticing her worrying weight loss, she could have accessed some quality advice on how to adapt her diet to become more energy rich!

  38. thanks for your commentary on this topic! i hate to see the stars credit veganism for anything other than feeling proud about helping animals.

    i also commented on JL’s post that I have seen people who maintain a healthy weight even eating mostly just fruits and veggies, they just ate plenty of them (30+ bananas a day). if you eat lower calorie foods, you have to eat more of them. calorie deprivation is calorie deprivation, whatever foods you use to do it with.

  39. Gena, I think you make an amazing point. Veganism has never seemed like deprivation to me, although whenever I tell anyone that I’m vegan, they all seem to think that’s what it means. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve told people what veganism means, ie, what I don’t eat, and then I get the question, “Well, what DO you eat?” I think part of the problem is that most people, particularly Americans, see meat and other animal products as a very central part of their diet, and if that’s gone, they don’t know how to replace it. I’m always telling people of all the protein I get from beans and legumes, and how much calcium is in leafy greens!

    I see this as kind of a fundamental “dietary education” problem; we all know that vegetables are good for us, but most people can’t articulate how they’re good for us. And because animal products are seen as parts of a balanced diet (I remember being taught this in high school health, and that was less than 5 years ago), people don’t know how to create a balanced diet without them. I hate to say that veganism takes work, but I really think that prior to going vegan, people need to read up on it, and really understand how to build a vegan meal that is everything you need to be healthy. Otherwise, I feel like people fall into either the “spinach and sesame seeds” extreme or the “French fries” extreme, neither of which is healthy. Balanced vegan diets do exist, and I don’t think anyone should become a vegan without understanding what that is.

    P.S. Gena, I totally agree that the 5-factor diet sounds way more limited than veganism. Only being allowed to snack on 5-factor crisps? Sounds like a major limit to me.

  40. For me, veganism is not synonymous with deprivation, it’s actually more about inclusion 🙂 Yes, I include fruits and vegies, I include grains and legumes, I include nuts and seeds (and the aforementioned rich dark chocolate!) – but I also just happen to include a concern and passion for the well-being of animals and our environment 🙂

    So maybe one way to look at it is deprivation (in that, I deprive myself of animal products)… but I choose to look at it as inclusion 🙂 After all, I do include animals in my dietary choices – I just choose to include their well-being instead of their flesh 🙂

    • I try to make this point, too, that veg*anism has led me to try a much wider selection of foods than many people on SADs, where bread, cheese, and meat can easily dominate a diet.

      I do find it sad that people look at it as restriction.

  41. I saw that quote from Megan Fox and rolled my eyes. At least she looks healthier though. As you probably recall, I viewed veganism as synonymous with restriction and mostly greens, and without the nutrients, I ended up anemic. Now back to being an omnivore (though rarely do I eat meat anymore for ethical and moral reasons), I still aim to eat plant-based but also with the refreshing reminder that I have to eat dense foods as well! Where I go to school, there are tons of great bakeries that have vegan options, such as bread that is more like the “real thing”, unlike Ezekiel, which can be a bit too dry for me sometimes.

  42. Do you see veganism as synonymous with deprivation? =
    No but some people do use it that way or think it means that.

    Sure, it can be, but ANY diet or dietary path can be if you let it. i.e. Atkins is full of meat, but that’s depriving oneself of a whole other group of macronutrients.

    And it’s interesting to thing back to the Fat Free diet/snackfoods of the 90s. People actually gained weight eating fat free foods b/c although they were devoid of fat, the fat was replaced with added sugar & lots of it.

    There are also plenty of (new) vegetarians or vegans who do gain weight with their newfound lifestyle b/c they eat more processed food or lots of nuts/seeds Or for example, Oreos are vegan. You could go on the all-vegan Oreo diet.

    It’s all what the person makes of it. And each person has to do the legwork to decide what’s best for her body, her mind, soul, and ethical principles.

    Great post!

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