Many people transition to a vegan diet believing that, not only will this change in their diet help to lessen animal suffering and reduce global depletion, but that it will also lead to improvements in their health and, for many, weight loss. After all, aren’t all vegans slim and healthy?
For those who find that a vegan diet is not the panacea they were expecting it to be – who remain overweight and unhealthy – this can be a real blow, and leave them feeling like they’ve somehow failed at veganism. The truth is that being vegan doesn’t suddenly make us super human. Vegans are allowed to be human. We’re allowed to get sick. We’re even allowed to be a bit on the chubby side.
Unfortunately, when you’re vegan, people see you as the official representative of veganism and any human weakness you display is blamed on your veganism. Other people are allowed to get colds and receive only sympathy. But when a vegan gets a cold, it’s a fault of their diet. Other people are allowed to struggle with weight issues. But for vegans, it’s due to not enough protein.
However, aside from the problems inherent in the attitudes of others and society in general, being overweight and in less than perfect health after making the switch to a vegan diet can be disheartening, especially if you were expecting to have found the guaranteed solution to your weight and health issues. So why are some people still having problems losing weight and improving their health when it seems to happen effortlessly for others?
The truth is that it used to be a lot harder to be overweight and unhealthy as a vegan. When I first became vegan 10 years ago, there were very few “vegan” products available in New Zealand. Getting a meal in a restaurant or fast food outlet was a mission of herculean proportions and all that was available to eat were whole fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds.
These days though, as veganism has grown, new vegan products have appeared in our supermarkets and online. There are amazing vegetarian, vegan and raw restaurants. Pizza companies serve vegan pizzas with vegan cheese. Food manufacturers have jumped on the vegan band wagon and are producing the same sort of food-like products that are making the rest of the population fat and sick. And while this is a wonderful thing for the vegan movement, in convincing people how easy and delicious it is to be vegan, it also leaves us with a problem – how to achieve the kind of health results veganism is known for in the midst of the vegan version of a “Fast Food Nation”.
Even aside from the processed vegan food, some people can’t lose weight and get healthy. So many books and blogs out there promise that if you just eat all of your food raw, or raw until four, you can eat as much food as you want to every day and be thin, thin, thin like this beautiful blogger.
The truth is that vegans are just as susceptible to the dietary pleasure trap as the rest of the population. Even in the plant world, there are substances that hijack the pleasure centres of our brains and cause us to overeat too much of the wrong kinds of foods, without meaning to, and without even knowing it, because many of these foods are touted as being healthy. These foods can cause a cascade of hormonal changes to occur in our bodies and interact with our brains – dopamine, leptin, ghrelin, insulin, cortisol – all throw our natural satiety mechanisms to misfire and send us erroneous signals causing hunger, cravings, blood sugar imbalances and weight gain.
One such example is stevia. Of course, everyone knows that white sugar is a problem and in response, food companies have brought out a multitude of natural sugar substitutes – coconut sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, and stevia.
Stevia is a sweetener made from the stevia plant – a naturally sweet herb. It usually comes as a fine white powder or colourless liquid and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is “sweet” on the tongue, so the body believes it’s receiving sugar and primes itself to do so. Insulin is released, glucose is cleared from the bloodstream and blood sugars drop, but no real sugar/glucose is provided to the body to compensate. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol surge to mobilize sugar from other sources (liver and muscle glycogen, or protein, or body tissue) to bring blood glucose back up. Insulin and cortisol wreak havoc on our bodies. They are inflammatory, strongly linked to weight gain, low thyroid function, insulin resistance and other health problems.
When it comes to health and weight loss, the only safe sweetener is fruit – the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit. But stevia is only one example of the food industry’s attempts to seduce us. And we really want to be seduced. We believe their messages because it’s what we want to hear. We’ll believe anything that allows us to indulge in our little pleasures. We’re addicted – physiologically and psychologically.
Whole, natural plant foods react in the body the way nature intended – releasing just the right amounts of all hormones to allow us to eat to satiation and stop. They have all the constituents necessary for life and health – fibre, minerals, vitamins, water, carbohydrates, fats and protein. Where-as processed foods – any processed food – stevia, agave, oils (yes, that includes coconut oil), flours (yes, even buckwheat), whatever – all are problematic in their interaction with our body chemistry. Some people can handle the effect they have but others are more susceptible.
So, if you’re looking for health and a gorgeous body on a vegan diet, remember that not all vegan diets are created equal. For optimal health and weight management, stick with whole foods and cut the C.R.A.P. (Calorie Rich And Processed).
This article written by Holistic Health Consultant, Cath King from Seeking Health.
Nice article Cath. I like the part where you point out that any human weakness gets blamed on your veganism – so true!
And the last part is very interesting too – about stevia and other sweeteners. I cam across some reading a week or 2 ago that explained that women in some tribes (South America I think) used stevia as a contraceptive…kind of worrying then that stevia is being put in so many things these days – I wonder if there’s a link between that and declining fertility?!
Nice blog and I look forward to your next one:)