We've been talking a lot lately about how diets don't work for weight loss and a question I often get when I bring up my non-diet approach is "what about vegetarians and vegans?" Is there a such thing as vegan intuitive eating or are men and women who avoid animal products for ethical reasons really just on a "diet" that could cause them harm?
I remember grappling with this question when I first started eating more intuitively. I didn't want to follow a "diet" and I was really careful about considering any foods "good" or "bad" but when it came down to it, the plant-based lifestyle best aligned with my personal philosophies and it made my body feel the best too. This all felt too good to be a diet, so it stuck.
But what if a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn't feel good for you? What if you chose to be vegan mostly to lose weight and later realized that it doesn't really align with your deeper philosophies or ethics at all? What if you constantly feel deprived and crave steak and burgers like no other?
Well that, my friend, is a whole 'nother story, which is why I invited my friend and vegan dietitian, Taylor Wolfram to come on the blog today to help us work out the differences between a vegan "diet" and a vegan "lifestyle" - plus why it's important to differentiate. Take it away, Taylor!
I am delighted to write this guest post for The Grateful Grazer! Steph is a wonderfully talented dietitian, recipe developer and food photographer (the latter of which I am not) and we both share similar philosophies regarding health and body positivity.
When we were discussing swapping guest posts, I was telling Steph about my passion for delivering the Health at Every Size message, especially within the vegan community. I explained how this is challenging because there seems to be a lot of health elitism and weight discrimination going on in the vegan community which I see from people with well-meaning intentions for disease prevention.
While one may enter into the realm of plant-based eating with aim of causing less harm, it can be easy to fall into a diet mentality given the current climate of our culture and idealization of thinness.
The media’s black-and-white take on food and health – this food will kill you, that food will heal you – gives consumers the idea that food has the power to dictate our health. Recent books and documentaries focused on the “healing power” of plant foods also can lead plant-based eaters to unnecessarily restrict certain foods.
While it is true our diets can have a profound impact on health outcomes, it is best to focus on the big picture of balance, moderation and variety and less on individual nutrients and occasional treats.
|Motivated by feeling good and doing good||Motivated by weight loss or body shape|
|Allows you to eat according to hunger cues||Dictates when, what and how much you can eat|
|Characterized by compassion and abundance||Characterized by shame and restriction|
|Lifelong habits||Results in a the diet-binge cycle|
What’s so terrible about dieting? Research tells us dieting and pursuing weight loss most often results in yo-yo dieting and net weight gain, not improved health. Additionally, when someone is pressured to lose weight or made to feel badly about themselves, they are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
I see rampant dieting and misinformation about health and nutrition in the vegan community, typically motivated by sensational claims about the link between animal foods and health (to clear up any confusion: you will not automatically get cancer, diabetes or heart disease if you consume meat or dairy). For more on this topic, read my post about veganism and orthorexia. Sadly, vegans who get sick may experience shaming by their peers. And fat vegans often are told they’re doing a disservice to the cause by appearing so unhealthy.
The thing about veganism and health is a vegan diet (even a “whole foods plant-based” diet) is not the healthiest diet in the world. The healthiest diet in the world depends on the individual and evidence to date does not suggest one has to reject all animal foods in order to have a healthy, long life. There are myriad lifestyle and genetic factors that contribute to health outcomes and mortality, diet being just one of them. And, for the record, someone’s weight tells us nothing about their health.
So instead of focusing on foods to restrict, focus on foods to enjoy. Honor your hunger cues, move your body in ways that bring you joy and resist counting calories and weighing yourself. Instead of looking in the mirror with disdain, try looking in the mirror with gratitude. Challenge negative self-talk, eat without judgment and give yourself permission to enjoy your food without guilt.
To help turn a plant-based diet into a lifestyle that is compassionate to animals as well as yourself, consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in plant-based nutrition and intuitive eating. They will help you understand what a balanced plant-based eating pattern looks like, and help you discover how the foods you love fit into it.
Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN is a non-diet registered dietitian nutritionist promoting sustainable wellness through self-care. She works full-time in nutrition communications and has a small private practice in Chicago, IL. She's been vegan for over 8 years and helps plant-based eaters focus on compassion rather than restriction.
What do you think? Is going vegan just another diet?