Vegan diets are commonly used for weight management or weight loss. As a vegan and a Registered Dietitian, people often assume I focus on helping people lose weight with a vegan diet. However, this is almost never my approach.
This page covers:
- What is Weight Management?
- Weight Management vs Weight Loss: Are These Approaches Necessary?
- Should we Promote Vegan Diets as a Way to Lose Weight?
- Don’t Vegan Diets Cause Weight Loss Anyways?
- Isn’t Weight Loss Evidence-based?
- Moving Away from a Focus on Weight Loss
What is Weight Management?
Weight management is a term used to indicate the steps someone takes, or the lifestyle someone leads, that allows them to maintain their weight. It’s usually meant to imply maintaining a “healthy” weight.
Weight management is a more neutral term compared to weight loss, but often, weight management programs are designed to aide with weight loss. Sometimes, weight management is used to indicate that someone has already “successfully” lost weight and are now attempting to stay at this lower body weight.
Weight Management vs Weight Loss: Are These Approaches Necessary?
Both of these terms are used to indicate the same things. Pretty much any weight management program is really a weight loss program, just using a more neutral word.
In our diet-culture ridden society, it’s assumed that weight loss is always a worthy goal especially if someone is “overweight”. However, a large body of research actually puts this common belief into question. There are studies that debunk the idea that weight loss is essential for health.
Furthermore, there is growing evidence that cannot be ignored, which clearly demonstrates the harms that come from intentional weight loss (mainly through diet, exercise or other “lifestyle” changes).
Whether you want to call it weight management or weight loss, it’s worth questioning whether this is an appropriate goal for most people.
These topics are worth full discussions, so stay tuned!
Should we Promote Vegan Diets as a Way to Lose Weight?
There are many factors that impact how much someone weighs and diet is just one of those factors.
While many people promote vegan diets as a way to lose weight, this is not the approach I take. There are two reasons for this:
- A focus on weight loss promotes veganism as just a diet (when it’s really about the animals).
- Weight loss attempts are almost never for the long-term. As a dietitian, I want to see people make changes that work for them, for the long term. As a vegan, I want to keep the focus of veganism about the animals (as this is more likely to create long-term vegans), not about the individual.
Bottom line: Veganism is not about the individual. Promoting vegan diets as a weight loss tool doesn’t create long-term vegans; it most likely creates people who view veganism as just another fad diet.
Additionally, using a vegan diet for weight loss is no different than following any other type of diet for weight loss. It’s not likely to last long-term and we can’t ignore the harms that come from dieting.
Don’t Vegan Diets Cause Weight Loss Anyways?
If someone is transitioning to a vegan diet (for whatever reason), should they expect weight loss? Again, this is a commonly promoted message which does more harm than good.
A vegan diet does not guarantee weight loss.
There are lots of people left discouraged and feeling there is something wrong with them because they didn’t lose weight as a vegan. This is not ok (that people are left feeling this way).
There are lots of reasons why someone may or may not lose weight when transitioning to a vegan diet. These factors are very individualized. Despite there being so many reasons why someone may or may not lose weight, I’ve seen many people, discouraged by their lack of weight loss, reaching out to other vegans for help.
The help they receive almost always places blame on the individual who hasn’t lost weight. This advice usually sounds something like “you’re not eating healthy enough” “you need to cut this out of your diet” etc.
- If you’re not a Registered Dietitian, please refrain from providing diet/ nutrition advice to people as you may not realize the harm it could cause. I say it all the time but there is a good reason why it takes 5 years to become a Registered Dietitian.
- If you need help with diet or nutrition, please seek out a Registered Dietitian rather than asking strangers on the internet (or in person), because you may not realize the harm in the information you receive.
Isn’t Weight Loss Evidence-based?
The term “evidence-based” gets thrown around a lot. To keep this short, there is evidence to support that having a higher body weight increases risk of disease. There is also evidence that debunks this.
There is evidence for dozens of different techniques that may result in weight loss. Almost all of these studies are done in the short term. The long term results are more limited, but what we do have almost always points to the fact that weight is typically regained; mostly by the 1 year mark, but if not then, by the 2-5 year mark.
It’s also critical to point out that every single research study has limitations. These limitations are almost never talked about. You cannot take a single study and use it as “proof” of any concept. I see this done all the time, but it’s not a good way to interpret evidence, especially if limitations aren’t being discussed.
Moving Away from a Focus on Weight Loss
There is a huge anti-diet movement happening right now. People are finally standing up to diet culture, learning to accept their body and treat it with the respect and nourishment it deserves, and making peace with food.
Let’s be clear: moving away from diet culture doesn’t mean not caring about one’s health. In fact, the opposite is often true. When we are able to find the space to truly respect and nourish our body, health can actually improve.
Let’s not forget there is so much more to health than just what someone eats or the size of their body. Moving towards a place where all aspects of health are considered is, in my opinion, the direction health care needs to move towards.
Summary: Weight Management and a Vegan Diet
Veganism has nothing to do with the weight (or health) of an individual. Promoting veganism as a way to lose weight does more harm than good: both for the vegan movement (i.e. the animals) and for individuals who may not lose weight when transitioning to a vegan diet.
No one should ever be left feeling shame, or like there is something wrong with them, because society is making promises (weight loss with a vegan diet) that do not hold true for everyone.
It’s also important to remember that there are real harms that can result from dieting, and from getting nutrition advice from someone not qualified to give it.
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Where are the references? For those who follow me you will know that most of my posts come with a long list of references. This is just a general review of the topic and my personal opinion. A future article about the science of weight loss, diets and restriction is to come!
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