MYTH: "Going Vegan" Will Help You Lose Weight

A lot of celebrities these days chalk up their slim physiques to their vegan diets. Is veganism a valuable tool for weight loss? Let's take a look at the facts.

The Truth: Going vegan isn’t about losing weight, it’s a lifestyle change. Though many vegans may lose a few pounds as a side effect of giving up meat and most processed foods, going vegan is not a reliable weight-loss plan.

Ever thought of going on a vegan diet to lose weight? All that meat, dairy, and seafood must be the culprit behind those extra pounds, right? If only weight loss were that easy! The secret to any type of weight loss is to focus on calories in versus calories out, and these calories have to be quality calories that are part of a well-balanced diet. Plus, eating a plant-based diet is a lot more difficult than you may think, and there’s no guarantee you’ll lose weight. Though many vegans may wind up losing weight after giving up meat and any foods processed with animal by-products, choosing to be vegan is more of a lifestyle change than a weight-loss plan. Believe it or not, the truth is that vegans can be just as unhealthy as omnivores who eat plant and animal-based foods.

Going vegan is harder than just giving up cheeseburgers.Vegans are considered the strictest form of vegetarian because they do not eat any type of animal product — no fish, meat, dairy, or eggs. In addition, many foods are processed with all sorts of additives — such as animal enzymes, gelatin (derived from pigskins, cattle bones, and hides), and whey (comes from milk) — that are not vegan-friendly. If you adopt a vegan diet, you need to do so thoroughly and learn which foods contain animal products and are therefore off-limits. It’s also important to note that since vegans do not eat any animal-based foods, they have to be vigilant about consuming enough of certain nutrients — such as calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins B12 and D — that omnivores and vegetarians get from dairy, meat, or seafood.

Many vegans may GAIN weight if they don’t learn to balance their meals properly. A lot of vegans turn to foods like bread, cereal, pasta, or other carbohydrate-heavy foods to satisfy their hunger. If they’re not adding protein to those carb-rich meals, they’ll wind up eating even more carbs and gaining weight. In general, vegan diets tend to have higher calorie values because many vegan-friendly foods — like nuts, for instance — are calorie dense. Some vegans may turn to soy products (like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and more) to provide protein in their diet. I’m sure a lot of you have already heard where I stand on soy — but it bears repeating: Excess processed soy can disrupt the endocrine system, encouraging abnormal cell growth and throwing your hormonal balance way off. I won’t tell you what to do, but I highly recommend you do your research on soy if you’re considering supplementing your diet with it.

There is junk food for vegans too. Going vegan doesn’t mean you’re automatically this super-healthy version of yourself. News flash: Junk food is marketed to vegans too. Not everything branded “vegan” is actually good for you. Nondairy smoothies and protein shakes sold at some vegan cafés are huge and loaded with calories. Vegan cupcakes, cookies, muffins, cakes, and pies can have just as much fat, sugar, and calories as the regular sweets made with butter and cream. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because it’s vegan, it’s “healthy”! Read your labels and allow yourself “treat” food as you would on a regular diet, indulging in it just 20 percent of the time.

The Bottom Line: Going vegan is not a quick-fix solution to slimming down. A vegan diet is part of a lifestyle that involves more than just not eating animals — and it can be very difficult to maintain. While those who have adopted a non-animal-product diet may in fact lose weight, it is likely the combination of the food and lifestyle changes that they made simultaneously; in other words, giving up meat and processed foods made with “unvegan” fillers will cut calories and fat and that, along with sticking to healthy habits like exercise, is what contributes to their loss. Reducing your calories, dumping all processed foods, exercising more, and eating more vegetables and whole foods is the foundation of a good, healthy diet — and you needn’t give up several major food groups to reap the benefits.

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