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Veganism: the good, the bad and the ugly truth

Well, like many of life’s dilemmas that bewilder and befuddle us, the answer to the question of becoming a vegan depends upon delving a little deeper into the question itself.  In truth, the query should be, ‘do I need to be a vegan to be healthy and lose weight?’.  Here, the answer is easier to clarify: no, veganism is not necessary to make improvements to your diet and lifestyle.  

Usually, Ann and I stay well clear of making comments on anyone’s individual ethical or religious food choices.  It’s something that we make no judgements about whatsoever.  However, I heard an annoying comment on the radio the other day that caused me to write this article.

It’s not the only solution

Basically, a guy on the Radio was saying that since he’s turned vegan, he felt healthier and had lost weight.  No issues with this at all.  But it was uttered in such a smug, self-satisfied and evangelical way intimating that the improvements were solely the result of becoming vegan.  This claim is simply erroneous, and he is confusing correlation with causation.  Yes, he lost weight and felt better when he turned vegan.  The true cause however, was because he cut the crap out of his diet and paid closer attention to his food.

The latter point is one of the better aspects of veganism because popular food choices are so restricted, you’ve got look very carefully at what you eat. On this front, this is definitely one for the vegan.  It also helps that a vegan (or vegetarian) diet is generally very high in natural, unprocessed foods, which is also a positive.

But, when anyone tries to tell me that a vegan diet causes weight loss I suggest that cows are vegan and look how fat they are!   It’s important to understand veganism is just one pathway on the road to health and fitness. But it’s not the only one.

Don’t blame old foods for new diseases

At this point, I could quote dozens of studies that show all vegans are as misguided as the chap on the radio.  Likewise, I could counter those studies with others that demonstrate merely looking at a bacon sandwich causes cancer, climate change and is possibly the root cause of the crisis in Syria.  The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.

Basically, we don’t buy into the health scares and negative hyperbole surrounding meat, grains, dairy, etc.  Why?  Firstly, we’ve seen it all before.  And secondly, because we work on the basis that you shouldn’t blame old foods for new diseases.  Often, your lifestyle: smoking, drinking and having the activity levels of a slow growing fungus are often as much to blame as the stuff that you put in your mouth.

Is veganism just another fad?

Our issue is that veganism, like many other diets such as the Paleo, Atkins – and even the 5:2 diet – contain severe restrictions.  They are ‘all or nothing plans’ and this makes them more likely to fail over time.  If you’ve read any of our books or articles, you’ll know that we have certain criteria to establish the long-term efficacy of a diet:

  1. It should teach you how to eat, not how to starve
  2. It should present a balanced diet and not place permanent restrictions on food groups: carbs, fats, animal produce or even junk food, etc. (Please note the word permanent.)
  3. It should improve your relationship with food

Now, we would argue that veganism scores highly on point 1, but fails miserably on point 2.  And, as we’ll explain shortly, may tick some boxes on point 3.  All diet plans have pros and cons; the trick is to find if you can live forever with the cons.

“You won’t find the perfect diet until you can find the perfect person – with the perfect lifestyle”  Paul & Ann

Slippery slope to an eating disorder?

The decision to eat and live healthier is a good one: everyone should make that choice.  However, for some, the first step to making an extreme choice -such as cutting entire food groups out of your diet – can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.  In 1997 Dr Stephen Bratman coined the term ‘orthorexia’, which means ‘an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food’.   He goes on to say, “Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable”.   Karin Kratina, PhD, writing for the National Eating Disorders Association, summarises this process as follows: “Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.”

Basically, what starts as a positive drive to improve your health may spiral into an eating disorder.  Now, we’re not claiming that every vegan has an eating disorder – this is definitely not the case.  However, we’ve been in this business long enough to see how small changes can snowball into huge movements.  We’ve seen the effect of steroids, fat-burners and other supplements on body builders who are just going to ‘give them a try‘.  Yet years later, they’re still on them. So, if you recognise yourself as someone who can get a bit obsessive about stuff, then it may be an idea to give veganism – or any type of extreme diet – a miss.

Glum looking girl with a piece of lettuce on a forkIt’s not for us

Neither Ann nor I have any intention of becoming vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter.  We are from an era where there were only two food options: eat it or go hungry.  My personal feelings are that veganism is unnecessary and a luxury that millions of people cannot afford.   Instead of putting the effort into researching vegan foods, try investigating some healthier options of the foods that you enjoy.

It’s your life, so it’s your choice

Regardless, if you decide to try a vegan diet, then go for it.  Any eating regime that makes you look in depth at what you eat is generally always going to be a good one.  Just don’t automatically assume that veganism is the only way to lose weight and improve your health. As mentioned earlier, neither Ann nor I want to become embroiled in any form of moral, social or political debate about this issue.  We fully respect that your food choices are totally yours and no one else’s.  If you come to us for help with your diet or training, we work within your parameters.  We don’t make you fit into ours.

Keep up the fight and win the inch war

Paul & Ann

Related reading: The problem with diets:  Winning the Inch War: Diet & weight loss plans: 

Disclaimer

We (Paul and Ann, Get Physical Ltd) are not doctors, nor are we licensed medical professionals. This website and blog is not here to diagnose any medical condition or replace your health care provider.

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