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Vegans and weight  RSS feed

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Graham: I'm wondering if you are a practicing vegan, or if you just write about vegan topics? The reason I ask, is that it seems to me that you weigh about 60% more that what I would expect a vegan to weigh. In my admittedly limited experience, I have come to associate vegan-ism with being skinny. When I search for images of vegans, there are thousands of before/after photos showing fat people becoming skinny. So it got me to wondering about your lifestyle and why you seem contrary to the pattern I've associated with vegans in my past experience. Are you including something in your diet that other vegans are lacking? Or asked a different way, how does your diet differ from the typical vegan diet? Or do I just need to get out more?
 
Burra Maluca
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I'm a little nervous to share this, because I have a feeling I'm going to get heavily criticised from all angles, but maybe this needs to be discussed.

I was vegan for years, and vegatarian for years before that. And it coincided with losing control of my blood sugars. There were other contributing factors, including stress, hormonal problems, and pregnancy, but by the time my son was born my blood sugars, and my weight, were out of control and I became morbidly obese and had a severe case of reactive hypoglycemia which caused me to be hospitalised several times. Vegan diets tend to be very carb heavy, and for anyone with serious blood sugar issues it can be very, very difficult to keep things under control without severely restricting carbohydrates. For me I believe it would have impossible without resorting to a meat-rich ketogenic diet, at least until the stress was sorted out and the hormones settled down. The stress is gone now, and the hormones are settling, the weight is coming off, most days my appetite is under control, and I'm experimenting with different types and levels of carbs in my diet to see what I can cope with.

The video below discusses what works for most people to control diabetes and blood sugars, but for me it's still far too carb heavy and there's no way I could follow that yet.



So I think for most people, a vegan diet would help keep blood sugars, and appetite, steady, and therefore most vegans are slim and healthy.

But for others they might need to restrict their carbohydrate intake even on a vegan diet, and for some it might not be possible to keep everything on an even keel without adopting a full ketogenic diet, which would be very, very difficult as a vegan.
 
Graham Burnett
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Hello Joseph, hope you are well and happy - yes I've been vegan myself since 1984. I must admit that personally I've always found the 'skinny vegan' thing to be a bit of a myth as I've known vegans of all sorts of shapes and sizes over the years. I must also admit I'm not any sort of a nutrition expert, but I do think what constitutes a 'healthy diet' varies wildly from person to person, as Burra points out in her post above. I think my diet is fairly typical of many vegans who eat well (rather than relying on over processed and packaged foods), and is reflected in the recipes in my book, with plenty of grains, pulses, vegetables, green leaves, fruits and nuts, but maybe I eat a few too many carbohydrates in the form of wheat, pasta and beer? Actually that photo of me is quite old (2010 I think), and I was somewhat overweight at that time. Shortly after I became seriously ill (not related to my weight as far as I know) and lost alot of weight drastically in a very short period of time (more than 4 stone over about 4 months), however I do think the store of body fat I had accumulated acted as reserves that helped me get though that gruelling time, but anyway, I've put some weight back on but I'm a bit slimmer these days!

Below is a small guide to essential vegan nutrients from my old publication 'Well Fed Not An Animal Dead', I cover the subject in more depth in The Vegan Book of Permaculture', but as I said I'm not a qualified nutritionist, so for a far more thorough exploration of the subject I'd recommend having a look at Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina's 'Becoming Vegan: Express Edition' and 'Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition'. Hope this helps!



 
Burra Maluca
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I've ordered two of Brenda Davis' books and am waiting for them to arrive, just so I can brush up on the latest research as I think I'm a bit out of date. When I was first researching stuff around twenty years ago the jury was still out on B12, for instance, and many people thought that it was possible to make enough B12 in the body, but it seems that it really *is* necessary to supplement.

I got the Becoming Raw book too as it seemed to have less of an emphasis on grains and other high-carb stuff that I need to avoid.

I haven't finished watching this yet, but it looks interesting.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Wow. This has got my mind racing... I'm wondering what I'd eat if I were vegan... I mostly stopped eating wheat/bread years ago, because I felt like wheat was making me sick and fat, and I didn't substitute it with a different grain. I lost 50 pounds. I suppose that cane sugar is vegan, but I mostly stopped eating sugar decades ago. I think in my own life my weight is closely connected to the amount of carbohydrates that I eat. I rarely drink milk because it makes my muscles ache. I wouldn't miss it if I never ate another cheese or dairy product. I sure love eggs though. Basically all of the animal products that I eat are GMO... I think that is harming my health, but non-GMO meat is too expensive for my attitude. Greens are a pain to get to the farmer's market successfully, but I could grow a lot more for myself. I'd definitely be cooking them, I don't much care for raw greens. I'd love to eat more beans. Family squabbles about that though...

I'm chief cook at home, so I have considerable leeway in what I prepare... I was raised by and live in the midst of a meat/potatoes/bread society, and all of my early attitudes towards food were shaped by that. So were my family's and my society's.

I don't use animal manure because I don't want the weed seeds, the germs, or the -cides. I don't use animal based fertilizers because they are too expensive. I don't raise birds or mammals because to do it right I'd have to live with them and I don't live on the farm. I wouldn't use the term veganic to describe my farm, because that implies a world-view that I don't share, and I suppose that I kill too many insects by tilling.

One time though I helped convert a man to vegan-ism... He was badmouthing hunters, but was a meat and potatoes man himself. I responded by saying that it didn't matter if he was killing an animal with his own hand, or whether he was hiring someone to do it for him, he was still responsible for it's death...

So what are some best practices regarding vegan-ism and weight?



 
Fred Tyler
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Two sensible vegan RD's are:

http://jacknorrisrd.com/

http://www.theveganrd.com/about

They usually have good coverage of the latest research (in layman's terms) surrounding vegan diets. They post about the advantages AND disadvantages of removing animal products from your diet. They also have a lot of resources for your nutrition questions.

 
Dan Boone
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Wow, I have so much to reply to in this thread that I barely know where to start.

First of all, I'm surprised that Joseph has an image of vegans as skinny. Most of the vegans I have actually known have been wealthy urban professionals who shop at fancy "organic" grocery stores, and the vegan foods they predominantly eat are fatty heavily-processed foods that "look like" or "taste like" meat and dairy products. I'd say they have the usual range of body types for their socioeconomic class -- fit and pretty when young, trending toward chunkiness and moderate obesity with age, but with morbid obesity being quite rare (as it tends to be among rich people).

Second of all I was surprised to read of Burra's difficulty with blood sugar control while on a vegan diet. It's completely at odds with my own (admittedly anomalous) experience with Type-II diabetes. Short version: no-added-oils (target: 10% of dietary calories from fat) plant foods diet completely cured my diabetes, bringing my blood sugar numbers back to normal without meds. (Long version here.) I eat carbs like a fiend, with no impact on my blood sugar at all. Ask me (the dude with no medical knowledge I didn't read on the back of a cereal box or somewhere similarly shallow) and I'll tell you that from my perspective, diabetes is all about fats and barely at all about carbs. Because that's my lived experience. Obviously it's not that way for other people. My doctor proudly shows me around his clinic as the only patient he's ever had in this poor/rural/food-desert area who successfully got off all diabetes meds with diet, but even he just shakes his head at the diversity between my food practices and what his training tells him.

But: I do eat carbs like a fiend.

I continue to eat way too much food, just as I always have. The reasons are psychological; if I had them all unpacked and under control and fully understood, presumably they'd have less power over me. Some hints at them are: I was raised in one of those "clean your plate" environments, with a heavy dose of "don't let leftovers go to waste" and a seasoning of "eating food is the only fun thing that won't get a kid yelled at in this house". I'm an eater. I eat. I've been obese since puberty. At my worst, after a decade of ur-doin-it-rong not-as-ketogenic-as-advertised dieting and a ton of "carbs are evil" propaganda that left me "snacking" on nuts and cheese and cured meats, I was approaching "you'll have to cut a hole in the side of my trailer to get my body out" levels of morbid obesity. Of course that's when the diabetes was getting worse despite my chowing down a daily bowl of diabetes pills that cost as much every month as a reasonable month's rent would.

True story: I only tried plant-based eating because the book where I learned about it (lent to me by well-meaning friends who are true friends indeed) contained a falsifiable assertion I could test in three days. It said my blood sugar and blood pressure would show marked improvement within 72 hours if I limited my diet to unprocessed whole plant foods with no added oil ingredients. I scoffed because I "knew" my blood sugar would shoot up if I ate potatoes and rice and tomatoes and onions for three days. So I did that, confident that I'd be able to politely tell my friends "yeah, I tried that, it didn't work." They are academics; they would have respected my experimental results. Instead, my fasting blood sugar was way down by the second morning, and ever since. Suddenly it was me that was needing to respect my experimental results.

But: I do eat carbs like a fiend.

I lost about 250 pounds before I learned how to eat (a subset of) a vegan diet with my accustomed velocity, volume, panache, and satisfaction; but learn I did. At which point about fifty of those pounds came back -- but not my diabetes. I'm still trying to learn to love greens (which I've hated universally and with a pathological disgust since being forced to eat fibrous sour nasty bitter boiled lambsquarters as a toddler) and the permie gardening and food-foresting is helping with that, but it's a slow process. At least the gardening gets me away from my keyboard and provides me with (not yet enough, but I'm still a noob at this) high quality plant foods I literally cannot buy for any price in my area. I'll be obese until I lose another 200 pounds, and I honestly don't know if that will ever happen. I'm eating a better diet than most vegans whose diets I know about, and I'm still obese. I'm proof: it's totally possible to eat too much vegan food, even when it's not particularly calorie-dense. So (bringing this back around to Joseph's original question) it never would have occurred to me to look at a vegan and wonder why he wasn't skinny. Vegans usually eat more fat and processed foods than I do, and I'm not skinny, so the notion wouldn't have entered my mind. I don't expect skinny vegans.
 
Enrique Garcia
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I'm vegan & weigh 360 lbs. Tho I have lost about 90 lbs since becoming vegan. The skinny vegan is a myth just as the dark skinned mexican is as well. I'm mexican but can pass for white. I was once in a band in my youth .. all mexicans 5 of us .. all lite skinned .. 2 green eyes & one blue eyed .. if it was like being an albino that would be freaky .. but it's not at all ... I know lotsa big vegans .. whether they are muscular or just over weight ...
 
Graham Burnett
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What band were you in Enrique? I was in a few punk bands many years ago, I still play in an acoustic (kind of) punk duo now with an old friend from back in the band days.
 
Erica Daly
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I watched this video several months ago and found it quite intriguing. People that were at high risk ... and had to eat raw veg for 12 days. Nutritionist involved. Each person had their own 'bucket' of food. There was not much time left for anything but eating... Have a look!

ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXZ1dH7tJWw

If only I could get my friends to watch...
 
Dan Boone
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Let me embed that for people:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXZ1dH7tJWw [/youtube]
 
Burra Maluca
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My copy of Becoming Vegan has arrived, and it has a forty page chapter on vegans and weight issues. I'll read it through as soon as I get a chance and try to summarise the info here.

I may be some time...
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Thanks for the replies. I realize now that I had a very misguided idea about what being vegan entails. I used to think that it was about making healthy food choices... Now I realize what was right there before me the whole time, if I could have only opened my eyes to see: Vegan eating is about not eating animals! Sorry about my lifelong misunderstanding. I'll blame it partly on being a farmer, so the vegans that seek me out tend to be young mothers who are still fit and trim I suspect mostly because they are young. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Now I get to throw away another stereotype I've held that vegans are young -- college aged kids...
 
Stephanie Ladd
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I was vegan for nearly 2 years. I got real fat as a vegan, gained 25 lbs. And I wasn't a junk food vegan. I prepared all my meals from scratch. And I didn't move more or less than I did before I became a vegan. I also developed severe b-12 deficiency. I started eating animals again this January. My b-12 deficiency resolved itself immediately. But the weight stuck. I started a paleo/primal diet in September of this year and as of today I am down 20 lbs.

A caveat, my husband seemed to do well on the vegan diet. Although, I'd argue he wasn't healthy. He has and always will be a thin person. But he became... Um... Non-muscly on a vegan diet. He also switched to a paleo diet with me and he leaned up immediately. It was like someone took a vacuum and sucked all his skin closer to his body. His muscles reappeared and he toned up dramatically.

thats my "vegans and weight" story.
 
John Saltveit
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I have heard and seen many versions of this. My wife lost about 15 pounds after becoming a vegan and looks pretty hot, I must say. She feels healthy too.

The late great Doctor Nicholas Gonzalez explained the theory of William Kelly, that people tend toward a natural propensity in the direction of anywhere from vegan to extreme paleo. He described it as a sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system. He had 10 basic diets with many versions. This seems to jibe with my sense of how people are. I describe what I eat as a whole foods plant based diet, but I am neither a strict vegetarian nor a vegan. My son loves meat. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, although I respect people's sensitivities toward respect for animals by not eating them. I think that the good doctor was right in that people's bodies are trying to adjust their eating to balance their body, and so it is individual for each person.
John S
PDX OR
 
Jim Thomas
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Dan,

My wife and I have come up with an alternative way of looking at the diabetes issue - it is a two stage disease.

Stage 1 is where you have too much sugar being sent into your blood, and as a result your body has to make too much insulin to keep it controlled. This means that you can have completely normal blood sugar levels, but still be what we would call Stage 1 because of excess insulin production.

In Stage 2, your body gives up the ghost. You can no longer produce enough insulin to push all the excess sugar/carbs you are consuming into your insulin resistant cells, and you go to full blown diabetes.

I'll note that one of the main functions of insulin is to store fat. From what you wrote above, it seems highly likely that you currently have quite elevated insulin levels. I think that it would be extremely rare for a person to go from full blown diabetes to just "Stage 1" while eating tons of carbs, but if your original diet was somehow significantly worse than the current vegan one (which it apparently was - 250 pounds lost with 150 more needed!) that would explain it.

I'll finish by saying that just because a vegan diet is better than whatever it was that you were eating before does NOT mean that your vegan diet is particularly healthy for you. A D- is better than an F, but maybe you could find an A or B.
 
Stephanie Ladd
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I agree with the above.

I completely 100% understand people eating vegan for ethical reasons. But when people start expousing the health benefits of veganism, I think that can be a bit misleading. If you have been abusing your body for many many many years, I think a vegan diet can help with initial blood sugar control and weight loss. But long term.... I personally think is dangerous (unless you are heavily supplementing). When I started feeling yucky on my vegan diet I said "I'm just not being vegan enough!" So i tried the raw vegan 80/10/10 thing where you just eat a bunch of fruit. I could only do that for about
2 days, it did a number on my body.

And I think you have to figure in genetics. Some people are really good at pulling out every last nutrient from a vegan diet and convert them well. Some people, not so much. Just because there is a few people who have been vegan (or raw) vegan for 40 years doesn't mean there aren't 20 people for every one of those people that got sick from a vegan diet.

As a permaculturist, I look to nature. The thing that got me eating meat again is that there weren't ever any long term vegan cultures in history. That tells me something.

In conclusion, and these are purely my opinions, I could be wrong, I think a vegan diet is great for ethical reasons, but pushing one for health reasons is misleading and can be dangerous.
 
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