Los­ing Their Ve­gan­ity

Go­ing ful­lon ve­gan in the hopes of ditch­ing ki­los? You might find your dress size go­ing up. WH in­ves­ti­gates why some women are turn­ing in their V-cards – and how you can side step the pit­falls of plant­based eat­ing

Women's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By Les­lie Gold­man

Are you do­ing Bey­oncé’s fave diet prop­erly?

Re­tail worker Stephanie Schwartz tried a 21-day ve­gan chal­lenge with a friend in 2015 be­cause “I wanted to lose a few ki­los and see if I could get vis­i­ble abs, like all the ve­gan yogi In­sta­gram girls, and this seemed like a healthy way to do it.” So Stephanie, then 25, ab­stained from all an­i­mal prod­ucts – meat, poul­try, seafood, dairy and eggs. The trial pe­riod came and went and she stuck with it, ab­sorb­ing the plan’s “cru­el­tyfree” ethos. As her pas­sion for an­i­mal wel­fare grew, though, some­thing else did too: her waist­line.

In­stead of ton­ing up, within four months “I gained 5.4 ki­los, lost mus­cle tone and felt so bloated,” she says. She also over­heated eas­ily and lost her pe­riod. “My body was like, ‘Ex­cuse me, I don’t like this.’” She couldn’t fig­ure it out, but she did no­tice she al­ways felt rav­en­ous – and was con­stantly eat­ing. Like 70 per­cent of peo­ple who try go­ing ve­gan, Stephanie ul­ti­mately went back to eat­ing some an­i­mal prod­ucts. In­ter­est in ve­g­an­ism, the stricter, co­conut milk-ier cousin of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, has surged in re­cent years. In Hol­ly­wood and on so­cial me­dia, it seems as if ev­ery flat-bel­lied celeb (Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Lopez, Lea Michele) is re­ported to have tried the life­style and lu­mi­nous-skinned in­flu­encers (ve­gan chef Angela Lid­don, blog­ger Ella Wood­ward of De­li­ciously Ella) have been tout­ing the life­style. Google Trends shows a 50 per­cent in­crease in in­ter­est for ve­g­an­ism in the past year. It’s not sur­pris­ing then that an in­creas­ing num­ber of women have taken Stephanie’s tack, look­ing be­yond ve­g­an­ism’s mo­ral rai­son d’être and health ben­e­fits – which in­clude a re­duced risk for heart dis­ease, can­cer, di­a­betes, blood­sugar is­sues, hy­per­ten­sion and over­all mor­tal­ity – to a hope of weight loss. Af­ter all, while ve­g­an­ism is not con­sid­ered a weight-loss diet per se, mul­ti­ple stud­ies have shown that peo­ple who shun an­i­mal prod­ucts tend to be lighter than their om­niv­o­rous coun­ter­parts. A re­cent Har­vard Univer­sity meta-anal­y­sis found that ve­g­ans lost about two ki­los more than meat eaters over an av­er­age of 18 weeks. An­other study found that ve­gan women have an av­er­age BMI of 22, which is 1.5 points lower than the av­er­age of those who dig meat. But peo­ple who go ve­gan specif­i­cally to shed cen­time­tres may be do­ing them­selves a dis­ser­vice, says Vir­ginia Messina, di­eti­cian and cre­ator of TheVe­ganRD.com. “Women read sto­ries that prom­ise the ki­los will just melt away” – but sim­ply start­ing your day with a quinoa bowl rather than an omelette doesn’t mean you’re au­to­mat­i­cally go­ing to drop ki­los.

Ve­gan diet traps

New­bie ve­g­ans hit some com­mon di­etary road­blocks, says di­eti­cian Cyn­thia Sass. First, plenty of foods can be ve­gan with­out be­ing good for weight loss. “Healthy, fill­ing ve­gan di­ets re­quire knowl­edge and plan­ning,” says Sass. “Twenty years ago, eat­ing ve­gan meant lots of whole grains, pro­duce and pulses, like beans and lentils.” Now the aisles are packed with higher-kilo­joule short cuts, like mock meat and cheese prod­ucts, and it’s easy for new con­verts to as­sume that any item with an “All Ve­gan!” la­bel will be some­how bet­ter. But eat­ing pro­cessed foods means “you’ll miss out on fi­bre, which slows down di­ges­tion, keep­ing you feel­ing fuller longer,” says Sass. She adds that fi­bre is im­por­tant be­cause it feeds the good-for-you gut bac­te­ria as­so­ci­ated with weight man­age­ment. Even if you do stick to the health­ier ve­gan fare, it’s easy to OD on por­tion size, given the health halo sported by “clean” but kilo­joule-dense foods like av­o­ca­dos, cashews and co­conuts. Sass had a fe­male client whose break­fast was a jumbo smoothie bowl that “prob­a­bly had about 2 926 kilojoules and then she’d be seden­tary all day.” Ve­gan or not, “any­time you eat more than you can burn, the sur­plus will ei­ther pre­vent weight loss or cause weight gain.” An­other kilo-adding cul­prit? Skimp­ing on pro­tein, which is needed to main­tain the mus­cle mass that helps keep your meta­bolic rate up, ex­plains Sass. Too lit­tle could lead to a loss in mus­cle tone, as Stephanie ex­pe­ri­enced. And fi­nally, in the life-ain’t-fair de­part­ment, Messina points out that if you’re al­ready eat­ing a healthy diet with gen­er­ous amounts of fi­bre, good carbs, like whole grains, and fruit and veg­eta­bles, you’re less likely to see a stark dif­fer­ence on the scale when you drop all an­i­mal foods. Some­one who goes from egg-and­ba­con sand­wiches and ham­burg­ers to a well-rounded ve­gan diet, though, may start los­ing weight more eas­ily.

The com­mit­ment fac­tor

Motivation also comes into play, says Sarah Hoff­man, an epi­demi­ol­ogy doc­toral stu­dent at the Univer­sity of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health (and hap­pily ve­gan for the past 16 years). Her study in the jour­nal Ap­petite shows that sub­jects who de­cided to be­come ve­gan for eth­i­cal rea­sons re­mained so for years longer than peo­ple who went plantsonly hop­ing for weight loss or other health-re­lated ben­e­fits. “If you’re do­ing it to lose weight and you have un­pleas­ant ef­fects, like fa­tigue or di­ges­tion is­sues, you may stop, while an eth­i­cal ve­gan may be more likely to stick it out be­cause avoid­ing an­i­mal prod­ucts is about some­thing big­ger than them­selves,” she ex­plains. Side ef­fects of­ten in­clude crav­ings, which can be more in­tense in ve­g­ans who are look­ing to slim down, says pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy Dr Art Mark­man, an ex­pert on motivation and be­havioural change. With­out the larger goal of sav­ing an­i­mals from suffering, “you may still psy­cho­log­i­cally crave the foods you’re not eat­ing and even­tu­ally give in.” Some­one who feels eat­ing beef is gross, in other words, is less likely to crave a burger. All di­ets in­volve some de­pri­va­tion, but it can help to re­cast your­self as “plant-based” in­stead of “ve­gan,” says Mark­man. That re­minds you of all you can eat (pro­duce, grains, nuts, beans) and is less likely to lead to sex dreams fea­tur­ing your crush and a bed made from lasagne.

When it goes too far

The ex­pe­ri­ence of Jor­dan Younger, 27 – whose blog, The Blonde Ve­gan, de­buted in 2013 – points to a more in­sid­i­ous draw­back to ve­g­an­ism. Jor­dan says she amassed 30 000 fol­low­ers in just three months with recipes like Raw Ve­gan Peanut But­ter Cups. But a year later, she was in­creas­ingly re­strict­ing her eat­ing choices, cut­ting whole cat­e­gories of foods (gluten, oil, sugar) and at one point even eat­ing 10-ba­nana smooth­ies as a meal. She re­alised she had veered into a form of dis­or­dered eat­ing: or­thorexia, a rigid fix­a­tion with eat­ing healthily. Stud­ies have shown that women with eat­ing dis­or­ders are more likely to be veg­e­tar­i­ans than om­ni­vores. That doesn’t mean veg­e­tar­i­an­ism or ve­g­an­ism causes eat­ing dis­or­ders, ex­plains Dr Steven Brat­man, au­thor of Health Food Junkies: Or­thorexia Ner­vosa: Over­com­ing the Ob­ses­sion with Health­ful Eat­ing. But some­one pre­dis­posed to dis­or­dered eat­ing “may use ve­g­an­ism as a so­cially ac­cept­able way to carry it out,” he says. In 2014, Jor­dan stopped eat­ing ve­gan and changed her blog name to The Bal­anced Blonde. Ini­tially she lost more than 30 000 fol­low­ers, but now she has more than 190 000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers and over three mil­lion down­loads of the pod­cast she started in 2016. “I’m spread­ing the word that if you want to be plant-based, that’s cool,” she says, “but you can also live health­ier and eat more foods from the earth with­out be­ing rad­i­cally ex­treme.” Stephanie also felt that ve­g­an­ism trig­gered a re­lapse of her prior anorexia. In her case, when she went back to fish and eggs, “my clothes fit bet­ter and my en­ergy re­turned. Some days I’m still ve­gan and I love the con­scious as­pect of eat­ing that way, but I def­i­nitely have more en­ergy in yoga or HIIT class when break­fast is scram­bled eggs with salmon, av­o­cado and hot sauce.” Fu­ture ve­g­ans, don’t de­spair! If done cor­rectly and with the help of a qual­i­fied di­eti­cian, it’s com­pletely pos­si­ble to lead a healthy, happy, fit life­style on a ve­gan diet, you just have to find what works for you and your body.

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