I recently rejoined Weight Watchers. The last time I was a member, I was thirteen years younger and 30-35 pounds lighter. I was also about 5 years away from going vegan.
Why “vegan as a diet” is problematic
I became vegan after reading Skinny Bitch – an animal rights tome packaged as a profanity-laced, weight loss self-help book for women. What started out as a step towards a healthier me quickly morphed into an ethical choice and a philosophy I hold important. The healthier me is still something I strive towards, but it has little to do with the lack of animals on my plate.There is no cookie-cutter version of “vegan.” As I’ve written about previously, veganism takes all kinds. We all come to our decision to stop exploiting animals from different paths. But “vegan as a diet” continues to strike me as problematic.
I came across an image on Twitter this month, which has since been deleted. To the left, an outline of an overweight person, filled with junk food and animals and other things implied to be eaten by that person. To the right, an outline of a slim person, filled with fruits and veggies. The commentary on this image was something like, “It’s your choice. Go vegan.”
Vegans and non-vegans alike called this person out for the body-shaming. Implying that veganism means you’ll be thin and healthy and that eating animals means you’ll be fat and sick is irresponsible. You can be a healthy eater of animals just as easily as you can be a junk food vegan. Veganism is not a magic pill, and telling your audience otherwise is one reason why we hear about so many ex-vegans. The tweeter went on to say that she had meant that eating a whole food, plant-based diet leads to weight loss.
Perhaps the tweeter posted this meme with the best intentions. But it speaks to an issue that goes beyond leaving animals off of one’s plate.
Studies show that the more processed junk that we leave out of our diet, the less health issues we have. But there are overweight people who are healthier than skinny people. There are “clean” eaters who include meat in their diets. These are some of the reasons I don’t like to portray veganism as a miracle solution to our health and body issues. Personally, my body issues were there long before veganism, and I’m struggling with them close to a decade into that philosophy.
A society with eating issues
As I mentioned, I’m back on Weight Watchers. Does this program work? Yes – I lose weight when I follow the plan. Calorie-restricting works. Expend more energy than you consume, and you will lose weight, vegan or not. Weight Watchers has revamped their program (they tend to do this every few years), focusing on protein and fiber, and making sugary foods higher in points. Fruits and vegetables are zero points, so you can eat them with abandon.
I’ve been spending my time counting points, scanning barcodes, weighing and measuring foods, and lurking Weight Watchers’ social media section, Connect. Guess what? We are a society of people who have grown up with eating issues. I can’t tell you how many repeat members there are. I can’t tell you how many children and teenagers I’ve seen posting about how they just joined. While I think it’s important that we all learn how to eat healthfully and how to take control of our food choices, I can’t be happy about the fact that girls in their adolescence are already on a weight loss program. I understand – today’s younger generation is less active than mine was. School meals aren’t as healthy, and there are less home-cooked meals being eaten as parents have to work harder to afford the necessities.
Do you remember how you felt when you stopped eating and using animals? Personally, I felt like I’d just unplugged from the Matrix. I stopped taking in what I’d been told for my entire life, and I started questioning.
Body image and weight issues are kind of the same. We’re constantly fed images of svelte women and buff men, Photoshopped to high heaven. The average jeans size be damned, size zero is the goal! Oh, but while you’re figuring out how to achieve this unattainable goal, have a processed snack laden with sugar, salt and fat. Who has time to cook? Have I mentioned that there’s a sale on value meals at the fast food drive-through?
Where veganism and food issues collide
We don’t live in a vegan world and that makes it a little harder to navigate when we no longer subscribe to its norms. We don’t live in a healthy world, either, and that makes it near impossible to feel comfortable in a size fourteen body when you are expected to be much smaller, to consume less calories, to look at serving sizes and wonder how in the world one box of pasta is supposed to feed seven.
How am I going to lose weight when I eat an entire Daiya pizza in once sitting? I won’t – unless that’s all I eat in a day, and chances are, if I’m the kind of person who will eat a whole pizza (I am), I’m also the kind of person who eats more calories than I expend. Veganism isn’t what changes that.
Wouldn’t it be easier to eat whole foods if we weren’t being sold the tastier, fattier, saltier version? To introduce others to veganism if we pleaded our case through compassion instead of fashion? To find our way if we weren’t constantly barraged with quick fixes, pills, cleanses, and promises that just aren’t possible?
I know that leaving animals off my plate makes sense, so I leave them off. In that way, being vegan is a lot easier than leaping that body image hurdle. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is a saying I see a lot, and I hate it. It implies that our appearance is more important than our person, that the number on the scale means more than our bloodwork results, that our health is tied to how heavy we are. In my vegan years, my bloodwork has been pretty good. But even my doctor wants me to lose weight. She was happy to hear I’d joined Weight Watchers. She sees it as lowering the risk of disease.
Believe me, I don’t want heart disease, diabetes, cancer. Those diseases run in my family, so when my bloodwork tells me I am at low risk, I breathe a sigh of relief. The number on the scale, though? That’s vanity. I joined Weight Watchers because my pants were becoming snug. I joined because clothes don’t fit right when you’re small-chested with a gut. I joined because I don’t want to see a higher size in jeans on the tag than ever before.
I am down almost nine pounds in five weeks. I know that a number doesn’t define me. I know that fitting into a pair of jeans doesn’t add value to my worth. I question this “Matrix” just like I question the one that says it’s okay to exploit non-human animals. But this one is harder to unplug from. This one exploits our weaknesses, and that’s why it’s hold is so strong.
May we all move towards a society that doesn’t exploit others, that builds us up instead of tearing us down, that supports healthy habits and strong self-esteem. Journey on!