Note: This article discusses weight, weight loss on a vegan diet, mental health, depression, body image, and chronic illness. If any of these topics are triggering for you, this may not be the article for you. Please remember that this is a very personal story and kindness is always appreciated.
If you’re reading this article or just listened to this podcast episode, it’s probably because you (or someone you love) is struggling with their weight, body confidence, or health on a vegan diet. This issue can be so painful and personal that it’s hard to discuss with others—even close, personal friends.
You might be worried that they’ll suggest that you give up your vegan lifestyle or, worse, convince you that some other diet or lifestyle change will give you the results you are desperately wanting to see. When you feel isolated, defeated or misunderstood, it’s sometimes very easy to give in or give up your vegan lifestyle.
Please, please don’t give up.
With loving kindness to yourself (and to all living creatures), you can start taking care of yourself from the inside out and become the very best version of yourself that you want to be.
If I could do it at age 43 (and still going strong at 48!), I know you can do it! I am totally here for you and I hope that my experience will help you to find your own happiness, health, and body confidence.
First of all, I want to note that this is not a vegan weight loss tutorial on how to drop pounds or get healthy. I am only sharing my own experience in hopes that it will spark a light within you to find hope if you are feeling despair or frustration.
I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, registered dietitian, or any kind of health advisor. I’m just an ordinary woman who has had an extraordinarily positive experience in choosing a vegan lifestyle.
Every person’s path is unique and valuable and I hope you find the one that fits you best.
Just to give you an idea of the state of my health during my adult life, here are the things that I struggled with:
Over the next 20 years, I tried many of the most popular weight loss plans, nutritionists, and even risky, over-the-counter supplements. Not surprisingly, the high animal protein plans really wrecked my body the most. I was able to lose 50 pounds during that length of time, but I never felt my best or had the energy or joy that I was searching for in my life.
When I began working at a vegan men’s skincare company, a co-worker of mine (wonderful, caring Kat) told me that she was vegan and, for some reason, this (along with learning more about the lifestyle) really motivated me to give up my current eating and lifestyle habits and open myself up to the option of becoming vegan.
I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but my plan was to give up one animal food item per week or month. First, it was red meat and pork (since I didn’t eat much of that anyway). Then, it was chicken. Followed by eggs and cheese. I never drank milk (I was highly allergic as a child), so that was easy.
For some reason, I assumed (I don’t know why) that because I wanted to become vegan, I had to eat and love tofu. Let me tell you, my dear friends, that you don’t have to like or eat tofu to be vegan. Seriously! I enjoy a tofu scramble now and then and I adore tempeh, but you can totally live on the plant protein from beans, fruits, veggies, and nuts/seeds. Tofu is not a requirement. (Is that a relief to you? Because it was to me!)
I could never understand why I wasn’t as ‘successful’ as other new vegans. Are you, like me, asking yourself these questions:
I was frustrated, sad, and just about to give up when I finally found a handful of helpful books about plant-based eating that changed my way of thinking and how I chose the food (and activities) that I was going to add into my everyday routine.
After a year of being vegan, I had gained at least 20 pounds. Being a petite and already overweight person with many health issues (including asthma, high blood pressure, cystic acne, horrible allergies, osteoarthritis, early fatty liver disease, and weekly migraines), this was not helpful to my body or to my mind.
I’m a determined petite person, though, so I decided to learn more about the vegan diet and plant-based eating from plant-based doctors.
I was eating every vegan frozen dinner (Amy’s boxed vegan mac & cheese!) and pre-packaged vegan snack that I could find. For some reason, I equated eating foods with a vegan label as being “healthy,” when they really aren’t. I was on a vegan junk-food diet roller coaster and I really wanted to jump off.
For me, these four choices helped the most to gain health, increase body confidence, and lose harmful, excess weight:
Personally, getting rid of the salt was key to reducing my high blood pressure and excess body weight. I realized that salt was not only causing my blood pressure to be elevated, but it was stimulating my appetite and making me eat more than I needed to.
Even after eating more of a plant-based, non-processed daily diet, I was still having issues with painful, red cystic acne on my face. Especially under and around my chin. The most helpful change that I made to help heal my skin was to reduce fat and eliminate processed sugar from my day.
I never imagined that enjoying rich, vegan cheese sauces made with cashews or adding a half of an avocado to my salad (all plant-based, no processed foods) could affect my skin so much. Even delicious protein balls or dressings with a large portion of nuts, seeds, or maple syrup wreaked havoc on my face. Ughh.
Once I reduced my fat to about 10% of my daily calories (Cronometer app is handy for this!) and reduced my natural sweetener consumption (maple syrup, sugar, agave, etc.) to only special occasions, my face started to clear up. If you don’t have acne troubles, this won’t be a change you’ll have to consider. But, if you do, give it a try (it took about a month or two for me) and see how your skin likes it.
Making all of these changes to my diet and lifestyle took time. For the first year I was vegan, I was just trying to figure out what to eat and how to avoid the animal products that were lurking in packaged foods (like milk, eggs, and gelatin, etc.).
The second year and third years, I donated or got rid of all the non-vegan possessions that I owned and changed my beauty, skincare, home products, and clothes, as well as eating vegan-friendly foods.
The fourth year was when I really got down to business and went completely plant-based. The only packaged foods I bought were items that I couldn’t get in bulk or from a zero waste package-free shop (there aren’t very many, or any, in New Hampshire), such as spices, nutritional yeast, salad greens, and frozen fruit or veggies. I ate about 50-80% raw (depending on the season…it’s very hard for me to eat raw when it’s below zero outside), adding a dose of nuts, seeds (especially ground flaxseeds for omega 3s), beans, or a sweet potato when I needed or wanted it.
The changes that I made in this fourth year are what helped me to lose the last amount of weight that was harming my health in such a crippling way.
By taking care of my body, mind, and spirit, along with following a vegan lifestyle, I was able to:
Just writing down this list makes me feel so incredibly lucky and grateful for all the positive and wonderful changes that this way of living has brought into my life.
You are not your weight. Although I’m talking a lot about weight in this article, it was never really 100% about how much I weighed. Yes, losing weight helped me to reduce or eliminate medications and diet-related diseases (which was my goal), but it didn’t make me feel better about the me inside.
Only when I started incorporating self-care into my daily routine did my opinion of myself change in a positive way. I started to flourish and feel good about myself. When I treated myself in a kind and loving way, my excess, unhealthy weight really was so much easier to release.
If your weight is not affecting your health, your weight isn’t really an issue that needs to be fixed unless you want to. If you love the way you feel in your body, you are already where you want to be.
Don’t let BMI or other measurements make you feel less than or not good enough––not attractive enough, slim enough, or vegan enough––because you ARE enough just as you are.
Keep in mind that the practical tips below helped me (and continue to help me) stay on track with my health, body confidence, and peace of mind, but they might not completely resonate with you––and that’s totally okay.
Take what feels right to you and discard the rest. You may even become inspired by something I’ve listed and find your own tips and tricks! (If you do, I’d love for you to share them with me in the comments below!)
Here are a list of books, videos, and apps that I’ve found the most helpful on my journey to self-love, healing, and body confidence. I truly hope that a few of these will help you, too!
Although I wish I could say that I’m perfect in doing all 10 things every day (and, really, do I have to be perfect? Heck, no!), I’m not. If I’ve had a fantastic day, I might remember to do 9/10 things. On days that I’m feeling low or situations just don’t go the way I’d like, I might only be able to do a single thing. And, please remember this, it’s totally and completely okay. Truly. Give yourself some slack and tell yourself that tomorrow is a new and wonderful day.
One small step at a time is all you need to remember.
Taking care of yourself beyond your physical body takes time, energy, and patience. I know you can do it. I believe in you. You’re not alone. If we all help each other, offer support (without criticism or judgement), and show love, we can do anything. And, in the process of healing our minds and bodies through plant-based eating, we are helping to heal the earth and easing the suffering of animals. It’s a win-win!
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If it has helped you in any way, I will be incredibly happy. Sending many healing hugs your way and wishing you the best of luck. Be good to you. Love and respect yourself first. Love and respect other living creatures. Spread that newfound joy everywhere you can!
With love, Gina (@ginahouse)
This article about vegan weight loss, body confidence, and reversing disease by eating a whole foods plant-based diet was written by Gina House for World of Vegan. Copyright of World of Vegan™, all rights reserved. Photography by Gina House. Edited by Amanda Meth. Please note that this article may contain affiliate links that support our work at World of Vegan.