Skip to content

On “Fat” and Veganism

A handful of people have commented about their weight, saying they are vegans–and not junk food vegans–and they are not thin.

I have mentioned my "skinny fat" friends who are thin, regardless of what they eat, and don't exercise and wouldn't be considered "fit." In clothing they simply look like trim, healthy people, which likely belies what's going on on the inside. And for those who do eat well, and do exercise, yet are overweight (and for the rest of us), there's "Fat: What No One is Telling You," a documentary referenced by Alternet's Maggie Mahar.

You can be an omnivore and be obese, and you can be a vegan and be obese. And you can exercise for hours a day, as one woman who is featured in the film does, and still be obese.

"Physicians know too little about what causes obesity in part because . . . 'blaming the victim has stood in the way of understanding.' Here, I am reminded of how, in the past, we blamed patients suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness. For centuries, this prejudice stood in the way of understanding that mood disorders are caused by a flaw in chemistry, not character.

Conventional wisdom says that if you put too much food in your mouth and don't exercise enough, you'll wind up fat. Period. As is so often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Experts report that some people eat rich, fatty foods, never exercise and remain thin. Others exercise daily, diet religiously and are seriously overweight. Of course many overweight people who need to lose 20 or 25 pounds take it off and keep it off. But they are not obese — they are not fighting a chronic condition.

Medical science has not yet sliced through the tangle of genetic, metabolic, social, psychological and environmental factors that cause obesity."

Some people are somehow wired to remain heavy, and though veganism can certainly boost health in many ways, it's not a guaranteed weight loss plan. And people who remain overweight after going vegan, or who gain weight, aren't necessarily "doing something wrong." Marketing veganism as a weight-loss plan is dicey because if we don't know why someone is obese to begin with, we cannot assume that removing animal products will be the factor that creates sudden and sustained weight loss.

If you don't want to kill anyone unless you have to, go vegan. If you want to lose weight, you most certainly can try veganism, but it doesn't come with a guarantee.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nick #

    This is an important point to make. We should avoid weight-loss propaganda like the horrible "Skinny Bitch" books when we're promoting veganism.

    December 7, 2008
  2. I have a few reactions to this:

    1) I'm a heavy vegan. No, veganism doesn't necessarily cause weight loss. However, my experience is that it's easier to maintain a healthy weight as a vegan than not. That is, it's easier to prevent weight gain as a vegan than as a non-vegan.

    2) Many people who are heavy vegans became heavy as nonvegans. Veganism may not "cure" the the "problem" but that doesn't mean eating animals doesn't "cause" the "problem."

    3) Fat isn't necessarily unhealthy and we shouldn't treat people differently simply because they're large. However, most Americans need to get more honest with themselves about their diets. They DO over-eat and under-exercise. (For the record, I count myself in that group.) That isn't the end-all-be-all regarding obesity, but it's a starting place.

    4) "mood disorders are caused by a flaw in chemistry" No, actually, they're not. That theory has been debunked. And in fact, many people are misdiagnosed with depression when they really have a nutritional deficiency or lack of exercise. Exercise is JUST AS effective as anti-depressants, yet doesn't have any of the side-effects.

    5) I think it's OK to "market" veganism through weight loss so long as we're careful not to fat-shame or hate on large people. People come to veganism through a variety of routes and changing behavior is very difficult. People often intellectually or emotionally KNOW veganism is right, but they don't change their habits. Thought and action are sometimes separate. Once they get to a place where they have a strong impetus to go vegan, even if it's for weight loss, they realize that it's not so bad living without meat. And then they sometimes stay vegan even without weight loss. In fact, I think there are more people who go vegan for weight loss or health reasons and stay vegan than vice versa, though, it's true that the people who go vegan for ethical reasons are more likely to stay vegan than those who go vegan for other reasons.

    December 7, 2008

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS