Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Vegan Diets

Oh no, I’m losing weight! Not a common worry, and a problem that many people in the affluent sections of the world wish they had. With record levels of obesity and related diseases (diabetes and heart disease, to name a couple), the US population and middle/upper class India  could benefit from losing weight. In the Indian community, we have a heightened risk of heart disease and tend to put our weight on in our mid-sections, the worst place in terms of disease risk.  Changing to a vegan diet may result in weight loss…. so what if you are one of the folks for whom this is a problem?

If you’ve just gone from omnivore or vegetarian to vegan, consider your health and metabolic status before your dietary change. Was your Body mass index (BMI) on the high, middle or low side? One good site to calculate and interpret your BMI is here. Were you eating high dairy fat items, such as cheese? One family at JCNC’s recent event said they drank buttermilk every day, and they considered it healthy! That’s a lot of saturated fat to be taking in.  If you’ve been able to rid yourself of a cheese addiction or wean yourself off of buttermilk, congratulations!  How active are you? What is causing the weight loss, whether it can be considered healthy or unhealthy, and if you should change anything is as individual as your answers to your questions about your previous health status, diet and activity .  Keep in mind that some studies suggest that staying on the low side of normal with your BMI may make you live longer.   What about children?  If your concern is about a growing child, and the child does not already have a high BMI, nuts and nut milks are great ways to add more heart healthy fat. There are lots of other options to increase the fat in your diet (see the next section on how people gain weight on a vegan diet!), just make sure to keep your foods nutrient dense, not just calorie dense.

You can be a “junk food vegan”, and many of us long time vegans, in this era of good tasting dairy substitutes, baked goods and convenience items, find ourselves tempted to overindulge.  Here’s a nicely written story. No glamor self-discipline, the Jain concept of unodari  (eating a few bites less than what would make you feel full) at each meal, choosing and eating your food slowly and with attention, increasing your physical activity, can help you lose weight no matter what the cause.  Here’s some nutritional advice about weight loss with vegan diets.

Some feel that eating more raw items has helped them lose weight and certainly eating raw means cutting out a lot of the cooked  refined carbs and higher fat items that can lead to weight gain. But I don’t  agree with some raw-foodists’ contention that cooking destroys necessary digestive enzymes,(our bodies contain the enzymes, in saliva, and in our digestive tracts!)  and others in the vegan community with nutrition credentials agree.   One vegan nutritionist describes his experience with raw food diets and his perspective on the nutritional risks and benefits here. If we ate no cooked food, we’d be eating  opposite to the Jain idea of avoiding the killing of fresh one sensed beings as we do on tithi days and during ayambils. No dal? No grain? No thanks.

Bottom line, making a dietary change intelligently means taking some time to educate yourself, observing yourself before and after the change, and being willing to make course corrections. Be informed about the science of nutrition, try to sort out well supported guidelines from the many theories that are floating around. Don’t rule out the wisdom of self-discipline and consider how lucky we are to have all these choices. The world “health” means whole. Try to keep the whole picture in mind.

 Feel free to post individual questions.

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