Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?

Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?

By |2012-01-01T11:59:14+00:00January 1st, 2012|Tags: , |73 Comments

Here comes the New Year with all its fresh-start possibilities. We’ve survived the season of caloric abundance and millions of us are ready to shed a few pounds.

But the latest research on weight management—some of which was highlighted in a recent article in the New York Times (see below)—raises questions about the pursuit of a slender body.

The evidence suggest that the majority of people who lose weight regain as much as 95 percent of it within five years.   And it’s not necessarily just because people can’t stick with the plan that helped them lose weight.  Dieting changes metabolism in ways that boost hunger and affect calorie use. People who diet may have to exercise more and cut back more stringently on calories to maintain their weight loss compared to same-weight people who haven’t dieted. In short, significant weight loss sends your body into starvation mode where all it wants to do is accumulate fat.

Do people who lose weight on a vegan diet have any advantage in this regard? We don’t know. A handful of studies show that low-fat vegan diets—which achieve calorie reduction through food restrictions—produce weight loss in the short term, but none that show how people fare four or five years down the road. If they regain their weight, then they may perceive a vegan diet as ineffective or may perceive themselves as embarrassing vegan failures. (I wrote earlier this year about the potential problems that arise when veganism is defined as a “weight loss diet.)

But that’s just one issue. The other is that anywhere from 14 to 31% of weight loss is comprised of lean tissue—muscle and bone. When weight is regained, not all of that lean tissue is recovered. This is especially important as people age. Muscle loss—called sarcopenia—is common with aging and it’s linked to osteoporosis, risk of falling, and overall decline in physical function. The reasons for sarcopenia aren’t that well understood, but weight cycling sure doesn’t help. It can produce what’s called “sarcopenic obesity”—too much fat, too little muscle.

You can counteract the problem to some extent through diet and exercise. Extra protein may be beneficial for weight loss (and satiety), and it might protect muscle while you shed pounds. Beans are an ideal food in this regard since they provide both fiber and protein—kind of the dynamic duo for hunger management. But for some people on reduced calorie diets, it may be difficult to consume enough protein without including some soy products or veggie meats in menus.

The biggest problem occurs when people drop too many pounds. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a weight loss of 3 to 4.3% of body weight is often successfully maintained over several years. While that may not sound very exciting, these small weight losses can have significant health benefits.

For many people, however—especially those who have dieted unsuccessfully numerous times—resolutions that focus on healthy lifestyle rather than on dropping pounds could be the best and smartest option. It’s hard to believe that, though, when everyone is telling you that you should be trying to lose weight. And the promotion of vegan diets for weight loss is a part of that relentless and potentially damaging message.

So, if you’ve been on the dieting merry-go-round over the years without much success, switch the substance of your New Year’s resolutions from weight to health:

  • Be diligent about exercise, especially weight training. It’s crucial for everyone who wants to maintain good health as they age.  The Health at Every Size paradigm suggests that rather than planned “exercise” you should simply engage in activities you enjoy. I guess that might work for some folks, but it sure doesn’t for me. Since my favorite activity is sitting in front of the fire with a good book and a glass of wine, I’d be in trouble if I didn’t absolutely force myself to exercise. I do it because it’s good for me; it’s never especially enjoyable.
  •  Eat healthfully. You know how to do this—pile on the veggies, beans and whole grains. Work on the problem areas that sabotage your health—whether it’s too many cookies, too much alcohol, or a love affair with potato chips. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that certain plant foods need to be banned. That’s a fad diet way of thinking.
  •  Go vegan, or at least get started on the transition. Eating more plant foods can improve your health no matter what your body size. And, a vegan diet is guaranteed to make your diet more respectful and compassionate. I can’t imagine a better New Year’s resolution than that.


For more information, take a look at the excellent New York Times article referenced above

Here are references to some of the research discussed in this post:

Methods for voluntary weight loss and control. NIH Technology Assessment Conference Panel. Consensus Development Conference, 1992. Ann Intern Med 1993;119:764-70.

Newman AB, Lee JS, Visser M, et al. Weight change and the conservation of lean mass in old age: the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82:872-8; quiz 915-6.

Sumithran P, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, et al. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med 2011;365:1597-604.

Chaston TB, Dixon JB, O’Brien PE. Changes in fat-free mass during significant weight loss: a systematic review. Int J Obes (Lond) 2007;31:743-50.

Beavers KM, Lyles MF, Davis CC, Wang X, Beavers DP, Nicklas BJ. Is lost lean mass from intentional weight loss recovered during weight regain in postmenopausal women? Am J Clin Nutr 2011.

Lee JS, Visser M, Tylavsky FA, et al. Weight loss and regain and effects on body composition: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2010;65:78-83.

Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, et al. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107:1755-67.



  1. JL goes Vegan January 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    As ever, I admire and respect how thoughtfully you approach these sensitive topics.

    No doubt that the desire to be skinny has brought many a folk in the the vegan fold and animals have been saved. But I simply cannot stand the “Get skinny by going vegan” mentality. It’s maddening.

    What you offer here is sound (and scientific) information about how to eat healthily on a vegan diet. Without suggesting that success is ” a brand new skinny you!” Thank you.

    • Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm - Reply

      Thank you, too, JL, for this comment and for your Stop Chasing Skinny blog. It’s an inspiring resource!

  2. Ashley January 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    I’ve been a vegan for 6 years with my weight all over the map. Since May 2011 have lost 45 lbs with food tracking and a lot of exercise. I’m about 75 lbs from my heaviest in 2002. I’d like to get off another 5-10 lbs, if possible, but I’m currently at my lowest weight since age 13. This post touched on a frustration I’ve been experiencing, in that I feel like I have to exercise a tremendous amount and restrict my calories to the point of being hungry frequently in order to just maintain where I’m at. I don’t know how I can possibly eat less with the amount of activity I’ve been doing. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight several times in my life, but I feel like I’ve made some really solid lifestyle changes this time. It feels different and like I can keep going. I’m trying to not get discouraged though. After 3 decades of fighting obesity and going up and down the scale, can the body ever “reset” itself? Is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

    • catherine p. January 12, 2012 at 9:56 am - Reply

      It read somewhere (sorry I don’t have the references at hand) that exercising is good only to a certain point because you get way more hungry when you exercise and it is harder to be careful with what you eat when that happens. I think that perhaps it would be a good idea to replace some heavy work-outs in your routine with long steady walks that will keep you active without making you feel like you’re starving. I never had an obesity problem but I tend to lose weight when I don’t exercise much because the amount of food I need is fairly reducued.

  3. Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Ashley, there is evidence that the body does reset itself, but it can take several years. That’s really why people run into problems–because they can’t deal with the constant hunger for such a long period of time. If you’re just 10 pounds from your goal weight, I’d definitely not worry about taking those last few pounds off. I’d just work on maintaining what you’ve lost over the next year or so before dropping any more weight. I think you’ll have much better success that way. You’ve already accomplished a lot!

  4. Dee January 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    I would say the majority of vegans are slim largely due to the fact that their diet do not contain saturated fats. Most vegans are health conscious anyway so you wouldn’t find them gorging on vegan cakes, pastas and foods high in carbohydrates to make them gain excess weight. If anyone is overweight and debating on going vegan to lose some, I would encourage it wholeheartedly because it is not just the weight you will be losing. It is also healthier for you, for the animals and for the planet.

    • Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm - Reply

      I’m not sure it’s true that the majority of vegans are slim, though. But even if they were, based on the research I talked about in this post, we can’t assume that people will lose weight and keep it off on a vegan diet. So I’d rather encourage people to go vegan for the animals–and enjoy whatever health benefits come along with the change. If they lose weight, that’s great, but they shouldn’t necessarily expect to do so.

  5. marie January 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    I appreciate this and so many of your articles. If you have them on hand, I would be interested in the citations on the body “resetting” itself. Since transitioning to a plant based diet in 2007 when I was at my heaviest weight, I gradually lost an average of 20 pounds a year. The weight I’m currently at has been steady since summer 2011. As I lost weight my level of physical activity increased, going from sedentary, to walking, doing Pilates, yoga, and now running. But I’m hardly an exercise buff and I work at incorporating physical activity in my daily routine.

    I agree with many ideas behind the Health at Every Size perspective, and I do not endorse the fat shaming ideas that spring from the movement (e.g., skinny bitch, peta’s “Lose the blubber” campaign.) But I wonder if there is an effective way to promote the healthier aspects of a vegan lifestyle without it coming across as some “a brand new skinny you!” fad JL mentioned?

    • Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Marie, I thought that the research by Sumithran (cited in my list of references) talked about this, but when I went back and looked, it doesn’t give any actual findings about the body resetting itself. I’ll see if I can find anything else, but I guess there isn’t much published on this. It sounds like it’s really a matter of changing hormone levels–and that this is something that is probably going to happen through drug therapy.

  6. Audrey January 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Another amazing post, Ginny. Thank you for being a vegan voice of common sense and sound scientific research.

    • Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Audrey!

  7. Sherry January 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I have been on the diet merry-go-round for most of my life. In 2007 I decided to embrace “moderation” in my food choices and I made a serious commitment to exercise. Over the next 18 months I lost 90 pounds. I kept it off for the first couple of years, but I have been gradually backtracking over the past 2 years. I have now regained about 35 pounds. I made the commitment to veganism after I lost the weight. In some ways, I think my switch to veganism might be part of what caused my increase because I had banned many high-fat foods from diet. When I switched to veganism I began re-learning how to cook items that I hadn’t been eating– tofutti, making my own vegan cheese. So while I still eat in moderation, I probably have increased the fat content of my diet. I get extremely frustrated by the “Skinny Bitch” style books that say “become a vegan and the pounds will melt away.” I read the NYT article you referenced earlier today. I have mixed feelings about it. In one way it made me feel good, like the gaining of the weight is not really my “fault.” On the other hand, I find it profoundly depressing. I really thought I had my weight problem licked. I was excited about committing to a diet that I believe is environmentally and ethically responsible and good for my health. I guess I have to learn how to fight my own hormones and brain waves. Sigh….

  8. Ginny Messina January 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I agree that the NYT article was kind of depressing, and I felt a little bit reluctant to talk about it. But the fact is that people do have so much trouble maintaining a weight loss, and it really is good to know that this is not a personal failing. I think that this kind of research is going to change the way overweight people are perceived–which is definitely a good thing.

    I guess it might make sense for you to reduce the fat in your diet and see if that makes it easier to maintain your weight where it is right now (not necessarily to lose any more). But, either way, I hope that you WILL continue to feel excited about committing to a diet that is environmentally and ethically responsible!

  9. Gena January 2, 2012 at 5:03 am - Reply

    So much to say!

    I linked to the Pope article, too, though I did offer a big disclaimer that it should not be taken as a reason to NOT try to lose weight that is necessary for your health (or, if you have lost a lot of weight, to despair about your chances of keeping it). Certainly our community is chock-full of people with long-term success stories.

    That said, the diet did grant a reprieve to the many (many) people who have tried in earnest to lose without long term success, and I think it certainly laid bare some of the dangers of yo yo dieting and calorie restriction that is unnecessary. After my eating disorder, I experienced sluggish metabolism for years, and it was frustrating, to say the least; it also compounded my fear of eating, and it was very painful to push through recovery when it seemed as though everything was only confirming the weight gain I’d always been so afraid of. I’d like for people to take away from the article an understanding that there are serious, serious consequences to calorie restriction and dieting. If you are already at a healthy weight, limiting your diet in any significant way puts you at direct risk to experience those consequences.

    As for the vegan part: I never ever tell people they’ll get “skinny” (a word I don’t put in any of my language regardless). For one thing, I don’t see it as the main raison d’etre of a vegan diet; if people try veganism purely for weight, fail, and ditch the diet, they’ll never have had a chance to discover compassion, so it’s my priority to reach them with that message before indulging the weight talk. For another, the simple truth is that many people do NOT lose weight as vegans (in spite of the many who do), and I don’t want the vegan diet being blamed for those failures. If people are fixated on squeezing into a little black dress, or whatever, I simply give them healthy eating pointers, and move on; if they push me to tell them about how veganism fits into this, I say that it can aid in weight loss, but that it’s an eating style like any other, and as such can be adjusted either to yield weight loss or gain. What makes it an eating style unlike any other is that it allows you to connect with and experience empathy with all of the planet’s living creatures.

    Great post.


    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Gena. This is one of my big concerns, too–that people end up blaming veganism for their failure to keep weight off. And you’re right that it can be adjusted to meet all kinds of needs. After all, if veganism was all about weight loss, then it would mean that those who need to gain weight couldn’t be vegan!

  10. Heather January 2, 2012 at 6:34 am - Reply

    Absolutely fantastic! So happy to see a vegan blog that does’t include fat shaming! I’ll also point out that all of the studies on veganism/vegetarianism and weight show that the average weight of a vegan isn’t much less than that of a meat eater- the largest difference was 20lbs, but most studies showed only 5 or 10lbs at most. And that doesn’t account for the fact that thinner people may be attracted to veganism to begin with- perhaps because they’re orthorexic, or maybe because fat people feel like eating healthier (when it doesn’t result in weight loss which, as you pointed out, is most of the time) is useless. It may even be harder to have compassion for non human animals when you’re constantly bullied and you feel like crap all of the time. Anyway, like I said, great post and thank you!

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Yup, it’s definitely a bad thing if vegans jump onto the fat shaming bad wagon–and I’ve certainly heard problematic language in this regard. Definitely not so good for advocacy!

  11. The year I stopped chasing skinny January 2, 2012 at 8:27 am - Reply

    […] I will, however, pick up the exercise a bit. Not to lose weight. I need regular movement because I want strong bones and a healthy heart as I approach the age of 50.  I want to live until a ripe, old age and I want to be walking, talking and thriving until I take my last breath.  My motivation isn’t skinny–my motivation is health. (Read more on this on The Vegan RD:  Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?) […]

  12. The year I stopped chasing skinny January 2, 2012 at 8:28 am - Reply

    […] I will, however, pick up the exercise a bit. Not to lose weight. I need regular movement because I want strong bones and a healthy heart as I approach the age of 50. I want to live until a ripe, old age and I want to be walking, talking and thriving until I take my last breath. My motivation isn’t skinny–my motivation is health. (Read more on this on The Vegan RD: Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny?) […]

  13. Katie January 2, 2012 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I love this! My husband and I recently started a three month exercise program (P90X) but i’m adamant about not going on a diet. Trying to get more protein to help rebuild my muscles is automatically making me eat a little better. Two weeks in and I haven’t lost weight, but i’m getting stronger and that’s what matters.

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      I’m with you, Katie–I love getting stronger, and it’s my main goal right now.

  14. Eselpee January 2, 2012 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Ah ha! Sacopenic obesity – what else could it be???

    I am not chasing skinny, but I am chasing health. I care less how long I live, than living well in the time I have. I also no longer have health insurance.

    I am 60, and struggling with obesity (5’8″/200lb). 24 and 18 years ago I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes (a 10-lb baby now 6’5″ and then twins). In 2003 an athletic injury, that culminated in a total knee replacement two years ago, along with the rat race of being a single parent sidelined me. The weight crept on until about 4-months ago when it totally ambushed me. I still technically don’t have diabetes, likely due to a lifetime of enjoying whole foods (a credit to my mom who was a health foodie in the 1950s), but I will soon.

    So, exercise is doable, but what about that focus on protein…

    How much is too much and do I need to fuss about complementarity (a currently discarded notion) at each meal? Do I need to worry about protein delivery in a starch vector (e.g. beans & rice)? Are there vegan-friendly articles I should read?

    Thanks, Ginny!

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm - Reply

      No, you don’t need to worry about protein complementarity at all. And getting enough protein is really not much of an issue for vegans. But some research suggests that boosting protein intake to above average levels might be useful for weight loss or for protecting muscle during weight loss. I don’t think we have enough information to say how much protein is important in this regard–but I would aim for at least 4-5 servings of protein-rich foods every day, which includes legumes, peanuts, soy products, and gluten products. And remember that a serving is just 1/2 cup of beans, 2 tbsp peanut butter, or 1 ounce of a veggie meat.

  15. Corinne January 2, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

    I absolutely agree- the focus should be on health rather than skinny! I’m about the same weight that I was almost twelve years ago before going vegan but my improved energy, skin, mood, and overall health and well-being is what makes me continue this way of life. Actually, it’s my compassion for the animals that mostly motivates me but the health benefits are definitely a close second.

    • Eselpee January 3, 2012 at 10:59 am - Reply

      “Actually, it’s my compassion for the animals that mostly motivates me but the health benefits are definitely a close second.”


      • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm - Reply

        Absolutely, for me, too! My goal is to choose the most compassionate way of eating and to do it in such a way that it supports my health. The added benefits of lower cholesterol and blood pressure are major bonuses!

  16. Betty A. January 2, 2012 at 11:45 am - Reply

    The research in Tara Parker-Pope’s article focused on weight loss that was achieved with very low-calorie diets (500-550 in one, 800 calories for the Bridges, the couple working so hard to maintain their loss; and 800 in the research at Columbia). It’s not surprising that people report feeling more hungry and preoccupied with food than before their weight loss–they have been starving, and those effects have been known since Ancel Keys conducted his starvation experiment at the U. of Minnesota during World War II. The only encouraging aspect of the article is that there are now some scientists studying slower weight loss methods. As a dietitian who cautions clients not to go below 1200 calories this approach is what I think makes weight loss more sustainable.

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm - Reply

      I know–I would completely expect people to be starving on 800 calories a day! What struck me most about the research–preliminary as it was–is that the changes in metabolism persisted even a year later when people were on maintenance diets.

      I, too, have always counseled people that a slow and gradual weight loss is best (I don’t even like to see people going much below 1500 calories, although I know some smaller women need to do so), but we don’t really have the research to show that this is true. One of the experts quoted in that article (I can’t remember who) suggested that total amount of weight lost was more important than speed of loss. But, it looks like this is being studied and we’ll have some data in a few years.

  17. Lisa F. (The Valley Vegan) January 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Great article, Ginny! And of course great timing. I did find that I lost a few pounds immediately upon going vegan 4 1/2 years ago, but nothing so significant that I would call it drastic weight loss. The real weight loss was a true conscious effort – upping my cardio and lowering my calories.

    BUT the quality of calories that I take in is something I monitor very carefully. I also follow a simple rule (that I invented for myself, because most people roll their eyes at me for this) that seems to have worked great for me: I only eat things that have recognizable ingredients: bananas, blueberries, brown rice, broccoli, peas, raw sugar, cocoa powder, natural peanut butter… I’m not a raw foodie, but maybe I could be called a “Prime Foodist” ? It works for me and it’s not hard!

    Happy New Year!!

    • Robert January 3, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Real food! What a concept! Or as Michael Pollan would say “eat foods your grandmother would recognize” … assuming your grandmother is in her 80s’.

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      If being a Prime Foodist works for you, I’d definitely go with it! (Especially since it includes cocoa powder and peanut butter 🙂

    • nearlyvegan, London January 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      I eat with you! and so, In the hope that it might be useful or interesting to others, here’s my prime food story: I was raised mainstream (i mean, lacto-ovo) vegetarian – I’m now 38 and have been eating vegan over the last year; I was a naturally skinny kid, but my weight fluctuated quite a bit between the ages of 16 and 32, albeit just about within the healthy BMI range – what with phases of comfort eating, and excessive alcohol consumption. even when i cut out both of these habits, I still had a podgy tummy that couldn’t shift no matter what, even during a brief period when i was actually underweight, after coming back from india.

      the only way to shift the podgy tummy which frustratingly persisted into the vegan period, even regardless of however much aerobic exercise I did, has been 2 or 3 x weekly pilates (at home). of course, it was tough at first but it’s amazing how quickly it begins to take effect and now it feels really good to be thinking in terms of my body’s physical tone, strength and posture, rather than weight alone – in fact, i was happy to discover i had got a bit heavier, recently, by building me some muscle!

      As the child of by whole food pioneer parents I have always eaten very well compared to the gen.pop, but since going vegan, i have a renewed focus on, and pleasure in, my diet, which i would say is excellent; its founding principle is:

      carbs -most of all rice in its many varieties, red camargue, short grain brown, etc, next potatoes, and least frequently pasta –

      accompanied by legumes of all sorts, occasionally tofu and tempeh, and

      fresh organic vegetables, raw or cooked.

      it’s actually amazing how much variety this diet provides – the key is in the seasoning – lots of fresh herbs, garlic, chilli, lemon juice, fresh miso, etc; also hummus, gallons of olive oil, avocadoes. i should probably eat more nuts than i am doing. oh, also oatmeal, rye or sourdough bread, and dark chocolate are staples (though the latter usually only one week a month).

      it’s no sort of hardship whatsoever, as since I’ve gone vegan my palate has changed so that these are the foods i crave and want. my weight is now incredibly stable, at the lower end of a healthy BMI range (whatever you make of BMI as a system, it’s an indication of some sort).

      i do not calorie count, ever: also, crucially, an ex-comfort eater, i have had to learn not to “mouth-eat” ; instead i listen to my belly and eat until it’s satisfied, but not too full. my skin is also excellent, which i credit to the pilates, too; and i am frequently mistaken for being a lot younger.

      the upshot is, i am happier with my body than i ever have been and i feel really good about my diet too, and what feels like a very healthy, not to mention ethical (also contrary to popular perception, surprisingly easygoing) and, in all senses, sustainable relationship to food.

  18. myvegancookbook January 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    “But the latest research on weight management—some of which was highlighted in a recent article in the New York Times (see below)—raises questions about the pursuit of a slender body.”

    I am so disappointed that you would bring up that beyond ridiculous article that was recently published in NYT. When you put someone on a 500-800 calorie a day diet, and your body needs 1200, What do you think will happen to your metabolism? Your body will begin to eat muscle. So let’s see, your body is STARVING, it kicks into fat conservation mode, and starts eating lean muscle mass. Well of course you’re going to fail! This is junk science at it’s best! No person can live on a low calorie diet long term. We must feed our body so that we can build lean muscle, so we can then move and then burn fat. The article suggests that weight loss is complicated and impossible and you should just sit down, shut up and get back to eating your crap meal. Well, the boys in charge who profit from you being fat and unfit would love that wouldn’t they? It makes my blood boil that things like this are allowed to be published. The New York Times should be ashamed of themselves for publishing the article and should give it’s readers an apology.

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      I don’t know, Josh–I don’t think this was junk science. I found it to be pretty balanced, with appropriate attention to the limits of some of the research. And, the author went to some of the world’s leading obesity experts to get perspective.

      Sure, we can expect that muscle loss is going to be greater on those very low calorie diets, but “some” muscle loss is common with all types of weight reduction, especially if people aren’t doing weight bearing exercise. For those who have trouble keeping weight off, this is relevant.

      And, I don’t know of any evidence that the medical industry *wants* people to be fat. In contrast, there is lots and lots of money to be made by convincing people that they constantly need to be on a diet. I suppose there is room for greed and bias on both sides!

      Finally, the article didn’t say that weight loss was impossible. It said that for *some* people, it is extremely difficult. Nor is anyone suggesting that those who struggle with weight loss should just go back to eating an unhealthy diet. What the article did suggest was that we bring a more compassionate perspective to an issue that affects so many lives and that is so poorly understood. We still don’t know why some people lose and maintain weight more easily than others.

      • myvegancookbook January 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm - Reply

        I’m not talking about the medical industry. I was talking about those who want you to be perpetually on a diet and big Pharma who profits from your ill health. They love articles like this.

        But but but… they put people on a 500 to 800 calorie a day diet! That’s insane! I honestly don’t even know what this proves other than we need to feed our bodies and we already knew that. I can’t believe as a RD you don’t find this article ridiculous.

        • Ginny Messina January 4, 2012 at 10:25 am - Reply

          Sure, but steering people away from “diets” hurts the dieting industry–so I don’t think they like articles like the one in the NY Times at all!

          And yes, I agree with you about the 500-800 calories per day. But there is a whole huge body of research out there on all different kinds of approaches to losing weight, and the evidence suggests that many people do poorly even on the sane and healthy diets. That was the point of my article–that for those who have tried all different kinds of approaches and always gain the weight back, it’s time for a different paradigm. Which is healthy eating without a focus on losing weight.

          • myvegancookbook January 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

            “But there is a whole huge body of research out there on all different kinds of approaches to losing weight, and the evidence suggests that many people do poorly even on the sane and healthy diets. ”

            Was this because they couldn’t stay on the diet or it simply didn’t work?

            I’m with you on the eat healthy and move a little. That’s why I get so sick of these articles like in NYT. Eat whole healthy foods most of the time, move everyday and you are done. In my opinion, we don’t need new research cause it really is as simple as that for most of us. Not all of us are going to look like Kate Moss or Francisco Lachowski and that’s ok.

          • Ginny Messina January 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm

            It’s not clear why so many people–even those on good diets–don’t keep the weight off. Certainly some go back to unhealthy food patterns, but not all. As I noted in this blog post, there is evidence that metabolism changes when people have been overweight for a long time and it reduces their calorie needs. That can make it pretty hard to keep the weight off.

            So I disagree with you about not needing new research. There is a great deal that we don’t understand about weight management.

  19. Ben January 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    Dear Ginny,

    Since my turn to veganism (one year and a half), I’ve managed to lose about 100lbs.
    My BMI level was at 37, now it’s just fine at 21. I don’t feel any kind of starvation, but of course, I don’t know what does my body “feel”. Now, do you want to say that there’s a chance of regaining weight without changing my new eating habits? Does it mean that the diet which works for me at the moment (now maintaining my weight) could potentially lead to weight regain after a couple of years? I hadn’t done any special effort to lose that weight, I have just made sure that my daily caloric intake wouldn’t pass the 2500cal (before that it was MUCH higher), and I walked a little. Nothing “radical”. And of course, my turn to veganism was by no way linked to the fact that I wanted to lose some weight. I’m 23 years old. Your article gave me some concern. Does my body “fit” to be overweight?


    Thank you for your reply about the Niacin issue!

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Ben, the fact that you’ve been able to maintain your weight loss without a great deal of effort may mean that you’re very likely to maintain it for the long term. I hope so!

  20. beforewisdom January 3, 2012 at 7:46 am - Reply

    The National Weight Control Registry is an ongoing study of people who lost huge amounts of weight and who have kept it off for a number of years. Participants record their habits and the research staff looks for trends. People can and do keep the weight off. One of the things most participants have in common is that they keep food diaries and continue to do so after reaching their goal weight. In other words, they keep watching their weight and don’t go back to their old habits.

    • Ginny Messina January 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      Yes, some people can and do keep the weight off. It’s just not as easy for everyone.

  21. beforewisdom January 3, 2012 at 7:51 am - Reply

    I think a vegan diet can help with weight loss if people base most of their caloric intake around foods that are high fiber, high bulk and low fat all at the same time. That will cause them to feel full on fewer calories. Whole grains, legumes, fruit, fresh vegetables.

    Thing is, many people who go vegan pull a self deceptive bait and switch in their minds. They think of eating vegan as being nothing but big bowls of lettuce, so they give themselves a license to eat indiscriminate quantities, while eating anything but salads.

    I’m not an expert of any kind and my opinions are based only on my experience. Ancedotal accounts are not real information….. 🙂

    • myvegancookbook January 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      beforewisdom, I think you’re right. That’s how I’ve kept my weight off going on 5 years now. I’m basically on the McDougall plan. I’m with Ginny on the issue of should vegans advocate that their diet will help you lose weight. I don’t think so. There are so many variations of vegan diets. It’s too general of a statement. But there are specific plans like McDougall’s that are vegan and work great for vegans who want to stay trim. I think that should be our answer if someone interested in going vegan asks if you can lose weight with the diet.

      It’s interesting cause I have a vegan twin brother who does not exercise and has very different eating habits from me, like eating prepackaged foods and doesn’t concern himself with how much fiber he’s taking in. Example, I’ll eat a big bowl of black beans with brown rice and he will eat a peanut and jelly sandwich. He’s 60 or 70 pounds heavier than me. But he’s happy and isn’t interested in being trim like me. I always get people asking, “How come your brother is overweight but you’re both vegan?” question. And I have to say, sorry to disappoint you but despite what you’ve been told, not everyone loses a massive amount of weight when they go vegan lol.

      • beforewisdom January 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm - Reply

        Great comment! You can’t get more interesting that identical twins to back this up. Very useful points.

        • myvegancookbook January 10, 2012 at 9:51 am - Reply

          Thanks, I would love to do a blog entry about it, but my twin brother doesn’t want me talking about his weight on my blog. He’s told me he would take the entry down if I did. He really is a good example of how not to do a vegan diet. I’m sitting here next to him at this moment and he is eating a gigantic bowl of fruit loops. That’s his typical breakfast/lunch. He doesn’t eat breakfast really. I just had big bowl of potato salad and tamales. I’d love to document an entire week and compare fiber intake for each day.

  22. ADoodle January 4, 2012 at 12:22 am - Reply

    My 2nd and most recent “pursuit of skinny” happened to coincide with my transition from omnivore diet to pescetarian to vegetarian to vegan. It consisted of nothing more than calorie-counting/reduction (with plenty of help from that coincidental progression of cutting out animal products). They sort of helped each other out — I started reading “Skinny Bitch” in hopes of eating healthier but when it turned out to be a vegan manifesto, I finally had the push to go vegan that I’d been waiting for. I lost over 17% body weight (25 lbs). Between the ethical commitment to veganism and my progression over time to eat healthier, I think this time will be a lot more successful than my 1st attempt, on Weight Watchers and a college student diet of Easy Mac and Lean Pockets, where I lost 18 lbs but regained 11 over the following few years.

    • Ginny Messina January 4, 2012 at 10:28 am - Reply

      I hope you’ll have better luck this time around. And at rate, you are eating much more healthfully and compassionately than the Easy Mac and Lean Pockets diet!

  23. Bonnie January 4, 2012 at 5:22 am - Reply

    I definitely did not go vegan to be skinny – though being vegan did clear up my acne which was a big bonus. I am 30 lbs overweight but you can’t tell too much on my 5’9″ frame. The thing is, I’ve never been a big exerciser. This year I started exercising (doing Leslie Sansone walking at home vids). I like the DVDs, but when I looked to diversify my exercise DVD and book collection, all of them out there have menu plans that include fitness library, the books and DVDs (most of them) include meal plans that call for meat. There are slim pickings if you’re looking for a meal plan/exercise plan for a non-athletic vegan!

    • Ginny Messina January 4, 2012 at 10:29 am - Reply

      I guess you have to find the exercise plan that you like and then match it up with your own approach to healthy eating. It’s too bad there is no comprehensive plan, though.

  24. Jan C. Steven January 4, 2012 at 5:43 am - Reply

    Greetings! I truly love this column and all your writing. If I summarized it, it would be “Be kind to yourself, be kind to your fellow humans, be kind to your fellow creatures, and be kind to our home – earth.” Blessings in 2012 and always! / jan

    • Ginny Messina January 4, 2012 at 10:30 am - Reply

      Thank you! And blessings to you, too, Jan!

  25. Amy January 4, 2012 at 8:05 am - Reply

    The TPP article in the NYT Sunday really did a disservice! Dr. Esselstyn’s well known work on Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease delineates the most healthful vegan approach. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have heart disease. If you follow his plan and the healthy librarian at – you will never have a weight problem or be hungry ever again. It is plant based eating! Many vegans are “muffin vegans” and therein lies the vegan weight problem. Anyway the whole approach changed my life and my health!

    • Ginny Messina January 4, 2012 at 10:35 am - Reply

      Amy, I disagree that that’s the most healthful approach. At least I’ve not seen any research to support it. And it’s a very restrictive way of eating that isn’t realistic for everyone.

      And, we can’t promise people that they will never have a weight problem or be hungry again on this kind of plan when there is no research to show that! It’s a plan that has worked for you (which is great) but I know others who have gained weight on it because they never felt satisfied and therefore over-ate. Without out true research data, we can’t know which is the more usual outcome.

  26. Ruth January 4, 2012 at 9:24 am - Reply

    This article describes how I’ve lost weight and for the most part have kept it off ( I go up a little each winter but it comes right off with warm weather). I decided to eat more healthy than I was after reading the China syndrome. My mother and her sister both developed breast cancer in their sixties and seventies and this I want to avoid. And the pounds slowly but surely started dropping off. It’s been three years now. I will say too we made the change gradually and find we really enjoy this way of eating for the taste as well as the health benefits.

  27. […] -Should you go vegan to get skinny? by Ginny Messina, RD, MPH […]

  28. D January 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    I lost almost 20lbs. when I had to make the switch to vegan. (I say had to b/c I was unaware of it until my youngest was born allergic to milk, eggs and is sensitive to soy. It was a long first year of discovery and he was losing ground before we figured out what was wrong. He is now a healthy 3 year old.)

    My weight loss sparked a lot of angry responses. People get really angry about food. I have kept the weight off without trying(again infuriating people).

    Recently some people have come around to a Vegan diet but I think more b/c it was a medical reason for us. My other children chose to follow a Vegan diet to support their brother. They are now vegan for more ethical reasons. Two were already Vegetarians. ( However I have refused to throw out items we already own, we now purchase items that are vegan.)

    We have a lot of people in and out of the house and when they are here they eat vegan. We answer questions but the kids are not allowed to push to hard. A few have now decided to eat Vegan but I worry it is only b/c they see my weight loss. These same people only request my BAKING recipes. What good is eating Vegan for weight loss if you are only going to eat cookies, cupcakes etc. How do you explain to people they are setting themselves up for major disappointment?

    I spent hours researching how to feed 7 people a well balanced diet. I had to relearn so much when it comes to cooking and baking. (I also have a child allergic to food coloring, so it’s not enough to buy Vegan since not all Vegan foods are safe for my daughter.) I cook for my husband, myself and 5 kids. I researched individual needs based on weight, age and gender.

    I read books to help me understand the nutrition books I was trying to read. I researched vitamins and supplements. Do we have a perfect Vegan diet? No, I learn more everyday and try to balance every meal, everyday.

    This is what I went through. Everyone who wants to know more has always complained that reading labels is to much work( I have a food additive dictionary to help me). I have never come up with answer for an “easy” conversion. I think once you really live it it is easier. However learning basic Vegan nutrition, not relying on lots of prepared foods(though we love our Tofurky Roasts) and limiting “treats” has become my only answer to my weight loss.

    I would also like to say your site and your books have been very helpful. To my kids they are inspirational. Thank you for your time and efforts.

    I apologize for any mistakes in my comments, my 5 “superheroes” are saving the world VERY noisily right now.

    • Ginny Messina January 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      People do get angry about food! I’m sorry to hear that your weight loss even made them angry.

  29. Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles January 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I appreciate that this is removing the restrictive and “fad diet” thoughts that tend to accompany a vegan diet when on the outside looking in. I love the tactful placement of your opinions about eating compassionately, too, because for me that’s the most important part in the end!

    • Ginny Messina January 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Kaitlyn! Yes, part of this message is about removing the perception that a vegan diet is a “fad” diet.

  30. Kathleen Keene January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Despite being vegetarian and mostly vegan for almost 10 years, I was 294 pounds at my heaviest, and lost about 94 pounds of fat with many different tools; keeping a food diary for a year, writing down what I ate, going low carb, giving up juice (commercial, store bought kind) giving up milk, less pasta and bread, saying no sometimes, very moderate exercise, eating frequent meals, and eating more raw produce. But two years ago, (after becoming vegan) my weight started creeping up again. I blame it on lack of sleep when I started a new job, and me starting to binge to keep awake/energized. I was about 225 or so then.
    I went to an animal rights conference last year, and one of the talks was about how much weight people lose by becoming vegan. I scoffed and said that isn’t necessarily true for everyone. Jack Norris, the nutritionist was there, and he took me aside afterward and suggested I read the book “How to Become Naturally Thin by Eating More.” I bought it a year later and read it. It said that letting the body get hungry was bad, and that you need to eat every time you feel hungry, feeding it good food, so you don’t binge later on. It said that at first, people would probably gain weight doing this, and then lose. I currently weight 239. MEH! I’m still trucking along, eating when I’m hungry, and trying to eat more produce, less pasta and bread.

    I would have to say that when I focused on getting healthy, not so much on losing weight, is when it came off without trying.

    Thus I continue my journey…. *sigh* I DO need a personal role model though. Anyone up for very cheap sessions, ha? I’m disabled and poor.

    • Ginny Messina January 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      I’m not familiar with that book. But am glad to find that simply eating more healthfully has been helpful for weight loss for you.

  31. George January 7, 2012 at 2:10 am - Reply

    Hi Ginny

    You praise beans, and I eat them regularly. But when I suggest them to others, two frequent objections are:

    1. Beans give me gas.

    2. Beans cause gout.

    How do you respond, please? Thx

    • Lynette January 14, 2012 at 7:59 am - Reply

      My husband and I have been eating a Vegan diet for three years. We made the switch for ethical reasons. Then – one year ago in February – we tweeked our Vegan diet – eliminated oils and reduced our consumption of bread products. (For good fats we eat some nuts or nut butters.) I did this because I wanted to lower my cholesterol – which had come down since giving up cheese on a vegan diet but it was still too high.

      We were and still are, totally surprised how easy it was to lose weight. We both lost 20 pounds and never counted calories or went hungry. We also did not increase our exercise routine – which was mainly walking daily for 1 hour – something we were doing anyway to get our dogs out side for their exercise. (And my cholesterol did come down more. My husband’s did too – dramatically)

      For my entire life (I’m 60 now), I was always wanting to lose 10 to 20 pounds. So – I followed the Standard ‘healthy’ American diet – and exercised intensely. I basically never lost any weight. When we switched to a ‘standard’ Vegan diet three years ago my husband and I did not lose weight, but then we were not eating a vegan diet to lose weight.

      We enjoy eating a plant based Vegan diet now and know that the secret to losing weight (and lowering cholesterol) was to just get rid of the processed oils and margarine. (We also reduced our sugar intake.) I want to stress that exercise was not important in promoting our weight loss. We basically just continued walking. We still walk and have even increased our exercise routine now – just for the pure joy of exercising.

      Good Post, Ginny! Good discussion.


  32. […] want to offer a bit of follow-up to my last post on weight control, and address some of the comments and emails that the post generated by looking […]

  33. […] on the same day as the following posts To be a healthy vegan, focus on…wait for it…health!, Should You Go Vegan To Get Skinny and Why Go Vegetarian or Vegan. I’m a vegan because I want to be healthy and because I love […]

  34. grace vegan March 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    I have been a vegan 4 over a year now due to being lactose intolerant and gluten intolerant. I’m glad I hve found this blog as I was worried about the weight gain since most article state u lose weight on a vegan lifestyle. I hve only lost 5kg n been trying to lose another 5kg but havnt been successful.there is more to being vegan than weight loss n that’s what I focus on. I still battle with severe acne and period pain even after being vegan. That’s my biggest concern at 22yrs of age. Relevant advice would be appreciated PLEASE

  35. Strongest Hearts March 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    […] -Should you go vegan to get skinny? by Ginny Messina, RD, MPH […]

  36. Sophia August 26, 2015 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I just wanted to tell you that you are such an amazing inspiration. You’re an honest dietitian, a passionate vegan and someone with core-values who never shames people but just genuinely tries to help. Thanks a lot for everything you offer us. For me, this is a safe and rational place where I can inform myself on vegan nutrition as I am doing this mainly for ethical reasons.

    • Ginny Messina August 30, 2015 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Thank you, Sophia!

  37. nirmaladevi2691 April 11, 2016 at 4:24 am - Reply

    This is very use full information…and thanks for sharing….

  38. […] Should You Go Vegan to Get Skinny? | … – I’ve been a vegan for 6 years with my weight all over the map. Since May 2011 have lost 45 lbs with food tracking and a lot of exercise. I’m about 75 … […]

  39. […] we have to be extremely careful when evaluating things like the evidence that vegan diets help with long-term weight loss. They stack up pretty well when compared to the […]

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