I want to start by saying that I didn’t go vegan to lose weight. I’ve done plenty of other things to lose weight but this just wasn’t one of them. I went vegan because I felt like eating animals and animal products was wrong, plain and simple. My choice to give up animal products came at a time in my life when I was re-evaluating my morals. I decided for me, animal products just didn’t fit with my values.
Cutting out animal products had an amazing impact on my emotional wellbeing. I instantly felt a release from all the guilt I had been feeling during my transition. But something else happened as well. I achieved something I hadn’t even thought was possible, something so many others are after. I don’t have to try to maintain my weight.
To give you some background, I was always moderately health conscious. I worked out, watched my calories and every now and then I worried about what was in those cookies that last for years in the cupboard. Being totally honest though, my only real concern was whether those cookies would make me fat. I didn’t really care where my food came from or who was impacted by my choices. I wanted to be thin and calories were the only enemy.
The big gain
I think a lot of people become less vain with age which is great, but I think that’s also the reason a lot of people gain weight when they get older. As you get older you just don’t care as much what other people think and, if like me, your only motivator to watch your diet was your appearance then you’re bound to pack on some pounds.
My largest weight gain occurred over a year or so. I was in my final year of law school so I stress ate huge bags of chips. I met my now fiancée and we settled in to a comfortable routine. Then I started my articling position at a criminal defence firm and found myself comfort eating breakfast sandwiches, chips and pasta.
The big loss
After a year of steadily gaining weight I found myself significantly heavier, lethargic and unhappy. My fiancée had also gained weight so we decided to lose weight together. We immediately got on a calorie counting app and ruthlessly monitored our intake. Any extra calories were burned off at the gym with mathematical precision. The results were great and we each dropped everything we had originally gained. The problem was when I let up on the counting my weight would go up again. The restriction only made me more obsessed with food. I remember some absolutely appalling cheat days where I devoured mounds of cheese with reckless abandon. I knew this wasn’t healthy but I basically resigned myself to having to constantly monitor everything I ate for the rest of my life. I figured I was just one of those people who had to always be careful because I loved food so much. I thought balance was only for those weird people who just don’t really like eating.
Taking the plunge
In spring of the following year I started thinking about dairy. I’m not even sure what spawned this thought process. Maybe I caught a glimpse of a documentary or skimmed over something online, but for whatever reason I started to look into the dairy industry. I had gone vegetarian for ethical reasons but intentionally ignored information about other animal products, thinking that vegetarianism was good enough. I didn’t want to think about where my food came from and I had thought that going vegetarian would appease the guilt. However, for whatever reason, I opened the can of worms and I just couldn’t do the dairy thing anymore. The realization didn’t come over night but after some reflection I knew what I needed to do.
I remember driving to work the day after I triumphantly told my fiancée I was a bona fide vegan and just feeling this tremendous calmness. It just felt like I had made the right decision. It felt like a giant weight I hadn’t even known I was carrying had been lifted.
For a while I tried to count how many calories were in my vegan bean salads to make sure I was still on track. When I inevitably slipped or had a cheat day however, I found that I just didn’t eat that differently. Gradually I started to ease up on the counting and eventually I stopped all together. To my astonishment I never gained a pound.
Now I know some of you might be thinking, well that’s because all vegan food is low in calories. Truth is though, it isn’t. I make a vegan mac n’ “cheese” out of cashews and a serving is about one billion calories. Chips, pop, fries and candy can all be vegan after all. I think it goes a lot deeper than simply calories in versus calories out.
So what then? First off, I was forced to cook. It’s legitimately difficult to find vegan take-out where I live. I started cooking all my meals on Sundays and eventually got really into trying new and exciting vegan recipes. I slowly developed a respect for food that I’d never really had before. I naturally started eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. I felt energetic, my tummy felt better, and I stopped getting colds as frequently. I just felt better and I began to respect my body more.
Of course if you eat healthier, you’ll feel better, but here’s the clincher. While my body felt good, my soul felt better. I think that sense of wellbeing is what changed the way I related to food and allowed me to find balance with my eating habits. Food wasn’t the enemy anymore. I felt virtuous for eating vegan food so it wasn’t forbidden. I didn’t restrict and binge anymore, I just ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. Food was a statement of my beliefs and that took the focus off of the calories.
Finding peace in a bowl of quinoa
There’s nothing magical about becoming vegan and you can find a healthy balance on any number of diet plans. That said, what clicked for me with veganism was that suddenly my diet meant more than a mathematical calculation to uphold some physical ideal. My diet meant something bigger than vanity, bigger that societal pressures and bigger that myself. My diet wasn’t just about me anymore and that’s what made it sustainable.
Veganism worked for me but I realize that my values are not shared by everyone. Everyone needs to find something that works for them and that can be difficult. What I hope others can take away from my story is that sometimes health needs to come from a deeper place. Obsessing over calories just isn’t sustainable long term for many people. If you’re having trouble maintaining your weight it might be time for some inner work and find out what values might help you find balance. For some people that might be the desire to be around longer for your children or be able to more things with your loved ones. Whatever your motivator, I firmly believe that true balance can’t be selfish. It’s just a matter of finding out what matters to you and the calories will fall into place.
Charlotte Sigurdson is a lawyer, blogger and animal lover from Winnipeg, Canada. Charlotte is also the owner of Hogwash Bath and Body, a soap company specializing in all-natural, vegan bath products. You can check out Charlotte’s website at www.hogwashbathandbody.com