Veganism and the Psychology Of Weight Loss
By: Wafa Akbar
Everyone has their insecurities whether it be socially, mentally, or physically. One of the biggest insecurities people face is body image. According to a survey that Psychology Today had conducted, 91% of women say that they are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Some people say they are overweight or some may say they are too skinny. We all desire that perfect body and there are many weight loss diets and lifestyles out there to choose from. The most popular one nowadays is veganism.
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of the diet is known as a vegan. The diet is known for its benefits of lower risks of heart disease, management of diabetes by lowering A1C levels and also lowers the chances of getting certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer. It is also prominent for experiencing reduced stress and psychological differences.
According to a research entry in the U.S Library of Medicine National Health Institute, studies have shown that people adhering to different dietary patterns showed stark differences in their psychological characteristics. Indeed, some restrictive dietary patterns (paleo and vegan) were associated with more positive psychological characteristics than seen in an unrestricted comparison group. Some may think this is a great way of living, or some may question if this is truly healthy. It turns out it might not be as healthy as we think it is, especially if we don’t do it the right way.
A research conducted by Harvard School Of Public Health followed 200,000 adults over two decades and found that those who adhered to a plant-based diet rich in healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, had a substantially lower risk of heart disease than people whose diet typically included less healthy foods like refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages. Certain plant foods, like whole grains and fruits and vegetables, are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But other plant foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, are associated with increased risk.
The psychology of weight loss isn't surprising. Weight loss is not all about math – it’s intrinsically connected to our psychology, our emotions, and our beliefs. According to the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, if we want to create a lasting impact on unwanted weight, then we have to step into the realm of the psychology of weight loss for three primary reasons: stress, pleasure, and behavior.
When we experience stress, whether it’s the external stressors of our busy life – or our internal stressors of being unhappy with unwanted weight or eating behaviors – our cortisol levels (stress hormone) go up. When cortisol is high, fat storage metabolism increases. This is because our body is in a survival response.
Pleasure is primarily a shortcut to shifting our body from sympathetic nervous system activation (fight or flight response) to parasympathetic nervous system activation (relaxation response). When we access the things in life that make us experience relaxation and satisfaction, we are turning on our supportive biological systems. When we take a moment to enjoy the aroma of our meal, we are engaging the cephalic phase digestive response, which is the very beginning of our digestive process. The cephalic phase response alerts our digestive enzymes and digestive tract that food is on its way.
The foundation of our behavior is our psychology. If we don’t believe that we can positively impact our health, it’s impossible that our healthy behavior will become a good habit. If we don’t feel that we deserve to be happy, we’re less likely to take action that supports our health and well-being. Weight loss is all about knowing your body’s needs before starting to blunder with the complicated human systems.
In a recent blog post by Abigail Paige in The Vegan Wanderness, she states that veganism isn’t always the best for everyone who is trying to lose weight, but it’s healthy if you do it the right way. She states that if you don’t eat the right amount of protein from dairy, meat, and animal-free items, it can lead to serious health issues and actual weight gain. You can get your daily protein from beans, lentils, nut butter, tempeh, and protein powders. It’s not that hard to cut off meat, she says. Do it little by little and you’ll start to see the results.
If you are highly considering going vegan, consult a doctor first before taking any major steps, says Monica B, an experienced vegan-nutritionist. “Going vegan can be a radical change and can potentially interfere with existing medical conditions. That's why it's very important to consult your doctor as they know the best for you” says Monica.
In the end, everyone has different results and it all comes down to eating right and understanding your body well. Some people easily go from eating meat to vegan right away, while others struggle with their new commitment. Others may choose to go vegetarian first and then slowly omit eggs and dairy. It all depends on you. Losing weight is a hard thing to do and there are many ways such as the vegan diet. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but you may want to learn about what's worked for other people. Whatever way you do it, keep your body in mind, and remember why you are choosing to adopt a vegan diet.
1. Abigail Paige. Going Vegan. The Vegan Wanderness. 2018.
2. Harvard Public Health Researchers. Not all plant-based diets are healthy. Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. 2017.
3. Monica Bhide. 9 Pros and Cons to Going Vegan. AARP. 2011.
4. R. Norwood, T. Cruwys, V. S. Chachay, J. Sheffield. The psychological characteristics of people consuming vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, and weight loss dietary patterns. Obesity Science and Practice. 2019.