I love my bi-monthly issues of VegNews vegan magazine. I read them over and over and can't wait to see the new ones. In the latest issue I saw an editorial post that surprised me (in some ways). It was from a woman who identified as plus size and was thanking the magazine for doing something that acknowledged there are plus size vegans (I can't remember what). Then she went on about how some members of her local vegan community size-bully her and imply she can't be "really" vegan or must "not be doing it right."
Of course size bullying and discrimination always pisses me off. It's generally the last acceptable form of blatant bigotry (except heterosexism, increasinly, due to our social debates about marriage equality). But there are still some shame buttons on blatent gay/lesbian/trans bullying where anyone can apparently say anything about large people and it's okay. We excuse this behavior as veiled concern for health, as self-righteous diatribes about the costs of healthcare (as if most people no matter what their size have any health insurance these days!), and the idea the large people could/should immediately drop some weight if they really tried/wanted to.
There are a lot of reasons a vegan might be plus size. They include:
How long we have been vegan (weight takes time to come off)
What kind of foods we eat as vegans (whole foods result in more weight loss than convenience foods)
Our genetics and any health conditions that might affect weight loss
Whether or not we give a flying sh**t about weight loss or how anyone else sees us (we're a counter-culture, folks)
I am a plus size vegan and pagan, myself. I have always been large despite crash diets, eating disorders, and even healthy diets and exercise plans as I matured in my self acceptance and removal from the weight loss pressures of our culture. I had to do that or die. My paganism also encourages me to think counter-culturally and love the body I am in at all times, no matter what size it is. This has been an ongoing journey for me. "The Body Sacred" by Dianne Sylvan, is a great pagan book about size acceptance and self love for pagans (mostly women).
Veganism is certainly a more healthy eating style than I ever had before. I believe humans are meant to be herbivores. I believe as a pagan in looking at the facts of our biological structure...that we have the long intestines, blunt grinding teeth, and stubby fingernails of herbivores like the primates. If we were meant to be carnivores nature/god-goddess/whomever would have designed us like other carnivores, with sharp teeth, claws, the strength to bring down our prey, and the short intestines that could move rotting animal products through our body fast enuff to be healthy and so on. As Alicia Silverstone points out in her book, "The Kind Diet," if you put a human child alone in a room with a baby lamb you will probably come back an hour later to find them playing or cuddled up together. At the very least, leaving each other alone. If you put a young tiger in the room instead of a young human, you would find a very different result. But our nature and our instincts are not wired for that kind of predation/animal consumption. Humans became omnivores at a point in our history in order to survive as we migrated into areas where we could not hunt and gather sufficiently as herbivores. Yay, survival! Go team. The Donner Party ate their neighbors to survive too. Does that mean cannibalism is a long-term solution that our culture should accept and normalize? Our bodies are not built to sustain carnivorism long term, as evidenced by many chronic diseases. The China Study and Forks Over Knives put forth reams of research to this effect.
This is not to say that weight loss is my primary goal as a vegan. My real motivation, the thing that keeps me from eating cheese or drinking milk or whatever, is what I know about the animal cruelty of that type of consumerism. What I have learned about the health benefits for myself and my loved ones is also very exciting to me. Health is a motivator for me. Weight loss is much lower on the list. If it was my top goal I would probably have become discouraged by now because some weight loss has happened but it has been very slow.
Many new wave vegans on the peak of this trend come from reading "Skinny Bitch" or seeing "Forks over Knives." Dr. Oz is in. Dr. Barnard is in. Oprah did the veganism challenge. Bill Clinton, Ozzie Osbourne, Kristin Bell, Garth Brooks, on and on. Everybody's on the vegan train (or the crazy train in Ozzy's case). This is great. I believe in the health benefits of veganism and I want vegans to be healthy and thriving. Yet assuming we instantly drop down to the thinness ideal of our society as soon as we abjure animal products is just silly. It would not be healthy either.
Even if we are whole foods, low fat, exercising vegans healthy weight loss takes time (whether we care about that weight loss or not). And there are many vegan foods that are not conducive to weight loss. Oreos and fritos are vegan. Vegan convenience foods often contain plant fats, salt, sugar, etc and can keep our weight up just as much as many animal-based foods. Many vegans don't really care about this because-I repeat-weight loss may not be a goal.
I would like to refer everyone to the blog "Dances with Fat: Health comes in All Shapes and Sizes" by Ragen Chastain at http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/ for some great info on the "health at every size" movement. Ragen is a champion dancer and athlete who is also over 200 pounds. She also does a lot of great reporting on studies regarding health versus weight and references great books like "Health at Every Size" by Linda Bacon, PhD. The health at every size movement has some basic tenets which I will paraphrase as correctly as I can, including:
Self acceptance and self care should be a focus and never simply "weight loss," because self acceptance and self care (like fitness for fitness' sake in healthy ways, healthy eating, good self esteem, healthy relationships, persuit of meaningful personal goals) will actually increase our health and longevity as a population, not the tricks and tools of the money sucking "diet industry." There is a lot of research to show that "diets" are only long-term successes about 5% of the time, which is a ridiculously poor result for something we perscribe (as doctors or simply arm-chair doctors) to cure everything from acne to heart disease. Weight loss may be an effect of these healthy behaviors but should not be the primary goal. Healthy habits and mindframe will also have a faster impact on our diseases and ailments than any weight loss will (because healthy weight loss takes time!).
Health at every size means every size. The community discourages "size bashing" and bullying of anyone. Large or small. Due to discrimination and bullying faced virtually constantly by large people, many large people retaliate by thin-bashing. I have made jokes like that myself in what felt like self defense. It does not have the same impact when a marginalized community back-lashes on the dominant community but it is still not encouraged in health at every size discusssions. Everyone means everyone. Simple as that.
Healthy behaviors would actually improve longevity and lower chronic disease symptoms in patients immediately, so the emphasis on weight loss first and foremost by doctors and all of us is discouraged by health at every size advocates. In other words: if both a large person and a small person go in for hypertension, both should be treated the same way. Yet many doctors will simply perscribe weight loss to the large person, and perhaps work with the small person in more efficient ways (assuming since they are thin that there must be underlying causes and treatment options that they may not bother to look into for larger patients - which isn't fair because the same things could work for that large person too).
I rarely share about my own size because I have internalized shame and guilt like any other large person in our society. But I will share here in the spirit of openness and also to challenge my own ingrained patterns.
I am currently about 220 pounds. I have been vegetarian but using dairy and eggs for about fifteen years and my weight has gone up and down based on mostly how much whole food and healthy eating, and exercise I do. I have been vegan for about 6 months. The fact that I am always large no matter what I do seems to have something to do with genetics and also the facts about how long term largeness changes one's metabolism set point and fat cells, etc. so that it is harder and harder to lose.
I had been in a weight loss period prior to becoming vegan and since have continued to lose - about 10 pounds. I had been losing due to whole foods approach and weight loss prior to the veganism though so I can't swear the veganism changed that trajectory too much. I certainly feel better as a vegan...physically and spiritually. My skin is better, I sleep better, my allergies are much improved. I have fewer colds. I deal with stress better. I have more energy, more focus, and better memory. My spiritual life has improved. Compared to all that the ten pounds doesn't seem like that big of a deal, and why should it? Yes, I want to lose more so I can have less weight on my joints and I hope to improve my blood pressure and cholesterol. But I think my overall mental, physical, and spiritual habits are making a far greater impact on these issues than mere "dieting." My veganism is not a diet to me.
Basically I guess I felt moved to take a stand that veganism is not about weight loss or body size - at least to me. I think my paganism and my veganism are morality-based lifestyle choices and if you do then I hope you will affirm with me that size bullying has no place in either veganism or paganism. No matter what size we may be.