Below I examine to some of the common pitfalls of those who say a plant-based diet didn’t work for them.
1. “… I felt really weak/lost too much weight.”
What causes people to feel weak? This is often the result of not consuming enough calories. Animal products don’t have some magic source of energy. After all, people who suffer from anorexia and eat nothing but steamed chicken’s breast, sugar-free gum, and egg whites also experience weakness and lethargy. Being vegan doesn’t cause anyone to feel weak, not eating enough calories does. However, plants do have less calories than animal products so if you simply eliminate the animal products from your diet and don’t add other foods instead, then yes, you may start feeling lethargic, but that’s only because you are consuming less calories. To make up for the loss in calories, eat more! Eat larger portions, eat more frequently, or eat more nutrient and calorie-dense foods with your meals. Try adding healthful fats like avocado, walnuts, or flaxseeds to a salad. Make a smoothie with canned sweet potato, peanut butter, oatmeal, dates and soy milk. Add tofu and sesame seeds to a stir-fry. Snack on almonds and dates.
Bottom line: If you are feeling weak or losing more weight than you want, eat more.
2. “… my body just craved meat.”
Did it really, though? When you saw road kill did you instantly salivate? Did you find yourself looking at your dog and begin to wonder how she’d taste on the grill? My guess is no, you didn’t. No human craves a piece of actual animal flesh the way a true carnivore does. We’re repulsed by the idea of eating a piece of flesh that’s raw, bloody, and covered with feathers or fur. And we have to cook flesh before we eat it in order to make it non-lethal to our digestive system. When we say we’re craving bacon or steak what we’re actually craving is the salt, the fat, or the chewiness, not the flesh itself. Fortunately, the flavors people enjoy when eating animal flesh are plant-based (i.e. ketchup, mustard, horseradish, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, wasabi, relish, onions, pickles, garlic and countless herbs and spices) which means these cravings can be satisfied without taking another’s life. (See Tempeh Bacon and BBQ Tofu.)
I also wonder about this whole “listen to your body” idea. That’s not always such a good credo to live by. After all, people’s impulses also tell them to hit, rape, murder, steal, and destroy. Even the most well-behaving people have at some point had the impulse, even if just for a fleeting moment, to do something crazy or harmful. Should we really listen to every impulse simply because it’s there? I thought we humans prided ourselves on being rational and moral creatures. All humans are omnivores which means we are physically capable of eating plants and animals. It means we don’t have to eat animals. It means we have a choice. Every one of us is physiologically capable of surviving on plants. Why would we choose to harm when don’t have to?
Bottom line: Don’t base your actions on cravings and impulses alone.
3. “… my doctor told me I have to eat meat.”
You’d think that doctors would be experts in nutrition, but alas, they aren’t. In medical school students receive little to no education on nutrition. Instead the emphasis is on drugs and surgery for the treatment of disease rather than on prevention and the importance of lifestyle in good health. This is for a number of reasons, one of which is there’s little money to be gained in advocating prevention. The medical and pharmaceutical industries benefit when people need their services and products, not when they don’t. Bias plays a role as well. Most medical students and doctors grew up eating animal products and aren’t eager to find evidence that contradicts their own lifestyle and habits. After all, doctors used to advocate smoking cigarettes for patients because they smoked cigarettes themselves.
John Robbins, in Diet For A New America, explains: “Today, a similar situation exists with respect to the health consequences of a meat habit. Today’s physician is exposed to the same propaganda promoting meat and dairy product consumption as the rest of us, and he hasn’t the nutritional training that would enable him to evaluate these messages any more intelligently than we can. Furthermore, the meat, egg, and dairy industries are particularly keen on ‘educating’ doctors with their biased view of nutrition. The Meat Board, for example, has presented a series of extremely expensive full page color ads in the Journal of the American Medical Association, presenting a nutritional slant that one nutritional authority, Dr. Kenneth Buckley, did not find at all impressive. He called it: ‘slick and deceitful propaganda, coloring and twisting the facts in the most manipulative way.'”
Bottom line: Find a doctor who is vegan or at least wont let his or her own biases influence you.
4. “… I started gaining weight.”
5. “… I got tired of having to cook a vegan meal for myself and a non-vegan meal for my family every night.”
I hear this almost exclusively from women and it makes me really sad. As women we are so expected to be the care-takers and nurturers of those around us. Regardless of whether or not you like being in that role, being a nurturer does not mean giving others whatever they want at the expense of your time and your values. It really doesn’t matter what someone “expects.” No one is entitled to a particular ingredient or product every night, especially if they aren’t making it themselves, so if you are cooking meals for others they should be receiving them with gratitude. Period. Plus, when you make vegan food for others–which is without artery-clogging cholesterol, carcinogens, and harmful animal protein–you are also demonstrating that their health and their lives matter to you. If they still insist on making dietary choices that are harmful, they can do that on their own time, but no one has the right to force you to be an accomplice. Keep in mind though, this may be easier than you think.
Bottom line: As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “the surest way to inspire people to eat delicious plant-based food is to make delicious plant-based food… If people eat food they find satisfying, filling, familiar, and tasty, they wont care if it has no animals in it.”
Addition: I just came across a wonderful essay but Will Tuttle, PhD which I recommend people read here.