There is no single diet that’s right for everyone, and it’s important for us to listen to the unique needs of our own bodies. But there is often valuable wisdom to be gained from different diets, which we can incorporate into our daily routines whether or not we decide to embrace the full lifestyle.
This is certainly the case for veganism. While going fully vegan may not be for everyone, the vegan approach to healthy living certainly has some lessons that we can all take to heart. Here are a few of them.
Be mindful of animal products – their health and ours.
Vegans frequently point to the low quality of many of the commercial meat and dairy products most of us consume. Cows, for example, are often kept in unhealthy feedlots, fed a poor diet, and treated with antibiotics. Chickens are kept in cages so small they can barely move, or crowded into massive barns where dead birds are not removed, and so end up contaminating the food, water, and air supplies. Recent press coverage of “pink slime” and other meat “fillers” is enough to take anyone’s appetite for fast-food hamburgers away.
This is significant both in terms of our health and our ethics. Eating large amounts of factory- farmed and mass-produced meat and dairy products can have a wide range of negative health effects. And of course, few of us would condone the conditions factory farm animals are kept in. Whether it’s reducing the amount of animal products in your diet or choosing options like pastured, grass-fed meat and dairy, it is important to be mindful of how our livestock are treated. Remember that what goes into their bodies will go into ours!
Our choices matter.
In addition to the assumption that it will make them healthier, many people choose to go vegan because they feel it promotes animal rights and environmental awareness. The way that most livestock are raised in factory farms, vegans point out, is both abusive to the animals and damaging to the environment, in that it erodes topsoil and pollutes groundwater and rivers.
It is indeed important to remind ourselves that our actions and purchasing decisions make a difference. As much as possible, we should strive to bring our choices into alignment with our beliefs. Don’t let your grocery dollars promote behavior on the part of large companies that you don’t agree with! Whether you go vegan, or just choose whole foods that are responsibly produced, you can make a difference whenever you shop.
Eat your veggies.
These days, most of us simply don’t eat enough healthy, plant-based foods. A lot of us rely on highly processed convenience foods, and we miss out on the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients offered by fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy whole grains (although those on a Paleo diet might disagree about grains). These are important components of a balanced diet, and most of us would do well to work more of them into our meals.
Weight loss isn’t about counting calories.
While weight loss may not be the primary tenet of veganism, many vegans suggest that their diet can support weight loss efforts. Regardless of what the experience of individual vegans has been in terms of shedding pounds, losing weight should be the result of embracing health – not striving for thinness or physical “perfection.” Counting calories and subjecting yourself to punishing workouts may help you lose weight in the short term, but these are only superficial solutions. What is more important than simply dropping weight is learning to love and respect yourself enough to adopt a healthy lifestyle – because you know you deserve to be healthy.
The most admirable thing about those who choose to go vegan may simply be their willingness to try something new – to experiment and see how their bodies feel on a different diet. Many vegans previously ate animal products, and probably felt at earlier points in their lives that they could never feel satisfied without meat and dairy. But they were open to new ideas, and eager to try different approaches to health in order to find out what works best for their own bodies. It is important that we not allow previously held assumptions, or the beliefs of others, stand in the way of our ability to make the best decisions about our health.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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