Follow up to size-shaming and the harm of calorie restricted diets

I feel like I need to do a follow up post to my last blog because some people misunderstood what I was saying. The main point of the blog was to talk about size-shaming. It’s a huge problem across the board, but I’m speaking in the context of my own community (vegan/raw/plant-based). Anything outside of that I have no idea about because it’s totally off my radar.

So can you be an overweight vegan and be healthy? Of course! I know many people who would be considered overweight from a BMI chart but have no health issues. I see overweight people in the plant-based community who have great blood work from their doctor and feel great. I don’t think you can be obese and really be at your best, but my last blog is more about the fact that BMI charts aren’t necessarily accurate especially when it comes to vegans. We do tend to be healthier even if considered overweight. You can’t judge someone’s health purely by their weight or size.


I was discussing these issues with Gena Hamshaw (of Choosing Raw) who is one of the smartest people I know and as a certified clinical nutritionist (C.C.N) she works with many clients who are trying to get healthy or recover from eating disorders. Here is what she had to say on the issue:

“There is a modest portion of individuals who can be “obese” on the BMI charts while also maintaining good health, or perhaps they do have health conditions, but the weight isn’t the direct cause. Adding to all of this is the fact that, if you inherit a genetic predisposition to be obese, you may inherit other dispositions at the same time, but in this case being obese isn’t the direct cause of the illnesses. And of course thin people can still be at risk for heart disease, diabetes, etc. I think we need to be more cautious about saying that weight is the cause, because a) it marginalizes people who are overweight and healthy, and b) can make it seem, to the public, that dieting is a solution for disease prevention, when in fact the causes of disease are so much more nuanced, as are the solutions.”

My point is also to point out that many people in the community use veganism and plant-based diets as a cure all to getting thin. If someone is not thin then they “aren’t doing it right” or “if you just gave up oil and nuts you would lose the weight” or “cooked foods make you fat; go raw”. These are the kinds of judgements and attitudes that are not helping people in our community reach their health goals.

What that blog post didn’t talk about is what are healthy foods and how you can be healthy. At no time have I ever encouraged people to not eat healthfully or to take the steps they need to if they have a serious health condition. There are many paths to health and health is a relative term with differences in opinions of what or who is considered “healthy”. In the 10+ years that I’ve done my work I have encouraged people to eat healthfully, eat more greens, think about where your food comes from, be conscious of eating seasonally and locally, etc. I have not, however, put food in categories “good” and “evil”. You are not going to die if you eat a vegan cupcake everyone once in a while or saute your veggies with oil on occasion. I wholeheartedly believe in moderation for healthy people. If you have cancer or a serious health condition your diet is going to look different than someone like me who is at a healthy weight and has no health issues. There is no reason for people who are healthy to follow restricted diets or to get in the mindset that a certain food is evil.

That is why I’ve always taught the Good, Better, Best Policy and the 80/20 Rule. It’s kind of crazy that almost three years later I’m still talking about the same thing! Wow how time flies. And my diet has changed over the years. I’m now an athlete and bodybuilder so my diet has some different elements to it than it did even last year. And yet I’m still in the best health I have ever been, my bloodwork is pristine and I can run circles around the gym. If oil was emphatically evil then I would have keeled over by now!

This is where the term orthorexia plays a huge role. There’s a difference between eating for health and being obsessed with everything that goes into your mouth  and angry with others who don’t follow the same diet as you. It’s funny how the people who think orthorexia isn’t a real thing are the exact people who follow and promote rigid diets. If someone has an eating disorder the first thing they do is deny it. So if this new health obsessed eating disorder wasn’t real why would there be people who are openly admitting to the behavior?

I feel like I could write a book on why restricted calorie diets aren’t helpful or safe, but thankfully many people have already done that for me. If someone tells you that the way to health is to eat a diet that is rigid, eliminates food groups or deems certain foods evil, and encourages you to restrict your calories then run the other way. I’m not talking about a carefully planned diet from a professional to help you reach your weight-loss goals. A slight calorie deficiency coupled with a healthy meal plan and proper exercise can do wonders for those trying to lose weight or even maintain health. But there is no magic number that everyone should follow to reach their goals.

Unfortunately for all the unsuspecting men and women using MyFitnessPal, if you tell it you want to lose weight it will spit out 1200 calories for you to follow. It doesn’t take into account your height, weight, BMI, occupation, or activity level. Now if you use an online calculator like this one to get your estimated BMR (basal metabolic rate) you will find that it’s above 1200 calories. You can also see based on your activity level how much you should be eating for fat loss or maintenance. 1200 calories is far too low for anyone to follow unless you live a completely sedentary lifestyle. If you get out of bed or do any form of exercise you must eat to fuel that activity. There is no reason at all to eat that few calories. Don’t believe the hype.

Some very serious things that can happen if you follow a low calorie diet long-term:

Metabolic damage

Hair loss

Weight plateau with eventual weight gain

Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies

Bone deterioration

Muscle loss

Mood instability

No energy to perform daily tasks

Believe me, these things are not worth it. Gena has a wonderful series called, Green Recovery, where women share their stories of eating disorders. While calorie restricting may not lead to a full blow eating disorder it’s definitely not something you want to let get out of hand. If you need to lose weight in a healthful way I have a list of reputable Registered Dietitians that can help you reach your goals in a way that doesn’t require you to ruin your metabolism.

This conversation is definitely not over! These topics are very important to me as I move forward in my own journey and continue to help others reach their bliss. The new year has a lot in store for us!

I happened to do an interview tonight discussing all things health, fitness, and wellness! Click here to view it!