Vegan Weight Loss Challenge: And the winner is….

You’re gonna kill me. No winner, yet (I know, can I drag it out any longer??).

The truth is, I loved reading the essays of each person that entered the contest and I thought, why not share them with you? So I’ll post one a day and announce the winner and runner-up on the day I post the last essay.

But first. A few more thoughts on weight loss. One thing I’ve realized, through my own experience and reading about the experience of others is that a vegan diet is not a weight loss diet or even a health promoting diet. A vegan diet just means no animal foods. This is why I bring up this point, whenever I can, which is, the key to healthful diet is that is based on whole plant foods. You can be vegan and subsist largely on sugar, oil, salt, white flour, and processed soy foods. Hardly health promoting. Also, you will never lose weight if you do not create a calorie deficit. You can focus on low-fat foods, or high-protein/low carb foods, or even whole plant foods, but until you consume fewer calories than you burn, no matter what diet you’re on or what foods you do or don’t eat, you won’t lose weight. “I’m eating vegan and I’m not losing weight.” or “I’m eating organic (or even whole foods) and I’m not losing weight.” Until you address why and what you are eating and the calories involved, weight loss will be a battle.

Here are a two other things I’ve realized:

1) Little food choices add up. We tend to think that a little of this, a nibble of that, an extra portion of this, doesn’t matter. But over the course of a day this can all add up to several hundred extra unwanted calories, which when it comes down to, is what either determines whether or not we’re gaining, maintaining, or losing. Take sugar for example. Many people could reduce their daily caloric intake by several hundred calories a day by simply eliminating added sugar or sugary foods. Sugar, regardless if it comes from maple syrup, agave, sucanant, ect. is for the most part, equal in calories to white sugar. It may be less refined, but it still contains empty calories. The natural foods movement has latched on to the fact that we want sugar, but sugar that is “healthy,” so they’ve packaged it as “natural sugar” or organic sugar in order to make us feel good about the decision to buy certain foods. I can buy organic pop tarts from Costco (have you seen those?), but nutritionally, they are only marginally better than their competitor, the Nabisco pop tart. I’ve found green leaf stevia (a plant) powder (not the white or liquid stuff) to be a great no-calorie sweetener (watch out though, a little goes a long way and it has a slightly bitter taste).

2) Vegetables must play a large role in your diet. Vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber, water, and nutrients, making these foods filling and important in weight management (and health! and they taste good! and they’re pretty!).

Okay, onto essay #1. Just a note here, notice how Steph talks about how she gained all her weight after she became vegetarian. This is not uncommon. Especially going vegetarian, where you’ll still eat cheese and eggs, butter, cream, and oils. Many people simply replace the meat on their plates with equal or greater amounts of these calorically dense foods, which is, as you might imagine, a recipe for easy weight gain. Even when going vegan, many people are so shell shocked and go through withdrawals from their favorite comfort animal foods they resort to sugar, salt, oil-laden refined foods to soothe their withdrawals. Again, it’s about focusing on WHOLE plant foods, rather than eliminating just one or two foods. Steph’s story is impressive, and I think we can all relate a little to what she is going through. Thanks Steph for sharing, and keep it up!

Essay #1

Steph H

Beginning Stats:

Height: 67”

Weight: 206 lbs

Waist: 39”

Ending Stats:

Weight: 190 lbs

Waist: 36”

**I believe this also means I’m no longer obese, but merely overweight according to my BMI measurement. I was obese for almost ten years!

I gave birth to my first child last May and have been trying to lose the weight and get fit so I would be able to play with him like he deserves and so I could set a good example for him. He is my motivation – and I’m glad I started early because he is almost walking and he keeps me on my toes. I guess I started training so I could chase him around.

I’ve been vegan for 3 years, and I’ve been slowly transitioning to more healthful eating. I was vegetarian for seven years before that and that’s when I put on all the weight. But I truly feel it is a healthier way to live, so I took myself seriously and have been minimizing the crap food-like substances and trying to eat only foods that are good for me and the planet. Again, my son is my motivation. I’m feeding him only vegan whole foods and there are times when I catch myself putting the snacks out of his reach and thinking “if I don’t think it’s good for him to eat, why am I eating it?”

This contest was another step in my transition. Eliminating oils and other sneaky foods is definitely a step I wanted to take. Over the course of the contest I have researched how to remove oils from my everyday cooking – the baking, the sautéing, the salad dressings. I read the China Study and combed through my stack of vegan cookbooks for oil-free recipes and tips. All my experiments have been successful and easy to incorporate into our routine, e.g. trading applesauce for sugar and oil in a lot of my baking. I just needed a push to do it.

I also stepped up the exercise from a few martial arts classes a week to those plus a weights class and a high intensity interval training class. I feel so great I want to exercise whenever I get the chance! I now run to and from the studio (a mile) and will do the same thing when I pick up my son from daycare, starting next week. It’s a wonderful thing when the exercise itself becomes reason enough – I’m not trying to talk myself into it every time anymore. My son will have a great time playing with me.

A few other things that have come out of this: my husband is motivated by my success. He sees me sticking to my fitness goals and it raises the bar for him. He’s also feeling the pressure because I fit into his pants now and weigh substantially less than him for the first time since we started dating.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve become more approachable. People have taken note of my success and feel they can discuss their fitness struggles with mesomething that would never have happened before, when the elephant in the room was, well, me. People now ask me for advice, and I’ve helped two friends embrace/return to vegetarianism over the course of the contest.


  1. Steph H
    on April 26, 2010 at 12:13 am said:

    thanks for all the love and support, guys!

  2. jess smart smiley
    on April 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm said:

    YES! That's absolutely inspiring, Stephanie! Way to go. Now you have an entirely new and healthier lifetime ahead of you and your son 🙂 I wonder how many other people out there have been obese for 10 years and are considering a whole foods vegan diet…

  3. tbsomeday
    on April 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm said:

    congratulations steph!what a great mom you are to make such an effort to improve life for your familygood work!

  4. Gillian
    on April 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm said:

    Good job Steph!! That's great that you are inspiring others 🙂 Seems like example is the best way to do that 🙂 I was also impressed with the fact that you didn't give up on vegetarianism when you gained weight. Sounds like you are very health motivated! That's awesome! At the same time you didn't just give up loosing the weight either. Exercise is addicting isn't it?!:) The more I do, the less often I don't feel like doing it.Keep up the great work you are doing!! What a huge gift to your son, both of a healthy you and of healthy habits he'll know from the start!