My Weight Loss Journey Through Veganism: The Good, The Bad + The Ugly

The secret to healthy vegan weight loss for me has been simple but slow: finding peace in my environment, weight/nutrient tracking & discovering what activities I’m passionate about. More than anything, it has been about regaining my confidence and finding a more sustainable way for myself. Each day we have the chance to make healthy choices and have the chance to break unhealthy patterns. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about developing a mindset of respect and that starts with yourself…and your body! The habit of people saying “you are what you eat” links closely to the brain shift when people switch to a vegan diet. You start making more conscious decisions and weighing out the consequences in more areas of your life than you’d expect! This doesn’t mean it takes a health certification or a lot of your time, but it does take a real drive, passion and resiliency to want to make a difference in the world and yourself.

There are many benefits to switching to a plant-based diet and one of the most widely known benefit surrounds the subject of health. A true, vegan diet free from animal products provides all the necessary elements you need not only to survive, but to thrive. Since going completely plant based at the end of 2018, I found myself discovering a multitude of new vegetables & cooking methods which has been so much fun! My relationship with food has evolved completely and I’m even more grateful for each experience I have when I make good decisions on how to nourish myself. People can feel “healthy” on vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, keto, gluten free & even intermittent fasting diets. At the end of the day, you have to decide what’s best for your own personal health. I jumped straight from eating meat & dairy to a full blown vegan diet. My lifestyle choices came after, helping me develop better habits & maintain my own personal status of health.

Vegan diets tend to be rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats. Research suggests that the diet can improve heart health, protect against cancer, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

-Medical News Today

Universally, switching to a vegan diet is a great idea for those looking to reduce their saturated fat, lower cholesterol intake, maintain a healthy weight & lower their cancer risk. It is important to monitor and adjust your nutrient intake when moving from an animal to plant based diet. This will help you avoid common pitfalls and help you be aware of vitamins you will need to supplement (i.e. B-12, Iron, Vitamin D, Omega-3s, etc.). It can also help you track your calorie intake to ensure you are eating enough to meet your weight loss goals.

As always, this advice is not to meant to be taken as official medical advice. I can only speak from my own personal experiences and what has been shared with me from others I’ve met in the health community. I won’t say I feel that I’m the “perfect image of health”, but I do like to share tips & product recommendations that have helped me over the years to overcome my weight loss journey. A lot of my friends and family come to me with their ailments, when they’re looking for a more natural solution because they know I’ve done the research…and if not, I must find out for all of our benefit! Like many others before me, I faced many obstacles on the journey to weight loss. Read on to see what mistakes I made, how I learned from them and what I did to get to a point where I was able to manage my weight in a healthy way. I’ll also share a few recommendations on how you can apply these lessons to your own life and a list of troubleshooting tips for additional support that you can use during your weight loss journey.

Weight Loss Hurdle #1:
Genetics, Fad Diets, Bad Habits & Societal Pressure

My personal weight loss journey began a long time ago on an animal-based diet. I found that my weight would fluctuate based on the personal highs and lows throughout my life. I also felt like I had my own genetics working against me, coming from a family proudly producing curvy women on my mom’s side for as many generations as I can look back. I remember growing up feeling so much larger thinking I would never be thin like society’s role models of “healthy women”. I fell into crash diets and ultimately discovered the wrong ways to lose weight like extreme calorie restriction, no-carb and even purging for a very short time. I dropped those habits for new ones when I thought I “came into my own” at 18 and really started partying. Somehow, my young metabolism was able to combat cigarettes and alcohol on the daily with a diet of pizza rolls & grilled cheeses enough to stay thin around 115-119 lbs …and I thought I was so chubby at the time! I didn’t feel “healthy” by any means but was just glad to see that number on the scale low enough to validate myself and what I thought was “normal”. I had no idea how unattainable this would be as I came into my later years as an adult.

Weight Loss Hurdle #2:
Unhealthy Environment & Mental Health

Shortly after moving to California when I was twenty-two and in a marriage that became more toxic the longer I stayed in it… I weighed 126 lbs while eating terrible, yet killing myself in the gym to work it all off through excessive cardio and weight lifting. I remember running at least a mile every day on top of that at one point, feeling like I would never be thin enough. Back then, I had a lot of issues that stemmed from my toxic environment. This continued for years until I faced the first peak of unhappiness in my situation. It caused me to fall back into old vices like smoking, drinking and comfort eating to help me through it. It finally got to a point where I needed to seek help and after going to therapy and my doctor prescribed me medication to take as needed. I didn’t feel like myself and my weight gain began to increase as a result. Unfortunately, the relationship I was in became abusive and I was forced to quit therapy & stop taking my medications altogether with no preparation or plan on how to cope. That only added to the problems I was faced with and my weight gain… By that time, my weight was fluctuating around 140-150 lbs.

Weight loss hurdle #3:
Stress, Hectic Work Life & Commuting

The following year brought on more stress to my personal & professional life and when I started working for high stress jobs, I really started battling my weight. I found myself weighing in at 160lbs. As the pressure increased in taking on more clients and being an on-the-go salesperson, I found it more convenient to eat fast food than pack my lunches. I set my personal needs aside to just “get the job done” and stopped exercising altogether, because I didn’t have the energy. Then, in 2018, I found myself commuting from nearly two hours a day. At first, it was a great opportunity to listen to podcasts, talk with my family and to get some space between my work & home life. What I failed to realize was that this added to my drive-thru trips and made me feel like I was always in a rush. With my commute, by the time I had finished the workday, it would be a choice of either a healthy dinner, chores or quality time with the fur babies. The only exercise I was getting at this point was walking my dogs twice a day and the occasional morning jog when I could muster up the energy, but it wasn’t enough to keep me healthy. My life became mostly sedentary and my weight jumped to 168 lbs from the stress from my routine. It can be easy to lose track of calories during meals and snacks on-the-go when life is moving fast around you. At this point, I felt embarrassed to be in photos and was always buying new clothes to try to make myself feel better. I focused on my makeup routine because that was the only way I could feel confident enough to leave the house every day. This was a new personal low for me and I was looking for any way to be “healthier”.

Weight Loss Hurdle #4:
Processed foods & Improper Nutrients on a Vegan Diet

I started experimenting with new foods in the kitchen and doing more research. From what I could tell, it seemed like people who remove all animal products from their diets seemed to live longer, happier lives. So, I decided to take the plunge into veganism shortly after my 25th birthday. My weight dropped to 155 lbs in November 2018, just 2 full months of eating a vegan diet. It jumped a few pounds before the New Year because I made one of the most common mistakes you can do when switching to a vegan diet: using too processed many meat/dairy substitutes. I also wasn’t changing my habits or routine and my environment continued to get more toxic, but I figured out ways to incorporate more plant-based recipes into my diet. With so many options on the market today, I was excited to try everything from vegan ice cream to Beyond burgers as often as I could. I spent most of my time looking for equal swaps for what I was eating before versus truly looking at foods as a source of vitamins & nutrients. Even though I felt somewhat “healthier”, I struggled with issues early on like feeling bloated and or fatigued. I was at a complete plateau in my weight loss journey and it took me a long time to figure out what I was doing wrong.

What I Learned From My Mistakes

Switching to fully a fully plant based diet challenged me to do more research as time went on and to make meals from scratch rather than to buy them from the store or order at a restaurant. It not only gave me the opportunity to learn how to be a better cook, but also understand what ingredients are in many common processed foods sold in “health food” stores today. Eventually through trial and error, I discovered that I had been experiencing a deficiency in Vitamin B-12 and decided to order a supplement to help me fill in the gaps with this new diet in addition to a probiotic to help with my gut health. It wasn’t until I was separated and living on my own that I was able to take control of my mental health and eventually lost a lot of the unhealthy weight I had carried for all those years. I dropped my bad habits like drinking and smoking altogether because although I felt stressed, I knew it wasn’t going to help my situation. I was learning to stop repeating cycles that I went through by holding onto unhealthy coping mechanisms. I had come to learn that your environment & mental health play a critical role in how you manage your weight. About a year later, I found myself at the healthiest weight I had ever been shortly after leaving a high stress job that actually caused me to lose too much. I realized that the whole time, my cortisol levels were so highly elevated that my body was going from one extreme to the next and I had an unhealthy relationship with food because of the lack of effort I had to put the time & care into myself. I was in still in “survival” mode. It’s all about priorities and learning to put yourself first sometimes. No relationship or job is ever worth your sanity or health.

How I Found a Way to Maintain a Healthy Weight on a Vegan Diet

In 2019, I continued to combat the affects of my routine only to see the number on the scale increase slowly. It wasn’t until l made serious changes for my safety and overall well being that led to regaining my full body confidence. I started standing up for myself and walking away from situations that did not meet my spiritual alignment. During my initial separation period, I lost a total of 10lbs in one month from the unintentionally fasting from stress. I do not recommend fasting for that long of a period of time, but I can say it gave my body a serious “reset” from the situation.

Note: I sometimes use intermittent fasting when I am feeling bloated from trying a new plant based meat substitute or think I may be experiencing symptoms of cross-contamination after eating out. An app that’s great for beginners to try is BodyFast.

Things were hard at first, but instead of going back to old vices, I found new ways to cope like doing yoga & taking Odin & Freya a little farther on daily walks and looking for new places to explore. By December 2019, I found myself at 131 lbs feeling like I had finally come into my own. Clothes from my old life no longer served me and that was okay. I still had the feeling that I was still the same size as I was before and it took comparison photos for me to truly realize what a drastic journey it was mentally & physically for me. Having a supportive partner also helped me deal with my body image issues and realize I am worthy of a healthy relationship no matter what the number on the scale says.

Since then, I’ve found more healthy ways to manage weight and have only had a minor setback with some unintentional loss from COVID-19 stress completely unrelated to the virus itself (career, finance, social gatherings, masks & LIFE!). By the end of 2020, I sat at a healthy 121.5lbs and I was able to feel like I was in the best shape of my own life after jumping back into old hobbies like hiking, cooking, roller skating & exploring new cities on foot. Not too long after that, I found out that I was pregnant for the first time ever. I was equally surprised and delighted because I’ve always wanted a family but wasn’t sure my body was capable of it. Stay tuned to learn more about my postpartum journey after our daughter is born. I’ll be using the skills I’ve learned to help my body recover & maintain a healthy weight on my plant based diet. It all goes back to three key things: finding peace in your environment, consistent tracking and finding your passion.

The secret to healthy vegan weight loss for me has been simple but slow: finding peace in my environment, consistent tracking & discovering what activities I’m passionate about. More than anything, it has been about regaining my confidence and finding a more sustainable way for myself. 

Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting Your Weight Loss Journey

If you’ve learned anything so far, it’s that we all make mistakes and face life’s neverending challenges. There is always going to be something in your way when it comes to meeting your goals, so it’s up to you come up with a great value proposition for yourself to keep going. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why are you trying to lose weight in the first place? It’s important to remember that if you’re trying to lose weight for an event, societal pressure, or even a partner… you’re not doing it for you. Each of us is personally responsible for taking care of our own bodies in whatever means we feel is necessary. The most common reason people choose weight loss is to improve their overall appearance. However, if you feel unhealthy and want to start losing weight for a longer life, to have less heart problems in the future, or lower your cholesterol…you’re on the right track of thinking.
  • Do you love yourself in your own body today? Learn to accept the body that you have arrived in! It is truly yours to alter in many forms from piercings, tattoos, haircuts, diets, exercise & more. While you can make drastic changes, there is no overnight success here. It’s not going to take a simple step, but a multitude of small steps to get to the finish line at the end so you might as well get comfortable! After all, the people who you’ve formed relationships you’re whole life love you… which means they love you in this body, right?
  • Are you willing to be patient for results to come? Remember that the scale takes time to show progress and that can be frustrating for many. We all seek validation in our tasks to ensure they are leading us on the right path. If you are truly doing your best to lead a healthier lifestyle, the best thing you can do is learn patience and resilience (because there may or may not be setbacks).
  • How do you want to feel when you are at the end of your weight loss journey? Look at your goal and think about what you’d like to see differently. Will your clothes fit more comfortably? Do you want renewed energy? Will your flexibility improve? Will your resting heart rate beat a little slower, calmer?…

How to Find Peace in Your Environment

  • Journal for 30 days
     Be specific about situations/experiences & how they make you feel.
  • Seek Advice
    Talk to your family, friends & a counselor about what you’re going through. Be open to the idea that things in your life may need change for better or worse.
  • Eliminate Distractions
    Think about the activities that are the most time consuming in your life. Reflect on the impact they have on your day-to-day life and overall well-being. Challenge yourself to a trial of living one week without those types of activities to see how you feel.
  • Consider What Relationships May Be Toxic
    Evaluate what types of relationships you have in your life. Signs relationships may be negatively affecting you are that there are unbalanced power dynamics, lack of necessary communication, inability to display your true feelings without fear of rejection/repercussion. Set healthy boundaries for yourself (safety, respect, etc.) and if those are violated, you should walk away. A sure sign that a relationship in your life is toxic, is that they are not supportive of your goals. Regardless of their beliefs, if you are doing your best to become a better person, and they are not supportive, it will only continue to hold you back.

How to Track Consistently

  • Make a Commitment to Yourself and Set Reasonable Goal
    There are many universal guides that can help you online. I personally set a goal to be at my recommended BMI for my age & height. Here is a basic one you can use to start out.
  • Invest in a Quality Scale
    You do not need to buy the most expensive smart scale, but it certainly helps if it has digital features to help you track basics like weight, BMI and muscle %.
  • Choose a Way to Track your Progress
    I have used MyFitnessPal since 2015 in a variety of ways. Most consistently, I have used it to track my weight loss progress over the years but it was very also very helpful for me to track my nutrients after switching to a vegan diet. You can log your progress just about anywhere, but the most important thing is to track it frequently to help you stay on top of your goals.

How to Find Your Passion

  • Rediscover Old Hobbies
    Think about what activities you enjoyed as a child or when you had more free time. Think outside the box (i.e. I used to love rollerblading as a kid & recently invested in a pair of roller skates in 2019)
  • Try Something New
    Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try but have never thought they were “for you”. Sum it up to what could align with your goals and meet your current budget. Make a personal pros & cons list for yourself to see if the benefits outweigh the fears.
    Example: I got brave and tried Roller Derby to help empower myself & give me an easy, relaxing way to exercise. Instead of my worst fears coming alive like failing completely or not getting along with anyone, I found that I was better than I thought and made a few new friends in the process.
  • Explore New Places on Foot… and Get a Little Lost If You’re Brave!
    You can cover a lot of ground by foot in a short amount of time and gives you a chance to slow down & be more intuitive to your surroundings. Park a little farther from your favorite lunch spot and take notice of the different types of living things you might discover whether it be plants, animals, people, or other things. Taking time to be more present can have more health benefits than weight loss. It can improve your overall health and help you develop quality relationships.
    Example: My boyfriend & I took the time to walk Hollywood Blvd in LA this year to see what things were like during the COVID-19 pandemic. We got some great exercise but also discovered so many new places, including a cute vegan hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
  • Use Your Energy on Things That Will Bring You Joy
    Even if it doesn’t involve exercise, leaning into the things you truly love will help you be more confident & at peace with yourself. When you stop focusing on the weight itself and start thinking about overall happiness in your life, the health benefits will continue.

Weight Loss Troubleshooting Tips

  • If you struggle to drink enough water and need help curbing your appetite:
    Try True Lemon. It’s a crystalized form of lemon and they have other flavors like lime or orange.
  • If you are feeling bloated & are having a hard time digesting:
    This might mean your gut health is a little off and potentially trying probiotics could help. I use Mary Ruth’s Liquid Probiotic.
    Note: If you have a sensitive stomach, you may need to try taking the supplement in small does or through gentler methods like foods (i.e. plant based yogurts).
  • If you’re having a tough time adapting to a healthier diet:
    It goes without saying but the more color on your plate, the more nutrients you are getting in your diet. Try aiming for at least 2-3 colors in every meal through various proteins (nuts, beans, grains), vegetables & fruits. When you focus on the color pallete, it suddenly becomes about art which helps you have more creative experiences each time you cook or eat out.
  • If you experience chronic pain & routine exercise is a challenge:
    Yoga and walking are great options that have a lower impact on your joints & back. On the flip side, these forms of exercise also help engage muscles & the senses in impactful ways. Yoga can even just be basic stretching and there are specific moves you can find online to help alleviate pain in specific areas. I’ve personally found solace in my acupuncture mat & Chirp wheels to help with chronic migraines & back pain.
  • If you find yourself ravenous after waking up in the morning:
    Instead of reaching for carb-heavy breakfasts, try letting fruits fuel your day. An easy ‘fruit salad’ recipe could include 3-5 of your favorite foods.It’s always fun to make and leaves gives you a sugar source early in the day helping you avoid cravings later on when there’s not much time to process it before resting.
  • If you struggle to determine which foods are vegan or healthy:
    Whenever you can, avoid adding heavily processed foods, sugars, heavy amounts of saturated fats & aspartame (sugar substitutes) in your diet. If you have your favorites that you can’t live without, I hear you and I totally indulge in my own fair share of drinks like Jarritos or Guayaki Yerba Mate but all in moderation. Apps like Is It Vegan?, Happy Cow & A Billion Veg are great resources to have on your phone when you’re out and about.
  • If you’re in a healthy environment, have good eating/exercise habits can’t lose weight:
    Evaluate how frequently you use tobacco or alcohol. If it’s causing more harm than good in your body and out, it’s time to take a break. Chances are, you’ll feel a lot better once you do and the pounds will naturally stay off from kicking those bad habits. If all of your habits are in check and you’re still struggling, it might be time to consult a doctor.
  • If you’re afraid of what people will think when you talk or post about it:
    When you’re on this journey, don’t forget to enjoy the process. It doesn’t matter how far you have to go, but simply the fact that you’re on your way. Learn to love who you are inside and the outside will become a direct reflection of that care to yourself. If you noticed someone you know recently went through a positive transformation, be sure to show them some love to let them know they have support! Motivation starts internally, but external factors also play a key role in overall results.

Are you going through your own weight loss journey or have questions about the blog or topics surrounding weight loss through veganism? Leave a comment below.

As always, thanks for your love & support.

‘Til next time!

Em 🌱

Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae
Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae

Hi! My name is Emerald May and I’m The Plant Based Bae. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and have called Southern California home for the past seven years. In 2018, I decided to switch to a vegan diet which led to me improving my overall quality of life and learning a lot about health & humanitarianism. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations with vigorous vegans and curious omnivores to share what I’ve learned along the way.

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