A well-balanced, plant-based diet is extremely healthy, right? Then why do so many ex-vegans on YouTube quickly feel better as soon as they start eating meat again? Checkmate vegans! Well, not so fast. Let’s back up for a moment.
The trend of ex-vegans on YouTube
If you watch the YouTube channels of various vegan influencers, you might have noticed a trend. It would seem that quite a few of them are quitting their plant-based diet in favor of eating meat again.
Some appear to have learned plant-based dietary lessons and are still eating many vegetables and fruits. Others went all out and opted for a pure carnivore diet.
What’s even stranger is that they all claim to feel infinitely better. It’s not just a feeling either, some of them look visually better on camera too.
What’s going on?
Who tends to leave veganism
If you pay close attention to those influencers who have left veganism, you’ll start to notice other, more subtle trends.
The overwhelming majority fit into one or more of the following patterns:
- They did an orthorexic plant-based diet. That is to say, they took the huge variety of foods available to plant-based dieters and restricted them to an arbitrary subset. In fact, many of these ex-vegans were eating a fruitarian diet, a raw vegan diet, or other variations in which only a small group of foods are deemed “healthy”. Their diets were nutritionally incomplete. They were simply not getting enough necessary macronutrients and micronutrients.
- They didn’t eat enough calories. If you take a look at their “what I eat in a day” videos, you’ll often see them totaling in the range of 1,000 calories for women, and 1,500 calories for men. Most of them were essentially starving themselves, and doing so with the same small groups of foods with little variety.
- They have a history of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
- They had existing, never resolved gut issues such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- They did other random, extreme experiments like going on extended fasts for 30 days. That’s quite beyond doing some intermittent fasting and it’s downright dangerous for your health.
You’ll rarely see a vegan influencer who adopted a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based diet or any half-decent vegan diet going back to eating meat.
Why do ex-vegans feel better as soon as they reintroduce meat?
Okay, many of these ex-vegans were on terrible diets or had existing, unaddressed issues. But why did they get better so quickly after switching to meat?
- The number one reason is that they finally started eating enough calories! Meat and other animal products in general, have a relatively high caloric density. So, many of these ex-vegans added a thousand or more calories just by reintroducing meat in their diet. No wonder they are feeling better and more energetic!
- Another factor is dietary fat. Fat is not optional. We need enough fat to function at our best. Many of these ex-vegan influencers went from diets with virtually no fat to diets that have enough fat.
- They started getting enough protein. Look, you absolutely can get enough protein on a plant-based diet. It’s not even hard to do so. But if you start excluding grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds from your diet, you’re unlikely to hit your daily requirements. Eating 20 bananas a day will load you up in Potassium and Vitamin B6 but will do very little for your protein needs.
- They stopped consuming so much fiber in their diet. If they are affected by existing gastrointestinal conditions, such as SIBO, drastically reducing the fiber intake will indeed provide some relief. What it doesn’t do is fix the underlying issue. It just masks the problem for a while.
So what’s the problem?
If they are feeling better, shouldn’t we just feel happy for them? Does it mean we should switch back to meat as well? Let’s explore this for a moment.
We are not here to judge what other people decide to do with their diet or life for that matter. There are, however, a few side effects to this phenomenon of ex-vegans finding meat and claiming it’s the best thing ever:
- These are genuine influencers. Meaning they have hundreds of thousands of followers who listen to what they say. Their choices will end up affecting the lives of thousands of young people who may emulate them.
- News organizations will run with it, claiming that eating plant-based/vegan is unhealthy. It’s not. What these people opted to do was unhealthy. Eating a well-balanced, variegated plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, the animals, and the planet.
- Their feeling better is often short-lived. These are the same people who claimed they felt amazing when they switched to a vegan diet.
- In the long term, a diet rich in animal products is likely to increase their risk profile for both cancer and heart disease.
- Reducing fiber can temporarily help with the symptoms of certain bowel diseases, but it will not cure their underlying condition (and the combination of high-saturated fat and low fiber will most likely negatively affect their LDL cholesterol).
Please note that we are not advocating berating these ex-vegans. People who are physically in pain will do whatever they think is best to survive, even if it goes against their moral stance. We talk about these ex-vegans here to spare you the same fate.
How to avoid becoming an ex-vegan
So how can you avoid joining their ranks? Four simple steps:
- Eat enough calories. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t cut your calories by more than 20-25% of your daily expenditure (i.e., your TDEE).
- Do not cut out plant-based foods arbitrarily or do extreme diets such as fruitarianism or raw veganism. The only exception to this rule is for foods for which you have a sensitivity/allergy or that you actively dislike.
- Avoid extreme experiments, like extended fasting or, it goes without saying, drinking your own urine.
- If you have an existing medical condition like SIBO, IBS, Chron’s Disease, Leaky Gut Syndrome, or are experiencing undiagnosed digestive issues, consider seeking help from a dietician who specializes in such issues. There are tests that can be done to determine what’s wrong with your digestive system, and steps that can be taken to improve it (including nutritional steps, of course). Meat is not magically going to cure your issues.
Our take-home lesson is to eat a nutrient-rich, well-balanced plant-based diet. One that meets all your daily nutrient and micronutrient requirements. One that isn’t afraid of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, or cooked foods. A diet that will bring you health not illness in the long term.
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