Welcome to Vegans & Body Image, a biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.
Today we have Joni, the Orange County–based author of a handful of cookbooks, including The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet and (swoon) Vegan Food Gifts. She’s super fun, and her smile is some sort of energy-producing marvel.
Joni Marie Newman, 37, “more cushion for the pushin,” 5′-7″, hovering between 275 and 290 pounds
I’d been an off-and-on vegetarian since high school, and I made the vegan plunge in 2005 because I knew it was the right thing to do. For my health, the health of the planet, and most importantly, the health of the animals.
When I was young, I was a swimmer, water polo player, and lifeguard. I worked out a minimum of two hours a day and sometimes four in the summertime, five days a week, with competitions on the weekends. Once I got into college, I did not keep up that lifestyle and the weight began to pile on. In my 20s I wanted my swimmer’s body back, so I got a trainer and began working out at least two hours a day, five days a week, and I lost a lot of weight. Not quite down to my 16-year-old self, but pretty close—175 pounds looked really, really good on me. But I got a new job in a new location and was unable to keep that rigorous training schedule, and the weight piled back on. If I do not work out for at least two hours a day, I cannot maintain a “proper” weight. I probably screwed up my metabolism as a child athlete, which set me up for failure as a grownup. If I want to be thinner, I need to work out a lot. Because, for the most part, I eat a well-balanced, pretty clean vegan diet.
I have tried Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, cleanses, raw foods only, and many online weight-loss support groups. I have had a gym membership for the past 15 or so years, but I don’t use it as often as I should. I’d rather hike with the dogs and walk outdoors (especially by the beach) than in the gym, but I love to swim and sit in the hot tub, so I keep that gym membership.
At one point I was taking Fen-Phen and was totally addicted to ephedra, and I was totally and completely devastated when it became illegal. I’ve never had surgery, although I did attend a lap-band consultation and seminar, because at one point I thought something must be wrong with me.
I thought I was an overeater, so I began attending OA meetings. After hearing the other stories and leaving each and every meeting feeling even more horrible than when I got there, I realized I did not have a disorder, per se, but I did have an unhealthy relationship with food. Before I found veganism, I was completely out of touch with where my food came from. What was in it. And how my body used it for fuel and nutrition. Now I know where and how my food is grown and/or produced, and I understand so much more about nutrition. And while I still certainly eat for pleasure, I also am quite aware of what goes into my belly.
Although I am primarily vegan for ethical reasons, I won’t lie; I really hoped it would help me lose weight. And I did lose, at first, because when I took the vegan plunge, I did it with a 10-day Master Cleanse, followed by six months of raw foods only, along with working out like crazy and eating way too little, to prepare my body for my wedding later that year.
Having always been a “bigger” girl, I feel as though I did have a fairly self-confident and positive body image, vegan or not. It wasn’t until I was vegan, however, that others had something to say about it. I had always heard the comments, “Baby got back!” and the like, but once people knew I was vegan, it was more like, “Oh, really? But, you’re so, er, um, fat.” Yeah. People say that to me. Often. But I still don’t really give a frick what people think about my body and I still rock a two-piece bathing suit, because I want to.
“Healthy” means something different for everyone. Personally, I do not equate weight with health. One can be healthy at any weight. To me, healthy is feeling good in the skin you’re in, being able to do the things you love to do. To be balanced in life, body and spirit. In a physical sense, the last time I ran my blood work, I was platinum*, which is the best possible score you can receive, in all categories except BMI. I also very seldom get sick. When all my coworkers have colds or whatever else is going around, it generally skips me. I credit my veganism.
That being said, I would like to be a bit less heavy so I could do more of the things I love to do. Sometimes my size does prevent me from buying the cutest clothes and going on the best rides at the amusement park. So, for me, healthy would be about 50 pounds lighter. And yes, I strive for it. I know what I need to do to be healthy for me. Get back to that gym to get stronger so I can be all that I can be. So that my strong muscles will use more of my food energy as fuel.
I have no real responsibility (nor does anyone else) to look or be a certain way for anyone or any cause, but I often feel as though I should look better (read: thinner) to be a good vegan ambassador. Especially with all the talk about the health benefits that come along with adopting a “plant-based diet.” I also feel (although I know I shouldn’t) that being a big vegan casts a negative view of veganism. Somehow, I think that people may feel that if they go vegan, they will end up like me. Even though I’m the same me I was before I was vegan.
When it comes down to it, I am first and foremost vegan for the animals. Any health benefits I have gained from veganism have been a bonus. My body image issues are my own, and I feel like they are pretty much the same issues many women have regardless of being vegan or not.
*I work for Whole Foods Market. Once a year the company pays for anyone who wants to run their blood work. Your numbers fall in one of four categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The better your score, the bigger discount you can receive at Whole Foods. It’s pretty awesome, completely voluntary, and a great way to inspire team members to get “healthy.”
Thank you, Joni!