Notes from VVCIII – Preventing Ex-Vegans. 10 Strategies to Maximize Long-Term Success on Vegan Diets – Ginny Messina

Saturday Session – Preventing Ex-Vegans – 10 Strategies to Maximize Long-Term Success on Vegan Diets – Virginia Messina, MPH, RD

Preventing Ex-Vegans

Reasons People Stop Being Vegan

  • Health concerns
  • Not confident they’re meeting their nutritional needs
  • Lack of social support
  • Lack of convenience
  • Missed taste of animal foods (meat/cheese)
  • Didn’t see diet as part of their identity
  • Found it difficult to reach purity (avocardo)
  • Believed they could reach all of their goals without being veg.

Helping People Stay Vegan

  • Promote realistic benefits (relates well with Matt’s talk)
    • There are accurate and legitimate benefits to eating a plant based diet – but some of those claims are exaggerated and many ex-vegans began to doubt the benefits of their vegan
    • Vegans may have lower risk of cancer – but vegans still can and do get cancer, and a vegan diet cannot reverse cancer.
    • A vegan diet is not going to make you look youthful forever – sets people up for disappointment (setting appropriate expectations)
  • Promote ethics and ethical reasons behind following a vegan diet.
    • The ethical and animal rights argument for veganism are unique, universale (or pretty close) and stickier. (because most people like animals – campaigns like Why Love One but Eat the Other?)
    • Makes the diet part of their identity.
    • Humane research council survey
    • Understanding successful behaviour change: the role of intentions, attitudes to the target and motivations and the example of diet.
    • Vegan diet does not automatically equal weight loss.
      • When people don’t achieve their goals, they will pursue other angles or other diets.
      • Why is health motivation less sticky?
        • People that approached their veganism with “health” benefits in mind, often followed a more restrictive diet (which in many cases resulted in turning them into ex-vegans)
    • 26%of ex-vegetarians/vegans were not taking B12 supplements or didn’t think they needed any.
    • Lifestyle choices of individuals following a vegan diet for health and ethical reasons
      • Some highlights of this study:
        • Compared to health vegans, ethical vegans adhered to a vegan diet longer
        • Higher intake of soy and vitamin supplements in ethical versus health vegans
        • Health vegans consumed more fruit and sweets compared to ethical vegans
        • Reason for adhering to a vegan diet must be considered when studying vegans
    • Fear based nutrition – never, ever, eat this food.
    • Science based nutrition: emphasize certain foods, eat others less frequently, use some foods as occasional treats.
    • People think vegan diets are really restrictive and unpleasant – adding additional restrictions to vegan diets (with additional proclamations of toxicity, or “bad”ness) make it very hard to be vegan
  • Allow for convenience
    • Lots of people don’t know how to cook – and if they think they have to cook all the time to be vegan, they probably won’t want to be vegan.
    • Vegan convenience is better than omnivore convenience.
  • Promote good nutrition
    • people need to know a few basic rules about meeting their nutritional needs – “eat a variety of foods” is good advice, but it’s not enough advice.
    • vegan diets – no cultural or historical habits – we are creating vegan culture right now.
    • 1990’s view of protein the idea was that excess protein, leached calcium from bones, so vegans didn’t need as much calcium as meat eaters.
    • The reality is, that this is not the case. Study showing dietary protein and bone health a systematic review and meta-analysis. ((
    • The reality is animal protein doesn’t leech calcium out of the bones. Unfortunately, this claim is touted by many health-focused (and not health focused) vegan organizations.
    • Adventist Health Study – found that women that ate more protein = had healthier bones
    • In the EPIC Study, vegans were 30% more likely to fracture a bone than meat eaters or lacto-ovo vegetarians. This is a problem for a variety of reasons but primarily – we need to make sure we’re meeting our nutritional needs, and make conscious choices surrounding that.
    • Ginny’s notes on this talk
    • The Resources page on The Vegan RD’s website.
  •  Focus on flavour and texture of meat alternatives. Improve quality.
    • there are five flavours, people forget about the last one – Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami.
    • Umami is in breast milk
    • Ketchup, yeast, sea vegetables, mushrooms, fermented foods.
    • To make satisfying meat alternatives – add back what’s missing: texture, protein, and fat.
    • Richard Mattes, Purdue University – “This may be why low-fat foods have been generally unsuccessful so far,” Mattes says. Most low-fat alternatives are designed to emulate the texture of fat, but not the taste — and our bodies aren’t fooled by it. (NPR interview)
  • Presenting positive intentions
    • Negative – I’m not going to eat meat anymore
    • Positive – Focus on the joyful aspects of vegan food – more bean burritos,
  • Consider a slower transition from non-vegan to vegan
    • This isn’t universal – some people are passionately interested in making the necessary sweeping changes into their life based around ethics, but most people need a more time to make huge changes to their diet and life. (I was one of the pe
    • Have a plan
      • Take small incremental steps to reducing your consumption of animal products.
      • Talk to an RD.
  • Lend Support
    • Being vegan can be hard if you’re alone, or don’t know any other vegans. Create spaces where vegans can interact.
    • It can be very hard to exist if you’re conscious of feeling conspicuous as a vegan.
    • Who we are and how we eat: A qualitative study of Identies in Food Choice
    • Create community. Veganism as a Cultural Movement – A Relational Approach
    • Do you live in a vegan unfriendly community – reach out to online communities, create your own local community, connect with people, bloggers, and just REACH OUT. (on a personal note: feel free to reach out to me if you ever need support. I remember what it feels like to be the only vegan I know. – meshell) 
  • Celebrate progress
    • Being vegan is about progress, not perfection. It’s about effort and intention.
    • People need room to make mistakes.
  • What are ex-vegan’s doing now?
    • Many  (public ex-vegans) have taken huge transitions to extreme diets and have made a career out of being not vegan.
    • But there are people out there that are not-vegan anymore, but still consider themselves animal advocates. They for whatever reason were unable to make veganism work for them
    • TVA Conducts First Study of Lapsed Vegetarians in Canada – Toronto Vegetarian Association Survey (pdf)

Make real promises related to following a vegan diet.
The only guaranteed promise of a vegan diet is that it removes yourself from the exploitation of animals. It won’t make you look young forever, it wont necessarily make you lose weight or live forever, but you will remove yourself from the exploitation of animals.

Never to Late to Go Vegan
Vegan for Her
Vegan for Life

1 Response

  1. I finally had a chance to read this and your notes from Matt’s talk. Agree with them both! Nothing irks me more than the bullet-proof health claims by other vegans or plant-based people! Anytime a vegan gets sick, these groups always disease-shame and point fingers — they weren’t doing it “right”, they ate salt/sugar/oil/cooked food/etc. Argh.