The latest weight-loss craze? Vegging out.
Being a vegan used to be something big, symbolic, and meaningful, the dietetic equivalent of Jane Fonda’s Black Power salute. Eating lower on the food chain took you to a higher moral plane: Every bite of tofu was a dinner table protest about protecting the planet.
Now, what was a radical lifestyle is being embraced by women from Rodeo Drive to Madison Avenue who are looking to lose the blubber, not save the whales. They’ve noticed it keeps their BMIs low and their waists free from dairy-induced bloat. “Vanity and weight loss is the number-one thing that’s driving this,” says Los Angeles nutritionist Cynthia Pasquella. “I’ve seen people lose 15 to 40 pounds in a month. It can be very rapid because you’re not eating all the junk in meat. Saturated fat intake is lowered, and plant-based foods are low in calories.”
Even the many vegan celebrities are touting the health benefits. “I used to think about dieting,” actress Jessica Chastain said recently, “but I’m vegan now, so it’s not really a problem.” Alanis Morissette attributes her 20-pound weight drop to going vegan.
While some are vegan for ethical reasons, others just want the slimming side effects. But it’s the moral high horse that vegan converts ride that irks some. At a recent gathering in suburban Connecticut, one yummy mummy announced gravely to us all that she had secretly been a vegan for two years. (“Please, I don’t call her a vegan,” muttered one onlooker. “I call that a ham-sandwich-etarian.”)
Strictly speaking, a vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. That means vegans don’t wear leather, fur, wool, silk, or pearls; they can’t wrap themselves up in that white winter coat from Céline or throw on a J. Crew cashmere sweater. Besides seafood and meat, they don’t eat eggs, honey, cheese, yogurt, milk, or caviar, and are wary of processed cereals and dried fruits (they may contain animal glycerin) and marshmallows (usually made with gelatin). If a vegan wears makeup or visits a dermatologist, she should take care with lipstick and mascara (many have beeswax), peels with lactic acid (they may be derived from milk), and fillers (some are extracted from animal sources).
Surely, I thought, a vegan could at least live on a diet of wine and cocktail nuts. But before you put that glass of pinot to your lips, beware. Many winemakers use animal products, such as casein (a milk protein), egg whites, and gelatin during processing.
Not all vegans subsist on kale salads, however. First, “you can be a vegan who eats chips and salsa all day,” says Hamptons-based culinary nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, but it’s a fast track to a muffin top. Second, the diet may result in precariously low levels of vitamins like B12 and D. Sacks recommends regular blood tests to monitor any deficiencies. “I’d warn against doing it as a crash diet,” says Pasquella.
There are other benefits, more for the mind than the body: My sister, Carolina, who turned to veganism while recovering from breast cancer, said it made her feel more mellow. After nine months, though, “the halo wore off,” she says, “and all I wanted was a cheeseburger.”
Pictured above: Eat your broccoli. Pavé broccoli, custom-made by Noir Jewelry.