Fat Shaming is Never Cool, Even Coming from a Famous Plant-Based Blogger.

I recently had to stop following a popular female blogger (I’ll call her The Blogger here) who was a big inspiration to me since the beginning of my vegan journey. Here’s what happened.

The Blogger (who will remain unnamed because I still have respect for her and her privacy) was one of the very first plant-based writers and cookbook authors who showed me through her work that cooking tasty, oil-free plant-based meals was easy and fun. I own almost all of her cookbooks, and have recommended those on multiple occasions to people reaching out to me for advice on transitioning to veganism. I stood by this girl when she was fighting off bullies accusing her of focusing too much on the food and not nearly enough on the plight of animals, and respected her decision when she announced that she was no longer calling herself ‘vegan’, going entirely with ‘plant-based’ instead.

I was happy for her when she came up with a new part of her business – a subscription-based meal planning service that helped people cook their plant-based meals on the weekend and eat them throughout the week, thus reducing the headache of shopping for and cooking separate meals every night. In the cutthroat world of health entrepreneurship, it was exciting to see this person create their own niche and thrive in it.

And that’s when things went south, at least in my perception of this Blogger. The thing is, her meal plans focused entirely on the notion of consuming 1200 calories a day. That’s the minimum number of calories women on a diet are advised not to drop below without suffering negative health consequences. Essentially, anything less than the magic number of 1200, and we enter starvation mode.

Trouble is, people come in all shapes, sizes and metabolic requirements for their activity level. The 1200 calorie number can be very misleading, and in many cases even harmful. Whenever I tried to count calories in the past (never again!), I passed 1200 calories by lunchtime. Plus, I work out lifting heavy weights after work, and the best way to have a terrible workout that would leave me doubting my worth as an athlete is to show up hungry.

Needless to say, I never gave this meal planning service a try. I followed the Blogger on social media, kind of from a distance, and that’s when things got strange.

The bikini selfies started. The Blogger praised the effectiveness of her meal plans, making a point that she had struggled with unwanted weight even as an oil-free plant-based eater, and was only successful with dropping weight after she stuck to the magical 1200 calorie-a-day number her plans afforded. Okay, if being skinny makes her happy, let it be, I said. Something was rubbing me the wrong way, but I brushed it off. Every entrepreneur needs to promote their product, so I believed that the Blogger was using her bikini selfies as a promotion tool (quite successfully, judging by the comments on each photo from weight loss-seeking clients).

Around the same time I embarked on my own journey to find the reason why I was so dissatisfied with my own body. Even at ‘normal’ weight, I obsessed over food, exercised with abandon, and was willing to endure grueling dietary manipulations in search of “perfection’ (more about that experience here). It was time for me to learn how to love and accept myself the way I was.

UntitledOn the road to my emotional and physical healing, I met a few inspiring people in the vegan weightlifting community (hats off to Lacy Davis from Portland!). I realized that getting stronger through lifting heavy was making a world of difference in how I perceived myself and my body, even though it caused me to gain some weight. I discovered the power of the body positivity movement*, which essentially comes down to the notion that regardless of our size, weight, or overall appearance, we are deserving the love and respect of ourselves and others. We are perfectly FINE the way we are RIGHT NOW. And if we are seeking ways for self-improvement, then weighing less doesn’t have to be the main direction. Healthy (both mentally and physically) is a much nobler goal than skinny.

If you decided to step on the path to self-improvement, hats off to you! If working towards better health resonates with you, great! If some weight loss happens as a side effect of this process, that’s fine too! Whichever way you go, focus on the big picture rather than side effects that may or may not happen.

Which brings me back to the Blogger. I do not know her personally, nor do I have the right to claim to know her motivation for weight loss. But if she feels that being skinny makes her feel better about herself, so be it. However, when she posts side-by-side pictures of herself and her husband in the ‘before and after’ context (before showing them with some ‘fluff’ on their frame, and after with skinny, model-like appearance), I just want to scream, ‘Please, please, PLEASE stop the fat-shaming!’ This business promotion tool comes with some dark consequences, the least of which being the message that something was wrong with the ‘before’ plumpness.

So today I’d like to send out a message to the Blogger. I have no idea if it would ever reach her, but here it is anyway:

‘Dear Blogger,

Congratulations on the success of your meal planning business! It’s great that you help people on their plant-based journey. However, there is one thing that I’d like you to know. Whenever you post your ‘washboard abs’ bikini pictures, or the ‘before and after’ photos of you and husband with the goal of emphasizing your weight loss, it sends out a message that there is something wrong with being fat. The truth is, while weighing less may or may not be better for our health, it doesn’t mean that people who are bigger don’t deserve being respected because of their weight.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with you in your ‘before’ pictures. You were just as worthy of respect and admiration then as you are now. You’re doing an amazing job promoting plant-based diets and how they benefit our health, and if you decided to switch your focus from weight loss to health gain, I would applaud you even more.

Signed,

Alina Zavatsky

*If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I used to talk about weight loss on a vegan diet, body transformation from fat to skinny as something to aspire to, etc. I acknowledge that some of my opinions have changed, but I won’t be taking down my previous posts on the subject. My belief is that everyone is allowed to change their opinions when presented with relevant information, and there is zero shame in that.

If you’re new to my blog, welcome, and thank you for visiting! Let’s stay in touch – you can follow Vegan Runner Eats by subscribing in the top right corner of this page, or by following the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram!

About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

Tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Fat Shaming is Never Cool, Even Coming from a Famous Plant-Based Blogger.

  1. Patti says:

    I know exactly to whom u are referring….. And I soooo agree. Beautiful post!!

  2. Michele says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I, too, was a fan of “Blogger” and have watched things unfold just as you described. I was once a meal plan subscriber but this situation, along with a couple of other things I won’t go into now, have changed my opinion and left a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). Not everyone desires 6-pack abs or what it would take to get them. Some of us just want to be at a healthier weight, or be more comfortable in our own skin, at whatever size. The bikini pis and before/after shots are discouraging and disheaetening, not motivating. Thanks again for writing what I believe many of us are thinking.

  3. Sandy says:

    Thank you, Alina for a great and timely post. I have always had a problem with my body image. After I lost 50 lbs. two years ago, I was feeling very good about my body. However, my doctor was not pleased and said I should add back a few pounds. I was down to 95 lbs. two years ago. Now I am 108-110 lbs. My doctor is happy but I still feel too fat. I am 5’2″ tall and nearly 70 years. It is a continuing struggle for me.

    • Alina says:

      That’s what I’m talking about, Sandy. The image of body perfection, whatever it is, is ingrained too deeply in our minds and prevents us from accepting ourselves the way we are RIGHT NOW. You’re amazing, Sandy; don’t let anybody – even yourself – say otherwise!

  4. Gloria says:

    Good Job Alina ! I like the way you are.

  5. Sarah says:

    I, too, use to subscribe to her meal plans. I actually gained weight on her plan and eventually came to find out that I was under eating especially during my marathon training. I own a few of her cookbooks too. When she started posting these pics of herself being almost anorexic thin, I felt like a fat slob and started to wonder what was wrong with since I was using her plan, recipes, running my butt off, and strength training. I’ve just stopped following her. Somehow I still get her plans but delete them after glancing at them. I’m so glad your perspective has changed. We live and learn. I’m slowly coming to a place that my body is perfect NOW…although I’m not where I want to be on the scale. If I simply just relax, I know the weight will come off.

    • Alina says:

      Sarah, sorry to hear about your unsuccessful experience. Glad to hear that you’re embracing your body the way it is now, and I wish you good luck on your plant-based journey.

  6. Bridget says:

    Thank you so much for this post Alina. I have felt so frustrated by many fat shaming posts I’ve seen by people I respect. Mostly frustrated with myself because I thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I envied how easy they all make it look. But in the back of mind, I wondered a bit about the mixed messages. What is healthy? Am I really unhealthy if I have stubborn belly fat and will probably never get washboard abs? So I deeply appreciate your post. Now I know I’m not alone in feeling disappointed rather than inspired.

    • Alina says:

      Bridget, glad to hear that my post resonated with you! I too sometimes feel frustrated seeing all of those happy posts by people in the plant-based/fitness community showing nothing but the seemingly easily obtained perfection. The truth is, not everybody finds that type of posts inspiring. Hopefully more people will come around to this idea eventually.

  7. Toni says:

    I have also followed her forever, but less as less as her narcissism appeared. Her meal plans are great though and clearly tell you how to adjust them if you need more calories in your diet.

  8. Natasha says:

    I subscribe to her meal plans and love the variety and simplicity. I know for a fact that 1200 calories isn’t a mandate for everyone. Some people don’t want to lose weight, and others can eat more and meet their weight loss goals. I think the plans for many people are a tool to introduce them to plant based and healthy eating, and weight loss is often a side effect. I was once over 350 pounds and lost most of my excess fat eating whole food plant based on my own. I’m not rail thin and will never be, but I am at a healthy weight and feel much better than when I was 350+ pounds. I’m comfortable in my body. I think the blogger is very gracious and speaks against other plant based doctor’s condemning of big people. I think you may be reading too much into her photos, but you’re entitled to your opinion.

    • Alina says:

      Thank you for your comment, Natasha! Glad that the Blogger’s meal plans work for you. I’m not saying that they are bad or that they don’t work, I’m just against the notion that everybody has to lose weight before they can love and respect themselves.

  9. Hi, I know who you are talking about; I also have several of her books and really like her recipes. I tried a week of her meal plans once, not to lose weight as I was in marathon training and at my thinnest adult weight at the time; I just wanted to see if it would be a good plan to recommend to others, especially those new to veganism. I had zero intention of limiting myself to 1200 calories a day, even if I hadn’t been working out regularly; I simply used the four-person family meal plan for my spouse and myself. We did have some leftovers.

    My understanding though is that Blogger did not intend everyone to necessarily stick to the 1200 calories strictly; she had a list of snacks that could be added. I looked over the list and was unimpressed, hence I chose to eat the double portions instead.

    In any case, I haven’t followed her posts lately, because I’m now much more interested in focusing on veganism from an ethical and social justice standpoint, rather than focusing on possible health benefits to humans (which are definitely not all dependent on having a low body weight). Regardless, I agree that fat-shaming, and health-shaming in general, has no place in the promotion of vegan or plant-based diets. (I wrote about health shaming here: http://funcrunch.org/blog/2015/10/22/vegans-and-health-shaming/)

    I also appreciate that you acknowledge that people can and do change, and have left your previous posts up where you stated different opinions. Some of my earlier posts on veganism, health, and other topics make me cringe, but they’re still online; I believe in accountability (unless I post something so harmful to a specific person that I later realize it should be taken down completely).
    Pax Ahimsa Gethen recently posted…Rally against racist policeMy Profile

    • Alina says:

      Hi Pax, glad that you stopped by my blog! I read your articles on Medium all the time. It’s interesting that my vegan journey started from my interest in how a vegan diet can benefit our health, but after 3+ years of exploring the subject of veganism I now follow this path primarily out of my concern for the wellbeing of animals, my fellow humans (especially those who are less privileged than me) and the environment. Health kind of took the back stage after a while, although I can’t say that I don’t care about that aspect anymore. I agree with your points on health shaming that you made in your post – being vegan doesn’t make us into superhumans, so there’s no point in pretending like it does.

      • Thanks for replying, and for following me on Medium! I see the trajectory from health to ethics in vegans all the time, particularly when reading the stories from the people featured on Black Vegans Rock, which I’m on the advisory board for (http://www.blackvegansrock.com/). Health is indeed still an important consideration, particularly among people of color, the majority of whom cannot digest lactose properly after infancy – yet another reason to go vegan!
        Pax Ahimsa Gethen recently posted…Rally against racist policeMy Profile

  10. kirie says:

    The Blogger never said that “everybody has to lose wight before they can love and respect themselves”. She is marketing to people who have had trouble losing weight on a plant based diet & who are frustrated w/ the claims of “go plant based, eat all you want & you’ll be skinny”. Which is also a false notion. I understand your frustration b/c I’ve seen the heart ache of people who go vegan & don’t lose unwanted pounds. I think you have a valid perspective Alina, I wish you well in your journey….maybe we can run together someday…I live on Bainbridge:)

    • Alina says:

      Hi Kirie, thank you for your comment! I agree that it’s unlikely that the Blogger wants to offend those of us who are anything but skinny, but some of her tactics can trigger quite unpleasant reactions in people who have had a history of eating disorders, people who have struggled with their weight all their lives and now have a skewed way of communicating self-love to themselves, etc. I see so many amazing, kick-ass women who talk about how they have to lose weight before their ‘real life’ begins that it breaks my heart. I don’t want to peddle the idea of weight loss as something necessary because I know how much it can hurt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge