The Pressure of Being An Overweight Vegan

“If being a vegan is so good, why is Michael still fat?” My mother asked my wife. And so began my journey of dealing with what it mans to be an overweight vegan.

This right here, ladies and gentleman, is the question. It’s the question that pushes culture towards or away veganism, rightly or wrongly.

Lot’s to unpack in this post. Let’s start at the beginning.

My genetics

I was five weeks premature when I came out of my mum’s womb. Her birthing experience with me was life-threatening and traumatic for both of us.

In the end, I made it into this world, weighing in at 2.5kgs.

Thankfully, I was healthy, with a few hiccups including a little right thumb, one kidney and significantly pigeon-toed.

Despite these minor setbacks, I was a breeze of a baby. I slept regularly, I was happy all of the time, and most of all, I was a massive eater.

It’s like I came into existence wanting to make up for being slightly underdeveloped. I ate and ate and ate.

Within months, I transformed from an underweight baby to a chubby eating machine.

Besides overeating, together with my sister, we have the fat gene from my mother’s side of the family. It’s interesting though because the gene seems to target about 70% of people on my mum’s side.

My youngest Uncle and late Auntie have always been skinny. And basically, my whole dad’s side is thin, excusing their incredibly round beer bellies.

overweight vegan toddler

And so my weight troubles began

I went all the way through elementary school overweight, again eating, playing and sleeping, staying true to my personality. I was an incredibly active child, constantly moving.

In grade three, my brother introduced me to basketball, and I quickly became obsessed. Through the sheer hours dedicated to the sport, I maintained a relatively stable weight, until I hit puberty in grade 7.

In high school, I had a growth spurt and leaned out. I went on to have a five-year run as a bonafide basketball athlete. Well, I still ate a ton, but my output was so extreme that the food I ate had no impact. I would just burn it off.

Note: throughout this whole time, I ate like shit. I drank soft drinks, ate meat pies and loved chicken satay. At home, I ate pasta, rice, African soul food at scale. And since a young child, I saw my brother put honey and peanut butter on bread and chase it down with a hot cup of milo.

The first time I had this combination, it changed my world! I iterated on this complex recipe, only opting to eat crunchy peanut butter (I mean, who eats smooth?) together with the honey. I would then proceed to fold my incredibly processed white bread and dip it into a hot cup of milo which had added brown sugar (because I’m crazy).

overweight vegan child

My lean days came to an end

So I was a dedicated athlete through till grade twelve, then I went on a holiday to Ghana for six weeks, and that’s when everything changed.

This was my first trip to Ghana since I was a baby, so my relatives were on a mission to welcome me with obscene amounts of food. As you know by now, I’m a big eater, so I embraced this challenge of traditional Ghanaian food with grace. And of course, I didn’t want to be disrespectful to my family who expressed their love through food (so I told myself).

The problem was while I was consuming all of this food, I wasn’t exercising. For anyone who has travelled for an extended period, you know how hard it is to exercise when you’re so deep in holiday mode.

I think I went for one run and one gym session over six weeks in my dad’s hometown in Ghana.

During this time, I started to pack on weight, and by the time I got back to Australia, it was an uphill battle.

I thought I would lose weight when I became vegan

Since I was 18, I’ve progressively gotten fatter. While I was still active, I never ate well, and this combined with my fat gene became a real struggle.

Four years ago, I became vegan overnight for ethical reasons, first and foremost. But after seeing so many weight loss stories online after people became vegan, I would be lying if I didn’t think that I would lose a couple of extra kilos when I became vegan.

On top of that, Maša has always cooked healthy food with the best organic ingredients, vegan or not. So it’s not like I was a junk food vegan although I do like my fair share of vegan burgers, pizza’s and curries when I get the chance.

But as months went by, my weight stayed the same. There was no “fat just started falling off me” story. Internally, I did feel a little bit better. I’ve always been an energy-rich guy, so there were no changes on that front. But I did experience much better digestion.

Admittedly, my results were disappointing, but I was so motivated by saving animals that my weight wasn’t a significant factor. But in a way, it’s this point that has created internal friction.

I should mention that if done correctly, a plant-based diet can do wonders for your health. But vegan or not, the fundamentals of good nutrition apply. So please make sure you have the right expectations about a vegan lifestyle before you begin.

The pressure of representing the animals as an overweight vegan

First of all, I’m human. So, of course, I would like to feel better about how my body looks. But in all honesty, I’ve found relative peace with who I am and how I look. At the end of the day, I’m healthy and energetic, and that’s more than what I could ask for.

Where things become incredibly hard for me is how there’s added pressure for vegans to look super healthy.

Despite my best efforts to talk about the devastation of animal oppression, many folks are not interested in supporting the results for someone outside of themselves. They want to know what’s in it for them when it comes to veganism.

People are so focused on how they look and they associate the success of veganism with appearance. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. When vegans position veganism as the best lifestyle for health, weight loss, clear skin, better energy, then that’s what we’ll be judged on.

Now, I don’t have a problem with using the body as the ultimate sales pitch for veganism. Over the years, marketing vegan body transformations have been beneficial to get people on the lifestyle.

Typically those who are plant-based, see their support for the animal industry as a by-product of their health decisions. And that’s totally okay. More animals are saved, I’ll take that!

The importance of messaging

The reality remains that people are going to judge the success of veganism based on how you look. There are a couple of ways I’ve chosen to look at this.

Firstly, I think anyone showing interest in your vegan values is positive. I try to speak to the reasons I became vegan, which are based on avoiding the harm of animals.

I’m quite upfront with them when it comes to health. I tell people that I didn’t transition to veganism for health reasons, but I’ve come to understand some benefits. This is when I’ll refer to high-performance vegan athletes.

This approach enables me to control the narrative of the conversation. Now inevitably, someone who is motivated by how they look will take one look at you, and discredit your reasons for going vegan. Despite there being many more overweight omnivores in the world.

The other thing to consider is being real with ourselves. Despite having the fat gene, I know I could lose weight if I really put time and effort into it. And being externally motivated on aesthetic is okay…sometimes.

For me, it’s not being driven to have this out of this world chiselled body. My motivation would be to represent the billions of animals slaughtered each year.

In my books, this is not a bad motivation at all, and maybe one you resonate with.

Overweight vegans around the world

Do you feel the pressure of being an overweight vegan? By the way, this pressure doesn’t just exist with weight. It’s true for your overall health. If you’re always sick, then people will think that a vegan diet makes you weak. If you have bad skin, then people think a vegan diet will make you break out.

These are real human judgements vegans are experiencing with people every day. I don’t write this to make you feel the pressure. I write it to empower all of us to be confident in who we are and to redirect people away from their own needs and inspire them to be selfless.

We owe it to ourselves, and more importantly, we owe it to the animals.

The Pressure of Being an Overweight Vegan

Other articles you’ll love:

  1. How To Go Vegan: A Guide On How To Transition To a Vegan Lifestyle
  2. Finding The Humanity In Non-Vegans
  3. Why You’re Struggling To Stay Vegan
  4. What I Learned From Eating One Meal a Day For 28 Days
  5. Are You a Junk Food Vegan?


  1. The irony is that if you went carnivore, you’d lose that weight in around 4 months.

    Humans are omnivores. We are not herbivores.
    The vegan diet is a luxury of the modern era. It wasn’t even possible mid to long term before 1950, when B12 supplementation became possible.
    Most vegans are just doing it so they can feel superior to other people anyway. It’s a way of patting yourselves on the back. It’s a shame that you may be putting your health at risk to do that. There is no evidence that a vegan diet is any healthier than an omnivore diet once you remove junk food from the equation. No people were ever vegan in antiquity. You are quite literally gambling with your health. Good luck, though.

    1. Why you would feel the need to come on a vegan blog and say this to someone who has become vegan for ethical reasons is beyond me. Your argument that “a vegan diet is a luxury of the modern era” is absolute nonsense. Do you not have a cell phone, a car, an indoor bathroom, a computer with a high-speed internet connection? In addition, when you claim that Michael would lose weight in 4 months if he became a carnivore, you ignore that he stated that he was overweight even before he went vegan and that it is part of his family’s genetics.
      Part of the luxury of the modern era is making choices and having rights that were not available in the past. The choice to select veganism is a right. What we do not have is the right to criticize them for their choice.
      By the way, I am not a vegan myself, but I am, mostly, a mindful omnivore. My daughter is vegan, and my son and husband are pescatarians. I respect their dietary choices, and we all make it work under one roof.

    2. Seems to me the person looking to feel superior to others is the non vegan going on a vegan’s website to tell them why their life choices are inferior to their own.

  2. Thanks a lot for this story. I’m Nigerian and I became vegan when I was 14 in 2014 and that lasted for about 2 weeks then I just became vegetarian without the exercise or well planned diet. Coming into 2020 I started this #nofat2020 thing and became vegan again. Today makes it 3 weeks of strict veganism although I tend to eat yogurts and tin sardines these are the only processed foods I eat. I have discovered positive changes in my body and learnt a whole lot about nutrition although no much difference in weight. I hope to continue this through out this year and hopefully make it a lifestyle. I still struggle with exercising though but your post has made me understand things better. Thank you so much again

    1. Hi Doreen, thanks for sharing your experience with us. You should be proud that you continue to fight for a vegan lifestyle. I do not doubt that you’ll eventually get there. Nice to see another West African on the blog 🙂 All the best for 2020.

  3. I totally understand your frustration! Since high school I tried out all different kinds of diets thinking that “the one” would help me get super skinny. I tried The raw food diet, veganism, whole foods, keto, low carb, paleo, and more. On some I lost a bit of weight, but I never felt right or satisfied. I kind of just gave up and quickly went from a bit chubby to obese. I finally found out by reading that although eating for good nutrition definitely matters, any food can make you fat because weight gain is an insulin problem, not a problem of food group elimination. That’s why keto works for weight loss so well for some people, but I didn’t feel healthy or right eating that much dairy and meat. So I found out about fasting, and holy cow! If only I’d known years ago. Fasting lowers insulin no matter what diet you’re on, and I found that it helps suppress appetite if you do it for long enough. I’ve had great success with one meal a day and alternate day fasting. Now I just focus on eating a balanced diet without eliminating any food groups but I try to make veggies the bulk of my meals. Good luck!

    1. Hi Merman, it’s so refreshing to read about your experience, as I can relate on many levels. I’m stoked you’ve found something with OMAD, as I did 🙂 All the best with your journey and thanks for sharing with us.

  4. In our culture that looks at people and animals superficially, not seeing the sentience of animals, not seeing the soul within, and judging on the surface of people, you are a light of illumination in the darkness. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  5. You eat too much, man. Doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, paleo, whatever–you eat too much, you gonna get fat. And that person’s comment about soy is just–well, dumb. How many BILLIONS of people in Asia eat soy? LOL.

    1. Hi Nishi, I agree, I’ve historically overeaten. Unfortunately, some plant-based diets are positioned in a way to make you believe that you can consume unlimited calories and still lose weight. My intent with this post was to set the right expectations when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle and to change the narrative to the exploitation of animals.

  6. Firstly well done for making this choice and sticking to it. Hubby and I find it quite difficult living a plant based lifestyle but well worth it. Try stay away from anything processed, and don’t touch soy, it mimics estrogen in your body which will add weight and all kinds of health issues. Also, wheat . Essentially try eat whole foods as much as possible. We have a great no and again.

    1. Hi Fran, thank you for your suggestions. You’re right, anything processed, vegan or not, is not good. Since publishing this post, I’ve made some changes to my diet that have drastically improved my weight. Thank you for supporting animals through your consumption habits 🙂

  7. even on this post we have people, follow shef AJ, follow this, follow that. I followed all this at one time or another, guess what, I am still fat! I refuse to believe a diet will magically make me skinny. I have restricted, exercised, cried, shamed etc etc for too long. I refuse to be told this and that will make me lose weight anymore. maybe I’m just not meant to be skinny. I don’t need anyone elses’ advice or vallidation. if they want me skinny then they don’t want me in their lives.

    1. Fat Shaming comes in all forms, especially through unconscious bias. I try to practice Radical Fat Acceptance (for myself and others), though I struggle to do so. Which brings me back to this article – I would have LOVED it if this had been called, as you said in a comment above, “The Pressure of Being a Healthy Vegan” and focused more on actions rather than appearances. The action of eating a whole food plant based diet instead of a processed, packaged veggie burger. The action of cooking at home instead of buying a meal out, especially fast food.

  8. An ex lover of mine once told me he couldn’t understand why I was curvier than other girls when I ate so healthily. I’ve always been bigger due to my genetics, and I lost 20kgs by working out including 7kgs that were lost when I went vegan (which was for ethical reasons, not for weight-loss reasons) but I like to graze and I make it my mission to visit all the new delicious restaurants around Canberra with vegan options. It’s more about genetics and exercise and quantity, which I dont think I do well

    1. Hey Courtney, thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your story. It’s amazing how you had that kind of results without having that intention. And it looks like we have the same mission when it comes to vegan restaurants in Canberra ?

  9. On November 23 2018 I finished my 40-day spiritual vegetable fast (<600 kcal per day) based on the Biblical person who fasted Daniel. I travelled to Poland, where those retreats are very popular (as proven effective) to join a fasting retreat for 6 days to learn how to do it properly. My intention was to heal from unexplained chronic pain. Exercise 4 times per day/prayer 3 x per day/ meals 3 x per day/ lectures on healthy eating 2 x day. This fast is based on lowest calories veggies like cauliflower, greens, squash, tomato, cucumber, fermented veggies at every meal etc. No oil. No legumes or grains. The volumes of food plentiful. I finished my fast without feeling hungry and almost finished 40 day exit process. Long exit to prevent yoyo effect. I lost 18 pounds and kept it off. This fast resets your metabolism so it becomes more effective in digesting fats and carbs. It resets your taste buds and habits. I now eat salad before each meal even breakfast. Every single participant lost weight. Some more than I as they started heavier. I now believe in fasting as the healing method. Especially since it got a 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine (for describing autophagy – a process where our body cannibalizes sick cells). My pain was gone in week 3. It did not come back. 🙂 You wont see it advertised any time soon as fasting is FREE! Free gift from Mother Nature. Nobody makes a buck on your back.

    1. Hi Iwona! Apologies, I only just saw your comment. What an incredible transformation through this retreat. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Since writing publishing this post, I’ve also had some great results through fasting 🙂 Michael

  10. For those of you having trouble loosing weight as a vegan look up Chef AJ and she will guide you. The simple answer is cut out all fats, processed food, and eat less calorie dense.

  11. Thank you for this — I am very familiar with the conflict you describe. Let’s work toward a vegan world without fatphobia!

  12. A very interesting topic, thanks for sharing. I think what you mention in one of the above comments is true- that ultimately, honesty and imperfection could be more comforting and appealing to people than a fake veneer of guaranteed health.
    Nevertheless, it is a tricky thing to deal with as a vegan, feeling like you need to hide any health problems for fear that your diet will be culpable. I suppose we can remind people how much trouble western society is in at large with health problems, obesity and the standard western diet.

  13. Hey Michael,
    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I can also relate with your story, being a bit chubbier myself. I’ve heard a couple of times “why aren’t you skinnier”?
    But I agree with what you say: ” I’ve found relative peace with who I am and how I look. At the end of the day, I’m healthy and energetic, and that’s more than what I could ask for.”


    1. Hi Sandra, you’re very welcome! That perception is certainly there, whether we like it or not. So it comes down to how we feel about ourselves.

      Thank you for all of the work you do on your blog.

  14. I actually do not see you as overweight although I am assuming you are going by measurement charts or other medical criteria. You have a healthy glow that speaks volumes for your compassionate path. I have been vegan for two years now. I am older and get compliments on my ‘glow’ and I am aging really well and I attribute this to veganism. My weight is about the same as before. The most important part of veganism for me is the compassionate path that I am on and it is wonderful that this path also promotes health and well being.

    This blog is lovely. Do not get discouraged or swayed. You are radiant!!!

    1. Hi Adele, you are too kind.
      Putting measurements aside, I actually feel great and I know I’m blessed with more energy than most people I know. Also, since becoming vegan, I rarely get sick. But this is just my journey. Everyone has their own story.
      Thank you for sharing your experiences on the compassionate path. Keep on glowing.

  15. Boy, does that resonate with me. I am a 15-year whole foods vegan, who is also 15-20 pounds overweight. However, I am textbook healthy. At 62, I have perfect BP, very low cholesterol levels, and normal blood sugar levels, and unlike most of my peers, I take NO meds for “lifestyle diseases.” Yet, I have been treated to rude comments to my face and behind my back about being “fat.” I was a heavy child who stress-ate, a borderline anorexic college girl, and a thin, but perpetually hungry young adult. As a mature adult, I refuse to make food an enemy any more. I do fast intermittently. I was doing so before i knew the practice even had a name. It is not difficult for me to go many hours without food–it even energizes me to do so. But when I break the fast, I eat well, always plant-based, rarely processed, simple and down-to-earth (literally and figuratively). I may have a plump hour-glass figure, but in my sunset years, I have grown fond of my shape. I am proud of its strength–I can walk for miles and carry things most women half my age struggle to pick up. Once again, you have written an inspiring post that speaks profoundly to me. I wish I knew more people like you.

    1. Deborah, you ought to be proud of the conviction in the way you live. When I read your story, I see intentionality and purpose. I too feel great “under the hood”, but it’s not reflected in my weight. I think at the end of the day, regardless of your appearance, if you bring clean energy into the way you live, people, perhaps respect that more than your appearance. You have inspired me today, and I thank you.

  16. Losing weight is not easy, but I think that, as strict vegetarians, or as vegans we should set a good example so that we are at a healthy, low weight (not average according to new standards of fatness). Though I was not fat, I needed to lose about 5lbs to be at my best & healthiest weight. Following the recommendations of The Plant Paradox book by Dr. Stephen Gundry made dropping weight really easy. It’s vegan-friendly and shows you how to get your microbiome (whence our health and weight derive) back to a good state.

    1. With all due respect Cara, I’m sick of the responsibility for others eating animals being put on me. As a vegan I’m already doing my part, if someone is contributing to the torture and death of animals then isn’t that on them? I think it’s unfair for me to be blamed for others not becoming vegan and if they were to become vegan purely because they wanted a ‘vegan body’ it’s just not going to stick. I am vegan, I have weight issues that I had all my adult life and long before becoming vegan. The difference now is that I don’t contribute to the cruelty of the omnivore/veg lifestyle. Is that not example enough?

  17. Thank you for sharing! I think the problem is that veganism gets marketed as a single cure for everything – for the planet, for people’s health etc. A good example is the documentary “What the Health”. It ends like a cheap TV-commercial, promising going vegan will cure all ailments in a matter of weeks. I understand this format might have been consciously picked to appeal to mass audiences (and like you said, people mainly want to know what’s in it for them), but I feel like it’s misrepresentational and can produce the opposite effect when people don’t get the results they’ve been promised. There is no magic solution that cures everything, why do we need to act like there is? It just leads to disappointment.
    Don’t get me wrong, veganism is the solution for a lot of problems. Still, not all of them. The problem is we are so scared of admitting it because people might lose interest in giving it a try. I still feel like being open and honest is the best solution.

    1. Hi Lea, I also remember watching What the Health and feeling the same way as you. I even had friends approach me after watching the documentary saying that they’re going to become vegan because of the argued health benefits. But even then, there’s so much to explore in a plant-based lifestyle to optimise health in a way that’s specific to each individual.

      “The problem is we are so scared of admitting it because people might lose interest in giving it a try. I still feel like being open and honest is the best solution.”

      I love what you said here. This is what it’s all about. Let’s lay it all out on the table for people considering this lifestyle. If anything, that honesty ends up being more appealing to people as it’s more “real”. Thanks for sharing.

  18. I can appreciate this topic. I did lose weight when I went vegan, but I am (and have always had a tight but curvy body shape). The end especially speaks to me as I have a number of health issues that many people would like to attribute to not getting nutrients from animals. Two are genetic blood disorders and the other is an allergy that did begin after veganism had entered my life–a strange coconut allergy. I began reading about gut health and how it can tip off hives and reactions. I quickly learned many processed vegan foods had things that are bad for your gut health. For example, soy is bad for my blood disorder and apparently not good for gut health. It’s a learning process that I have chosen to embrace. My skin has cleared up and inflammation has decreased. I’ll keep building on the positive.

    1. Hi Keish, thank you for sharing your experiences. I could have easily re-titled this post “The Pressure of Being a Healthy Vegan” as it this topic goes far beyond weight. As you said, there is still so much to learn about the plant-based diet and how it relates to our vitality. I’m glad you were able to find some solutions.

  19. What a topic, I weighed myself this morning and am heavier than I have ever been. I went completely vegan over a year ago and yes I must admit I am a junk food vegan (obviously!), and yes I really do relate to trying to look and present an image of vegan vitality to encourage others. I also went vegan purely for the animals but I know for the sake of veganism I have got to get my act together. Thanks for your article, I have not read anything related to this topic before so enjoyed reading it.

    1. Hi Jenny, I’m glad you enjoyed the angle of this post. Saving animals is definitely a motivator to live our healthiest lives. You have also inspired me 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience a year into veganism.

  20. I think it’s important to point out here that being vegan alone isn’t going to lead to good health. It’s a critical aspect of it, but so is portion control, good nutrition, and exercise. It’s possible to be vegan and eat a lot of baked products made with vegan fats and sugar, vegan cookies, vegan chocolates and other sweets, processed vegan “meats,” vegan breads, etc., without a lot of vegetables, and not exercise on top of it. This, of course, will lead to being overweight. As we educate people about veganism, we also need to educate them about doing it healthfully.

    1. Hi Diana, you make some great points! There are people who are healthy on a vegan or non-vegan lifestyle because they commit to their health. I do however believe that there many who claim that a vegan diet broadly speaking will transform your health. While there are way more considerations of what you eat within a vegan diet that will yield the results you seek.

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