Thoughts on Round Vegan Running

by JL Fields on September 17, 2014

I’m about a month away from running a half-marathon. I haven’t said a word about it here. The further I move into the vegan movement the closer I get to people who really push the health side of things – often to the point of shaming others. You know, the  “go vegan and get skinny” message. I’m right next to them – in events, at classes, socially – and I’m round and I feel judged. Often.

I started training for a half-marathon because my good friend wants to run one before she turns 55. My motivation is entirely different from my old running days when the goal was to maintain a 120 pound / size 2 figure. I made a point to avoid weighing myself at the beginning of training because this race has nothing to do with the scale. Yet, I did find myself tempted one Sunday morning, after completing my longest running distance since moving to Colorado, to measure my waist for comparison after race day. But I stopped. Because it would change everything.

In the anthology Running, Eating, Thinking I wrote about returning to running after I stopped chasing skinny:

…resuming my running was like dating a new partner. It was no longer familiar to me. I didn’t run as fast as I had when I was skinny. I wasn’t targeting a race, so I didn’t have a goal or purpose. I realized I was running because I missed it, and because I loved it. I had become that runner on the street with the stupid grin. I was just so happy to be able to move my body in a familiar way, minus the punishment.

I’m not a skinny vegan. I don’t live the hype many are promised before they eat a plant-based diet. I am that round vegan that makes some “health vegans” cringe. I am that vegan who now connects more to the ethics of the word “vegan” than to the health benefits and, while on a journey of compassion toward animals, became kinder to herself. I am the round vegan who unapologetically shows up at running races and triathlons wearing a “No Meat Athlete” tech shirt, knowing full well people may be scratching their heads wondering why I’m not a waif.

My vegan running isn’t about getting smaller. It’s about being bigger and bolder. Joyfully rounder—in body and in spirit.

– excerpt from “A Well-Rounded Vegan” by JL Fields, Chapter 8 in Running, Eating, Thinking: A Vegan Anthology.

I’ve been hesitant to share my recent running journey here because I feared people would piss me off – because people on my personal Facebook sure are. I see so many fat shaming posts and updates from “skinny” or buff vegans such as, “America you’re fat and disgusting.” (direct quote, I swear). I recently posted a running update on my Facebook page and someone wrote “It’s so good to see you finally running again.” Really, why is it good for you to see me running? What does my running – or not running – have to do with you? Make you more comfortable?

I am not running as a weight loss strategy. I’m running because I enjoy it and because I’m going to help my friend achieve her goal. And it’s hard. Running while round isn’t as easy as running while skinny. Or maybe it’s living 6,200 feet above sea level. Or both. It’s hard.

I was running the other day, struggling, and I wanted to capture some of my thoughts on the vegan myth of skinny so that I could share them in a future post. I grabbed my phone and made a voice note. Then I listened and I heard my labored running breath. I heard what I really, really want to say to the people who make others feel bad for not being skinny. And I decided to simply share the audio with you, instead of typing it out. It’s here: Round Vegan Running.

  • Tina Wallin

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am a round vegan too and a long distanace trail runner! When I’ve mentioned to people that I’m Vegan they say “OH, you must eat a lot of processed Vegan food, huh?” Really?! I will tell them that I don’t and they won’t believe me. They will question me about products to see if I buy them. The conversation usually ends with me putting them in their place. Why does it have to be that way? Ugh.

    • JL

      Oh, @tinawallin:disqus, isn’t the food judgment the worst? I’ve been referred to as a “cupcake vegan.” Yes, I eat vegan cupcakes…occasionally! I also eat a hell of a lot of beans, grains, greens and other yummy veggies and fruits!

    • HereHere

      I had no idea about this! I guess I would naturally assume that the diet is flawed, instead of something else. Especially since I’ve heard MDs talk about how people lose a pound a week on a whole foods, vegan diet. I’ve never said anything like this to anyone since I haven’t been in that situation, but I am taking note as it will surely happen one day.

  • veganinbrighton

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I also refuse to be drawn back into weighing myself or measuring myself or judging myself by a number that just doesn’t matter. We’re all naturally just different shapes and sizes and the world would be so boring if we all looked the same! I wish all vegans could remember to be as compassionate towards people as they are towards animals.

    • JL

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, @veganinbrighton:disqus ! And I agree!

  • Barb@ThatWasVegan?

    Beautifully written, JL! I think skinny vs. “round” vegans might be the new health vs. ethical vegans, fighting over which kind of vegan is “better”. It’s maddening. I am (as you know) more of an ethical vegan, although I love the health benefits too… and I’m not talking about being skinny (because obvs I’m not), there are SO MANY health benefits to eating the way we do. Now you’ve got me all riled up… maybe I should go for a run 😉

    • JL

      You make great points, Barb. I love the health benefits and in my case, health doesn’t equal skinny!

  • Terri Jones Cole

    JL, I don’t know you, but I love you! There’s a body-love movement taking off lately and because of this movement I have embraced the word “fat”. I’m a fat vegan chick and I’m okay with that! I am also that woman who is 90 pounds smaller than she used to be. I like to say that health led me to this path, but compassion keeps me here. If I end up losing more weight and getting even smaller, that’s great, but if I don’t, that’s cool too!

    • JL

      @terrijonescole:disqus, you are amazing! Thank you, thank you for sharing your experience and perspective!

  • Nicole

    JL, you are amazing and I love you! This is so beautifully written. xo

    • JL

      Thank you, my dear friend, @disqus_8IoNa1idqd:disqus.

  • Nicole Vick

    Made me shed a tear cause I’m round and vegan too! And I just started running! Up to 3 miles without stopping.

    • JL

      Oh, @nicolevick:disqus, your comment caused a tear here. YAY for you for your running! Let’s remember there are lots of us! Hugs.

      • Nicole Vick

        Yep! I finally decided that I would stop fighting my body. I’ve gained and lost weight enough times that I think my body just decided it was done with me and what I was trying to do. So now I just focus on being healthy and my doctor says my labs and other stuff (blood pressure, etc.) are PERFECT. My new mantra is “don’t let the chunkiness fool you, my insides are better than yours.” I am not diabetic, I do not have high cholesterol, and I don’t have high blood pressure. I’m a cyclist and I like to run. I know folks that are smaller than me that can’t jump on a bike and ride 30 miles or run 3 miles straight. I have learned that I have not a thing to complain about.

  • Jamie

    You go, JL. You are exactly where & at the weight you are supposed to be. When did it become so much about the exterior? It really boils down to you being a caring person and being judged on that. Let the haters hate and pay them no mind.

    • JL

      Thanks, Jamie. Love the support!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Your words are powerful JL, and listening to that audio brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for being such a strong voice. For the animals, and for a vegan movement that includes ALL women.

    • JL

      Thanks, Sayward. You have no idea how much your words mean. xo

  • Jan Carrie Steven

    Shaming is a terrible thing. It’s really bullying. And I can’t bear it.

    • JL

      AGREE, @jancarriesteven:disqus, AGREE!

  • Kasey Minnis

    That audio file was powerful, JL! Thank you for standing up for round vegans!

    • JL

      Thanks for the support, @kaseyminnis:disqus!

  • Jacqui P

    Someone asked me why I wasn’t skinny after hearing what I typically eat in a day. How rude! I haven’t ever been skinny (maybe up to age 6). Also, skinny doesn’t mean healthy. Might I say, “it’s so good you’re running again” because you enjoy it so much. Moving everyday is great for all of us no matter if we are round or not. We just need to love whatever we choose. I like to walk (or dance when I’m alone). Good luck on the marathon! I admire the support you are giving your friend. Much love from another round vegan! 🙂

    • JL

      @jacqui_p:disqus, wow, thanks for sharing this. I’ve been doing lots of activities – hiking, yoga, and cycling – because I, too, agree that moving is important. It’s nice to add running back into the mix!

  • yogadogwalker

    I’ve had more than one person say “I’m surprised you’re not thinner since you’re a vegan”. It’s very hurtful. and people don’t even realize it! Like anyone, we come in all shapes, and skinny does not mean healthy. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • JL

      Isn’t it amazing, what people say, @yogadogwalker:disqus? Thank you for jumping in with your thoughts!

    • Betsy

      Loved your thoughts JL. Interestingly I’ve encountered the opposite idea – folks saying they need animal protein in order to keep their weight down. I do wonder why people would think that just by not eating animal protein one would tend to be thinner.

  • Dreena Burton

    I exercise regularly, and still find running hard as hell! Like my body rejects it after 5 minutes hard. So, I give you major props for pursuing your running goals, and you are doing it for the reason that matters most – because it makes you happy. Most things in life fall into place when we are doing things that light us up. Keep doing what you’re doing. (As for FB, it’s effing whack. That’s all.) xo

    • JL

      @dreenaburton:disqus, thanks for jumping in and .. .LOL! Yep, effing whack!

  • 2ndverse

    I, too, am a round vegan runner, and this post (and especially the audio), made me shout “hell yeah!” and pump my fist and scare my poor little hamster. 🙂 Thank you so, so, so much for putting this out there, JL!

    • JL

      Thank you for being out there, too, @disqus_u4K4xAQwbl:disqus!

  • HereHere

    Your article and recording bring up an important point about fat shaming in our society. I think it is a natural tendency to look down on those who are fat, but we must rise above that. As vegans, we see things with our own lenses, and sometimes we have blind spots, too. I’m not a round vegan – was always skinny and athletic, but I am so thankful that JL is running! I’m a runner, and I think it is sooo cool that she wears a meat-free athlete t-shirt. Most runners are skinny. Heck, it is easier to run if you aren’t carrying extra weight – and it is definitely easier on the joints if you are a lightweight. It’s really hard for round runners, but some of them go faster than many skinny runners, and that is extra-impressive. Fat shaming is subtle, but it is very prevalent. It behooves us to give this people respect, because they are people with emotions and they for sure are struggling with their weight. Some of them are ignorant of their choices, many are in denial to some degree (but they know enough that they’d like not to be so large), and some of them have medical issues beyond their control. We simply cannot know. Instead of judging, let’s take the high road and welcome them into our lives, whether they are meat free athletes, friends or potential friends.

    • JL

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, @disqus_Z9ONTdrYlg:disqus!

  • I love you so much, JL! Brilliant.

    • JL

      Thank you, @jonimarieressingernewman:disqus! xo

  • marlarose

    Gah! People are so rude and presumptuous sometimes. Keep being awesome and forget the posturing busybodies.

    • JL

      Hey @marlarose:disqus, I think it’s about your browser. I can see the audio player on several browsers, but can on my mobile. The audio play is an mp3 and the final link to the words Round Vegan Running is a link that takes you to a playe (mp4). Hope that helps! And thanks for your words. Always!

      • marlarose

        Thank you, JL! I meant to try that but forgot. Thank you! I will listen tonight.

  • Hope

    So well said! I never realized that people had “expectations” of me as a vegan. Then one year at Thanksgiving my Dad responded to a comment I made about being a round runner by saying “All these years I have never understood that about you”! Like my weight is something for him to “understand”! Why are we so concerned with others fitting into our tiny little definitions of what they should be? I try to teach my children that whatever they are going to be…BE it. Don’t let others change you with their expectations. Thank you for this!! Off to hit the trails now…slowly 🙂

    • JL

      Wow, thanks for sharing this, @disqus_PHpu67TUTB:disqus! Hope your trail run was awesome!

  • Vegan Grammie Annie

    Hi JL,
    What a great post. Thank you. Veganism is not about us or for us, but there can be some great benefits. Being able to run and run a half marathon is one of them and I think you look great.
    Many thanks,
    Anne

    • JL

      Thanks, @vegan_grammie_annie:disqus, for your words of encouragement!

  • GinaMG

    Thank you JL. I really needed to hear that. I’ve been round most of my adult life and it didn’t really bother me. Six months ago I started walking because I was concerned about my health and wanted to feel better and do more. Four months ago I signed up to go on a cruise with my mom in October and there will be a large group of vegans there. I stepped up my exercise routine. At first it was because I thought I could work hard then reward myself with the trip but it quickly became about the need I felt to not be judged. I didn’t want to be the fat vegan in the group. I did not want the people wearing “Food is my health care” t shirts to look at me like a traitor to the cause. I’ve lost over 30 pounds and it makes me feel horrible that I didn’t do it for myself, and that I feel like it isn’t enough.

    • JL

      Oh, @GinaMG:disqus , thank you so much for your willingness to share! This: I did not want the people wearing “Food is my health care” t shirts to look at me like a traitor to the cause” I completely get this and what you mean. Please hold your head up high, Gina. You are wonderful!

  • healthygirlskitchen

    The interesting thing here is that PETA itself fat shames people. WTF? And they are totally irresponsible in promoting the idea that a Vegan diet is a healthy one by definition. Sorry not sorry to burst the public’s bubble on that one (catch me on an episode of The Doctors on October 1st). You can be a french fry eating, chocolate chip cookie loving Vegan and be just as unhealthy as someone eating a SAD diet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s an absolutely beautiful choice to be a Vegan and I would support anyone in that choice without a care for the number on their scale. But please, being healthy takes a lot more than not eating animals. We need to work hard to separate this “Vegan” thing from this “Whole Food Plant Based” thing. It’s just not fair to the Vegans.

    • JL

      Pretty much the point of the whole post, Wendy. Veganism is about the animals. And even PETA knows that, but they choose to opt for the sexy skinny stuff (which is what I talked about in the audio).

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