What Percentage of Vegans Go Back?

If you look up “Why I stopped being vegan” on YouTube, you’ll see thousands of videos of diet influencers with somber expressions on their faces, doing a sit-down video that is at least thirty minutes long. The people who have stopped being vegan in those videos tend to not have been vegan for very long, and a good number of them were promoting a very limiting diet such as raw food, no carbs, and fasting. They were basically starving themselves and then blaming veganism for why they were feeling unhealthy and tired all the time! 

Based on how many health influencers promote veganism and then end up not being vegan, it might seem like everyone who tries going vegan ends up going back. There’s also a questionable study by Faunalytics that is cited a lot in the mass media where they claim 84% of people who try going vegan and vegetarian end up going back to eating animal products again. When the study was first conducted in North America, 11,429 were interviewed and only 1,387 of that group replied to follow-up questions regarding why they gave up their diet.

The biggest problem with that study is that it lumps vegans and vegetarians together. I was a vegetarian for eleven years before going vegan and those diets are so different, as are the mindsets of the people with either diet. As a vegetarian, my diet was just like my meat-eating one except I just replaced meat with more cheese and dairy products. I also did not fully understand how bad the dairy industry was and the scope of how bad animal suffering was until after I went vegan. 

My vegan diet is a lot healthier, with very little processed food. I was still overweight and unhealthy with a vegetarian diet but lost weight and felt much healthier with a vegan diet. So, when you’re surveying people about their diet and how it affects their bodies, it is very important to differentiate between a vegan and vegetarian and also a healthy vegan and unhealthy vegan since you can be a vegan and eat nothing but processed foods; so if you say you feel unhealthy, it makes sense.

The other big problem with the Faunalytics study is that it approaches veganism solely as a diet instead of a lifestyle and ethical way of living because of the importance of animal rights issues. If you survey 1,000 people who are vegan only for health reasons, you’re going to get a very different set of statistics than if you interview 1,000 animal rights vegans. 

We can compare that 84% to the diet statistics from Gary Foster at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weight and Eating Disorders Program which says, “65 percent of dieters return to their pre-diet weight within three years.” Even though the percentage of vegans and vegetarians who quit is allegedly 19% higher, this diet statistic shows that most people who try any kind of diet, regardless of what kind of diet it is, cannot stick with that diet.

Approaching veganism like a diet is the first problem. Diets in general are bad news because it creates negative feelings and a sense of restriction around food. Anyone who approaches veganism with the mentality that it’s a restrictive diet with an endless list of things you can’t eat is going to have a very difficult time staying vegan for very long. 

In case you missed it, I wrote a “Stress-free Guide to Becoming Vegan and STAYING Vegan.” In that guide, I address the problems with restricting yourself on a vegan diet and highlight the importance of expanding your palate by exploring new food and cuisine from other countries. I have been a vegan for eighteen years and have lived and traveled to many countries around the world, both vegan-friendly places and not-so-vegan-friendly places. I have never once in my life felt restricted by being vegan. 

The worst thing that I have felt in terms of restriction while being vegan is only being able to eat nuts and potato chips while on a road trip because the nearby restaurants were not vegan-friendly or I just didn’t want to eat at an omni restaurant and risk eating something contaminated with meat. I have never starved and have always been able to eat well in every country I have lived in or visited. 

A more accurate and comprehensive vegan study is Veganuary’s annual End-of-Campaign Report and Participant Survey. Veganuary is a non-profit organization that challenges people to become vegan for the month of January and offers daily motivation, vegan starter kits, recipes, endless reasons for going vegan that focuses on animal rights, FAQs, and everything you could ever want or need to help you go vegan. The only thing Veganuary doesn’t do is cook vegan food for you and send it to your door. (Maybe they should!) 

Veganuary’s annual report paints a much more optimistic and promising picture than Faunalytics’ outdated study which didn’t even focus fully on veganism.

According to Veganuary’s 2022 Campaign Report:

“Our follow-up survey of Veganuary 2021 participants found that six months after completing their one-month vegan challenge, 82% of those who were not vegan when they signed up had maintained a dramatic reduction in their animal product consumption. Thirty per cent were still eating a fully vegan diet; 38% were eating at least 75% less meat and other animal products than pre-Veganuary; and 14% were eating at least 50% less. 

“We were also incredibly excited to see that 68% reported health benefits, including more energy, better skin and improved mood after just one month of eating plantbased with us!”

So according to Veganuary, 30% of the 32,522 people who took their survey stayed vegan in 2021 after going vegan for one month. This matches up a lot better with Foster’s study that concluded that 35% of people are able to maintain any kind of diet at all. 

Even though most people who go vegan, do go back to eating meat, the fact that 82% ate less meat after Veganuary shows that it is working! A 30% vegan conversion rate is not bad at all, and I expect that number to improve in the next Veganuary report. Their campaign keeps getting more popular every year. For the first year of Veganuary, 3,300 people joined the event. In 2022, 629,000 people participated in Veganuary! 

The big reason why Veganuary is so successful is that it creates a sense of community and provides motivation and resources to make it easier for people to go vegan. Even though the Faunalytics survey has issues, there are some interesting statistics that prove why Veganuary is working and how we, as vegans, can help better support those who are thinking about making the switch to a cruelty-free lifestyle.

In the Faunalytics survey, it states:

  • 84% of former vegetarians/vegans said they were not actively involved in a vegetarian/vegan group or organization (potluck, online community, etc.).
  • 63% of former vegetarians/vegans said they disliked that their vegetarian/vegan diet made them stick out from the crowd.
  • 58% of former vegetarians/vegans said they did not see vegetarianism/veganism as part of their identity.
  • More than a third (37%) of former vegetarians/vegans are interested in re-adopting the diet, and a majority (59%) of these individuals say they are likely or very likely to do so, with health being the primary motivator.

That sense of community and not feeling like the odd one out is very important for people and will help them stay vegan. I’m an anti-social creative type, so I didn’t need a community to go vegan, but I must admit that once I joined an animal rights group, it did make me feel less alone and it was nice to not be the weird vegan friend when everyone had the same diet as me.

With an estimated 80 million vegans in the world, veganism is only getting bigger and becoming more normalized. A lot of people want to become vegan, so it’s important that people get the right information about nutrition, have easily-available vegan options, and have motivational and communal support so that they start their journey properly and won’t need to make a clickbait, “Why I stopped being vegan” video three months into eating nothing but pasta and Beyond burgers!

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Fashionista. Film-maker. Digital nomad.

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