The amount of vegan YouTubers and influencers out there that I see touting that veganism ‘healed their eating disorder’ is ever increasing. I see and hear things like, “Now that I eat a fully plant-based diet, I can eat freely and don’t care about calories!”. That’s great, I’m glad that they are not worried about calories, but is recovering on a vegan diet full of food freedom and a cessation of one’s eating disorder or a slightly larger prison cell?
I would argue the latter.
If you go online and type in “risks of a vegan diet” it might surprise you to see that there are many articles out there showing that one of the risks of a vegan diet is developing an eating disorder.
“Risk of disordered eating Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder that is defined by an over-fixation of healthy eating patterns. It can result in over-restriction, obsession, and other serious eating disorders.
At least one study found that vegans and vegetarians tended to display more orthorexic eating patterns, and most eating disorder specialists do not recommend restrictive diets such as veganism or vegetarianism for people trying to recover from an eating disorder such as orthorexia.”
“Risk of developing an eating disorder: People who follow a strict vegan diet see more instances of Orthorexia, which is an eating disorder where people have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating patterns and over-restriction. Most doctors who cure eating disorders such as Orthorexia do not advise staying on a restrictive diet such as vegetarianism or veganism.
Alright, hold up right there. One of the RISKS of eating a vegan diet is developing an eating disorder… and you are telling me that you want to go vegan to HEAL your eating disorder?
Now listen I really am not trying to be insensitive or shame anyone. This article’s purpose is by no means here to make someone feel bad for being vegan or judging anyone who chooses to eat a vegan diet. I have many vegan friends who are near and dear to my heart and I love them just as much as my omnivore friends 🙂 I know that many of my friends have gone vegan for environmental and/or ethical reasons which I can respect (although I would argue the environmental reasons) BUT when it comes to eating disorders, something that I am very familiar with via my own experience and via my work with women from around the world suffering from eating disorders, I simply will not change my stance this topic.
Veganism is not suitable for eating disorder recovery.
Let me share with you why I have come to this conclusion. All I ask is that you be open-minded and see the points that I bring up as I feel they are valid points to discuss. Whether you end up agreeing with me or not, I would say it’s important to take into account the things I am bringing to the table.
Veganism and Orthorexia are two peas in a pod.
When I was Orthorexic I would meticulously read each and every ingredient list, spend hours researching restaurants that would have food I “could” eat, say no to food offered me by friends and family because it did not fit my diet, and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and preparing what food I would eat that day.
It’s eerily similar to my vegan days. Shall we compare? When I was vegan I had to meticulously read each and every ingredient list to make sure there were no animal products in it, spend hours researching restaurants that would have vegan options, say no to food offered me by friends and family because I couldn’t be sure they didn’t use any animal products, spend a lot of time making sure my diet was well planned, and think about food all day because what I ate was never truly satiating (no matter how much almond butter I put on it).
Do you see my point here? Being vegan requires someone to have ultimate awareness of what they are eating at all times. Going out to restaurants, shopping at the supermarket, eating at a friend’s house, all these activities require one to be alert for a long list of off-limits ingredients. This doesn’t sound like food freedom to me and is not the type of freedom I want.
Full recovery is freedom from having to care about food and having it rule your life. It’s being able to accept any and all food without reservation, guilt, shame, or regret. This is something I see vegans struggle with achieving because we live in a world where for the most part people are omnivores and eat a variety of plant and animal food. Thus the vegan eater has to become hyper-aware of what they are eating, exerting once again CONTROL over one’s food intake.
Control, let’s chat about that for a second. Again, in case you have forgotten, I am someone who suffered from multiple eating disorders so I know a thing or two about this topic.
My eating disorder thrived off of this thing called control. It was my way of staying safe in this world and making me feel like everything was okay. If I slipped with my diet and didn’t maintain strict observance of my rules, I would feel lost, scared, and full of anxiety.
Recovery required me to release this need to control and learn to trust life and all that comes to me, including food. It’s hard to release control when you have many dietary rules to abide by, just saying. For this reason, I feel recovering from an eating disorder and decided to be vegan is akin to putting an alcoholic back in a bar.
So this brings me to the question, “how much has the ‘recovered vegan’ learned to let go of control and trust their body??”
Sure they can eat more and have found *more* flexibility around food (with the food that they deem “okay”), but they are still restricting heavily and micromanaging their food intake so again this question, “how much has the “recovered vegan” learned to let go of control and trust their body??”
I have seen in both myself and my clients that being vegan ends up being a nice socially acceptable way to escape eating certain foods. Foods like pizza, hamburgers, ice cream, cheesy pasta are all against the principles and dietary philosophy of a vegan… how convenient.
Let’s take a look at a study from 2013 titled, “The Inter-relationships between Vegetarianism and Eating Disorders among Females” which showed that half of those with anorexia reported eating some form of a vegetarian diet. Over 2/3rds of the girls they studied with an eating disorder past claimed that there was indeed a relation between their dietary choices (vegetarian/vegan) and their eating disorders. In fact, many of them said that being vegetarian “helped them lose weight, maintain their eating disorder and provide another way to cut calories and feel in control”.
Something I would like to bring up is the fact that clearly many people are becoming vegan to lose weight. It’s kind of part of the culture whether you like it or not. Just take a look at all the vegan health books with pictures of skinny people juicing large amounts of kale saying things like, “stay fit for life” or “never gain weight again!”. There’s even a vegan cookbook called “Skinny Bitch” that promotes a vegan diet and states it is designed to, “encourage women to get excited about feeling “clean and pure and energized” and it’s for women who want to “stop eating crap and start looking fabulous”.
I think that this is why so many girls who are recovering from an eating disorder find a vegan diet alluring. They know in the back of their head that a vegan diet is synonymous with losing weight which let’s be honest, is what the ed mind wants. Even when I was vegan and actively trying to gain weight it still felt safe for me to do so because I felt there was no way I could gain TOO much weight eating broccoli.
So basically what I am trying to say is I feel like these “recovered vegans” learn to eat more but how recovered is it to eat veggie patties made out of kale and black beans? A vegan diet is “safe”, even when it’s more of a processed food vegan diet filled with soy patties and mock bacon.
“I can finally eat without restriction and fear!” I hear them say but then I see their Instagram posts with their perfectly planned and measured spiralized zucchini and vegan gluten-free, sugar-free, almond pancakes made with a flax egg and it appears to me, someone who makes fluffy yummy pancakes out of flour, eggs, butter, milk, + sugar, that they are still stuck in a world ruled by eating disorders.
There’s a lot more I have to say on this topic as I have not even dived into the nutritional deficiencies of a vegan diet and how that could make it very hard to nutritionally rehabilitate the body but that is definitely for another time.
For now I will leave it at this–> A vegan diet poses risks for developing an eating disorder as it promotes many eating disorder behaviors and requires one to be aware of every ingredient in the food they eat. People with eating disorders should not try to recover while eating a vegan diet as the restrictive nature of the diet makes it very difficult to find true food freedom and does little to help them develop an identity outside of one’s dietary preferences.
If you want to recover I advise you adopt an all foods fit approach and learn to relax around food and focus on releasing control over what you eat. Trust your body with food and focus on other things in your life.
Again my intuition was not to make you angry or stir up controversy with this post. It is simply a reflection of my thoughts and opinions on this matter. Not to be taken for truth, not to be taken as medical advice.