I understand that the topic of veganism is touchy, but that is not going to stop me from sharing my views on it because I think these things need to be brought to people’s attention. With diet culture screaming at the top of its lungs that veganism is “the way to eternal salvation” many people fall into this idea that “if it’s vegan it’s healthy”.
I too fell into this trap. If you are not aware, I was vegan for 5 years, and strictly abided by its principles. That is until my health started to fail and I had to change my view on what the term “healthy” meant.
After deeply studying this matter, I came to develop great concern of the “healthfulness” of a vegan diet, especially for someone coming from an eating disorder. Nutritional pitfalls aside, I would like to share 4 reasons why I stopped being vegan that has nothing to do with B12, choline, or saturated fat as we must take into account not only physical health but mental health in recovery.
I stopped seeing food as “good” or “bad”
For years I demonized certain food groups claiming that they were “bad” or “good” for my health. It’s so clear to me now that the true “bad” thing for me was having an unhealthy relationship with food where I feared nearly everything but fruits and vegetables.
My main issue with this mentality of “good” food “bad” food is that the morality of this judgment extends to our character. If you label a food as “bad” you are essentially labeling yourself as “bad” for eating it. Here comes the guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear of eating. I do not need to tell you that those who suffer from an eating disorder already have crippling anxiety and guilt around eating which is why in recovery it’s vitally important to release any food rules that would cause guilt and learn to embrace eating as something that is wonderful and welcomed.
The other qualm I have with the “good” food “bad” food mentality, which veganism naturally perpetuates, is that it can cause more stress in the body which is the antithesis to healing. Your metabolism, and thus your ability to utilize food, is affected by what you think, feel, and believe. Negative thoughts of food will notably impact the chemistry of your being, even if you don’t eat that food. Yup, you read that right. The stress caused by looking at that cake and battling in your mind for 20 minutes whether you should eat a piece can be metabolically suppressing. Having good thoughts about the cake, enjoying it, and then moving on is more metabolically supportive. Simply put, the stress you put upon yourself to eat only good food can be way worse than any nutritional shortcoming.
“Un peux, mais pas trop” ( a little but not too much) is a saying my grandma used to always say. I think she has a great point here as BALANCE and MODERATION, not extremist views, are the key to health.
Veganism led me to constantly see things in this black and white model of “good” and “bad” so opening myself up to understanding that all food has a place in my diet was extremely healthy for my mental health.
Understanding the importance of nourishment:
Now while I understand that nutrition matters and we can’t just eat cake all day, think positive thoughts and expect to be radiantly healthy, focusing solely on nutrition and neglecting nourishment is not the solution. What’s the difference between nutrition and nourishment?
Nutrition is the chemical components of a food– vitamin A, vitamin b12, phosphorus, etc. Nutrients are important to the body and not something to be overlooked but there is more to the story here which is where nourishment comes in. Nourishment is something that impacts us on a soul level and can come from many things– hugging a friend, laughing, taking a warm bath, wrapping up in a blanket on a cold day, eating ice cream after being broken up with, eating food that reminds you of a positive memory, sitting down at a dinner table with the people you love most in this world, etc. Making sure that you have enough nourishment balanced in with your nutrition is important as both are essential for a healthy life.
Adhering to a vegan diet might push many of those nourishing things out of your life as you focus more on the nutritional value of food.
Let me say this in another way that may be more clear.
As I see it, eating a chocolate croissant on a sunday afternoon with my French Grandma is one of the most nourishing things I could do. When I was vegan though I neglected to do this because I did not consume buttery croissants (diabetes, inflammation, heart disease! Yikes!). So I didn’t go out with my Grandma when she invited me and thus severed our relationship… how is that healthy??
Being able to accept any food.
Coming from an eating disorder background this is probably the #1 reason as to why I had to leave veganism. My disorder was all about restriction and I hid my desire to restrict under this thing called, “I’m vegan”.
“Hey Chlo, would you like a piece of pizza!?”
“No, I’m vegan so I can’t eat cheese. It goes against my moral and ethical values”.
See how that’s a nice convenient out to eating the piece of pizza?
Being free from my eating disorder and subsequently free with food did not mean sticking to a restrictive diet and rejecting food given to me. Please, don’t even start with me saying it’s not restrictive. It completely eliminates meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy…. That’s a lot of food to cut out.
Creating a life with food freedom (where I don’t freak out if butter is in something) required releasing all dietary labels and opening myself up to eating ALL food without hesitation. This to me is real recovery and what I would wish upon all my clients.
Become closer with others–
Though you think that eating your own food you bring to a dinner party is not changing the mood… it does. It’s not the same when someone brings their own food and doesn’t participate in the meal everyone else is eating. It creates a divide. This can over time lead to you socially isolate even more which can make your eating concerns even worse.
I have seen food identities pull people apart way too often. In my own journey, my desire to eat vegan separated me from my family and my friends. I was always trying to micromanage what was going on in the kitchen, attempting to sway people in going to the vegan restaurant, and secretly judging others for the food that they were eating. This put a huge dent in my relationships.
Once I started eating everything my relationships became better and meal times once again became a joyous experience.
Finding an identity outside of food
Last but not least, leaving veganism was great for my recovery because it got me to untangle this strong identity I had created around being the fit, healthy, vegan girl.
One of the hallmarks of Orthorexia is creating a strong identity around what you eat. By leaving veganism I challenged this identity and was put in a situation where I had to truly find out who I am outside of my eating disorder. Listen, I tried being recovered and vegan but this did not allow me the space I needed to stop fixating on food and the purity of it and thus MY purity.
Now I know that I am so much more than the food I put in my mouth and that I have a lot more to offer the world than dietary advice on why their steak is “killing them”.
There you go, my top 4 reasons why I left veganism that have nothing to do with nutrition. We could battle dietetics all day but we must remember that food is way more than nutrition and healing is way more than simply eating more. Full recovery is about food freedom, trusting your body and the eating process, listening to your intuition, breaking bread with others and simply not giving two fucks about what you eat.
To hear more of my thoughts on veganism and recovery you can listen to this video here→