Sigh. Get ready for a LOADED post, people. Loaded.
Does a vegan lifestyle promote/cause eating disorders? Can you recover from an ED as a vegan? I could not be more passionate about this topic, as veganism played a huge role in my ED recovery.
Does a vegan lifestyle promote/cause eating disorders?
Well, Psychology Today calls vegetarianism/veganism the "perfect cover for disordered eating", and while that may be true in some situations, it also gives the lifestyle a bad rap, but that's another topic for another time. So, yes - vegetarian/vegan diets can definitely feed an eating disorder by excluding fatty, unhealthy foods like meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, and replacing them with an abundance of low-calorie plants. Now, do they always cause eating disorders? No. My going vegan actually kick-started my recovery. The diet forced me to conquer my fear of carbs, which grew a few years ago as I saw pounds practically fall off the fewer I ate. Plants - fruits, veggies, beans, grains, etc. - are mainly carbohydrates, after all. Most of these are healthy, complex carbohydrates our bodies love for fuel, but the few bad ones (i.e. processed sugars, refined grains, etc.) can sometimes hog the spotlight, causing fear and anxiety in those with eating disorders.
You may have heard Jordan Younger's story, probably most widely known as Breaking Vegan, a book in which she explains how she stepped away from her 2 years of veganism in an attempt to leave behind "obsessive 'healthy' dieting". In Jordan's case, her vegan diet was not her eating disorder. Her "obsessive 'healthy' dieting" (also known as orthorexia) WAS. In this article, Jordan says that her vegan diet "was stopping her from leading a normal life full of social activities and other interests." My eating disorder caused me to do the same thing - in fact, that is a significant characteristic of eating disorders! That is NOT, however, a characteristic of all vegan diets. When Jordan's friend, also suffering from orthorexia, suggested she add a little fish to her diet to regain her period, Jordan said she felt she was finally "back on track" and more energetic. Fish didn't solve her problem (amenorrhea, in this case) - what did was eating a higher concentration of calories, protein, and fat. I regained my period 8 months into my vegan diet, after 18 months of amenorrhea. In Breaking Vegan, Jordan discusses what to do when "our solution becomes the problem...". Well, first of all, the "problem" here is not veganism, but rather the eating disorder. The "solution" is not fish or eggs or dairy or meat, but rather whatever foods cause such fear and anxiety. She currently follows a mostly plant-based diet, so much so that she "could practically be considered vegan", but she just prefers to leave off the labels. Exactly - the problem is not the vegan diet, but rather the obsessive disorder inside whomever follows the diet.
When I became vegan, I did NOT nourish myself properly. At the time, I was still wrestling with my eating disorder and, I will admit, part of me loved the lifestyle so much because I could cut out unhealthy fats, reduce my calories, and use my increased energy level to push even harder in workouts. God didn't allow much time to pass before showing me the consequences of my harmful restriction - within a month or two, my knees always ached, my eyes occasionally blurred, and my weight rapidly dropped. Of course, He didn't allow this danger to consume me, and soon enough I found strength and desire to whole-heartedly love Him and my body.
I'm not the only one who found veganism a key factor in my recovery story:
My story and each of these girls's stories answer my second question...
Can you recover from an ED as a vegan?
Recovery is possible on any diet/lifestyle, as long as that lifestyle includes foods around which the ED provoked fear and anxiety. In my favorite of Amanda's videos - the one confessing her past ED - she explains how veganism brought to light all the damage she caused to her body and ignited a certain passion in her heart since. Jasmine, on her website, admits to initially using veganism as a mask to hide her eating disorder, until she faced head on the reality of such bodily harm and realized the truth that "[veganism] is about abundance, not restriction." Steph, former competitive dancer and current world-traveler, held onto veganism as a means for control when she felt her family was falling apart at the seams, and now spreads some of the most amazing, encouraging words I've ever heard. And Emilie, not the only girl whose ridden the diet rollercoaster more than once, has held onto a vegan diet throughout her pageant life and all it brought along into her life.
Let me clarify: veganism is NOT the key to recovery. In some cases, yes - a vegan diet can promote, or feed, an eating disorder, but the two need not be used as interchangeable terms. ANY diet can technically be deemed "disordered eating", especially to one who does not follow the diet. ED recovery can be a long, challenging process, and without God, in no way would I have been blessed with the courage and strength to begin.
Veganism taught me how to eat in abundance the foods healthiest for the body and the planet. It convinced me of the nourishment and love my body needs, and helped me crush fears preventing me from nourishing and loving the amazing powerful body through which I live every single day.
As always, thank you for reading! I hope this has answered some questions, and maybe sparked in you a little more curiosity about veganism. Still have questions? Leave them below or send them over in an email!