Veganism in Eating Disorder Recovery (April 2022)
I often hear—from clients themselves, or from their loved ones—that a client became vegan during the onset of their eating disorder. It’s not surprising that some people who are vegan develop eating disorders, similar to how people often cut out various foods and food groups for other reasons, such as “health,” to disguise of the development of their eating disorder.
Families will say that they thought their loved one was approaching their nutrition in a “healthy” way—until they see that they have a lot of food rules and have become fearful of various foods.
I always ask my vegan clients what their diet was like before their eating disorder began and why they become vegan (this includes shifting from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet). Was it because of environmental concerns, their love for animals, or “healthism”? Regardless of the answer, there are ways to have a healthy relationship with food while honoring personal values during eating disorder recovery.
Sadly, social media promotes the idea of excluding certain foods or ingredients—sometimes animal foods—and I often hear clients share that they are interested in making a particular vegan dish as it seems “healthier” than some other alternative. It’s true that vegan foods are trending and interest in them often comes from a place of curiosity, but I have frequently seen clients insist on eating a “whole food” vegan diet—refusing to include premade and packaged vegan food options—due to other food rules they have.
When a client wants to support the environment or animals, I suggest shopping from local farmers and food vendors at farmers markets, subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Here are three other things to keep in mind:
It is always important to discuss dietary changes—vegan or otherwise—with your team. Are these exclusions supportive towards your eating disorder recovery? Remember that the eating disorder voice will get angry when adjustments don’t “feed” into what it wants.
Also, it’s important to recognize that your team will make suggestions that are in your best interest—in other words, to facilitate your recovery—and it’s likely that you may feel sad or angry if these suggestions are not what you hoped to hear.
Once you are at a stable place in your recovery, you can always evaluate what dietary changes you would like to make. The changes need to be made for the right reasons and not from a place of control. If you still have “fear foods,” I challenge you to address these foods with your team so you can work on legalizing them.