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Are you turned off by all the diet nonsense in the vegan community? I hear you. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on veganism. Use these strategies to deal with plant-based diet culture!
Unfortunately the vegan community is not safe from diet culture (it appears that virtually nowhere is safe from diet culture at this point). From fear-mongering documentaries to restrictive plant-based diet books, there is no shortage of dietary evangelism when it comes to plant-based eating.
And that’s just the problem: This term “plant-based.” There is no standard definition and people use it to shame vegans who eat processed food. There is a fear of anything processed, anything refined, oil, salt and certain food additives.
There is a camp of plant-based purists who eschew veggie burgers, vegan cheese and white bread. They look down on so-called “junk food vegans” who enjoy all the delicious vegan alternatives.
People are led to believe that they have to eat a certain way and look a certain way to be “a good vegan.” (Which isn’t true, by the way)
Many of the “ex-vegan” stories popularized in the media are due to restrictive dieting, not veganism. It’s a shame when veganism is blamed for ill health when in reality it was disordered eating.
Here’s what it means to be vegan: excluding animals products as far as is possible and practicable.
It doesn’t mean you have to only eat “whole foods.” And, I’d argue, eating a balance of whole plant foods and yummy processed vegan foods is associated with greater food pleasure, less food stress, and a greater likelihood of maintaining a vegan lifestyle long-term.
If someone who is vegan is restricting processed foods, play foods, oil and salt, it raises red flags. You don’t need to avoid these things to be vegan (or even to be healthy). It’s a slippery slope to avoiding more and more foods, and I’ve encountered many plant-based eaters suffering from orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating “healthy”).
So, in order to avoid disordered eating, boost food enjoyment and decrease food anxiety, you’ll need some strategies to deal with diet culture in the vegan community. It’s a sad truth but you absolutely will encounter it.
Remember that Veganism is not a Diet
First, remind yourself that restricting certain vegan foods is not helping animals and has nothing to do with veganism (I call that “plant-based dieting”). Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle based on the belief that we shouldn’t exploit or harm animals (especially those of us who do not need to do so in order to be happy and healthy).
If you got into veganism for dieting and health reasons, it’s a good idea to sort that out now. Make a list of reasons you’re vegan. Then categorize them: animals, environment, health, food justice, etc.
Challenge any food rules you may have. Are you afraid of oil? How about sugar? How does salt fit in? Make a list of any vegan foods you avoid and why you avoid them. If it’s not for an allergy, why is it?
Of course, avoiding foods with questionable sourcing or ethics, such as chocolate from countries with high rates or child labor, is another story. By all means, research ethical chocolate companies and enjoy their chocolate.
Unfollow and Unsubscribe from Problematic Content
Social media and e-newsletters are a big source of diet culture messages. Go through your feed and unfollow accounts that promote restriction. This could include oil-free, raw, fruitarian and whole foods plant-based accounts.
While you’re at it, you might as well do the same for fitspo accounts or anyone promoting a thin ideal. If the emphasis of their content is on achieving or maintaining a thin body, ask yourself why you’re following them.
Follow Positive and Diverse Vegan Accounts
Now it’s time to add some positivity into your feed. Follow vegan food accounts that post a wide variety of food, not just green juice and kale salads. Follow diverse folks including vegans of color and vegans who are fat, disabled, LGBTQ and more.
Join Fun Vegan Facebook Groups
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in some vegan Facebook groups that are basically dumpster fires. There is so much in-fighting and criticism of peoples’ food choices that it makes me want to crawl into a hole and not engage with other vegans.
But there are some more positive groups out there! The Vegan Chub Club, What F.A.T Vegans Eat and Vegan Outreach’s 10 Weeks to Vegan are a couple. Check out your local group and see what it’s like. Also ask your vegan friends if there are any positive, non-diet vegan groups they recommend.
Use Evidence-Based Vegan Nutrition Resources
I advise against Googling for nutrition information because you’ll undoubtedly run into lots of inaccurate and sensational nonsense that might exacerbate any anxiety or fear you have around certain foods.
Instead, stick to these credible resources (in addition to taylorwolfram.com!):
If you want a professional to assess your eating behaviors and help you plan nutritious and delicious vegan meals and snacks that fit your lifestyle and preferences, consider working with a registered dietitian. I offer one-on-one nutrition counseling and can help!
Read Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size® Books
While not about veganism, I highly recommend reading Intuitive Eating (you can preorder the 2020 edition here). This book (and workbook) will help you ditch food rules and improve your relationship with food.
If you want a guide to eating intuitively that is about veganism, you can get that here.
I also recommend reading Body Respect and Body Kindness. These books will help you understand that there is much more to health than what you eat, and help you take care of yourself in a variety of ways that are personally meaningful and enjoyable.
Don’t be Afraid to Set Boundaries
If there are people in your life who push plant-based dieting, you need to develop strategies for dealing with that. You can be non-confrontational and change the subject, you can physically walk away or you can directly ask that dieting and weight loss not be topics of discussion.
Setting boundaries is healthy, it’s not mean or rude. You don’t have to go to vegan events that are focused on whole foods plant-based rhetoric. You don’t have to watch the latest vegan documentary. You don’t have to follow the plant-based doctors.
You can create a supportive and positive environment by befriending and subscribing to those who share your values.
Work with a Professional
If you’re sorting out ethical versus disordered reasons for choosing veganism, I’d love to work with you. Together we can work through your history with food and body issues, discuss strategies for improving your relationship with food and body and make changes for a happier, healthier you.
You may also want to consider working with a licensed mental health provider such as a psychologist or social worker, especially if veganism is bringing on a lot of anxiety for you.
Remember that it’s OK if you need to take a break from being fully vegan to work on your mental health. You can always come back to it. Sorting out your relationship with food means you’re more likely to be vegan long-term and more likely to help more animals.