This post was written by Jessica Steinbach, MPH, RD.
Curious if veganism and eating disorder recovery can co-exist? It all comes down to motivation! Use these questions to assess your intentions.
In our blog post about eating vegan in eating disorder recovery, we discussed the importance of assessing motivation. Be sure to check out that post if you haven’t already!
If you have determined that you are ready to explore vegan eating in recovery, great! If you have decided that it’s best for you to focus on non-food ways to help liberate animals, also great! Now where do we go from here?
Try thinking about a time when you were on “auto pilot.” Maybe it was driving to work, washing your hair or participating in your morning routine. Typically during these moments we are participating in the steps without connection to the actions — we simply go through the motions. Eating disorder thoughts often work the same, creeping in like an old habit, especially if you have struggled with an eating disorder for an extended period of time. This means that ongoing assessment is imperative to ensuring that motivation for veganism remains rooted in ethics.
Why? Because when vegan eating is motivated by weight loss or even health, it’s more likely to lead to disordered behaviors.
Try journaling regularly to help you assess your intentions. Reflecting on the same questions over time allows you to compare your answers and determine how your motivations may have shifted. Here are some questions to consider.
How does veganism align with your values?
Remember that veganism is an ethic, not a diet. Consider making a list of your core values. Do those values align with the ethics of veganism? If not, what other reasons might you be attracted to veganism? This is a good time to ask yourself if eating vegan is a sneaky way of restricting food.
How are you currently feeling about your body?
If it feels safe, practice checking in with your body. Are you noticing any distress surrounding your body or body image? Do you notice any desire to change or critique your body? If you are noticing any body image distress, explore how body image could be impacting your food choices in the next question.
How does your body image impact your food choices?
Remember that body image distress should not impact your food choices. If you notice that you are using food to address body image distress, reach out to your care team for support. If you do not currently have a care team, you can start by reaching out to dietitians and therapists who you feel could support you in your recovery journey.
Are you using food to cope with uncomfortable emotions?
Eating disorders are often used as a way to cope. However, they are a dis-order and therefore end up causing more harm than help. If you notice your ED urges and behaviors flaring up, make sure you’re getting adequate support and using more appropriate coping skills.
How else are you advocating for animals?
Remember that veganism extends far beyond food! If you are only seeing veganism show up in your food choices, consider how you can help animals in addition to individual food choices. Veganism seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable.
Are you regularly incorporating a variety of foods?
Are you honoring your cravings and incorporating foods you enjoy at every meal and snack? Fun foods are often restricted by eating disorders and it’s important to give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy them. Fun foods may include sweets, vegan meats, vegan cheeses, salty snack foods, fried foods, etc.
Has vegan eating felt restrictive or stressful for you recently?
If so, why? How can you remedy this? Do you need to incorporate foods that you have been avoiding, either vegan or not? If you notice there have been foods that you have been avoiding, try writing them down and making a plan to incorporate these foods in meals and snacks over the next week. Get creative with recipes if you cannot easily access these foods ready-made. And understand that for some folks in ED recovery without access to a wide variety of vegan foods, they may need to incorporate some animal foods in order to fully recover.
How are you feeling physically?
Consider your energy level, mental clarity, focus and strength. Are you able to meet your nutrient needs and take care of your physical body through vegan foods, drinks and dietary supplements? Make sure you’re working with a registered dietitian to help you design a plan that is fully nourishing and satisfying!
How is veganism positively impacting your life right now?
This list can be as long or as short as you want it to be! Maybe it involves feeling more connected to the world around you or enjoying new and tasty foods. Perhaps you’ve visited animal sanctuaries and feel your motivations strengthening. This is your time to appreciate how veganism impacts your life.
How did you feel after answering these questions openly and honestly? If you felt stuck on a question, noticed any discomfort, or were able to identify ways in which the eating disorder may be creeping into your veganism, it may be time to take a step back.
Exploring your emotions and intentions from a place of gentle curiosity rather than with judgement is important for sustained recovery. Remember, veganism is not a diet and is not meant to feel restrictive, stressful or harmful. If your intention for veganism has shifted, acknowledge that. Taking a step back from eating fully vegan when needed for recovery is not a failure, it is a sign that you are taking care of yourself, which is a huge success!
And remember: you can do the most for others, including animals, when you are taking care of yourself.
If you are not sure if or how your motivation has shifted and are feeling stuck on how to move forward, please reach out for support! We are here to help you navigate eating disorder recovery and veganism in a way that feels authentic and healing.