This post was written by Jessica Steinbach, MPH, RD.
In our recent Q&A video we answered a question about the possibility of being vegan in recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating.
The answer to this question is complicated and depends on various factors. Many folks assume that recovering from an eating disorder while vegan is not possible due to nutritional inadequacy of vegan foods, which we know is not true.
For most vegans in ED recovery, the answer comes down to their motivation and intention behind their decision to be vegan.
It’s important to recognize that veganism is a lifestyle and animal liberation movement, not a diet. Veganism is about so much more than food which is wonderful because it involves living your values in many ways outside of food choices! So, how do you know if your desire to explore veganism is coming from a place of ethics? Well, it can be challenging! Especially when the eating disorder is loud.
Since veganism means rejecting the commodification status of non-human animals, vegans resist the idea that animals are food. Therefore, vegans don’t eat animal body parts (i.e. meat, gelatin) or their secretions (i.e. eggs, dairy, honey, etc.). When intertwined with an eating disorder, this can feel restrictive.
And unfortunately, there is no shortage of diet culture within vegan spaces. Some people market a “vegan diet” (remember: veganism is not a diet) as a tool for weight loss and to promote toxic ideals of healthism.
Want to get curious about your intentions with veganism? Ask yourself the following questions.
Is your veganism about more than just food?
This is a really important question to ask yourself. Why are you passionate about veganism? Is it because you love animals and recognize the harm that is caused to them in traditional food systems? If you feel stuck in answering this question, it may be time to pause and explore why you are attracted to becoming vegan.
Veganism is about more than what you eat. It also includes boycotting the exploitation of animals in other industries and products, including but not limited to personal and home care products, clothing, shoes, furniture, entertainment, sport and so much more. And, it goes beyond individual actions. Animal liberation requires systemic change, so activism and advocacy are really important.
Also, many folks who have disordered intentions wrapped up in their veganism do love animals. So a “yes” to this question doesn’t automatically mean your veganism is not a part of your eating disorder.
Do you feel stable in your recovery?
As mentioned above, veganism resists the idea that non-human animals are food. Eliminating animals from your diet can feel really triggering to the eating disorder so it is important to assess your readiness to take this step. If you feel that it may be too soon to take this step, you can engage in veganism in so many other ways!
- Read and educate yourself about the animal liberation movement.
- Become curious about how animals are treated and how you can make changes in your life to address these issues.
- Have discussions with your friends and family about what you are learning and why it is important to you.
- Engage in activism such as volunteering and attending demonstrations and protests.
- If financially able, donate to organizations that stand for what you believe in.
- Purchase vegan and “cruelty-free” products if you can.
Are you ready to take the steps necessary to meet your nutrient needs?
Meeting your nutrient needs as a vegan often requires incorporation of supplements, fortified products, and variety in your daily intake. While in recovery, this extra planning may feel overwhelming and/or triggering. If you are struggling with the necessity to incorporate extra planning, and put more active thought into food, it may be a sign that a shift to a fully vegan eating pattern is not the right choice at this time.
It’s important to remember that the definition of veganism includes the phrase “as far as is possible and practicable” which means that veganism is not an absolute; it is you living out your values in a way that is safe and accessible. If you are ready to eat fully vegan and are unsure of what nutrient needs require extra attention, this is a great time to reach out for professional support!
Can you commit to your health above all else?
Eating vegan, when possible, comes second to health and recovery. Remember that resisting harm to animals as far as possible and practicable for you is veganism. Making the decision to shift to a vegan eating pattern in recovery requires constant assessment of motivation. If there ever comes a time when eating vegan negatively impacts recovery, make sure to prioritize recovery and focus on non-food ways to advocate for animals.
Answering these questions and regularly assessing your needs and intentions can be overwhelming and complicated. When navigating veganism and an eating disorder or disordered eating, it’s important to work with your care team, and especially a registered dietitian who specializes in this area. If this is something you feel you need more support with, you can learn more about how to work with us here.
Tammy Beasley says
This is a MUST READ for every clinician who works in the field of eating disorders, and I am sharing this with every treatment team in the Alsana Eating Recovery Communities. So very helpful in honoring vegan values and protecting recovery from an eating disorder- these thought provoking questions reach to the heart of the issue and are so valuable for clinicians treating clients and for clients who are vegan and in eating disorder treatment or any stage of recovery. Thank you so much!
Thank you, Tammy! And thank you for your tireless work helping this community access quality ED treatment.