Going vegan or vegetarian has become a trend in the eating disorder recovery world. When you’re someone who is already so focused on what you’re eating in an unhealthy way, it’s easy to look at a lifestyle that seems healthier and want to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, the process or idea of keeping entire food groups off your plate may be appealing for the wrong reasons. Many people in eating disorder recovery cut out meat or all animal products because that gives them less options of food to eat. It seems harmless or innocent, but going this route can drastically impair the possibility of one day having a healthy relationship with food.
Most people don’t know that the first time I “went vegetarian” was when I was sick with my eating disorder. My cousin didn’t eat meat, and after spending some time with her, I saw how many foods she got to say “no” to, simply because of her vegetarian label. Without giving it much thought, I declared I was going vegetarian. My family hated this idea, so I said I would only do it for a month to “see if I could do it”- they probably wouldn’t have let me otherwise.
Well, I did it. And my calorie intake dropped even more than it was before.
Once I started eating disorder recovery, I ate everything. Meat, dairy (which was one of the hardest things to do), eggs, whatever I could eat. This was important for me for a long time in recovery. Restricting my food was what got me sick in the first place, so I needed to not restrict what was available for me to eat as I was gaining weight and retaking my life back.
I started recovery in October 2014. In May 2016, I decided that I wanted to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle- for real, this time.
I cared about animals. I hated the way they were treated just for five minutes of pleasure on my taste buds. I was in a healthier mindset concerning food, so I was in a healthy mindset to make this decision for myself.
When I first stopped eating meat, it encouraged me to eat enough of other foods. At restaurants, instead of dreading an entire menu of options filled with calories, I was excited to eat something that didn’t have meat in it. Going vegetarian completely flipped my view on food. Eating was something I looked forward to rather than feared, because I knew I was making a difference with my diet. I wasn’t only eating for me anymore- I was eating for the animals, too. I was making a difference.
Of course, in the following months, I still struggled with my eating disorder. I was only 2 years into recovery, so still very vulnerable to temptations and triggers. Not only that, but I moved away from home and started college, which was a huge change- yet another trigger. Being vegetarian limited what I could eat in the cafeteria, but it in itself did not limit my desire or need to eat.
I truly don’t believe being a vegetarian ever led me to restrict, or be triggered to relapse into my eating disorder. It pulled me along in my recovery, instead.
Flash forward to March 2018. I learned more about the dairy and egg industry and discovered it was just as brutal- if not worse- than the meat industry. I still believed “I could never go vegan” though, because I was too picky. All I ate was cheese- if I cut that out, I would fall back into starving myself.
Having a vegan friend showed me that veganism was not only possible for me, but it wouldn’t be difficult or restrictive, either. I didn’t even think about my eating disorder as I made the change to veganism. Restriction was never in my mind- all I thought about was feeding myself in the most compassionate and eco-friendly way.
Just like when I first went vegetarian, being vegan encourages me to eat. I’m so excited when a restaurant has a vegan option, and vegan sweets are the BEST. I’ve been in recovery for over four years, and I still struggle sometimes, but veganism has nothing to do with it.
As much as I wish everyone in the world would go vegan, I know that for some people recovering from an eating disorder, it isn’t a good idea- at least, right now. If I had decided to go vegetarian when I was still wanting to restrict and be sick again, it never would have been healthy. It wouldn’t have grown into what it is today because I could never change my mindset when I made the decision- therefore, I could never change my mindset every single time I partake in that decision.
Choosing to cut out entire food groups should be a choice made when your mind is healthy. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food, do not cut any of it out. Do not cut out carbs, or sugar, or sodium, no matter how healthy it may seem. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and sometimes, especially with eating disorders, if your mind isn’t healthy, your body never will be.
I made the decision to go vegetarian and then vegan when I was far enough along in my eating disorder recovery that I could see the truth in my reasons. I knew I was doing it for the animals and the environment, and not for my eating disorder.
Because of this, my eating disorder could not use veganism as an excuse to avoid things.
Being vegan is part of my lifestyle, and it is very important to me. Being able to eat whatever I could/wanted while in recovery is an important part of my past. I’m glad I went vegetarian when I did and that I did it for all the right reasons. Veganism doesn’t hinder my eating disorder recovery- it’s not about restriction, but compassion.