Veganism as a consequence of an eating disorder: is it possible?

Eating disorders (or disorders) include anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, compulsive overeating and all possible combinations of these problems. But let’s be clear: plant-based diets do not cause eating disorders. Mental health issues cause disordered eating, not an ethical stance on animal products. Many vegans eat no less unhealthy foods than omnivores. Now there is a huge number of chips, snacks, desserts and convenience foods based on plant.

But it is not true to say that those who have suffered or are suffering from eating disorders do not turn to veganism for recovery. In this case, it is difficult to judge the moral side of people, because the state of health for them is mostly more important, although there are exceptions. However, it is not uncommon for those suffering from eating disorders to discover the moral value of choosing vegan food over time. 

While various vegan bloggers claim that veganism is a pure trend, it seems much more clear that those who are intent on following a restrictive diet for weight loss/gain/stabilization are abusing the vegan movement to justify their habits. But can the process of healing through veganism also have a greater connection with the ethical component and the awakening of interest in animal rights? Let’s head over to Instagram and watch vegan bloggers who have recovered from eating disorders.

is a yoga teacher with over 15 followers. She suffered from anorexia and hypomania as a teenager. 

As part of the commitment to veganism, among smoothie bowls and vegan salads, you can find photos of a girl during her illness, next to which she puts photos of herself in the present. Veganism has clearly brought happiness and a cure for ailments to Serena, the girl leads a really healthy lifestyle, watches her diet and goes in for sports.

But among vegans there are also a lot of former orthorexics (an eating disorder, in which a person has an obsessive desire for “healthy and proper nutrition”, which leads to great restrictions in the choice of products) and anorexics, for whom it is morally easier to remove a whole group of foods from their diet in order to feel improvement in your illness.

Henia Perez is another vegan who became a blogger. She suffered from orthorexia when she tried to cure a fungal infection by going on a raw diet, in which she ate raw fruits and vegetables until 4 p.m. This led to chronic irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, fatigue and nausea, and eventually the girl ended up in the hospital.

“I felt very dehydrated, even though I drank 4 liters a day, I quickly felt hungry and angry,” she says. I got tired of digesting so much food. I could no longer digest foods that were not part of the diet such as salt, oil and even cooked food was a huge struggle.” 

So, the girl returned to the vegan diet “without restrictions”, allowing herself to eat salt and sugar.

«Veganism is not a diet. This is the way of life that I follow because animals are exploited, tortured, abused and killed on factory farms and I will never participate in this. I think it’s important to share my story to warn others and also to show that veganism has nothing to do with diets and eating disorders, but has a connection to ethical lifestyle choices and saving animals,” Perez wrote.

And the girl is right. Veganism is not a diet, but an ethical choice. But isn’t it possible that a person hides behind an ethical choice? Instead of saying you don’t eat cheese because it’s high in calories, you can say you don’t eat cheese because it’s made from animal products. Is it possible? Alas, yes.

No one will force you to eat something that you fundamentally do not want to eat. Nobody will attack you to destroy your moral position. But psychologists believe that strict veganism in the midst of an eating disorder is not the best way out of the situation.

“As a psychologist, I get very excited when a patient reports that they want to become a vegan during their recovery,” says psychologist Julia Koaks. – Veganism requires restrictive controlled eating. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by restrictive food intake, and this behavior is too similar to the fact that veganism can be part of a psychological recovery. It is also very difficult to gain weight this way (but not impossible), and this means that inpatient units often do not allow veganism during inpatient treatment. Restrictive eating practices are discouraged during recovery from eating disorders.”

Agree, it sounds quite offensive, especially for strict vegans. But for strict vegans, especially those who do not suffer from mental disorders, it is important to understand that in this case we are talking about eating disorders.

Dr Andrew Hill is Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Leeds Medical School. His team is studying why people with eating disorders switch to veganism.

“The answer is probably complex, as the choice to go meat-free reflects both moral and dietary choices,” the professor says. “The impact of moral values ​​on animal welfare should not be ignored.”

The professor says that once vegetarian or veganism becomes a food choice, there are three problems.

“First of all, as we concluded in our article, “vegetarianism legitimizes the refusal of food, expanding the range of bad and unacceptable foods, justifying this choice for oneself and for others,” says the professor. “It’s a way of simplifying the selection of food items that are always available. It is also social communication regarding the choice of these products. Second, it is an expression of perceived healthy eating, which is in line with health messages about improved diets. And thirdly, these food choices and restrictions are a reflection of attempts at control. When other aspects of life get out of hand (relationships, work), then food can become the center of this control. Sometimes vegetarian/veganism is an expression of excessive food control.”

Ultimately, what matters is the intent with which a person chooses to go vegan. You may have chosen a plant-based diet because you want to feel better mentally by minimizing CO2 emissions while protecting animals and the environment. Or maybe you think it’s the healthiest type of food. But it is important to understand that these are two different intentions and movements. Veganism works for people with strong moral values, but for those who are trying to recover from obvious and dangerous disorders, it can often play a cruel joke. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to leave veganism if it is only a choice of certain foods, and not an ethical issue.

Blaming veganism for eating disorder is fundamentally wrong. Eating disorder clings to veganism as a way to maintain an unhealthy relationship with food, not the other way around. 

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