I talk often about my past and everyday struggles with food. I talk often about my passion for the plant-based lifestyle I chose to lead about nine months ago. But I haven’t talked about the two topics together, and why they seem to coincide so well.
In both my disordered mind and rejuvenated one, I have been drawn to the social media communities of vegans who have a similar past as I do. Many of the people I see online had suffered from an eating disorder to then transition to veganism. In fact, it’s rare to find someone online who hasn’t admitted to such a struggle. I’m in that boat, and that was one of many determining factors when deciding to become vegan.
But why are the two so interconnected? What appeals eating disorder survivors to become plant-based? Of course, many will say that veganism is just another form of restriction, that it’s a clever mask to hide the underlying problem, that these vegans are lying to themselves saying they “recovered” through veganism.
I, however, see a much different correlation, one I’d like to share, especially for those in the similar boat I was in, wanting to begin a new lifestyle when others know of your destructive tendencies, making any sort of change to diet very suspicious. Because yes, veganism can easily become another way of restricting. When you aren’t educated in how to successfully maintain the lifestyle and don’t have adequate resources in your environment, you’re doomed to some sort of failure.
This is where I stop with the negativity because the positivity and benefits resulting from the change are as abundant as the amount of food you can enjoy as a vegan. People come into the lifestyle for many various reasons, my point exactly. When in a disordered mindset, your relationship toward food becomes very hateful and fearful. But having a specific reason beyond yourself for eating really changes your perspective.
You’re not just eating to potentially gain weight or get your hunger cues back, which are still important, but they are topics that can feel very uncomfortable. Instead, you are eating because it’s saving animals’ lives. You are eating to reduce your carbon footprint. It is a form of advocacy that makes eating into something more meaningful to others. The misconception about eating disorders is that they are very shallow or vain in their intentions, but they mental illnesses they embody themselves in a coping mechanism, just like OCD or addiction, except the substance involved is unavoidable. In that case, why not make the substance one that results in a positive impact?
Also, the food itself is nutrition that our bodies crave. You can feel good about what you put into your body because it’s automatically healthier for you than animal products. It’s food that will heal you from the inside out. It’s food that will actually make you feel good, not sluggish or bloated like meat and dairy can. It’s food you can enjoy in abundance without feeling guilty. From experience, at a certain point in the cycle of restricting, feeling hungry almost turns into a high, your body randomly finding a burst of energy, a negative reassurance that “hey, maybe this isn’t so bad after all,” even when you know in your gut that it is. But plant-based foods result in an even better feeling than that.
And hey, it’s food that is fresh, vibrant, and really delicious. Because yes, there’s plenty of people out there suffering from an eating disorder curious about the different diets out there, obsessing over food in any way possible, but eating plant-based means that you don’t have to worry about portioning everything and worrying about every little calorie. As long as it’s vegan, it’s good. That mindset might seem constrictive, but it’s actually one of the most liberating.
Last semester I wrote an entire research paper arguing the benefits of eating vegan to support a healthy mindset when it comes to any mental illness. While it’s a topic that has yet to receive the attention it deserves, the major factor in any discrepancies in data comes from ignorance, not knowing what nutrients to look for and amount of food to eat every day. We need to stop seeing veganism as a fad diet and start recognizing it as a sustainable lifestyle, probably the healthiest one on the planet. When I was in therapy for my eating disorder, I had to constantly defend myself for being vegan, as if I was “recovering wrong,” a major reason why I felt uncomfortable was so glad to lessen my number of appointments. I was eating again; that’s what truly mattered.
Everyday people and health professions alike need to expose themselves to research and information surrounding veganism, especially in eating disorder recovery. It IS possible, as so many have shown, and it’s becomingly an increasingly popular choice. Rather than stuffing yourself with junk food until you reach a certain weight, people can start eating plant-based foods and shift their lifestyle to one they can continue for the rest of their life, truly adopting a positive outlook toward food. Plant-based foods contain all of the nutrition you need to thrive. Not only does veganism teach struggling individuals how to eat well, it teaches them how to truly live.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie