Firstly, if you are not vegan or do not want to be one please consider not reading it at all. This post is not for everybody or about what one should eat. For me, this subject is very personal and close to my heart and I want to share it with some of you who have some questions regarding this subject.
If you are still interested then let’s continue…
I never liked meat because I did not like the texture and taste of it. Also, the thought that it was a part of an animal did not appeal to me. I ate sausages and burgers because they did not remind me a piece of an animal because the texture was different. I ate meat products simply because everyone else did. But even being young I remember instinctively choosing more vegetarian dishes when I could. I would always dislike drinking milk by itself and often choose for a vegetarian burger, at the same time I had no idea what veganism was. But I loved dairy products: cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, cottage cheese. But again, I did not think about where it came from and what animals had to go through, but I just liked the taste. I was simply used to eating it.
In 2008, I had a stressful time in my life and suddenly got acne and stomach problems. I went to the doctor but she only wanted me to take drugs. I did for a while, but did not see any improvements and I knew that it does not heal the real problem, but is just masking the symptoms. My mother never gave me drugs, but always encouraged me to let my body do its own healing instead. So this was also what I believed in and wanted to do.
I did not know how to help my body heal so I started to search the internet. Soon enough found out that leaving out dairy products might heal my skin. Also, read that eating more plant-based foods was good for health in general, that we do not actually need animal products to be healthy. The American Dietetic Association has stated that, “…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”1 So I gradually increased plant foods in my diet.
(I later understood that my problem was probably not even food related, but just the stressful period and hormonal imbalance it might have caused. So one should not think that if you have some health problems, leaving out foods will automatically heal everything and that is not my point).
That time I did not know about ethical veganism. For me, giving up animal products were more for „selfish” reasons at first.
That time I did not know about ethical veganism. For me, giving up animal products were more for „selfish” reasons at first. I didn’t do it because of animals, but because of myself – to heal my acne and stomach problems, hopefully. And as I changed my diet towards more raw in 2011 and started to leave out even more types of foods (not just animal products) I developed an eating disorder.
During that time, I also watched Earthlings and many other documentaries about veganism and read few books like Fast Food Nation and Skinny Bitch, where they specifically explained what is really going on in the slaughterhouses and how animals are suffering in the meat and dairy industry (I could not even read all of it, it was so horrifying!) I found out the ethical side of veganism. But at the same time, the restrictive side of it was still there as I was still in the middle of my eating disorder.
When I finally started to recover from bulimia and orthorexia in 2013 I knew that from one part being vegan for me was for restrictive reasons and not for the animals only. I realised that I did not want to be vegan if it further deepens my eating disorder. But from the other hand, something was creeping in my heart. I felt very confused of what to do.
A lot of people from the low-fat high-carb vegan community, where my ED started, use veganism for restrictive reasons because „animal products make you fat“ and “if you eat any milk or dairy you will become overweight”. This kind of thinking only fuelled my restrictive mentality. And I do not like or support this kind of veganism simply because I have understood that it can be strongly tied to the ED behaviours.
This was a point I realised that maybe that sort of veganism was actually fuelling my ED.
It was quite a red flag for me when I started to realise that most of the girls who come to high-carb low-fat vegan diets have had eating disorders or still have one. I started to search through every major high-carb low-fat vegan Youtuber and almost ALL of them had their story to tell about their eating disordered past. This was a point I realised that maybe that sort of veganism was actually fuelling my ED. And that is why I decided to heal my eating disorder first and then see if the ethical side was strong enough to be vegan for animals only.
After about half a year went by in my recovery, I really started to think about the vegan thing again and why it is still creeping on me. (I can literally just start crying if I see any that sort of cruelty or imagine myself in a position of an animal, I know I am a complete wimp!)
I realised that it wasn’t my eating disorder talking and wanting me to restrict foods, but it was my HEART talking, telling me that I really do not want to support the industry that causes animal suffering. If I can’t even watch the videos with animals in slaughterhouses or how cows are pumped empty from milk and how they are impregnated and their calves are taken away from them and how chickens are in a crowded room, very sick and exhausted, stomping on others dead bodies, how can I eat them or consume the products made with animals suffering like that? I lost my appetite for animal products.
Maybe by that point I just already knew too much about the ethical side of veganism and was finally ready? After all, I had found out some great vegan alternatives that I already ate and there wasn’t almost anything I had to “give up”. I ate vegan chocolate, vegan ice cream with cookies, vegan cheese and other plant-based milk products. I did not like the taste of meat anyway and could substitute even eggs in dishes. I have no problem eating junk foods like french fries, high-fat dishes or highly processed foods like candy, chips or any of that if I want to.
Being vegan is not about „clean eating“ for me anymore. I feel I can still eat everything I want. These days there are just so many options. I realised that I do not have to only consume fruits and veggies, low salt and oil free dishes.
If you have been vegan all your life or long before your eating disorder started then I think it is very natural to stay vegan if you feel you do it because of animals. But if you went vegan while having an eating disorder, then consider recovering first and not worry about it. You can go vegan later if you want to do it for ethical reasons. I was mostly recovered by the time I went vegan again. And it was easy and did not keep me from full recovery. But if I would have remained vegan while having an eating disorder and let it feed my restrictive mindset, I don’t know even how I would have recovered.
The major thing to ask yourself is: is being vegan fuelled by you ED? Or do you want to be vegan solely because of animals?
But some people will never be vegan. I don’t want you to feel guilty either if you realise this is not for you. If you came to veganism because restrictive reasons, it can make your eating disorder worse. Just ask yourself and be very honest. I think we have to give our body time to recover and not worry about changing what we eat when we are the most vulnerable. To be very blunt: If I had to choose, for an instance, if I want to be vegan but that means staying eating disordered, I would not have chosen it. Luckily, I have seen that being vegan and completely recovered from eating disorder is possible if one is doing it for ethical reasons only.
Most eating disorder recovery experts do not recommend being vegan and I can understand why: in today’s world veganism is rather confused with being a raw foodist or a fruitarian, doing juice cleanses and detoxes, or wanting to be “healthy”(orthorexia-obsessively) and lose weight. This kind of veganism can, indeed, be disordered. True veganism is not about “Who has the cleanest diet in the world and who can lose the most weight”.
Lastly, I want to add that I am not a perfect vegan either. I even think that in today’s world it is very hard, if not impossible, to be 100% vegan or to cause no harm at all. There have been times when I have eaten some food that has animal products in it by me not knowing. Or times when I have eaten out and there is some cheese sprinkled over my pasta just because I forgot to ask or they forgot that I requested not to add it. Even today, I ordered a bruschetta and there was some feta cheese sprinkled over it. It was not mentioned in the menu. I did not flip out about it. I can’t and will not even try to control everything! I am not “100% vegan or die”-kind of vegan.
I will not let it make me feel guilty or make it an obsession to be 100%. Veganism is not about perfection. I do not want to support that industry, but at the same time, I am just being realistic and very honest. I just choose to not concentrate my attention to the 1% I am maybe doing “wrong” as a vegan, but instead, focus on the 99% I am doing right.
Image from HERE.
1 Craig WJ, Mangels AR, American Dietetic Association (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Pubmed, accessed March 31, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864