vegan, vegatarian, recovery
Posted on / by Elisa Oras / in Blog, Inspiration, Intuitive Eating / 20 comments

Being Vegan In Eating Disorder Recovery

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.

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1 Craig WJ, Mangels AR, American Dietetic Association (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Pubmed, accessed March 31, 2016.

20 thoughts

  • Such a great article…truly, thank you. This really spoke to me because it’s something I am going through. I have a history of ED and decided to go vegan about 4 weeks ago and have noticed red flags coming up mostly because of girls talking about high carb low fat veganism. I find myself comparing my diet to theirs instead of comparing my diet to what my heart and soul are telling me to eat. Thank you so much for sharing this, I am with you on eating in a way that sustains the earth, eating vegan but not letting it fuel ED!

    • Hi! Thanks for commenting! And thanks for the support! I know there are many other people like us who have been through ED but have a question or concern about whether or not veganism is ok for them. I have seen on myself that if veganism comes from the ethical reasons and is not fuelled by restrictive ones then veganism is not ED-driven, but rather choice from our heart, chosen by compassion, not by food fears. 🙂

  • Hi, this is a great article, I feel I can really relate to it. When I started high school I got really bad acne and it caused me to become even more self conscious so I cut out dairy, began to eat ‘healthily’ and exercised more, after two years of being the ‘spotty one’, this, family issues and probably genetics led me to develop ortharexia then anorexia. Long story short, I almost died a couple of times, spent years trying to recover and got admitted to a mental health unit. Now I am in college, mostly recovered, it’s still there but just more of a whisper than a shout now and due to my increased knowledge of food and where it comes from I have become vegetarian, everyone is sought of ok with that but I really want to be vegan because I know that eggs and dairy cause so much harm to animals too however I don’t think anyone would be ok with that. I know it’s not fuelled by my eating disorder but I don’t think family, therapists etc would be supportive of me being vegan 🙂

    • Hi Millie! glad you related to my story! 🙂 I can completely understand where you are coming from. And I understand your reasons to be vegan and also understand why your family or therapist are very hesitant about it. I think being vegetarian is already a great step! Do not think you are a bad person if you cannot be vegan at this stage. Give yourself time! You can choose vegan options if available but there is no reason to make it “100% or die” kind of thing, especially considering your past. First focus on being fully recovered!

  • Thank you so much for this post.
    I went online to search for support. I am vegan and have been for 5 years. I strongly believe that my choice to be vegan is driven by my ethical and moral values rather than my Eating Disorder.

    I am currently in treatment for an eating disorder and there is a program that is really interesting to me. At this program you live in a house for 3 months and get to practice the everyday things of mechanical to more intuitive eating, cooking, meal planning, they have staff available for support 24/7 and they really work with you to recover from the eating disorder in a way where I think I might gain skills and practice them and hopefully fully recover.

    My current struggle is that the program is accepting of a vegetarian diet but not a vegan diet. I am feeling torn. Do I ignore my vegan values for a given time and try and recover through that system or do I honour my values and try and recover on my own without this level of support. Who am I if I do not stand for what I believe in? Or does remaining true to my vegan values mean that I remain eating disordered???

    Gosh it is so confusing. I was hoping someone who has gone through something similar might be able to offer insight I currently am struggling with.

    • Hi! Thank you for commenting! 🙂 I can completely understand and relate to your problem. As you read I faced the same confusion in my own recovery. As I said I would rather eat some animal products if it can make my recovery possible or easier (no recovery is easy anyway). Because in the bigger picture I have all the time in the world to be vegan later when I am fully recovered. Becuase maybe it takes 1 year to be fully recovered from ED eating some vegetarian options if I need to, compared to the remaining 50 or so years I have still to live on this planet being as much vegan as I want 🙂 So what’s 3 months compared to the rest of your life being ED free? So if they offer a vegetarian option in the program you talk about I think it’s great! I would go for that option.

  • Good web site! I really love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a nice day!

  • This was really interesting to me. I’ve been vegetarian for well over a year now, but became one in the midst of a restrictive eating disorder, and decided to try veganism about a week ago for ethical reasons, as I’ve been making leaps and bounds with my recovery. Lately I’ve been mentally struggling, however, with the idea that I’m falling back into my old restrictive ways. Cutting eggs and dairy hasn’t cut any calories by any means, but seeing the products that I used to love just sitting in my fridge unconsumed is really messing with my head. I don’t want to support the industry, but at the same time, I don’t know that I’m personally mentally ready to do this. Part of my ED though is this “all or nothing” mindset, so I’ll feel like a quitter and a failure if I go back to eggs and dairy now, even just a week into it.

    • Hi! Thanks for commenting! i think if it is messing with your head and the Ed mindset, its best to be fully recovered first rather than be vegan. im not even 100% vegan and i find this is the best way to not drive myself crazy, do not have this all-or-nothing kind of mindset. gradual change, if its for ethical reasons, is way better, than to do it all too quickly and then fail, or worse, be back to ED.

  • Wow. This article sums up exactly what I’ve been struggling with since going to therapy for the last year. I’ve been vegan on and off for the last 4 years since watching and reading about the horrific scenes behind the animal product industry. So I’m a passionate ethical vegan. However… I remember what brought me to the websites where I found this information… obsessively researching diets and eating disorders as I was really struggling with my (now diagnosed) eating disorder. I also got sucked in to those YouTube channels you mention as obsessed with the “health” and weight loss side of things!
    Four years later and I’m currently vegan again. I tried not being vegan as suggested by my psychologist for the sake of recovery but found my bingeing progressed and on top of the turmoil from the binge/restrict cycle (which almost disappears when I’m vegan) in my head I felt so much guilt and self hatred for consuming innocent animals and their products that I feel is more important to me than my recovery.
    I am currently much happier and calmer being vegan again because I feel like I’m doing what my heart wants and living by my ethics but after reading this article I’ve realised that I need to solely focus on my ethical values and feel good about eating vegan and try to challenge those restrictive thoughts of “health” and weight control and keep working on these issues in therapy.

    Thanks so much xx

    • thanks so much! im glad you can relate to all this too! and definitely focus on the ethical side, eat whatever vegan foods you want and do not make it an obsession about “health”, remember healthy means also being mentally healthy, not about what size you are or how much you weigh. and be very kind to yourself, nobody is perfect!

  • Just wanted to add how helpful I feel your comments have been. I am the parent of a young woman with an ED who wants to follow a vegan diet. In many ways it makes sense because she suffered terribly with food allergies (milk/egg) as a child and still retains sensitivities to dairy as well as taste/texture/smell. We are supporting her as best we can and it is helpful to hear your advice to deal with the ED before restricting further. She is doing well and is being realistic. Its a long term goal to aim towards and she is doing it for the right reasons: she loves animals. Good luck and thank you.

  • This article helped me so much, and I can’t thank you enough for writing this. I have struggled with eating disorders on and off for years, no matter what type of “diet” I was following. I am trying to gain health and happiness, while embracing a vegan lifestyle. I will never go back to consuming animal flesh. It is disgusting to me, and I do not support cruel industries that encourage harming and killing animals. It is hard to explain this to people when they say if I just eat “normally” (meat, eggs, dairy), I will be fine. Most people don’t understand, and it’s frustrating. I am glad there are people like you out there.

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