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ED Recovery & Vegetarianism/Veganism

April 7, 2011

There’s been some interesting discussion going on in blog land lately.  Have you noticed?

On one hand we have the lovely miss Gena starting a series on how veganism has helped people recover from eating disorders. On the other hand we have the brilliant Sophia who wrote a post on how choosing a diet such as veganism or raw foods after an eating disorder can really just mask a continuing unhealthy obsession with food.

Quite the conundrum, eh?

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Sophia posted a link on her post to an article from The Daily Beast called “When Veganism is an Eating Disorder”. It essentially discusses this same issue and how the prevalence of vegetarianism is higher among eating disorder patients than in the rest of the population. I was intrigued and sent the article to my mother, a pediatrician and eating disorder specialist. We talked about it later that night.

My mom said she does have a fair amount of patients that say they don’t eat meat. She would never force anyone to eat meat, but since they are in the hospital for an eating disorder they will have to replace it with some other protein source of equal calories. She said that often times the  patients say they don’t eat meat, but once their hunger comes back and they don’t like the other options they’ll began accepting fish or chicken.

One of the interesting suggestions in the article is that parents shouldn’t allow their children to be vegetarians until college. This seems a little controlling, but I understand the point. I know plenty of children and teenagers that become vegetarians and then only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or pasta. My mom claims these people aren’t really vegetarians, but what she’s getting at is that they aren’t healthy vegetarians. There is a right and a wrong way to not eat meat. It is important to get in plenty of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats if you’re going to eliminate an entire food group.

Vegan Food Pyramid

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I don’t know really know if I can side with either Gena or Sophia. I definitely understand how being a vegetarian or vegan can just be a way to avoid even more foods, but I also think it can be a way to fall in love with food all over again. I guess it depends on the motive and the person.

My experience is a bit different as I didn’t become a pescatarian/vegetarian/vegan/unlabeled undecided eater until after I had recovered from anorexia. I ate plenty of meat as I was gaining weight. When I did break the news to my friends and family, however, I can understand how they would be concerned. For anyone with a history of food restriction, hearing that they are eliminating certain foods sends warning signals. But eventually I proved that I was eating enough and eating enough of the right foods. And I think the sheer amount of m&ms my mom has watched me eat in one sitting gave her some confidence that I wasn’t going to be losing tons of weight any time soon.

  • What do you think about this topic? Is it okay for those recovering from eating disorders to become vegetarians or vegans? Or is it really just another unhealthy relationship with food?
  • Do you have any personal experiences to share?
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18 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 2:55 pm

    i definitely think it can be either great or terrible… for me i became vegan way after i had an ED.. but also becoming vegan truly helped eliminate those last little Ed tendencies and thoughts that were still lingering in my head.. i honestly have felt a much better connection between my mind and body and overall mood and outlook on life since becoming vegan.. but i eat vegan the healthy way.. there are def some people (mainly people who still have Eds who claim to go vegan but dont eat nuts, nut butter, beans and grains) ALL the crucial stuff!

  2. April 7, 2011 3:40 pm

    I think it can be done in a really healthy way, and I think it can be a way of keeping control over food. Personally, I used a “low carb” diet to help me gain weight, which created other food issues and carb fear, but it still helped me to gain and get healthy while feeling in control. I think everyone is unique in this way and their are pros and cons in both– very mixed feelings!

  3. April 7, 2011 3:42 pm

    I can understand how difficult it would have been to break the news to your friends and family. It seems that food decisions can be over-emphasized by family/friends and can sometimes actually make healthy eating after recovery harder. It can sometimes become more about satisfying family food expectations rather than falling in love with real foods all over again – so YES I agree that making a a decision regarding food (cutting out meats) can HELP to break a negative cycle and gives freedom to rediscover all the great nourishing healthy foods!

  4. April 7, 2011 4:01 pm

    I feel like there is no one answer to this question. For me personally, I used vegetarianism as an excuse to no longer have to eat meat that I deemed a “no-no” food during the worst of my disordered eating. Claiming this made it so NOT eating was more acceptable, especially during family gatherings and going out to dinner. I would order a salad because “I don’t eat meat” and I considered salads to be pretty much the only alright thing to eat. My family accepted it for awhile as a change of diet because of humanitarian reasons, not a refusal to eat foods I was afraid of.

  5. Kelsey @ Unmitigated Grub permalink
    April 7, 2011 4:37 pm

    Interesting discussion. I think it depends on the person and where they are in their ED/recovery–and ultimately their reasons for becoming vegetarian/vegan (if it’s to further restrict their diet, that’s no good, but if it’s for their health/animal ethics/the environment/feeling good, then great). I do think it definitely CAN be really healthy.

    I’ll also add that as someone who became a vegetarian on my own accord at age 10, I strongly believe children should be able to choose this lifestyle if that’s what they want. For me the decision was necessary (I disliked meat) and also incredibly empowering. And it’s so not hard to do it fairly healthily (I got plenty of protein growing up!). Yes, parents should of course watch out for signs an eating disorder in their children. But that’s not a reason to not allow your child to be a vegetarian if they so choose. Frankly, I think that’s ridiculous. It can be an incredibly healthy life choice!

    • April 7, 2011 5:16 pm

      I also became a vegetarian at age 10! I knew I wanted to do it because I didn’t like the thought of eating animals. My parents became ones after me, but they always encouraged me to eat healthy while eating vegetarian. I would have the same attitude with my children.

      I think it depends on your thought process while doing it too. I feel like for me if my parents had told me not to do it, that would have made me want to rebel even more.

  6. Kelsey @ Unmitigated Grub permalink
    April 7, 2011 4:42 pm

    Oops, I posted to soon! I would add vegetarianism can be healthy *if you do it right* as you say; you’re right; there IS a wrong way to be a vegetarian (and a meat eater for that matter). But, in my experience, it wasn’t difficult to get what I needed.

    Great post 🙂

  7. April 7, 2011 5:04 pm

    I can definitely see both points! I too became a vegetarian while recovering from anorexia and although it started as a health thing to keep me from eating chicken fingers it ended up becoming a matter of ethics for me!!!it’s a tough debate for sure

  8. April 7, 2011 5:04 pm

    Interesting conversation. I think it can go either way. For some people eliminating food can be because they see them as “good” or “bad” and cause more negative stigma about food groups. But I think for others, eating disorder recovery can help them realize how important food is for their body and exploring their options in how to treat their body they best they can to lead to these options. Just like there’s no one way to recover, there’s no one way to eat afterward. It’s cool to see how people change their eating habits when they begin to appreciate their bodies and the food that fuels them, though.

  9. April 7, 2011 5:20 pm

    Hey girl! Just found your blog, and I had to speak out on this one.
    I was ‘vegetarian’ before, during, and after (for a bit) my ED. I was able to recover on a vegetarian diet and maintained a healthy weight and mind (FULL recovery by my definition) for over a year before I incorporated fish back into my diet. For me, being veggie gave me an excuse to restrict or only order ‘safe’ foods. It also distanced me from my family, all of whom love to have huge seafood feasts for hours on end.
    I now eat chicken, turkey, and fish because I feel that eliminating those puts me in a restrictive mindset. I think the vegan/vegetarian/omnivore debate depends on each individual. Only you know what is right vs what is restrictive for you.

  10. April 7, 2011 5:26 pm

    This is a tough topic, but definitely an interesting one. My best friend suffered for a long time with an eating disorder, but she never veered into the vegetarian/vegan diet. I believe many people end up not eating meat after an ED because it makes them feel “cleaner” about how they eat, which is understandable to feel even if you don’t have an eating disorder. I think it really depends on the person. I’m definitely on the fence about this one.

  11. Peanut Butter Bandit permalink
    April 7, 2011 5:32 pm

    I think that focusing my energy on going vegetarian after the acute phase of my recovery (but still during the emotional recovery) actually helped me stay on track. I started getting really excited about food and cooking, and that felt amazing. Grocery shopping is still fun for me because I love experimenting with new foods every week! However, it’s definitely easy to see how it can also exert the opposite effect, thus making it detrimental to some people. I suppose we all have unique experiences and no one model will ever fit everybody.

    Loving your blog girl!

  12. squigglefloey permalink
    April 7, 2011 6:54 pm

    In high school I tried to be a vegetarian just so I’d have an excuse not to eat beef…because I didn’t like it and started making myself scared of meat.
    A few years ago I realized that I need meat in my diet. I don’t eat a lot of protein as it is and sometimes meat is really tasty…

  13. April 7, 2011 7:19 pm

    This was a great post!!
    I totally think it depends on the person.
    For me, veganism saved me. It helped me see food, animals, health, the world and my body in a whole new way. It makes me feel a connection towards everything (as cheezy as that sounds)
    I think if you are serious about recovery, and getting all your proteins, fats,carbs etc. Then it should be 100% okay for a person to go vegan/vegetarian.

  14. April 7, 2011 7:25 pm

    great post girl! you’ve been covering such awesome topics 🙂 very interesting to read!

  15. April 7, 2011 10:08 pm

    Very thought provoking article. I think that one can’t blanketly tell people recovering from eating disorders that they can’t be vegetarians…I think it depends on the person and is a decision that the person’s family can help make for them.

  16. Lisa permalink
    April 9, 2011 12:51 pm

    I have completely mixed feelings about veganism after an eating disorder. On one side, I believe it is okay to be a vegan for ethical reasons, if you simply don’t enjoy the taste of dairy/meat, or if your intolerant; but if you label dairy and/or meat as BAD food then I believe there is a problem. There are many healthy people who eat dairy and meat who are very healthy, so it is not bad for us. For some people, yes it may be bad for their digestive tract. So I guess I feel it is fine unless you are labelling any diet but a vegan diet as bad for you or anyone.

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