Today’s blog post is something I get asked about quite frequently on Instagram – ‘should you go vegan while in recovery from anorexia’? I’m aware that it’s a regular debate that goes on in the recovery community and within health services and so I thought I’d take the chance to share my thoughts on it now. At the bottom I’ll also be talking about why eating something that isn’t vegan may actually be more ‘vegan’ than having nothing – a view that I know may spark controversy amongst fellow vegans!
Generally, when you are recovering from the restrictive sub-type of anorexia like myself, then health professionals will try and warn you off making the switch to veganism and if you are already vegan then they may even try and convince you to just be vegetarian. They’re so strict on it in fact that most inpatient facilities, or at least specialist eating disorder units, don’t cater for it – you just have to be vegetarian. And in some cases they’re not even happy with that, I knew lots of people at the ED unit I was in who were made to include fish on their meal plan even though they wanted to be vegetarian, it just depended upon how stubborn you were and whether you complied with it. I think that they were pretty good at working out who had chosen to be vegetarian for restrictive reasons though and who had genuinely chosen it for the ethical reasons. I went veggie when I was only 10 for the right reasons and was incredibly stubborn on the matter and so they accepted my firm ‘no’ and didn’t try to coerce me much at all.
Now you may be thinking, ‘but why would they be so against it – surely it’s a good thing?’ and yes, for the majority of people it would be, making the switch to a more ethical lifestyle seems like a no-brainer for most. BUT… For someone with anorexia who struggles with restricting how much they’re eating and what kinds of foods they’re eating already, they may not be doing it for the right reasons. They may be using it as an excuse to cut out more things and not replacing them with suitable alternatives like they should be. They may also be thinking that it will be lower calories (which it isn’t necessarily) or that it’s just a good excuse to avoid challenging fear foods. If this is the case then it’s not healthy whatsoever. It’s simply feeding the anorexia and giving it even more power and control.
That’s the funny thing about anorexia. You make changes thinking that it will give you more control but what you don’t realise is actually, you’re losing it. The anorexia gains control maybe but that’s not the same thing. I think that’s why anorexia is one of the hardest conditions to treat, not only is the thing that will help the patient the most the very thing that they fear the most, but the patients often express a need or desire for control and think that the anorexia gives them that. It’s only when they come to fight it, to separate the disorder from their own thoughts (something which is no easy task, believe me) then they realise that they’ve lost their control and need to fight like hell to get it back.
Moving back to veganism, I know that there will be people reading this that will be thinking, ‘Well, come on, what’s your answer, is veganism good or not??’ but I’m afraid it’s not as black and white as that. If you’re reading this and you have anorexia and want to go vegan but aren’t sure whether it’s a good idea then that’s something only you (and you not the disorder) can decide. If you think that you would be choosing veganism for the ethical or environmental benefits and ONLY those benefits, if you will substitute the things you’d be missing out on with appropriate alternatives and, if necessary, take supplements and have regular blood checks to make sure you’re not becoming deficient in anything then yes, I would say that you can at least broach the topic with whoever’s involved in your care and perhaps start slowly phasing into veganism. But if they say an absolute ‘no’, maybe your weight is too low to risk even potentially losing weight from it or they really feel you’re just using it as an excuse to avoid eating fear foods, then please accept that they probably know what’s best for you – they’ll have likely seen lots of people in the same position and have a fairly good idea whether it’s going to hinder your recovery or not.
I am acutely aware as I’m typing this that I am world’s biggest hypocrite as I did go against the advice of people in my care team – I’m the worst for telling other’s not to do things while doing them myself but please, please do as I say and not as I do on this issue! A lot of my fear foods are dairy and so I’m trying my best to challenge them with dairy free alternatives (e.g. vegan cheese) and while I know if someone else was still as unwell as me and wanted to go vegan I would definitely think that they wanted to do it for the wrong reasons (and maybe that was a part of it, I don’t know), I know that I honestly wanted to make the change for the ethical and environmental reasons and I really don’t believe that anorexia was involved in the decision. But again, please take my above advice and don’t do what I did – I have lots of people monitoring both my mental and physical health and if you don’t (and maybe even if you do) then it’s not worth the risk.
Plus it wouldn’t be a no forever, you won’t always be ill, you’re just looking out for yourself in the mean time and that’s the most important thing. You could always try making switches that aren’t food related, veganism looks at a much bigger picture than just food and so you could try switching to vegan make-up or other toiletries first. Even if you have been given the go ahead to go fully vegan I would still urge you to not just jump completely into it (for starters that’s really difficult! Going veganism is a massive learning process) and to make maybe a couple of changes a week first.
When you think about it (and this next part may attract some hate from fellow vegans I don’t know!) but veganism is about being compassionate and ethical towards ALL living creatures…and that has to include yourself as well. In my opinion, if you are in recovery from anorexia and you’re trying to be vegan but you’re faced with the choice (maybe you’re eating out somewhere or the cupboards are low) between having nothing or having something that’s not vegan then having the non-vegan food is just as vegan (if not more so) as having nothing. You need to be ethical to yourself as well as animals. Choosing not to eat, to have nothing, to feed the anorexia but not yourself, is effectively self-harm. And causing harm to a living creature is the very opposite of the definition of veganism.
That’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed reading today’s post and found it interesting. I’ll hopefully see you tomorrow! Please feel free to comment your thoughts on the debate below 🙂
Lots of love,