Veganism and Eating Disorders: Let’s Be Frank 52

Before I piss off any vegans with this post, let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against vegans, nor am I saying that nobody can be vegan. I am not attacking veganism—frankly I don’t really give a shit what other people do and don’t eat anymore (and that’s a relief, let me tell you!). This post is about restrictive diets and eating disorders, and how a person with an eating disorder—or such proclivities—will use a veganism as an excuse to not eat certain types of food.

Eating disorders love not eating certain types of food. Believe me, my eating disorder would be in seventh heaven if I allowed myself to be vegan or vegetarian. That’s because Anorexia loves nothing more than obsessing about not eating certain types of food. Vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, sugar-free, and all the other ways that one can acceptably restrict food nowadays give an eating disorder room to play and grow—without ever being seen or suspected.

Vegan Diets and eating disorders.

It is my personal, educated, and experienced (unfortunately; yes, I have lived through this) opinion that a person who is suffering from, susceptible to, or has ever suffered from any form of an eating disorder should not embark on any type of restrictive diet whatsoever. Vegan means that certain foods (such as anything from an animal—and that is a pretty major food group) are restricted, therefore it is a restrictive diet no matter how many people attempt to argue that it is not. Veganism is food restriction. 

There have been studies that report that vegetarianism in college-age people puts them at a higher risk for having an eating disorder. Others have said that taking on a vegetarian diet is a mask of sorts for eating disorder behaviour, and this I have to agree with because I did it myself once.

It is a tricky area, and is a discussion prone to tumultuous argument. The general population can deal with food restriction, and someone without a genetic predisposition can do quite nicely on a vegan or any other diet. But, for a person affected by an eating disorder, food restriction can be miserably obsessive at best, and deadly at worst.

It is rather like saying that a person who is suffering from or has recovered from lung cancer should not, ever, smoke cigarettes. Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, and not everyone who eats a vegan diet gets an eating disorder. However, let’s not be stupid about it: if you are a high risk for cancer you shouldn’t smoke, and if you are a high risk for an eating disorder you shouldn’t restrict food or diet.

Veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders. BUT, in a person who is genetically predisposed to having an eating disorder, the restriction of certain food groups can trigger the eating disorder. 

Why do I think this? Because I lived it.

When I was in recovery from Anorexia, I struggled a lot with restrictive diets. My eating disorder-addled brain told me that being vegan was the correct solution for me, because if I did so, I would have a viable excuse to restrict food. For an eating disorder, being vegan is the next best thing to complete starvation. Here’s why:

  • Being vegan is socially acceptable. It might even be considered a superiorly healthy way of eating by some people. Eating disorders can hide behind it.
  • When offered any sort of food, being vegan gave me a convenient excuse not to eat it. For example, when one is offered chicken satay hors d’oeuvres at a drinks party, it is much easier to say, “No thank you, I can’t eat those because I am vegan,” than it is to say: “No thank you, I can’t eat that because the thought of eating anything other than carrot sticks causes me so much stress that I start to shake.”
  • Being vegan gave me a reason to take my own food with me everywhere—other peoples houses should we be asked over for dinner etc. Another facet of Anorexia is not trusting food made by other people.
  • Being vegan gave me an excuse not to eat out.
  • Being vegan gave me an excuse not to eat saturated fat. This is a big one. In my case, my body—especially my organs and namely my reproductive system—needed saturated fat to recover and get to optimal health. I did not get my periods back until I had been weight restored and had been eating a full diet with saturated fats in for over a year.
  • Being vegan allowed me to obsess over food, meticulously read food labels, and think about food and being vegan all the time. (This is an eating disorder behaviour)
  • Being vegan allowed me to find other people who were vegan and indulge in talking about food with them—while never actually eating of course. (Talking and thinking about food obsessively and not eating it are eating disorder behaviours.)

Even for those of us who make a full recovery from them, eating disorders exist in the brain like the minatory spectator awaiting any opportunity to make a comeback.

All in all, being vegan allowed me to showcase my eating disorder in public, and it allowed me to indulge in eating disorder behaviours such as those pointed out above. No longer did I have to hide it, I could excuse my food restriction quite nicely behind a vegan shield. I could also kid myself that because I was eating again I was beating Anorexia. Bullshit. Anorexia had just taken a different form.

Unfortunately my sagacity on this subject is a result of my own struggles to overcome the allure of diets in a world where every magazine cover touts them, and every dinner table is host to a guest with a speciality diet. I had to learn to make all that wash over me. I had to learn to not restrict food no matter how fashionable food restriction is, no matter how many of my friends are doing it, and no matter how many sources tell me that it is healthy.  The good news, is that if I can do that—and I have—anyone can.

Love Fat Kindle

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I’ve written about how I overcame Anorexia in Love Fat, and this includes my journey though veganism, gluten-free and just about any other food restrictive diet I could get into.

Bottom line: Veganism is not okay for a person who is susceptible to an eating disorder. Veganism is not okay for a person in recovery from an eating disorder. Veganism means that large food groups are restricted—so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is not something that a person with an eating disorder should do.

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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52 thoughts on “Veganism and Eating Disorders: Let’s Be Frank

  • Lisa

    Tabitha this is excellent!
    , I have always felt this way, maybe intuitively without the research knowing how easy the rumination and obsessive restricting and counting is for my daughter with anorexia.
    First, she loves veggies. Always has.
    Ate meat as a child and never loved it but didn’t dislike.
    Cared very much about animals and and the world and lastly but maybe most importantly, was a child who was acutely aware of the concern in the world around her for healthy eating for living longer and performing better ( always competed in soccer, track and basketball at the highest levels) A student as well.
    So here’s my observations.
    The narrow focus ruminating thoughts ARE a genetic predisposition. They are not some higher quality of power that so many people admire as strength and perseverance that as a society we attribute to hard work, achievement and success, although many to have highly coveted achievements fueled by this genetic driven behavior. This narrow focus drive and rumination becomes tortuous. When one cannot stop something despite the signals from their body and mind, it’s a nightmare.
    They may not appear that way early in life for many although I think we may miss some signs.
    Anyway sorry for the long diatribe but my point is when someone who has a strong predisposed propensity to count restrict weigh or have rules that cannot be broken without much distress despite the logical reason to carry them out ( whether occasional or regularly) you ignite the behavior. And it’s like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill, it accelerates or stimulates the brain to require more of the same. And it traps the person in worrying and focusing on that narrow ruminating belief.
    Sorry for the long response.
    My daughter started with healthy eating and ate very well, meeting her needs and fueling her body to be an exceptional athlete. Sadly the behavior became more restrictive from limiting sugary desserts to no red meats to no bread potatoes or rice to literally fruit and veggies. Not for a long time was this an attempt to lose weight.
    It was an out of control ruminating obsession with no seemingly rational goal.
    And yes it morphed into calories, number counting and repetitive weighing.
    Body dysmorphia came well before restriction.
    To me the only apparent associated symptom was anxiety and stress.
    My guess is triggers to an underlying brain disorder.

    So yes one could meet nutritional needs with vegetarianism, maybe even vegan ( not an expert on that)
    But the very nature of its rules and subsequent obsessive behaviors to maintain these nutritional rules at all costs feeds Ed mind and responses.

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      I’m glad that you understood and share my point that for a non-ED affected person vegan/ vegetarian can be fine. I am sorry about your daughters struggles and I do believe that for a person with ED it is impossible to separate the illness from the ethical reasons. Anorexia played on my love of animals and told me that I was vegan for ethical reasons. However, some part of me somewhere always knew that was a lie. I do love animals, but I also eat them. My body thieves on animal fat and protein—especially diary.

      It took a lot of tantrums before I could really admit to myself that my vegan diet was an expression of my eating disorder.

    • Mark

      I come from a competitive running background and am now vegan for sustainability and animal welfare reasons.

      There are many overly calorie counting runners (particularly females) who are borderline anorexic, and a significant number I know who went to hospital for treatment for it. There is a wide spectrum of people who ate everything, pescetarians, vegetarians etc. Essentially from what I saw it’s very easy to exclude and hide food from any diet, and to particularly push this on veganism seems unfair. It promotes a much healthier diet with far more nutrients per calorie.

      I sincerely believe that veganism could be used as part of anorexic exclusion, but I don’t think that without significant research we can claim that it contributes any more than any other diet, especially given the negative health impacts of meat and dairy.

  • Carys Puleston

    Yes, certainly people CAN use veganism that way……. BUT a lot of people ( myself included) have found healing through eating a diet which is compassionate to animals AND THEMSELVES. When I was forced in my early recovery to eat meat in order to ‘be flexible’ it actually caused a regression in my symptoms because it clashed with my values. I could give you many personal experiences of people battling AN who feel this way and who have found wellness through a vegan lifestyle. It all depends on the person and their motivation for eating animal product free.

  • Geena

    Veganism is NOT food restriction because animals aren’t food, they are beings, like we are. People seriously need to change their mindset. Veganism is not a freaking diet, its a lifestyle. So many things inside me healed when I stopped eating tortured, miserable and unhappy souls. Veganism heals eating disorders, and doesnt support eating disorders. It healed me and so many people outthere.

      • Tiffany schwanke

        Your blog should be taken down but I obviously can’t do that. It’s a lie that people with ED can’t be vegan, it has been done before. It’s all about ethics. If a person truly love animals or even had a small amount of respect for ALL beings they wouldn’t support the animal industry with their money. Veganism is a lifestyle not just a diet. Everyone can meet their nutrional needs on a plant based diet. All the animals do. What has these animals that are eaten 3 or more times a day done to us? Nothing, yet they’re the ones being tortured every second of every day. Anyone with a heart would know better to care enough to leave them alone. That’s the logic choice. A fact not an opinion.

        • Miriam

          Not all animals live a vegan diet. They eat other animals! Tigers eat animals, even birds eat animals. I am a vegetarian and not at all opposed to veganism (even thinking about thinking about it myself), but saying all animals are vegan is just stupid.

    • Tiffany schwanke

      Agreed. Tabitha is just very uneducated about veganism & wants to use eating disorder as an excuse to stop people from even following a veganism. She’s ignorant.

      • Alexis

        Question- are you under the age of 18? You sound like you’re under the age of 18. Tabitha clearly said she isn’t trying to attack veganism! Frankly, it’s ignorant to deny that there could be a link between veganism and eating disorders. The difference between successful, healthy vegans and anorexic vegans is that when a person prone to eating disorders becomes a vegan, they often aren’t doing it because they want to be healthy or protect the environment. They’re doing it because they want to take advantage of what could easily be manipulated into a restrictive diet (healthy! no fatty foods! no cheese! no meat! are you really in capable of seeing how this could appeal to someone who lit-er-ally wants to focus all of their time and energy into denying their bodies essential nutrients so they can be thin?) in order to lose weight. How about instead of attacking someone clearly and non-aggressively explaining the dangers of embracing a vegan lifestyle when you are prone to falling into restrictive eating habits, you explain in a SEPARATE ARTICLE that the vegan lifestyle is about more than restriction and weight loss? Every case is different. While I was struggling with my eating disorder, I switched to veganism because I (guess what!) thought it would make me lose more weight. And guess what? It worked! I now had an excuse to deny myself food! As I began my recovery, I learned to be a vegan in a safe, healthy way and am now fully recovered and happily vegan. But before that? Veganism seems like an anorexics wet dream. She’s not saying that healthy veganism can’t exist in people with EDs. She’s saying that vegans with eating disorders need to be careful, which is absolutely correct. You’re the ignorant one, Tiffany.

  • Natalia

    Thank you. I’ve been trying to make this point for years as someone who struggled with an eating disorder. It’s all about the control, the obsessive restrictions. My cousin decided to embrace veganism at the end of high school. She’s always been underweight. Now she has the perfect excuse to refuse all food at family gatherings. When you’ve lived through it, you can spot it in others. Especially when she says things like “all food items have protein.” No, that lettuce leaf has no protein… It worries me that no one else in the family has brought it to her attention. But then again, I come from a family where they ask you your weight at gatherings (only the females) like a status symbol. Any suggestions for how I can get her help? (I’ve been recovered for 8 years now and also found the best approach was to eat everything, no restrictions, just sensibility. My focus is muscle and strength. Been a healthy weight every since).

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      It’s wonderful that you have the insight to keep yourself healthy and well. But I feel your frustration at having to watch your cousin use her vegan excuse to refuse food. I’ve heard all the arguments too and they make me nuts—but when I was going through it myself I probably said most of them at some point to justify my own behaviour. EDs are so sneaky and unless you are really savvy to it, they will do anything to convince you that restriction is normal

    • Kim

      Actually your cousin is right. There IS protein in each food. The quantity however, varies. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

  • Lisa

    Unless a person has been through the depths of almost losing a loved one to an eating disorder I don’t think they’ll understand the basis of yur arguemtn. My daughter has anorexia and a year into treatment she is better but still has a long way to go to be free of her eating disorder. Hindsight is everything and I can totally see how her vegetarianism is a part of her eating disorder. Through therapy we have learned that my daughter had thoughts of feeling unworthy and fat from the age of 10 or 11. She cut out pork around the age of 12 because she thought pigs were cute. Not a big deal to me as we don’t eat a lot of pork but she did used to love bacon and that was now gone. Then she wanted me to substitute ground turkey for things I would normally use beef in. Then beef was competely gone from her diet. Soon after poultry was cut out followed by fisth. She declared she was vegetarian at the beginning of her 8th grade year (14 yrs old) and said it was for ethical reasons. A year and a half later I had a daughter who was severly underweight and had a very limited diet. Looking back, as she cut out meat her anxiety and depression heightened. While most people can assume a vegan or vegetarian diet, I believe my daughter would be healther with a full diet including meat. I would at least love for her to eat fish again. It allows her to continue to restrict. It forces us to limit our restaurant choices. And it forces me to make her alternative meals when I cook for the family. Her choice to be vegetarian does not only affect her but it also affects the whole family. Plus, it allows her to continue to use restriction when history has taught us that restriction can turn deadly very fast for her.

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      I’m interested as to what her treatment providers say about this?

      I knew a girl in in-patient treatment who was vegan. I don’t think that it was ever challenged by anyone at the treatment center. Shame, as when I asked her about it she agreed that it was probably a farce to keep her ED alive (She was always very open with me about things like for reasons I don’t know why).

      It’s like it just adds another layer of complication around eating, and one that even treatment centers tiptoe around for fear of not being politically correct.

      • Susan

        A vegan who is receiving treatment in an Eating Disorders facility? So far, I haven’t found one here in CT that will accept my 21 year old daughter into a program. They will not work with her vegan diet, yet strangely said they would if she were vegetarian (also a restrictive diet.) Tabitha, you mostly mention vegans with ED who obviously were not in it for truly ethical reasons, but who used it as a nice mask for their ED. I am sure you will agree that there are indeed those who truly have a moral objection to animal products. My daughter most certainly falls into that category. I actually do understand how a restrictive mindset can send some down the rabbit hole of ED. But to tell an ethical vegan she has to eat animal products is basically like telling her that she needs to sprout wings and fly. Ain’t gonna happen. To me, it seems ironic that most eating disorders clinic would rather turn away a person potentially close to death, rather than try to work with her diet. (Note: I even offered to step in and prepare healthy, “non-starvation” vegan food for her program, but they would not allow that.) One more thought: before my daughter and I became vegan, I most certainly felt that vegetarian and vegan diets were ridiculously restrictive — as do most, if not all, omnivores. But when you are on the other side, eating so much delicious food, you will never think of it as restrictive. I eat more variety now than I did as a SAD [standard American diet] eater. Tabitha: can you give me any direction re: how I can help my daughter if an eating disorders program is not available for her? Maybe a vegan nutritionist?

        • Tabitha Farrar Post author

          Hi Susan

          Can you use the principles of FBT to re-feed her at home? This is most often the best way, and it is also something you would have to do after she left IP anyway as that is only a starting point.

    • Kim

      Lisa, your narcissistic beliefs about your daughters disorder are troubling (her disorder forces ME to do this etc.) it is possible to eat a plant based diet and be healthy, and actually if you look at the research you’ll see that cardiologists, and other western medical practitioners (naturopaths have been doing this for years) are recommending plant based diets and seeing a tremendous decrease in chronic and acute conditions (cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndromes like diabetes etc). Don’t force your daughter to eat meat because you don’t value her values and her integrity to animals. She will only grow to resent you. Instead, help her to eat a healthy, balanced plant based diet. You’re a parent, not a dictator, you can only guide, not control, your children. Good luck

  • Cathy

    My daughter suffers from anorexia and in the midst of the worst of her disorder she practiced all of these things. She started in early High School with becoming a vegan. At the time I thought it was some silly teenage girl thing. Little did I know it was the beginning of a very dangerous road that would take nearly 9 years to recover. She’s fully weight restored now, however, I believe an eating disorder is a demon waiting to rear it’s ugly head the first chance it gets! She says she knows she will have to be vigilant the rest of her life!

  • Jenny

    Thank you Tabitha for this article. It answered the questions I’ve had recently. I am recovering from the eating disorder EDNOS. I’ve been in recovery for the past few years. Just recently, I’ve been going through a lot of stress and thoughts of going vegetarian or vegan have come to mind. It made sense, I care about the environment and animals. Well, I skipped over being vegetarian and went straight to trying to be vegan. I felt so stressed thinking about food, what I could eat and what I couldn’t have. Totally reminded me of being on a diet. I swore that I would never diet again but I thought maybe I’m doing it all wrong. I was wondering if going vegan would cause my eating disorder to take power over me again. After reading this article, I realize that my health is more important and recovery is everything. So going vegan will not be for me.
    Thank you!

  • amelii

    Thank you. This cleared some points up for me as my brain sometimes has a hard time deciphering healthy habits vs. disordered ones. I have to remind myself that other people can say they eat 6 bananas as a meal, and say it’s healthy. This is okay because it is their own choice though I am fully aware I could not attemp this. Those days are past thankfully. It pains me to hear about peoples diets because I feel like I’m being swept back into the memory of the one track mind of an eating disorder. But it’s pointless to say to a friend ‘that sounds like disordered eating to me’ because vegans are so sold on the idea of thriving solely by their food choices that it would be like insulting their religion. And it would not be respectful to the vegans who do not possess disordered tendencies toward food. Great post!

    • Emily

      I totally relate. I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for about 20 years- I’ve basically recovered from the various eating disorders I had but am not totally symptom-free yet. It’s sometimes so hard to tell whether the feelings, strategies and routines I have towards food are healthy or not. I’ve always loved animals and have been pescatarian for about 15 years. A number of my friends and acquaintances on social media have recently become evangelising vegans, posting various videos and explanations of why veganism is a good choice ethically and environmentally, and how it can be done healthily. As a result, I now feel quite squeamish about dairy and I honestly can’t tell whether that’s a valid emotional reaction to these images and a rational reaction to the data on the environmental impact of cattle husbandry, or whether the stress of a new job is making me turn to the old coping mechanism of restricting whole food groups. I honestly think sometimes it’s one and sometimes the other. I find other people’s weight loss very triggering and sometimes find myself getting very upset/jealous about social media posts on healthy weight loss and clean eating because I feel it’s something recovery denies me when other people are ‘allowed’ to drop 10% body fat or eat only leafy green vegetables for dinner: that’s one reason I know I’m not fully recovered. I think I’ll have to leave the veganism alone for now. Great post, and great reply!

  • Debbie Ridder

    Excellent article and it helped support the concerns I had about my daughter’s ED. She actually forwarded this article to me after I discussed with her my concerns. And, she has agreed to slowly start to change her diet, she is vegan, and start to introduce other foods, animal products back in to her diet. I did want to address one thing, that there are valid food sensitivities or allergies. I feel my daughter really is lactose intolerant as she has exhibited some of those symptoms, my husband is also and I am gluten intolerant, was very skeptical and do believe it’s a fad however, cutting gluten out of my diet has improved so many things, headaches, joint pain etc…

  • Kathryn

    HI Tabitha,
    thank you for this post as I agree with it entirely . My daughter is 17, was diagnosed with anorexia last October and became vegan last August i.e. when she was well into anorexia. She is refeeding now and has put on 8 kilos which is great but only agrees to vegan food . We know she has to move away from veganism to truly recover even if she makes a life choice to go back to it when she’s better, but I don’t know whether to let her read your post here, as she gets very angry when we criticize her staying vegan and she claims it is only for moral reasons . I am working on her fears of fats and sugars rather than veganism at the moment as back in October when the doctor told us to , we obediently tried to serve her non-vegan food with disastrous traumatic results and less eating . I thought I would go back to the veganism when the time is right , but when is the time right to try and change her views on it? Thanks, Kathryn

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author


      Frankly I don’t think that there will ever be a “right” time. Make it clear to her that you are NOT questioning her motives for being vegan. That is not what this is about. Her eating disorder doesn’t care about her motives, all it sees is an opportunity for restriction of certain foods which is something a person with an eating disorder cannot do.

      You may find that after weight restoration when her brain heals a little more that she understands better. However, I think it is never to early to start giving the message loud and clear that to be fully recovered she cannot be vegan.

      Good luck. She is so lucky to have you in her corner.

  • Judy kozaczuk

    My daughter is now 35 yrs old and presently a vegan.she had been vegetarian since 14. When she was 8, she would comment on her fat thighs.her pediatrician recommended a therapist.After two weeks she asked me if she told the therapist she was cured did she have to go any more. This was followed by a psychatrist , Zoloft, attending a renown clinic for a few yrs. In college, she went to campus therapists who recommended another reputable program for the summer. After graduating, getting an MBA, several long term relationships, men and a woman,maintaining same job, and seeing a nutrionist,she has been vegan for about two yrs. I see her about two times a year, although she. Lives less than an hour away. Oh, she’s also been a cutter since the age of 14.
    I see little hope that she will ever be recovered.

  • Becky

    Thank you for highlighting this, as someone who has been vegetarian since age 7 and vegan since 22 (for ethical and spiritual reasons) I have seen folks in the vegan community who:
    A Have used veganism as a mask to explain big weight loss, restrictive eating etc.
    2 Folks being insensitive to the high numbers of folks living with disordered eating in our community. Since our community is largely female, the numbers are high.

    However, I must respectfully but strongly disagree with your bottom line. As someone who has made an excellent recovery from ED with some, supportive friends who have also made excellent recoveries, I have seen that if veganism is truely about ethics and not weight loss, you can experience a wonderful recovery, just as a religious person who keeps Kosher, Halal, or is vegetarian/vegan for religious reasons can (Hindu/Jain/Buddhist etc.) Since we would never tell someone who was vegan (or had other dietary restrictions) for religious reasons for example, to eat animal products, something which may go strongly against their ethics, I don’t think we can tell secular folks to do/eat something which goes against their ethics in a very fundamental way.

    Thanks for your work to raise ED awareness!

  • Casey

    reading this makes me feel so validated. Thank you for sharing your story, the realness is palpable. as a 4 year vegan, 10+ year bulimic, I struggled with returning to vegetarianism. It has been a week and I am finally coming to terms with it. with support from articles like this I am beginning to trust my doctors and actually make progress towards a normal lifestyle. As a vegan I was able to avoid trigger foods on a massive scale, which made no difference in bingeing; as I’ve realized now. Living as a vegan became my identity – my diet was my identity – instead of my personality and my “me” being my identity. The hardest part, though, is accepting the inherent guilt with change – “i am a failure” or “I am a joke” because I decided to change and take in “more” of life instead of restricting to “less”. This is the major struggle of returning from veganism to a normal diet.

    Regardless, I am so happy that I am not alone.
    thank you

  • RunnerRach

    Hi! I’m a college NCAA runner and I myself suffered from disordered eating. I am mostly recovered but as you stated tntere is always the spectator. We have a freshman on our team that is a vegan and has very disordered habits. She won’t eat anything but carrots and lettuce with maybe some nuts all day before races and would rather starve after a race for hours tHan eat food offered. She claims she is a sugar free, oil free vegan and never touches bread. 🙁 it’s sad to see this because veganism could be an amazing thing but she clearly is using it to hide the disordered eating. We aren’t sure how to approach it because it’s this huge elephant in the room that hasn’t been dealt with. She’s running very fast times right now and seeing positive results from negative behaviour. It’s so difficult to approach the situation. Any tips??? She is very stubborn and snappy too when it comes to talking about food 🙁 our team dynamic is crumbling and some of the younger girls are getting dragged into it because she tries to get them to restrict and eat like her too 🙁

  • nixy

    Tabitha- I don’t think it’s fair to blame veganism for making each individual’s eating disorder worse. Veganism can be a very great thing. I think the problem is, is when someone with an eating disorder actually restricts as in eating less calories. I also don’t believe in “Predisposition” when it comes to EDs. This is like saying that people have a predisposition to having an eating disorder by becoming obese, as in ‘it runs in the family’ which is not true, which is an excuse. The biggest reason people have eating disorders is because of what they’re eating, which is causing their serotonin, their dopamine, oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ or ‘content’ chemicals (which cause homeostasis) to become imbalanced. When you become imbalanced, you will feel awful, and a lot of ‘weird’ symptoms occur, like ocd, anxiety, depression and thus more symptoms with each illness occur. There are core causes behind these illnesses, and it always goes back to the chemicals we’re ingesting (Largely through our mouths) This isn’t a very common topic, because of what the meat and dairy industry has taught us, because of what most doctors have taught as well.

    We are like cars. If you ‘feed’ a car very cheap oil, over time it starts having dysfunctions, and symptoms from a bigger problem start happening. In order to fix it, you have to feed your body ‘premium’ oils. (organic, vegetables, fruits) We may have evolved eating meat, but we don’t actually need it now, and the same goes for eggs and dairy. We don’t need the high fat. Fat is good I think, especially for recovering ed people. Nuts, seeds, avocado. We need to have everything in balance, though.

    I respect your blog here, because I think you took some time to research and your heart is very much in the right place. I believe that Veganism can be used as a ‘tool’ for self destruction in a way, but then that wouldn’t actually be veganism, I think it still comes down to being a restrictive diet. I understand that dairy and meat are faster acting to help someone recover, and even as a vegan I can say that it should be used temporarily, like a ketosis diet isn’t good but it should be used in extreme circumstances. If something works and helps someone stay alive, then use it, but for a short time.

  • jess

    I think this article represents veganism in such a bad light and Tabitha doesn’t even understand the concept of veganism (its not about healthy foods or foods lacking fats and protein). I have come across so many stories of people fighting anorexia due to switching to veganism! The compassion learnt towards animals and happier lifestyle helps negate the negative thoughts one has towards themselves. Also, FYI veganism is not synonymous with protein deficiency as this article clearly implies. My sister who had suffered with anorexia for about a decade has only in the recent couple of years recovered. She is now vegan and is obese, weighing about 19 stone. Just because you used a plant based diet as an excuse doesn’t mean others do. Veganism is about excluding animal cruelty and products from your life, not about following a strict diet, there are many, many unhealthy vegan foods, you simply mean you chose to follow a plant based diet to lose weight, not follow a vegan lifestyle for the sake of animals.

  • Vick

    Wow, all of the offended ED vegans in the comments is staggering. I guess it’s natural for children to throw tantrums when something doesn’t go their way. This is just an opinion piece, but they already want to silence you and take your blog down. Just shows me that these self-righteous, benevolent, animal-loving vegans aren’t all they claim to be. Where there is empathy for animals, there also seems to be apathy for fellow human beings. Not saying all vegans are this way, but the ones in these comments really make vegans look bad. Free speech is free speech, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it is for you.

  • Robin

    I was a strict vegan for 6.5 years, straight from omni. Though I believe I did it for ethical reasons, I also understand and understood when I started that my eating disorder was very much wrapped up in my veganism, and that the two could not be clearly separated. I was anorexic for several years as an omni before I even knew what vegan was. I was also anorexic as a vegan for quite a long time. I lost an incredible amount of bone density as a vegan. My first dexa scan was as an omni in 2006 BEFORE I had anorexia, the year after a total hysterectomy and loss of both ovaries that started the whole nightmare spiral into my eating disorder. I already had osteoporosis. Instead of doing everything I could to improve the situation, I became blind sided by anorexia which developed quite suddenly when I was 36. Even so, my bone density remained constant between 2006 and my scan in 2006, at -3.2 T score spine. When I went vegan I was mildly underweight and due to how strict I was with “whole foods healthy eating” I lost more weight and it took a year to get back to mildly underweight. I fully relapsed into anorexia several years into being vegan, but still wasn’t at my lowest weight (that was as an omni). Nevertheless in 2014, I had a dexa scan again and my score plummeted to -3.8 T score spine. I was shocked into reality, and had no choice but to go on a hardcore medication. I also put on 22 lbs as a vegan to get to a healthy weight which I am maintaining since 2014. BUT…over time I became more frustrated as a vegan. I used to do a lot of animal rights activism. I leafleted colleges and high schools, worked with hospital staff to get vegan menu items. joined and participated in local Vegan Meetup groups. But in terms of satiety, health, social situations, I felt frustrated, felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. I was at that point eating all the vegan processed foods to “normalize” eating, but at the same time was disturbed by the chemicals and plastic taste of those processed foods. I was eating enough, but something in my recovery was missing. I am extremely active as a dancer and cyclist, but exercise addiction is another problem I have, and I found myself getting injured and straining myself more and more. My iron was trending down in blood tests, and I had bruises that would not heal, despite eating three or more cups of leafy greens and beans every day (in addition to many other foods). I became more and more put off by the extremists among animal rights activists. I was not vegan enough because I lived with an omnivore. Not vegan enough because I fed my dog meat. Not vegan enough because I was taking hrt and an osteoporosis med made with animal ingredients. My views began to change, and frankly my breaking point came this last Spring. I realized I could not fully recover from my ED as a vegan with such a restrictive diet and suffering health problems. Though I still have ethical beliefs, I also need to take care of my health, and it became increasingly difficult to do as a vegan.. About a month ago I began to eat eggs and dairy yogurt for the first time in six years. I have since eaten several types of cheese as well. I eat yogurt almost daily now, and three or so eggs each week, usually on weekends. I include cheese here and there. I am still holding on to lacto ovo vegetarian but have stopped fixating on label reading, have stopped judging the way others eat, have stopped feeling guilty for eating at all. I had to cut myself off from 99% of vegan groups because of shaming and the usual cookie cutter arguments about how I can cure my osteoporosis as a vegan and don’t need dairy bla bla. It’s like something in my brain snapped and I just got sick of it all. I went from hardcore animal rights activist to eating egg based french toast on Saturday mornings and bread with honey. I still try to make some ethical choices (I don’t wear leather or suede and keep my toiletries, cleaning supplies etc as green and plant based as I can within reason). But as far as food, I NEED to be more flexible and less restrictive. In the month I have been eating more freely and including eggs and dairy (and honey and sugar), my body has filled out and I have more muscle. I wish I could post a photo for evidence. I have not gained weight, but have filled out. I strain myself less, and the inside of my lower eyelids are no longer pale/white, but are now pink again. I sweat when I workout. Just little changes I have noticed. Call me a “murderer” or accuse me of never being a real “vegan”, whatever you want. I am doing what I feel is best for my body, mind, and spirit. I didn’t like the awful self righteous judgmental person I had become for so long. When I first went vegan it was about love and peace and social justice, not judgment and condemnation of others and destroying my own body to uphold an ethical standard that is impossible to meet. Yes I am still appalled by some practices like factory farming, but I am no longer against all farming, and believe people and animals can have a symbiotic relationship. I may not practice the best ethical way of doing things, but I am doing the best I can in a manner that is sustainable long term for me and better than nothing at all, while healing myself and fighting my eating disorder. I am only 45 years old with the bones of a 90 year old woman. I don’t have time to waste if I want to maintain a quality of life. I was unable to do it as a vegan. It isn’t just about gaining weight and getting to a healthy number. I want a normal social life, a normal healthy relationship with my body and food. I’m tired of being perfect. Tired of substitutions and worrying about “alternative” ways to meet my needs that obviously wasn’t working. I feel happier here, and feel like I can focus on other things in life now that are important to me instead of fixating on diet and forever searching for the lastest vegan food out there. I’ve thought about eating fish again, but psychologically that is still an incredible battle, and for now I am satisfied and happy with including dairy and eggs. I am taking less supplements than I was for a long time (b12, calcium, D, plant based DHA etc) and getting my needs met with some real food. I still eat all the many varied plant foods I ate as a vegan, AND other stuff too.

    I wouldn’t judge a person if they wanted to remain vegan but struggled with an eating disorder. But I am very concerned with so much stuff I see in vegan communities. Intermittent fasting, water fasting, raw vegan, extreme low fat eating are all pervasive practices in vegan communitie and very easy for someone with an eating disorder to get sucked into. A lot of noneating disordered people choose to go vegan to lose weight, and the sheer number of these people can also influence eating disordered vegans in many ways. I used to be shamed for advocating eating nuts and seeds or…gasp…coconut oil…on some vegan forums where low fat was all the healthy rage.

    I am nowhere near fully recovered from my eating disorder. But I feel like this move to lacto ovo is a move to fight my ED. I NEVER would have thought I would go back to eating animal products a year ago. This has all been quite sudden but with a lot of thought and research about my health struggles. I have been to a physical therapist, countless doctors, you name it fighting my health issues and not one of them suggested eating animal products. This was all my own decision. And I am owning it.

  • Ali

    Hi Tabitha,

    Your article is extremely interesting and I agree with los of your points surrounding the potential risks of eating disorders hiding behind veganism, however I would like to offer my own story to demonstrate how vegans I’m significantly aided my recovery from an eating disorder

    I suffered with a lot of terribly distructive habits such as over exercise, extreme under eating, binge/purging and laxative abuse. I, like many of us, was obsessed with calories.

    6 months ago I it all got rather serious when I have severe pain in my liver and kidneys, i kept fainting and hadn’t had a period in nearly a year. It is true that I was ready to change.

    I took to veganism because of my environmental and ethucal concerns, however, it was hugely helpful in my recovery. I fact I was eating a healthy vegan diet allowed the restrictive part of my brain to ease. I slowly enabled myself to eat large quantities of food without any of the dreaded food guilt. Eventually this also lead toward stopping counting calories (a huge achievement considering I used to count the calories in spinach) and then to not weighing myself at all.

    Veganism has allowed me to rediscover food and to judge it on its taste, colour and how it makes my food feel. I now do not heavily restrict (of course I still eat healthily), to do not use laxatives and do not purge. Also since going vegan I have had a heightened awareness to the supplements by body needs and through this my period has returned.

    I do not offer this as a one size fits all method, however, despite the fact we are all tied together with the horrific obsessive battle of eating disorders, I do think all of our journeys and relationships to food are individual.

    Let me know your thoughts


  • Jodi Abraham

    You can get plenty of good protein from plant based sources. It’s healthier to live without animal products. Loads of articles have been written on the subject. I chose a vegan life because I have mercy for the animals, not to perpetuate or hide behind my bulimia. After going vegan, I lost my desire for caffeine and sugar. I also put on 10 pounds and accepted my body at a higher weight which is something eating-disorder patients do not do. I became less obsessed with my body weight. My pre-diabetic condition disappeared as did my high cholesterol problem. I beg to differ with your opinions, as I am living proof that vegan is healthier.

    • Anon

      Jodi, I hope you are still going well but you cannot say its healthier to live without animal products.
      They are just ready sources of food. Protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins etc. They are in a state that can be readily absorbed and used by the body. If your body is severely malnourished as my daughters is. From being on a unbalanced vegan diet you can see what damage you can do to your body. She has osteoporosis, no period for years and is only 24. She was a happy healthy 20 yo.
      With your problems did a doctor say you were pre-diabetic and high cholesterol does not always indicate poor health.

      Just be careful when you a rigid with your dietary beliefs.

  • Anon

    Thankyou Tabitha my daughter 24yo Vegan with Anorexia definitely uses this diet to restrict her diet.
    It makes everyone in our house feel sick with what she is doing to herself.
    We are not sure what to do spent last Sunday in hospital with her after being dehydrated.
    It is hard for someone on Anorexia to get enough nutrition from a vegan diet. They are lacking nutrition in so many areas and a normal diet full of fats, protein and vitamins would soon get her back on track.
    It has been found Vegans are low in Taurine and some of the B group vitamins.
    It makes me feel sick to hear the word Vegan as I know how much damage people with eating disorders use this diet to abuse their bodies.