I wrote a post sometime last year now about my opinion on why people who have suffered from an eating disorder such as Anorexia cannot, and should not be vegan.
When I wrote it I assumed that I would get a fair amount of backlash from vegans—I expected criticism and welcome it. My aim is usually to write about these things in order to start a discussion around them, and I’m far too old and cynical to get upset when people don’t agree with me. Sometimes discussing uncomfortable concepts that we don’t really want to talk about gets messy, and that’s okay.
So I’ve thought about it, and I’ve considered other points of view. But I still stand by my original statement: a person who has or has had an eating disorder should not embark on restrictive diets such as veganism.
Because you still have an eating disorder, you’re just camo-clothing it
If a clown walks down the middle of a busy high street at noon, that clown stands out like a sore thumb. If a clown walks around inside a circus tent … not so much.
If a person with an eating disorder is surrounded by other people who eat “normally,” the ED is very noticeable. If a person with an ED surrounds themself with other people who restrict the foods that they eat, then the ED gets hidden. In fact, in that population of people, the behaviour looks normal.
You can even kid yourself that you are recovered because you are eating “like other people.” (Even if those other people only eat vegetables, right?)
You’ve still got an ED, you’re just camouflaging it.
Because veganism can become culture-based, one can immerse oneself in that community and never step out of it—other than to frown with contempt at a person eating a burger, or cheese, or anything that you don’t approve of. You can only go to parties held by other vegans and convince yourself that what you are doing is normal and that the wider population is wrong. And that, is exactly what your eating disorder wants you to do.
Why do some vegans claim that becoming a vegan cured them of their eating disorder?
I’ve had a couple of people write to me and tell me that I am wrong because being vegan has cured them of their eating disorder. So why is that? Why do some people really seem convinced that they are all recovered and that becoming vegan cured them?
(Again, this is my opinion …) Because they can’t see it anymore. Because they surrounded themselves with other people who are displaying massively restrictive and often obsessive food behaviors. Because they have removed themselves from the general population and inserted themselves in a culture where their eating disorder can thrive, be celebrated, and even give them a higher social status within that population.
Veganism did not cure you of an ED, it just allowed you to believe that your ED behaviours are normal.
Does that mean that nobody can be a vegan?
That would be like saying that nobody can drink alcohol because some people are predisposed to alcoholism. Eating disorders are brain-based illnesses, so if you don’t have one and you want to be a vegan, bully for you!
Additonally, if you have not suffered an ED, your body is in a much better place to deal with not eating the nutrient-laden saturated fat found in meats, dairy, and eggs. Not true for someone like me, who’s body dealt with a state of starvation for almost ten years.
I’m not passing judgement on veganism here and frankly if you don’t have an ED I don’t give a shit what you eat or don’t eat. I’m saying, however, that if you have a mental illness that expresses itself by food restriction, food obsession, diet-like behaviours etc, etc, that you can’t jump into a pool of people who don’t eat anything but vegetables and declare yourself “recovered.”
Why do I care?
As I’ve explained in my book, I walked that path. During recovery I latched on to veganism too, and it took a lot of soul searching and truth telling for me to admit that I wasn’t being vegan for the right reasons. No, I was being vegan because it was easier than fighting anorexia for the next level of recovery. I’d got as far as three meals a day, and it had taken me years to get there, wasn’t that enough?
It wasn’t easy to start eating dairy and meat again because they are so much higher in fat than vegetables are. Vegetables are so gloriously safe, aren’t they?
It wasn’t easy, but I am so very thankful to whatever it was that gave me the gumption to do it. My body needs all the wonderful nutrients that meat and dairy and FAT contain. My skin, my hair, my period, my life, all came alive when I started eating fat again.
If you have an ED, and you are a vegan, I’m not telling you my opinion on all this simply because I am trying mean. I’m telling you because I have been there, and it felt like a halfway-house for me, and if that is true for you too, I’d love to motivate you to understand why you should fight harder.
Additionally on the physical side of the argument: If you have had an ED, your body has been through a lot, and it needs all the nutrients it can get to recover optimally. Sure, there are tons of nutrients in veggies, and you should eat a lot of veggies, but there are also different nutrients in fat that you need.
TL;DR: If you have an eating disorder and you surround yourself with people who severely limit and restrict the food that they consume for one reason or another, you can kid yourself that you are normal.
Compare yourself to the general population, however, and you are not eating normally.
You’re still restricting food, you’re just camouflaging by surrounding yourself with other people who are also restricting food.
So yeah. That’s what I think; what’s your take?