Relationship Between Veganism & Eating Disorders
Could Veganism be a fix to your eating disorder?
It’s almost impossible to avoid the term ‘vegan’ in 2015. More and more people are becoming intrigued with this diet be it for ethical or health reasons. Overall, a vegan diet seems perfectly healthy. After all, the chances of seeing an overweight vegan is slim to none. But what if there was in fact a way that this plant based diet could both in turn save someone’s life or detriment it?
With the rise of social media comes the rise of easy access to information, images and an insight into other people’s lives. Scroll through Instagram and you’re bound to be confronted with a variety of images ranging from post-workout selfies to a green smoothie. It has become incredibly easy to find out what diets your favourite celebrities are following and their tips on how they keep that ‘perfect body.’ One of the most common diets that keeps popping up, both online and now in everyday shops and restaurants, is veganism. Celebrities such as Beyonce and Scarlett Johansson have both spoken about veganism and it appears that more and more people are joining the bandwagon. In 2006 ‘The Vegan Society’ estimated 150,000 vegans in the UK. 10 years later with the continuing rise of interest in the diet and the increasing amount of ‘meat free’ and ‘dairy free’ products available in shops, common sense will tell you that the number is now a lot higher.
Eating disorders are also a lot more common in young people today. At the beginning of 2015 a report commissioned by eating disorder charity ‘Beat’ estimated over 725,000 people in the UK are affected by the mental illness. With the constant emphasis on celebrities weight loss and ‘fad diets,’ young people are more vulnerable than ever to developing body issues and eating problems. While vegetarianism and veganism can both be practiced healthily, the rising popularity of these diets means that it is easy for eating disorder sufferersto use these lifestyles as an excuse to not eat and opt out of social situations involving food. It is then that these diets can become problematic and the reasoning behind an individual following it should be questioned. Registered dietician, Anne Pilbeam shares her views on the matter. “If someone has been vegetarian or vegan for a period of time prior to their eating disorder it is easier to make a clear distinction between what is a desire to eat in a certain way for ethical, environmental or animal rights reasons, rather than this choice being influenced by eating disordered thoughts. If someone who ate meat and fish decided to eliminate these from their diet while working on recovery from an eating disorder, I would want to challenge what their rationale for this decision was. I think it would be a sign that maybe they were finding the task of recovery difficult.”
16-year-old Ashleigh Ponder was diagnosed with anorexia at 13 and she admits that while in recovery she contemplatedfollowing a vegan diet. “It was because my eating disorder saw it as an opportunity to restrict. I had to consciously remind myself that it is OK to put my health first.” Ashley has a huge social media following with over 16.5k followers on Instagram. She uses this platform to inspire others struggling with the mental illness and has since started up the blog, ‘Balanced Not Clean’ where she highlights the importance of a balanced diet. “I think any food is good. I personally just consider food in terms of its place in my wider intake so I get a balance of different nutrients. Do what is best for you - not what the status quo is trying to guilt trip you into.”
However, just because veganism doesn’t work for all people in recovery that doesn’t mean that it can’t help at all. Marissa Kai is a passionate vegan and has made a full recovery from her eating disorder. Going vegan helped her with recovery and she believes that she wouldn’t be recovered if it wasn’t for making the transition. “I actually wasn't in recovery until after I went vegan. Going vegan helped me gain a healthy relationship with food, which ultimately made me want to recover.” She is, however, fully aware of the problems that may occur through going vegan while in recovery. “At the beginning of recovery I was still trying to stay slim, but as time went on I realised that I needed to do what was best for my health rather than my looks. Patience was the biggest key in my recovery. You have to find out for yourself if you are doing it for the right reasons. I say ditch the scale, cover up your mirrors, and then you'll find out what reasons you are doing it for.”
If you have an eating disorder and are having thoughts about going vegan, the key thing is to figure out your intentions behind the decision. As long as you are making the decision for ethical reasons and for reasons that are in no way related to weight and appearance, then go for it. It may be your answer out of the disorder. Speak with your team of healthcare professionals and a nutritionist. They will be able to shed some more light on the topic and help you decide whether veganism is the right path for you.