Home » Veganism – A Disguise for Disordered Eating or Freedom Through Restriction?
Vegan. The dirty word within dietary approaches. Despite campaigns like Veganuary and ‘Meat Free Monday” trying to make plant-based eating sexy, the term is still given to elicit images of malnutrition, self-denial and evangelical avoidance of animal-derived foods and products.
This is relatively unsurprising given that adopting a diet or lifestyle founded on the premise of what you don’t or can’t consume is problematic at best – and even more problematic within the context of eating disorder diagnosis/ recovery and ‘non-diet’ spaces. After all, permissible foods or strict food rules may eventually culminate in a diet that comes to include extraordinarily little dietary variety. (Brytek- Matera, A et al. 2019, p. 442).
Pervasive vegan stereotypes of the diet only consisting of salads and meagre portions of vegetables may not only propagate or feed restrictive eating patterns and self-denial, but aid in the social acceptance and normalisation of limited dietary intake. This raises the question of whether veganism can play in role in either the development or maintenance of disordered eating or eating disorders (Timko, C et al. 2012, p.982).
Was it the refusal of the chicken or the exclusion of the egg that came first?
Conversely, anecdotally and through social media, many women have voiced how transitioning to a vegan diet helped them foster a greater sense of food- freedom – a sense of freedom attained through restriction (Costa, I et al. 2019, p. 1) .
By shifting their focus from a fixation on their (negative) body-image to a movement beyond the self – that is, the movement from iron-clast self-control and myopic weight management to broader social justice and compassion, adopting a vegan diet has enabled many women to interrupt disturbed eating patterns.
As opposed to being a means to “shrink” the self, it can become a vehicle for social and environmental change that demands a loud voice, the capacity to defy social norms, and the willingness to take up space. One could even go so far to say that ethical veganism aligns with the underpinnings of the anti-diet, counter-cultural, ‘challenge -the-system-and-take-back-ownership- of- your- body’ ethos and give women a greater sense of agency.
After all, it’s hard to believe in the sanctity of all life and show compassion towards all species and the planet if you can’t love yourself first, right? Or as our favourite drag mother, RuPaul, would say “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna’ love someone else?” Can I get an Amen?!
Surveys demonstrate that 71% of ideological/ ethical vegans cite health or weight-control/ reduction as a secondary reason for their plant-based diet and tend to diet relatively less frequently than omnivores, endorse overall healthier food-based habits and have a better relationship with food (Heiss et al. 2017, pp.133-134).
In short, saying “NO-WHEY” to animal derived foods –
Where does the truth lie, in this chaos of claims and counterclaims? Does veganism cause eating disorders, or do eating disorders trigger the transition to veganism? Do plant-based diets help or hinder recovery? Can any “diet” or nutritional protocol ever truly result in food or body neutrality if we allow what we chose to eat to play a role in forming our identity?
Charlotte Munro, BSc
EHL Team x
Embody Health London champions food freedom, positive body image, mental health and emotional wellbeing through a uniquely blended scientific and holistic approach. The EHL team specialises in treating chronic dieting and eating disorders by coaching clients to build confidence and reduce anxiety around their eating habits and food choices.
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