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  • The intersection between veganism and eating disorders

    February 04, 2022

    The intersection between veganism and eating disorders

    TW eating disorders and mention of fatphobia and diet culture



    Lately I have felt extremely guilty for not being vegan/vegetarian, considering that they are both life choices based on values I deeply believe in: love for animals and love for our planet. For a while I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t a vegetarian, I felt this deep resistance in me that I couldn’t put my finger on, but that I have lately identified as fear. Fear of a slippery slope that starts with excluding some foods from my diet and ends with my digestion and health being damaged forever.

    It’s a slippery slope called eating disorder, and today I am here to talk to you about how, for people with a history of restrictive eating, vegetarianism and veganism can sometimes not be an option.


    My history with eating disorders


    I suffered from anorexia in highschool, although not many people noticed because I didn’t fit the anorexia look that the uneducated public has in mind, and I, being uneducated myself, had no idea I had it. After my bachelors, now aware of my history of anorexia but thinking I had been “healed” for years, I realised that my eating disorder had simply mutated into orthorexia: an obsession for eating good foods only.

    I am now in a pretty good place, but I get easily triggered. To get to where I am now, the only way was to allow myself to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, trying to never judge myself and others, never assigning moral values to food (good or bad) and never ever skip a meal. It’s a huge shift in the way we think about food in today’s society, and it’s been a hard and long process, which is why even just hearing someone talking about “junk food”, still to this day, makes me want to scream.


    How does this intersect with veganism?


    I don’t know if you can already see where this is going, but this is where being vegetarian or vegan becomes terrifying to me: it includes restrictions, it classifies some foods as “the ones you should not eat” and this gives me horrible flashbacks. I can imagine that, to many, this intersection might seem like a “stretch”, but I can assure you that, in my brain, the terror for any type of restrictive eating, be it in calories count or types of food, is very real.

    And even if, to some, “having an eating disorder” and “being vegan because of your values” are two very different things, and don’t overlap at all, in my brain, they translate to the exact same thing: “Some foods are good, and you can have them. Some foods are bad, and you can’t have them”.


    Another thing that might be useful for me to touch upon, is that often people that have eating disorders don’t know they do. While I was orthorexic, I was absolutely sure that I was simply choosing foods that were healthy for me because I loved myself and my body. I hid the truth by telling myself that the foods I deemed “bad” were actually bad for my health in whatever quantity, and therefore this wasn’t a diet, it was choosing to live by my values.

    This is another reason why, although I can rationally understand that being vegan/vegetarian is not per se an eating disorder, I instinctively associate it with restriction and trauma. It’s as if my gut couldn’t get over the idea that, if I tricked myself once, for years, I have no way of making sure animal product restriction won’t end up with me sliding down the slippery slope and ruining my health further, losing all of the progress I have made in the past years.

    Balance over Perfection


    The reason why I am telling you all this, is that there is a level of complexity in the intersection between the experience of an eating disorder survivor and veganism that I have never heard being talked about before. And I bet that, in the same way, being vegan or vegetarian can intersect with other types of experiences in ways that, those that haven’t lived them, could never imagine.

    So, although there is no real conclusion to this blog, that mostly wants to point out the complexity of the topic and raise awareness around it, there’s a concept I’d like to leave you with: our experiences overlap in very personal ways, and we should all aim to finding a balance that is sustainable for us personally, rather than struggling for perfection.


    Had you ever thought of this intersection before? Do you have thoughts or questions about it? Write them in the comments, I’d love to start a conversation.


    Ps. For the sake of full disclosure: since living in Berlin I have reduced the amount of animal products to a minimum and I am hoping that, by not having them, I might end up not liking them. But even this has been an extremely delicate and lengthy ongoing process, and to be quite honest it’s triggering even explaining it because it still feels like I am tricking myself into not eating stuff just like I used to. Which I am. But it’s for a good cause. But it’s hard. And complex. And it sucks.

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