All “Restriction” is Not Created Equal
June 20, 2011

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “Mostly Vegan?” that got a huge response. It’s worth reading the comments on this one if you’re curious, but to sum it up for you, the point of my post was to distinguish between my attitude toward being raw and toward being vegan. I’m raw for health reasons, and reasons of personal taste. I’m vegan for those same reasons, but also for ethics. While I’m happy to bend and flex how raw I eat, I’m not similarly flexible with my veganism: I’m mostly raw, but I’m never “mostly vegan.” That’s not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly believe that being mostly vegan is still a great way to enjoy optimal health and save animals; it just means that my own veganism is a wholesale enterprise.

One of my reader (and friends) responded to that post with this heartfelt remark:

I’m a struggling vegan. Also in recovery, I’m an ED survivor. Currently, I’m vegan 95% of the time, but there are dairy-ingredient junk foods that I can’t seem to resist. My counselor says it’s because I restricted myself for so long, that now my brain just goes wild when presented with foods that I’m ‘allowed’ to eat – even though I don’t want to eat them, ethically and morally. It makes me feel sick to consume these foods, but I keep doing it, hating myself every minute. It’s the ED all over again, but in some reversed, convoluted state of binge eating mixed with rebellion against the authority of veganism as a “don’t tell me what to do.”

Although I’m deeply sorry to hear that this reader is struggling, I’m also so glad that she brought her struggle to light. This tension—”I want to be vegan, but I used to have an ED, so food ‘rules’ scare me, trigger me, and piss me off”—is one that many of my Choosing Raw readers share. In fact, it’s something I’ve wanted to address for a long time. Superficially speaking, there seems to be tension between choosing the vegan lifestyle and maintaining distance from an ED past. ED’s are rife with rules and restrictions, and part of overcoming them is learning to let restrictions go. So when confronted with a diet that has some significant built-in restrictions—namely, animal foods—it’s hard not to balk a little bit. Which is why so many men and women with ED pasts tell me that they can’t be vegan.

I sympathize, and I think my readers know by now that I support any mode of recovery—even if that’s not a vegan mode. At the same time, I’m a good example of a person with a significant ED history who has also managed to embrace veganism without a sense of conflict or unease—indeed, without even seeing the lifestyle as “restrictive”—and so my goal today is to share a few of the ways I try to reconcile my own veganism with my history. It’s not prescriptive, and it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all plan: it’s merely my vantage point, put into words.

To start, I don’t really see veganism as “restriction.” Restriction, to me, implies being either banned from something orbound in by something (I’m not talking about technical definitions, but rather my subjective reaction to language, and why certain words feel either wrong or right). Being “restricted” implies a passivity that I don’t recognize in my own food choices. In fact, the word I most use to describe my own veganism isn’t “restrictive,” but selective, which does more justice to the fact that being vegan is an active choice. I choose not to eat animals and their products: no one’s making me do it. It’s something I do autonomously, and—no matter how unlikely this is—I could always choose differently. Veganism doesn’t interfere with my freedom; it’s a direct result of it.

Checkpoint #1: If veganism is something you’ve been pressuring yourself into—either to please others or to meet self-imposed ideals—you may very well forget about the active nature of that choice. Which is why, no matter how zealously I support a vegan lifestyle, I think people need the space and freedom to evolve at their own pace. No good comes of trying to push yourself into a lifestyle or ethical stance that’s you aren’t really at peace with—all that will happen is a nasty backlash.

If this describes you, I urge you to take a little time to think about why you’re aiming to be vegan, and also to ask yourself whether or not you’ve tried to make changes too quickly. Better to face those questions honestly, than to feel as though you’re living a lie, or find that you frequently “cheat” at being vegan. If the language of cheating has even entered the picture, you’re probably not ready. Give yourself a little time, until the feelings of doubt give way to feelings of certainty.

My point about language, above—selectivity vs. restriction—puts into relief another key point, which is that veganism is a willed and mature decision, whereas eating disorders are not. Yes, there’s some consciousness involved in the development of an ED, but saying that a person chooses to develop anorexia or binge eating disorder is like saying that an drug addict chooses to become an addict, or that a person with depression chooses to be depressed. EDs, like addictions and depression, are illnesses. Those of us who have recovered know that recovery does demand a certain amount of personal responsibility and effort, but if it were that simple, EDs would not be the life-threatening monsters that they are. ED are not things we choose to have, and we can’t just as easily choose not to have them.

Veganism, though challenging and serious, is a choice. It is a choice born of an informed perspective and a strong conviction that something is right. My veganism was a mature, adult decision. I never decided to get anorexia.

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Of course, even comparing veganism and ED behavior is questionable, because it suggests commonality. Ask most vegans, and they’ll tell you that they no longer even think of animal products as food. A natural part of the transition into being veganism is that meats and (ultimately) dairy and eggs simply don’t even factor into your food pyramid: it wouldn’t occur to you to eat them, even if you could. I never felt this way about food as an anorexic. I was always heavily aware that there was a lot I could be eating; I just didn’t. As a vegan, I feel exactly the opposite: a whole world of delicious food is available to me, and, with very few exceptions, I eat it all. The stuff I don’t eat—animal food—is no longer even on my radar as a diner.

Checkpoint #2: “When will meats disappear from my radar?” you ask. Just give it time. New vegans so often feel pressure for everything to fall into place at once, but they shouldn’t: we’re all creatures of habit, and it takes time. If you still miss things, and it’s a fight to resist eating them, try to relax. You’re on a journey, and the destination is a fixed spot. You have a lifetime to hit your groove as a vegan, so cut yourself some emotional slack.

Finally, and importantly:

Let’s say that everything I’ve said until now is wrong. Let’s just say that veganism does involve restriction. I find it helpful to remember that the food “rules” that governed my life during the ED all circulated around one thing: what would make me fat, and what wouldn’t? What was “healthy,” and what was not? I never thought in “animal vs. non” terms: the stuff I avoided was usually a macronutrient group (carbs, fats), a food that had always been forbidden (pizza, oil, dessert) or something that felt too calorie dense or voluminous (peanut butter, grains). The fear foods varied, but they were all united by a single trait: I had decided, for whatever reason, that they’d make me fat.

As a vegan, I’ve neither lost nor gained weight. And though I became vegan in part to deal with my IBS, I never thought it would make me thin. I had enough understanding of nutrition to know that veganism can be a tool for weight loss, but that it won’t cause weight loss in a healthy person (unless that person is trying). I’m glad that I maintain my weight without too much vigilance as a vegan, but that was never the goal. If I had wanted to remain a waif all my life, I could have kept eating Greek yogurt, candy, fat free fro-yo, and steamed chicken (which is what I largely ate in my ED days).

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What veganism has shown me is that food groups aren’t the enemy. I embrace carbs, fats, and protein. I dig into whole grains, organic, non-GMO soy, fruit, veggies, nuts, and seeds with equal opportunity zeal. I enjoy vegan desserts when I’m in the mood for them (hello, sweet & salty cookies from Sticky Fingers!!), rich, nut-based raw dishes when I feel like it, and I have no problem whatsoever bending some of my own preference for whole foods with the occasional soy creamer, bag of carob-covered rice cakes, or even a Jolly Rancher or Swedish Fish when PMS strikes and sugar is needed. Yes, I’m really, really, really into a high raw, unprocessed, all vegan diet. But I’m no longer phobic about food—even food that’s out of the ordinary for me—and I will never again live a life that’s governed by weight-fueled rules.

Checkpoint #3: Are you becoming vegan because you secretly hope it’ll make you thin? Be honest. If the answer is yes, you’re not alone: plenty of my clients confess to me that the reasons they say they want to be vegan (health! the planet! my GI tract!) ultimately matter little to them if they can’t successfully lose weight. That’s OK. Just keep in mind that if this is true, and you’re also an ED survivor, veganism may not be the right path for you…today. Don’t give up, but do take a few weeks or months to consider your motives, and maybe talk to a vegan friend or two. Use vegan blogs to remind yourself of the reasons for being vegan that go beyond weight. And then, when you’re feeling more inspired, try, try again.

It’s easy for outsiders to assume that all food restrictions are created equal, but it’s an unfair assumption. Dietary restriction is not, ipso facto, disordered, and the things that drive my selective food choices today are not the same forces that motivated me to eliminate things from my diet when I was sixteen. I limited my food back then, not because of ethics, but because I wanted to control my body.

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My choice to avoid animal foods today, on the other hand, does not preclude my indulging in foods that would have horrified me ten years ago (avocados, chocolate, vegan cookies, oil-based dressings, or Luna and Larry’s ice cream). There’s plenty I eat now that, if I were to eat it all the time, might make me gain weight. But I’ve learned to enjoy a sane, moderate, and phobia-free diet. Veganism had a lot to do with the sanity part (see: Green Recovery) but it was never a weight maintenance tool, and it never will be.

I hope that this post speaks to some of you. I know it won’t speak to some others. Any kind of “do” or “don’t” can feel familiar and triggering to a formerly disordered eater. It’s not my place to govern how anyone else recovers, and I want all of my readers to know that I’m not selling veganism from a pulpit. What I am hoping to do is show my former ED readers who do want to be vegan—the ones who are ready, but hesitant because they’ve been told (or fear themselves) that it might interrupt their recovery—that there are plenty of important differences between the formulations and rules of an ED, and the choice to avoid animal food.

And don’t forget that the biggest difference of all lies within you. We survivors of EDs tend to forget that we’re tough and resilient: we may be a lot less fragile than we give ourselves credit for. If you’ve recovered recently, then don’t, by any means, trigger yourself unnecessarily with food choices. But do remember that you are not the person you used to be. Not every form of selectivity as an eater is destined to haunt you forever, or damage you. In fact, making informed and willful choices may actually remind you of how far you’ve come.

OK. Enough from me. I’m dying for everyone’s thoughts – if you had the patience to read through all of this!

xo

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    83 Comments
  1. This is such a wonderful post that I have reread several times now, and every time I find it thought provoking. I think your distinction between selection and restriction is a very well put one. I am always taken aback when people say to me, “oh you can’t have this, it’s not vegan.” or “You can’t eat this, it’s got eggs/dairy/whatever in it.” While I can see why they might use it, the word “can’t” in that context strikes me as out of place, and I would never describe my food choices that way. I think this is a good sign that I approach veganism in a completely different way than my past ED! I am so glad I can now choose food that I feel awesome about for so many reasons, rather than feel controlled by it.

    I also really like your point about embracing a wide variety of plant based foods. Veganism allowed me to stop breaking food down into carbs, fat, calories etc. and just love it all as FOOD, that comes from the earth (Yes that sounds slightly cheesy haha) and is good to us, as well as to the planet and animals. Buying my first jar of peanut butter was a huge step for me. For everyone else it was just a jar of ground up nuts, but for me it was a jar of recovery! A commitment and statement that yes, I would eat this high calorie, high fat food regularly in moderate amounts rather than deny myself of it completely and then binge on it in one go.

    Thank you Gena, for discussing these things in such a compassionate way.

  2. I just came across this (a bit late!) I’ve been vegan for a while and used to have an ED but lately have been making rules for myself like “no more nuts/nut products” or “no more gluten” or “raw juice fast for a week”. Reading this, an several other posts on your siter, remind me why I became vegan. Ethics, the planet, and to be HEALTHIER, not less healthy. Thank you 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for posting this, Gena! I completely agree with you. I developed anorexia at 12 years old, and consider myself to be fully recovered since age 15. I chose to become vegetarian at 17, and vegan at 19. I am now a senior in college and have never felt more vibrant, alive, radiant, and healthy. I have, and continue to gain weight healthfully and am able to maintain a good amount of muscle mass with eating a high-raw vegan diet. The woes of anorexia and “food rules” are far behind me, thanks to what I have read in the ED chapter of “Becoming Vegan,” and the book “Intuitive Eating.” I hope to be a true, living light for all beings, and I share your enthusiasm for a whole and balanced approach to life.

  4. This is truly a fascinating post. I know you often write of how veganism helped you overcome your ED, but for me, my choice to become vegetarian 8 years ago was actually part of my eating disorder. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I first chose to go veg as a more socially acceptable way to restrict food.

    Luckily, as I became more aware of animal rights, as well as the creativity in cooking a vegetarian diet, I was able to let the disorder go, and embrace a healthier plant based lifestyle. My recent choice to take the next step into veganism does scare me a little. I question myself and my motives, and have to consciously remind myself why I am doing this. My life is now revolved around compassion…for myself, others and especially the animals.

    Also, thank you for your comments on Checkpoint #2. Making these changes will take time. It took a couple of years for me to stop thinking of meat as food(probably a result of growing up in the midwest with a meat and potatoes family). But since I’ve only been doing the vegan thing for a short while, I know that it will simply be a matter of time before dairy and eggs no longer have their appeal.

  5. What a great post, as usual. I think that it is really important to spark discussion about the natures of and interactions between ethical food choice and unhealthy restriction, as the distinctions between the two can become blurred; it is not wholly unreasonable to have difficulties distinguishing between them. I have been struggling with the question for a while, and it has come up a number of times while I’ve been abroad. I recently had a conversation with some classmates as to the “don’t eat vs. can’t eat” question, and I was asked whether it might make eating out easier (which I have to do at least once per day…yikes!) if I tell the waiter that I “can’t” eat meat, milk, eggs, honey rather than that I “don’t” (“Je ne peux pas manger…” as opposed to “Je ne mange pas…”). While I’m convinced that this makes most waitstaff more cooperative (and it is for this reason that I sometimes utilize this phrasing), I think it is a little dangerous in terms of its effects on your own conception of your food choices; I caught myself using this word “can’t” in my own head whilst perusing a menu the other day. “Can’t” limits you, and it strips you of responsibility for your choice. The choice to be vegan is an enormous responsibility, and to me that is incredibly important. Saying “Je ne mange pas” says “I choose to do whatever I can to live in harmony with my environment; this includes all animals.” I think veganism is a way to empower one’s eating, and hence to empower one’s choices, one of the many reasons I am enjoying this lifestyle choice so much.

  6. Sorry for the belated response but it took me a little while to get my head around the post and the comments- both of which have been really useful.

    It’s so important to keep these discussions alive, particularly for those who, as you say, need to be honest with themselves in the name of recovery.

    Previously, I have fallen towards a vegan diet naturally, then out as I became more disordered and it’s not something I’m trying to lean towards more consciously and organically as I try and move out of that disorder.

    The distinction between restriction and choice is wonderful, thank you for that. And as you, and several commentors, suggest it really is about more than a five letter word. It’s a new way of thinking, a process, a balance. Right now, I am eating a little dairy as I’m not aware of hidden additions in some things, or asking for an alternative is still too scary. There are social concerns from some others. I would still insist to others that I am a leaning towards a vegan diet (rather than veganism) as it deflects the hypocrisy discussion about what my shoes and belts are made of.

    Essentially, leaning into veganism is an exploration I am comfortable with. It’s a way of learning how to claim and own and explain that I have choices and they are healthy for me (instead of wondering why I can’t eat pastries like it’s no big thing if other people can do that). It’s a journey and it’s kindness.

    In terms of recovery, seeing through your own webs of logic is the hardest battle. Accepting the honest truth and being kind about what you see, well that seems like a very vegan thing to do.

  7. Aaargh! I wrote a _long_ response to this and the internet went down and I lost it, for an hour. The trouble with being on the road…

    Anyway, awesome post and I so agree with your distinction between “restricting” and “selecting.” People monkey with the semantics here and compare apples to oranges: voluntary abstinence from food groups (as in veganism) is a form of restriction in one sense, but it’s possible to be well-nourished. People conflate the word ‘restricted’ to imply that one isn’t well nourished on such a diet.

    To me, the “selectivity” is key: I feel enormously privileged to be able to be vegan: in many places and times, it simply wouldn’t have been possible (especially living somewhere like AK). I include in that stratus of privilege the access to internet-based support. When I went through an experimentation with animal products a couple years ago, it was when I was surrounded by rabid anti-vegans, many of them ex-vegans, and when I was offline, away from my raw vegan friends, and was quite sick, mostly because I was still in my eating disorder. It didn’t stick, I never acquired the taste for meat or dairy, and I still don’t really regard them as food.

    Because I’ve lived on farms and homesteads so much (not to mention that I live with an omnivore), I do have respect for certain kinds of animal husbandry. But I do also feel a strong sense that it’s not my path nor what I need to be into (with the one exception that I had such a powerful experience with raw eggs years ago that I don’t rule them out in the right circumstances. Interestingly, I haven’t felt any need to explore that, though.)

    Thanks again for an awesome post.
    love
    Ela

  8. Thank you so much, you are an inspiration! You blow me away on a regular basis by your maturity around the ED discussion. I just recently told myself I HAD TO eat a raw diet in order to “cleanse my cells from all the crap that must have accumulated from my history with ED.” My treatment team has long warned me against this, but I convinced myself it was “best”. Of course, because I had placed restrictions on myself out of the “shoulds”, it didn’t go so well for me. This post came at the perfect time…I will definitely be reassessing my reasons for “cleansing”. 🙂

  9. another brilliant post Gena. I’ve always loved the COMPASSION and INSIGHT that you bring to these complicated topics. I think you brought up a ton of great points about restrictions, weight loss, etc, and I really liked this post as a follow up to the previous one. I think that you really clarified a lot of important things about restrictions vs. selection; it’s a very important point. I don’t feel restricted- ever- as a vegetarian! I am, however, consciously and healthfully selective about how, when, and WHAT I eat. I have been working on a long post about my own ethics of vegetarianism, and one of the reasons I felt compelled to write it was based on the previous post (and the comments, too). This post (and the comments) provide lots of inspiration again! aloha, a

  10. Thank you for this post – I totally agree. I’m not vegan (but I still enjoy your blog, of course), but I knew that setting “rules” would just make me want to break them. I’ve always said that if I wanted to eat meat, I would, I just haven’t wanted to yet!

  11. Hi Gena,
    I enjoyed reading this post. I have hypothyroidism. I have used the diagnosis to change my eating habits. And thats all they were…habits. Basically to work with my body by providing it nutrient dense easily digestible real food.
    It has been a process. Letting go of fast food, processed food, dairy and meat happens one choice at a time. No focus on weight, just educating myself and in some cases un-educating ( SAD = the plate with cooked meat, vegetable, potato =No Bueno )
    Once and awhile I still have meat. I can tell those days are almost over though…I looked down at my plate the last time I had meat and a thought popped in … That’s a dead animal on your plate … one of those defining moments.
    Thanks for all you do and your open arms that welcome everyone.

  12. I could relate to checkpoint 2 a lot! I became vegan early on in my second ED recovery attempt and I also fully understood it wouldn’t ‘aid’ in weightloss. I too lived of off fat-free dairy and lean meats for the most part (ew). when I switched to veganism I started eating a lot more nuts and, in the beginning, processed mock meats. I may have even gained a few pounds from it, but it all evened out.

    yay for this post! <3

  13. Such a powerful post, and great comments. I haven’t had an ED (more disordered eating which lead to me being obese) I’ve lost weight and recently became vegetarian and now vegan (which has lead to me losing more weight but I’ve adapted my diet now so that I’m happily and healthily maintaining) I did get some comments on my blog that saw my veganism as a way of further restricting my diet in order to lose weight. I found it so frustrating, especially as I had blogged about my journey from transitioning to vegetarian and then on to vegan as a result of becoming more aware of both the health, ethical and environmental reasons. If anything, veganism has really helped me to deal with so many food demons I had from being overweight and that I had developed through the weight loss process. Veganism has been so freeing for me! I guess there is still a lot of ignorance of the vegan lifestyle, especially here in the UK, although thankfully things are improving 🙂

  14. Oh wow. It’s strange that I stumbled upon your blog at the time that I did. I’ve had anorexia for at least 7 or 8 years now, but became a vegan (while I was at a healthy, stable weight) a little over two years ago for moral reasons. Ever since, my parents have thought it was a branch off of my ED and continue to harass me about it (despite the fact I just turned 20 on Monday). I’m of the same thinking in that animals and animal products are not food and since becoming vegan I have never had the urge to eat anything containing them, and the thought of doing so makes me sick. My mom is of the thinking I will never get over this ED while being a vegan because I’m telling myself “No you can’t eat that,” when all I want her to understand is that it’s NOT the ED voice that says to not eat animals or animal products. I know a little too well what the ED voice sounds like…

    Where I am now is not a good position – my weight has dropped over the past 6 months. I’m of the mindset that I’ll do it on my own this time (I’ve gone through this a few times already, as a non-vegan and vegan, and with different approaches…) and I’ll remain a vegan while doing it. There is no doubt in my mind a person can easily gain weight as a vegan and recover from an ED. The only doubt resides within my parents (who aren’t very supportive of my beliefs), and my willingness to confront the ED.

    But thank you for this post. Perfect timing for where I am at this point in my life.

  15. Oh, Gena, thank you. This is beautiful. Veganism helped me recover from anorexia, contrary to most, I suppose. I gained weight with veganism, and still continue to – now to my chagrin. (I think that’s part of my current problem.) I only know how to ‘diet’ as an omni – though dieting is a scary proposition for an ED’ed person. What I should do is learn to balance healthy eating and exercise, though I haven’t yet. But still I hope. Thank you for this post. I will come back to it when I need a lift, which is often.

    I’m grateful to call you ‘friend’.

  16. Couldn’t agree more and I think this post will help a lot of people figure a few things out. For me personally, veganism has allowed me to eat for the first time in…???…without any sort of stress response about what I’m eating. The reason is I know the things I’m putting in my body are pure nourishment and when my body has what it needs, it’ll tell me. (Well, most of the time :))Before, I was always counting…counting…re-counting, making decisions on what to have or not have next based on how “well” I was doing on my calorie total for that day. Now, the only real question is, “What sounds good and will fuel my body?”

  17. This is fascinating to me, and thank you for your insight here. I’m firmly in the camp that restriction does not recovery make–but I also know that I believe that so deeply because that’s *my* recovery story. EDs are strikingly similar across the board, but that doesn’t mean my recovery has to be everyone’s. (For example, I’m able to weigh myself without going nutty, whereas that’s a big no-no for many people in recovery, and if someone said that I couldn’t “really” be recovered because I’m weighing myself, I’d know otherwise.)

    My thought is that part of having an ED is creating a sort of special universe for yourself that’s defined by food. And veganism can easily be that (raw more so, IMHO). I’d say that most vegans I know–those with disordered eating and those without–have made veganism a central, core part of their lives. Which, for anyone with ED tendencies, is dangerous.

    But then there are stories like yours. I would still be VERY wary of the ability of anyone to recover from an ED using veganism or raw foods. But your insight and authenticity reveals that it can be done. If I ever run across someone on this path I would absolutely point them toward your writings on this topic, even as I vehemently, and respectfully, disagree.

  18. Fantastic post. This comment is probably going to sound like a broken record, but you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one, and yet I know it won’t stop a lot of people (women mainly) from turning to veganism (or a plant-based diet) as a new form of restriction. I’ve witnessed this with my own friends who have actually said “I just love eating this way because I never feel guilt.”

    And no, that’s not guilt over not eating an animal. It’s guilt over not eating a fattening meal or what have you. This is an unfortunate thing. And I don’t think it’s true just with women who have had serious EDs, and it’s probably something we’ll see more and more of as veganism grows in popularity and continues to get press in US Weekly. You know, the whole “look how veganism helped ‘so-and-so’ lose 30 lbs'”

    Thanks for writing this and always keeping it real.

  19. I love it Gena, I’m almost in tears. Last year I tried going vegan…for health, for the planet, for animals, but mostly-secretly-because I wanted to be thin. It was my restrictive tendencies resurfacing with a different disguise in response to my work with intuitive eating and the feeding frenzy that came with it. While I still believe in health, helping animals and the environment, I don’t try to be vegan anymore because it’s not the right path for me. I might change my mind in the future, but real freedom from ED means not pushing yourself to an ideal, just doing what you can.

  20. I haven’t had time to read through the comments yet, but all I can say is that this post is perfect; I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I agree with everything you said – especially the difference between selecting not to eat something, a choice, vs having no choice (due to ED rules).

  21. Love this post, great job Gena!! And great comments too! I wish I could be vegan, I have been and I hope I eventually will again but for now I´m a non-dairy pescetarian. At the moment ED recovery and digestive healing (candida) are top priority. For now my body seems to digest eggs and fish better than beans and grains, so that´s what I´m feeding it (with lots of veggies of course!). Again, thank you for writing these kinds of posts!

  22. This was great. I feel like as I was reading it I was nodding with approval, I may have even been talking out loud to the computer. Hopefully my co-workers won’t mind. 🙂

    1.) I did not lose weight when I switched my lifestyle and became vegan, nor was that goal. My father passed away from Cancer and I made the lifestyle switch simply becasue I want to live a long healthy life.

    2.) Not eating meat is not a restriction to me, I don’t even think about it. It’s like it doesn’t even exist. I am perfectly content with this. I always have been since day 1.

    3.)I LOVE COCONUT BLISS ICE CREAM! 🙂

    People ask me all the time how I did it, how do I do it. It’s a very hard question for me to answer. I really feel like it will just happen when you are ready. You really nailed it on this one.

  23. Nice article. I enjoyed your thought process on why you are flexibile with eating raw, but now flexibile when it comes to eating animal products. I also have made drastic changes in my diet to include fruits, veggies, green smoothies.. and have omitted more and more animal products as I Have had less and less desire to eat them. I made this switch purely for health reasons and put any notions of losing or gaining weight aside, as I focused for the first time in my life on what is actually healthy for me.

  24. Great post! I really enjoyed your thoughts, all the comments here as well as the post on “mostly vegan”. I am a “mostly vegan” who struggles with the ethics of this choice – I can’t imagine giving up certain foods forever (I want the freedom to order pizza with my family, even if we never do!) but I enjoy so many aspects of being vegan – I have found it a healthy diet, a way to control my IBS and a way to maintain my weight (not lose weight though) because it supports a whole foods approach. I of course feel conflicted over my mostly vegan approach because of the ethics. I didn’t become a vegan for ethical reasons but as you adopt this lifestyle I think you naturally become more attuned with the environmental and compassionate benefits of a vegan diet. So I do feel guilty for my choice to occasionally eat a non-vegan food.

    But my problem with restriction and “mostly vegan” is actually not about my own eating. I have two young kids and have chosen not to raise them as vegans. They aren’t even vegetarian. Sure, I feel awful about buying and preparing meat when I am a vegan myself but I worry about transitioning them to even a vegetarian diet. I want to make sure they get the nutrients they need to grow and that they don’t feel like they are missing out on something. Does anyone else have a struggle like this? Or thoughts on raising vegan/vegetarian kids?

    Finally just wanted to comment on eating vegan to lose weight – I think if you see it as a “diet” you will find it too restrictive. I don’t think it helps people to lose weight – simply giving up animal products – but rather that many people see that benefit because they are actually adopting a whole foods approach to eating. That’s a lifestyle choice though, not a diet, and I also think that transition takes a lot of time and education. Like being a vegan takes time (I have heard people take years to become a vegan) maybe that’s why mostly vegan works for me now but maybe in the future I will naturally transition out of this.

  25. I only found your blog because I was looking to find out about chia seed pudding. I’ve gotten so much more. I never considered trying to be vegan or vegetarian, I didn’t know a lot about eating disorders but I’m aware of the issue because I’m a mom of two girls. We’ve always tread lightly around restrictions regarding food. My first girl has always been an enthusiasic eater, wanting food early (2 months! I held her off until she was 4 months and she was going crazy. I couldn’t eat in front of her at all). She is also the one that holds onto weight easily. She’s 16 now and fairly overweight. I didn’t know anything about nutrition except what the government food pyramid says. My dad was diagnosed with diabetes so the research began and my parents started going to a naturopath. That really started to open our eyes, but the foundation was already set for my first child, and I wanted to be carefull about changing our happy eater into a kid who felt like she couldn’t have anything she wanted! My second girl, she’s 12 now, didn’t want to eat solid food until she was 9 months old and even then it was hard to find things she liked. At about 12 months she pretty much skipped pureed food (that I made myself)to meat like ham and tuna sandwiches. That’s all she would eat for a while, plus nursing. She’s also the girl who is a calorie burner, super energetic person. I’ve got two girls at the opposite ends of the spectrum so it’s really tricky to not get hung up on weight, but we’ve done a pretty good job. What I love about all your information and your point of view is there are some really great things to eat that make us feel really good! I’m adding in all your recipes slowly, so far all of them have been a hit with at least one of us if not all of us! I appreciate this post because it’s given an insight into eating disorders from a person and not an ED manual or a parenting teenagers book. Neither one of my girls has an ED, but I realize it’s a slippery slope and as a mother I need to stay aware of the possibility. Our understanding of nutrition is so much clearer now and my girls are really benefiting from this experience of healthy eating that makes them feel really great! Thank you!

  26. I love the selective vs. restrictive point. I am not vegan, but vegetarian, and do have an ED past. There is a huge difference between choosing not to eat meat, and being terrified of eating entire food groups! Like you, I eat so many things now that I would have never put in my body during my ED and I have found that vegetarianism has actually opened my eyes to many new foods and recipes.
    Great post!

  27. I know that this totally isn’t the point of your post but…I <3 Sticky Fingers! They're actually making my wedding (cup)cakes 🙂

  28. I tried Veganism when I was recovering from bulimia. I was not able to stick with it at the time because it ended up being a form of hyper-restrictive eating for me. I traded one ED for another ED. It wasn’t a problem with veganism, but with my mental approach to it. Now, as a conscious omni, I am beginning to explore the veg* lifestyle again. As someone who is celiac, and has a basic fear of all the chemicals in our food stream, I still don’t know if it is right for me. I fear that my approach would start as “eating cleanly” but would evolve into “don’t eat anything”. Posts like this one are helping me navigate through my thoughts. Thank You!

  29. Amazing and eloquent post, Gena! I’m a long-time reader and recovering anorexic myself. I have found veganism to be an imperative vessel for me. How so? It has helped me to view food as love, fuel, and energy.

    My switch to veganism and my reasons for making the transition are very similar to yours. I always felt uncomfortable eating meat when growing up but it was the “norm,” so I rolled with it. This contributed to many conflictions about the morality of my eating decisions and definitely contributed to my anorexia. I restricted partly because I didn’t even know what to eat. I was torn between what I had grown up on with my family and what I knew deep inside my heart.

    Veganism has saved me from destruction. Not to say I do not still have bad days (hence the word “recovery”). The path that I am on is one of hope and determination to completely rid myself of destructuve behaviors. If it were not for veganism, I do not think I could have done that.

    Stay lovely!
    Heather

  30. I completely agree with you on the selective nature of veganism. Friends or family will often say “oh you can’t have that I forgot” and I remind them that it’s not that I “can’t have” animal products, I can eat whatever I want to, but it’s that I choose not to eat animal products. In my eyes, there is a BIG difference!!

  31. unfortunately i used veganism as a means of restriction. the only reason i started a vegan lifestyle was to lose weight. and i did, but in an incredibly unhealthy manner. so i had to put a stop to my veganism a few months ago to regain weight and health. what i did not expect to happen during my time as a vegan was to develop a strong compassion for animals and a passion for the environment. the ethical side of myself underwent a transformation so now when i do eat meat, i don’t feel quite right. i used veganism to restrict but i hope one day to be able to simply be vegan, happy, healthy, and whole. one day! thanks for this post, gena.

  32. I think lots of people would balk at Checkpoint 3… I know for a fact that many take the vegan route for this reason. I tend to fall into the camp that whatever the reason, they are still part of the vegan “cause.” Of course, it’s not a good mentality to have, as it isn’t even really true. I find I was “thinnest” when I ate meat.

  33. great post, as always. call me lazy but i don’t feel like reading through all the comments so i’m not sure if this has been said, but i’ll be brief:

    veganism can be healthy for recovery, in my mind, so long as you haven’t previously associated it with ED issues. i only became vegan as a means to starve myself, so for me at this point i don’t think it will ever be a safe path because my mind is too hard-wired to think that avoiding dairy = a sneaky way to lose weight. vegetarianism, on the other hand, i began at a younger age for different reasons (animal welfare), so i don’t shy away from it – but still find it much “safer” to allow myself to eat whatever the heck i want, meat, dairy, whatever. to each her own, right? 🙂

  34. Gena dear friend yet another amazing post! ED is not an easy topic to discuss but you do it with such grace! Love that. We feel eating vegan or even for us gluten free is not restrictive. We stopped thinking that way once we finally got a hold of our eating disorder. When we really wanted to heal our bodies and take care of ourselves we looked at food differently! We realized there are so many great food options out there for people like us! You just have to be a little creative and have fun with food again. It took us awhile to get over our eating disorder and our mental battle of over/under eating but by eating a mostly high plant based diet has really opened our eyes to so much more. We know understand balance and what foods nourish our bodies, but also that our mind plays a big part in that too.

  35. You have outdone yourself with this post, Gena. As always, you’ve articulated this extremely complicated issue in such a clear headed way. This might be my favorite post of all b/c it encompasses so many themes we’ve discussed as a group and also themes that continually run through my mind as I “check” my own own motivations for purity. Thank you for this, Gena… you are simply amazing!

  36. Great read! The first time I adopted veganism I was still in the midst of disordered eating. While I never suffered a diagnosed ED, veganism was definitely a way to restrict my eating without being questioned. I have dabbled in vegetarianism several times throughout my life, mostly for moral reasons, so it was clear to me that a vegan diet was something I wanted to pursue but just couldn’t at the time if I wanted to be healthy. I didn’t cook much, and all I ate was packaged foods labeled “vegan” for the most part. Now that I’m much better about my health, and I can actually cook, I’m proud to say that my food choices go much deeper than what keeps me skinny. While I do monitor calories, my vegan diet is fueled by moral, health, and environmental motives and I don’t plan on looking back!

  37. What a great post!! I have to be honest — my veganism, over time, *became* an eating disorder, but for reasons that were not the restriction of the diet itself. Veganism was part of the surrounding circumstances, not necessarily a contributor. However, it also helped save me. I found peace in a more raw, nutrient-dense diet after reading Thrive. I wanted to fuel myself well enough so that I could continue to build strength and train for a half marathon. My reasons for veganism remain the same — personal preference (I’ve never enjoyed animal foods much), nutritional reasons, and ethical. Although animals are not the driving force of my veganism, I can see that if it were not present in my thinking at all, it would be much more difficult to remain a vegan. I agree 100% — after being a vegan for awhile, you begin to wonder why anyone would ever bother to eat animal products. They begin to form their own small, little world of unhealthy dessert ingredients that don’t make much sense to use versus coconut oil or flax. Thank you for this post G!!

  38. From the POV of non-vegan who is learning to eat more compassionately, you still eventually stop missing things. Even if they remain on your radar.

    I used to love steak. It felt like something primal, sensual. Now? Meh. The more I began to make interesting vegan and vegetarian dishes, and the less frequently I ate meat, the less I wanted it. Right now, if I never eat beef again, I won’t feel like I am missing anything. Pork has moved completely off the radar the more I kept read about intelligence and sociability of pigs; it really became a non-food the way Gena describes it. And it just gradually happened, without actually aiming for it.

    In the past I tried to go vegetarian several times for ethical reasons and failed due to the feeling of restriction. Now, without telling myself “you’ll never eat this again”, I have effectively changed my food habits and the way I perceive food. While at the same time bringing my eating more in line with my ethics and environmental values (avoiding conventional animal industries).

    If you make it about expanding your choices by experimenting with vegan recipes and about living more in line with your values, as opposed to focusing on restriction, it becomes something you can follow whether or not you make the conscious choice to transition to veganism. And I wonder if this approach could sway a much larger number of people, increasing the next impact of our food choices.

  39. Thank you so much for this post!

    I’ve been lurking on your blog for some time now, I thought I’d come out of the woodwork.

    I’m a ED fighter (~2yrs), a vegetarian (~1yr), and I recently gave veganism a go, but for some of the wrong reasons. Currently I eat home-eggs and yogurt, and do feel guilty from the moral point. But I’ve reintroduced these foods because I know my body needs the nutrients, and currently I’m not eating a varied diet and supplementing, which I would need to maintain my health. Its a little painful dealing with the guilt of not destructing myself and harming animals instead, but its the place I”m at currently. Trying to not deceive myself.

    I’ve done give and take with rules, experienced the mind games. Its challenging. I wish I could find the words to say what I want to say.

    Thank you for setting a healthy example.

  40. Wow, Gena. This post is bang on the money! (Is that the phrase). Really, I love it.

    It’s funny, because it contains a lot of what I’ve recently realised and learnt about myself and my previous try as a vegan (as you’ll see from my green recovery post). In no way do I see veganism as restrictive but initially, back in 2009, it was my weight management tool. Now I’m re-examining my motives and being much kinder to myself in my transition back to vegan I feel so much better and confident that this is far from my ED behaviour. I think I may be rambling now. But the main things I love about this post are the important distinctions you make between an ED approach to food and a healthy vegan approach to food.

    Awesome post, truly. x

  41. Gena, I was just considering this today. It was a welcome surprise to see you so thoughtfully addressed this issue, at times left aside because of taboo.

    I choose not to eat many foods that are the staples of most people’s diets — some because they make me sick, some because they are simply unhealthy, and some because I have ethical convictions that compel me to abstain. I frequently encounter judgment for these choices. The majority don’t understand that medically speaking, I can’t consume certain “givens” that constitute the standard American diet. But more often, I experience palpable frustrations that I would, on top of the foods I need to avoid for health reasons, have the audacity to “limit” myself further by not eating meat. (Note that I always prepare for myself and never expect anyone to accommodate my dietary needs.) And then, the assumptions attack…

    Because I am very open and transparent about my ED history, I apparently have placed myself in a position to be criticized and analyzed by anyone who feels they have a better understanding of my psychology than I do. This is truly disheartening, because I feel as though I could be a poster child for ED recovery! My life has never been so rich, full, or healthy. I make choices with rationality, balance, and self-love; destruction is in my past, not my future, and I do my best to encourage others along a similar path to flourishing.

    I generally agree with what you’ve laid out in this post, and I appreciate that you place the responsibility for discernment upon the individual dealing with disordered eating. Certainly, this requires a very real honesty with oneself, and a prudent approach (and most likely conversations with compassionate persons who know one well enough to offer more objective reflections). That is precisely why I had to be patient as I seriously contemplated whether becoming vegetarian was the appropriate choice for me; I didn’t transition fully until I could trust myself to do this for the right reasons. And, due to this, instead of the weight of limitation I once felt with my ED, I am now liberated and empowered with choice.

    It is disheartening to be scrutinized as if I’ve shown no growth in my ED recovery — I think my transformation not merely physically, but mentally, spiritually, relationally, and in many other regards, is evidence of my ability to make good choices. I appreciate the concern of outsiders, but I do not appreciate that the judgment presented is not brought forth with actual concern. It would seem that it tends to be a result of those individuals feeling judged by my choices (despite my efforts to make clear that I am in no way pointing fingers).

    I may be hypersensitive and reading too much into things, but from my experience, it seems as if accusations of “restriction” are 99.9% of the time really just a reaction to the insecurity of those who hold and practice a different eating ethic. I know that in some situations, my decision to not eat meat is noticeable. And I know that it makes people uncomfortable. I also know that I feel uncomfortable, I usually respond with defensiveness, and justification. Likewise, often — not always, but often — I sense that “restriction” torpedoes are launched at vegetarians and vegans because these ethical boundaries are scary to those not engaged in them. At the very least, I can look back and say this was true of me at a various points. So, I suppose I should show empathy, even though I’m exasperated by this misplaced condemnation. Sigh.

    Anyway, thanks for another good read and for letting a sister process her thoughts and emotions 🙂

    • Katie,

      I could not agree more that vegans are resented and attacked–very often with no provocation or offensive action–because the people attacking are simply uncomfortable with their own actions. Many people feel subconscious dissonance about the choice to eat meat (perhaps they own pets, and sense somehow that eating animals from farms is not entirely different), and a vegan’s announcement of his or her veganism is a reminder that they could, in theory, opt out.

      As for your recovery, give it time. I’m still scrutinized by certain family members, but then, the ones who understand me don’t scrutinize my diet, they celebrate it. It took time and patience.

      xo

      • Katie- I really like your response- don’t apologize! It’s true: “torpedoes are launched at vegetarians and vegans because these ethical boundaries are scary to those not engaged in them.” Well said. My boyfriend and I have talked about this a lot in relation to family functions: it’s just easier to kind of hide out because otherwise the topic of your eating ethics always comes up, and everyone feels kinda guilty. Because as Gena wrote below, often people feel that they too could ‘opt out’ if they made a conscious choice. aloha, a

      • Katie, I love your comment. And it was what other said to me, with the knowledge of my ED post, when I was vegan last time that was a major trigger to relapse for me. I, stupidly yet characteristically, believed that others knew my psyche better than me. Be strong. Others comments are annoying and disheartening but if you know in your heart of hearts (which I didn’t at the time) that your eating/ethical choices are not related to your ED past then stick to your guns and find confidence in all the positives you’ve experienced since adopting a veg*n diet 🙂

  42. I think this post was perfectly eloquent, gracious and honest. I love your point of view, and I totally agree with you. It is important to be honest with yourself about your motives to be vegan, if you are an ed sufferer. I chose veganism as an extension of my will to live in a way that is non harming. Non harming to myself, and non harming on a larger scope. Veganism is always a personal choice, and one that needs to be taken very seriously when you have an E.D history. Thank you so much for this post Gena

  43. Gena, this was a beautiful post and a refreshing perspective. I nodded along a lot through this post, but particularly the parts about being selective, and changing your mindset about what is ‘food’ – and what is food you WANT to eat – and what is not. There are challenges that accompany the choice to be vegan, especially if you have suffered from an ED in the past, but I do think many of those challenges exist if you choose other lifestyles. For example, training for a marathon can be though when you have recovered from an ED. You have to learn to eat enough for your activity level, and you have to deny yourself quite a few moments of pleasure for the greater good of your training (hello, early Saturday morning runs!). The same could be said if you just simply want to eat healthfully or you have an allergy and you used to have an ED. You are also going to find yourself saying ‘no’ to certain foods. In other words, there will always be challenges when you suffered from an ED in the past, but the difference, as you said, is choice. When you choose to do something, then you are empowered, and that can make all the difference.

    With that said, I do think that there are different challenges for different people that someone in big cities in America might not face. However trivial it may sound, the social and family life of a vegan living in small town America or in another country, can be completely damaged by the choice to go vegan. Their food choices can ostracise them, and for someone who used to have an ED, that can be extremely triggering. I think your approach in this post, i.e. the ‘checkpoints’, can be a great way for people to think further about HOW the choice to go vegan may/is triggering them. Maybe it is something the person can address by working through their issues, or maybe it’s something external that is making it more difficult. It’s something I think about a lot, particularly when I am in rural Australia. You can’t even get a snack at a service station that’s vegan sometimes, and the next service station is 100s of km away. I have no idea how anyone would be vegan in those places! Anyway, my point is this: for someone who once had an ED, the whole picture is important when deciding to go vegan. The questions are not just about your own mental preparation for the food choices, but also about how you might cope to the way it will change your life more broadly.

  44. Thank you for this post, Gena. I think you really hit the nail on the head by distinguishing between “restrictive” and “selective”…as a fellow ED sufferer, I know I always had a hard time explaining that to people. The part about animal foods not even being on the edible radar as a vegan also really resonated with me; I recall many a time, when asked by a non-vegan if I missed eating meat, for example, or cheese, that I’d compare it to asking if they missed eating cardboard – it simply never occurred to me.

    Now, as an omnivore once again, I can still fully appreciate this point of view. One’s diet, short of being due to allergies or other physical issues that may be out of one’s control, should be dictated by an active choice to nourish oneself in the best way they can – in body, mind, and spirit – not a gritted-teeth, no-holds-barred attempt to shrink and self-destruct.

    I must admit, I started to freak out at the part where you named your “fear foods:” “…too calorie dense or voluminous (peanut butter, grains)…” But you redeemed yourself in the end by pointing out that you now indulge in those foods whenever you feel like it, and that by letting go and allowing yourself to do so, your weight has remained constant.

    Thank you for proving that you can have your cake and eat it, too – vegan or not :).

    ~vanessa

    • Thanks Vanessa!

      I hope that it was clear to you that those are PRE-vegan fear foods — former ones from my old ED days. Fear foods no longer, that’s for sure.

  45. This is a great, well-written, and well-thought out post, Gena. You know how I felt when you started the green recovery series, and I think this post has changed my mind. I didn’t think that any restriction, no matter the motivation, was good, but I can see that your goals are important. I do like that you point out that it may not be best for everyone, and hopefully people that undertake this committment do so for the reasons that you outlined above. In the end it always comes back to personal responsibility.

  46. What an informative post. I’m a plant-centric omnivore and one of the reasons I’ve been following your blog for a long time is that veganism doesn’t seem like something you’ve forced yourself into. Rather, it seems to me as a reader and fan that it’s your natural “gear”. I love being able to read your blog and try your recipes without feeling like I’m an outsider as a non-vegan. Thank you for your inclusive and welcoming attitude. I had wanted to dramatically cut down my dairy intake and save it for special occasions and your blog has helped me do just that. Come to think of it, I hardly eat any meat or fish anymore either. Vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains, and fruits just somehow became the center of my plate. I don’t have any plans to entirely eliminate non-vegan foods, but I feel really great about how I eat, perhaps for the first time. Thank you for sharing your delicious recipes and your heartfelt thoughts.

  47. One of the things I love most about veganism is how unrestricted it really is. Everyone thinks that being a vegan is what makes me healthy, and I always remind them that French fries are vegan, but they are just about the furthest thing from healthy. Eating “healthy” and vegan is a choice I make, governed by my ethical and moral principles, as well as my desire to take care of my body. Becoming a vegan actually gave me back the control to make those decisions while recovering from my ED, because I’d stopped counting calories in every little thing and just ate what I wanted to. I feel better now about everything I eat, even the “bad” things, and in the year that I’ve been a vegan, I’ve felt more in control of my eating than ever before.

  48. This is a great post. Even though I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, it strikes me that if you want veganism to “stick” you have to choose it for the right reasons – and those can’t be to lose weight and, I would argue – also just simply for health or the environment. I say this because I think it’s possible to maintain an excellent level of health as an omnivore (most likely limiting animal products while not cutting them out altogether) and I also think it’s possible to have a very low impact on the environment as an conscientious omnivore.

    When it comes down to it, the most compelling reason to adopt a vegan lifestyle is simply the recognition that we don’t need to use animals. We don’t need to eat or use them or their by products – no matter if they are factory farmed or not. And for those that argue that vegans use animals in a small way – because it’s difficult to avoid all animal products 100% in our society – sure, that’s true, but there’s a very compelling reason to do all we can to avoid using animals – especially when there are so many vegan food or personal care alternatives available now.

  49. Wow, wonderful post! Shortly after going vegan, my grandma told me an awful story of a lady in her retirement home who was a vegan only eating veggies and fruit and because of it her bones were so fragile, she couldn’t walk. I had to clarify the lady had an eating disorder that shouldn’t be labled as a vegan diet. But I think she suspects I have an ED still! Transitioning to a vegan diet was a time-consuming journey for me, it took about 9 months as I considered the real reasons and refocused on eating for health and ethics, not just for weight management. I think you made some great points here about transitioning and knowing your own motives for it.

  50. it really is the OPPOSITE of the restrictions i am currently bound and ruled by. the exact opposite.

    okay, i am done. i think this was a lovely post… obviously haha. thank you. 🙂

  51. i also really appreciate the way you are framing this… it’s amazing how seeing something from a different perspective can really help me understand it more deeply. i mean, duh, of course it works that way. but anyway, the idea of veganism as a CHOICE vs. ED as something i would never, NEVER choose for myself… that is really powerful to me. i need to feel empowered in my food/health choices, rather than tied down by some kind of outwardly imposed concept of what is right… or my own mangled ideas of an outwardly imposed concept of what is right reflected back on myself… etc etc, i’m sure you know what i mean even though i can’t express it very well. i feel like, if i can think to myself that i am CHOOSING health and CHOOSING my moral beliefs when i refuse dairy products, rather than having a choice made for me or imposed on me… that would be goood. i guess i just have to get to a place where the intersection between food and weight/body image doesn’t play such a pivotal role, like you were saying. it still does, for me. i don’t know if that will ever change. because even though i truly believe that veganism is my ultimate path in terms of my own body’s health and the world’s heath… i can’t help but focus on weight over everything else. anyway, obviously i am still not as recovered as i want to be. but still, your post has given me a lot to think about and some hope that one day, somdeday, if i am able to break free from this hell that i did not choose, i will be able to feel empowered to live a beautiful vegan life.

    • actually, the more i think about it, i am so envious that you have made it to this place where you actually get to take control in a strong, health-focused, love-focused way. not control as it is for me, which is a scary thing and is actually a reflection of how out-of-control i truly am inside. control in a beautiful way… empowerment and individuality and expressing who you are through the food choices you make, and taking care of yourself and taking care of the world. beautiful beautiful, what an amazing life to lead.

  52. Thanks for this powerful perspective. I honestly meet very few vegans in real life that struggle with this, but many from the raw food community. But I do tend to know vegans who got into it for animal rights. You are a major exception to the people I know who went to veganism for health reasons, because you have deeply considered the ethics as well. Honestly if someone is eating even 5% animal products, they probably haven’t bothered to invest enough research or emotional energy to the plight of animals. Maybe those who milk their own goats/cows or gather their own eggs are the only exception, because they can control it. The rest really have no idea where their food comes from or if the farmers sell the goats or chickens to someone who will slaughter them once they stop producing. I really find it odd to accept 5% of child abuse, 5% of slavery, or 5% of anything else, so why 5% animal cruelty?

    All that being said I get that it is a societal huge pressure to eat animal products and there is a huge responsibility that one has to take when going vegan. It certainly doesn’t have to be restrictive at all, there are almost vegan substitutions for anything, even twinkies, but you may have to spend a little or make it yourself. So to me, hearing about someone like Natalie Portman or your reader wanting nonvegan baked goods, it perplexes me why they can’t just choose the vegan ones.

    Cravings go deep and are really emotional. I think we have to forgive ourselves and be patient if we crave animal products. To crave it once in awhile is ok, but then the education comes in. What if I had the urge to slap someone who said something idiotic? I would not, because it’s harmful, but the urge might be there. The same can be said for nonvegan foods. You have to remind yourself of the cruelty behind it. I don’t think this is because humans innately want to eat flesh or milk, it’s due to heavy marketing and cultural influences.

    Thanks for showing that vegan does not always equal healthy. I actually get worried about portraying a vegan diet as a “health” diet because it’s not about that for me, it’s just one type of vegan diet that’s out there. I certainly had my time of vegan unhealthy food (gin and tonics, swedish fish, fries, etc) because it wasn’t about health for me then.

    I know a lot of your readers are not all vegan. I think you leave an open door for that. But to be honest, most people in general have not had EDs and the type of restriction they are imagining may not be at all to the level of the type you describe. They are more at the level of uncomfortability then the huge head games you and your reader describe.

    Even so, I hope that people eating less animals even if they can’t go all the way will ultimately help the animals. Especially chickens, so many are killed, billions a year.

    ok sorry for the ramble…you got me thinking and hopefully others too.

    • So interesting Bitt! I really enjoyed reading your perspective on this, in particular these two thoughts:

      “I really find it odd to accept 5% of child abuse, 5% of slavery, or 5% of anything else, so why 5% animal cruelty?” and

      “What if I had the urge to slap someone who said something idiotic? I would not, because it’s harmful, but the urge might be there. The same can be said for nonvegan foods.”

      Thank you for sharing! Definitely good food for thought.

      And of course, amazing post again Gena 🙂 I always enjoy reading these posts along with all the comments!

    • I’m so glad that you liked the post, friend. And thank you for pointing out to readers that it’s actually healthy to sometimes have restrictions in one’s life that are born of a sense of right and wrong. I’d like to rob the nearest boutique, rather than take on a few clients to pay for new clothes, but I control that impulse because it’s simply not acceptable. I think food choices are more complex because we live in a society that condones animal killing and use, and not theft, but the basic parallel is very real.

    • You know, vegans often say that (that people who eat animal products just don’t know where their food comes from etc.), but I can assure you that’s not true. If it were true, why are there so many vegans (and quite a few of them for AR reasons), who start eating animal products again? I know exactly what goes on on farms and slaughterhouses, I’ve seen Earthlings and I’ve read Eating Animals and I still started eating animal products after being vegan for some time.

      • I would also argue that “seeing earthlings” and “reading eating animals” is nothing compared to the hard core animal activists i’ve worked with who spend day after day protesting on the streets or do intense hands-on animal rescue of farmed animals, the farm sanctuary founders…the ones who get it on that level never go back. they could not live with themselves if they did. the word vegan has been weakened. not all vegans care about animals to the same extent.

        • “the word vegan has been weakened”? So now to be a good vegan, one must not only refrain from using animal products, one must be a hard core animal activist (whatever that is)? That’s a great way to get people to become vegan…

      • Yes, I think it’s unfair entirely to say that all omnis are unconscious, or don’t know the facts. I have conscious omni friends, and while we differ on the morality of animal slaughter or the use of animal food on principle (to me, the fact that an egg is from a small local farm, or that beef is grass fed, doesn’t mean that the act of taking or slaughter is right), we’re all informed and have healthy, good debates.

        • yes I get it because my own dad says his grandfather slaughtered birds by hand and would eat that and there are hunters out there. they get where the food comes from. then it just comes down to thinking that it’s ok to kill animals and take another’s life.

          sometimes lapsed vegans are the most willing to get their hands in it even go off and be hunters. obviously there was a mind switch there somewhere and i can’t even begin to fathom how that happens. nor do I care to, i focus my energies on those that would change if they knew where they food was coming from.

  53. After the birth of my 2nd child a rapid succession of revelations unfolded for me. I am Celiac, lactose intolerant, cannot tolerate yeast, soy, peanut, preservatives and some additives as they exacerbate my hyperplastic polyposis. I eat little to no meat as I find it hard to stomach, in every way! I struggle with bulimia and tend to binge on “naughty” food that I will purge. I desire to lead a healthy and well rounded life that includes my food! Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.

    • I too am celiac, it can really make you have a weird relationship with food but after awhile your gut will heal and hopefully that will help you.

  54. Thanks Gena, this was a great essay. Before reading this I was more on the side of believing any kind of “restricting” seems like it would be triggering for ED survivors, based on my insticts and logic. While as you discuss, it CAN be triggering for certain ED sufferers, it is not inherently triggering (for all). You’ve brought up some really interesting points that I had not thought of. For example motivation. If deeply and honestly your motivations to become vegan are not coming from yourself and whats best for you but for some kind of outside goal such as weight loss or image this is not going to “stick” or be a healthy restriction. Your discussion of language and the difference between selection and restriction also resonated with me, there is such a difference, it’s true.

    For me whenever I get close to veganism and “stricter” limits for whole living, I actually look back and realize those rules stressed me out more than they made me feel good. What works better for me personally is letting my self select the healthier “mostly vegan” (haha) meals, most of the time, but not making a boundary. That way I choose whats best for me more often, rather then when I am more rules based theres an underlying tension of strictness that I don’t feel is healthy for me at the place where I’m at now. I relate to the elements of language you discuss here even though for me the outcome is different. All in all very thought provoking! Thank you.

  55. Wow, Gena, what a post. So much ground covered, and you laid out your thoughts so well. I don’t even know what to zero in on!

    I’ll go with your sentiment that being vegan may not be the best choice for each person who’s in recovery and that you give the space and “approval” for that and accept that in some situations, it’s better for a person to NOT box herself in with any labels or food restrictions, including veganism.

    I also like how you addressed WHY someone wants to be vegan, what their goals are, what their motivations are and that you encourage everyone to dig deep on that..from peer pressured veganism to veganism b/c they think it will make them thin. All great points to bring up.

    What an awesome post…can’t wait to read the comments I know it will get!

  56. This post is wonderful. As a recovering overeater, I have found learning to love and enjoy food without guilt has been deeply connected with my shift towards veganism. Though I am not 100% of the way there yet, I have been following your own guidelines – adding first, subtracting latter. I have added whole plant based foods to my diet over the past year and a half, and slowly subtracted meat (a combination of my own morality-related choices, and a simple lack of desire to eat meat), and my dairy consumption is going the same way. Never has there been a can, or cannot, it has simply been the result of expanding my own horizons.

    Thank you, as always for a beautiful, thought provoking post.

  57. Great post- I do think labeling things does put stress/restrictions on you & also triggers opinions. I dont eat animals but I also rarely use the term vegan simply because I hate answering questions. I dont eat animals because I dont like them and it works for me but I understand its not the right diet for everyone.

    • Me too…I’m not going to label myself either, for me (not a food blogger just a girl living life) there’s no point and it’s no one’s business. The vegan label has become such a stereotype, at least here in CA and I don’t want to be a part of it.

  58. I’ve honestly thought many times about taking the jump and becoming vegan. I’ve already been a vegetarian for 8 years, but the jump between vegetarian and vegan for some reason seems like a grand leap. As an ed survivor that, as you mentioned, restricting myself from foods I love (ice cream!) makes me nervous, because it feels like a step in the wrong direction. However, I fully believe in the ethical reasons for becoming vegan which is where I struggle. One thing I liked was where you said you made the choice to become vegan and not the choice to become anorexic. I think that’s a good way to look at it because maybe if I don’t look at being vegan as a restriction, but more as a opening to something even grander, it will help me view veganism in a different light. Hmm I need to go ponder this… 🙂
    Great post!

  59. Seriously powerful post…I hope you understand the good you’re doing just by saying this stuff out loud. I’ve netted as high-vegetarian/conscious consumption but the ED piece isn’t one quickly forgotten. Thank you for hosting the conversation.

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