Healthy Eating, Veganism, & Eating Disorders

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A typical healthy meal prep spread that I’ve shared on social media

I recently read an article claiming that meal prep, veganism, and healthy eating on Instagram can trigger eating disorders. At first when I read the article, I felt a little conflicted because I post photos of vegan food, I love to meal prep, I’ve recovered from disordered eating, and I also happen to be a Registered Dietitian who understands the multiple causes and treatments of eating disorders.

What this article failed to mention is that eating disorders are not about food (seems counterintuitive, right?). Many people develop eating disorders as a result of trauma and/or underlying depression and anxiety. To blame social media or pretty pictures of salad in mason jars takes the focus away from the complex causes and treatment of addictive behavior and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

That being said, some of my meal prep photos do feature recipes low in calories, protein, and fat, so the article made me think “do I really want to present plant-based eating/vegansim in a restrictive way”? (the answer is NO because that’s not what veganism is about).

A huge part of my own recovery from disordered eating was intense therapy. Another aspect of my recovery was learning about nutrition and how to adequately fuel my body (from an RD). I learned how to prepare food and enjoy it without anxiety, which led to my love of cooking and meal prep. I learned that a balanced diet includes all types of food- including veggies AND ice cream. I learned that messages about dieting, weight control, and health will always be there and that’s ok because through therapy I gained the skills to acknowledge what does and doesn’t serve me, without placing blame on things that could possibly be triggering.

In treatment, I also reflected on my reasons for being vegan. I became a vegan when I was 15 due to many reasons, some of them more selfish (like wanting to lose weight). I then learned about the impact of factory farming on our environment. But because of the association between veganism, weight, and food restriction, letting go of labels during recovery was important. I was able to return to return to eating a vegan diet when I was stable in mind and body. I’ve also admittedly had some bumps in the road where I haven’t been a strict vegan (alert the vegan police!), but ultimately, I believe that if you feel a certain way, you’ll always go back to what is important to you.

I try to use my nutrition knowledge (as a dietitian) and my passion for plant-based eating to share how easy, nourishing, healthy, and satisfying it can be, with the right intentions. Being aware of my own history, I would never want to promote veganism strictly for weight loss. I think adopting a more plant-based diet can be a useful tool for overall health–but diet is completely individual.

If you feel like you might be using veganism/vegetarianism to mask an eating disorder, I encourage you to please let go of labels. If something is causing you to feel anxious around food and/or engage in disordered eating, it’s ok to to re-assess your intentions & figure out what works for you.

I have a lot more to say on this topic and I’ll probably share those thoughts in a separate post. But for now, I hope you take time for yourself and do things that bring you health and healing in mind, body, and soul.

-Jess

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