I became vegan in recovery from a severe eating disorder. This is a highly controversial topic, but I thought I would take a stab at discussing it based on my experience. *Bear in mind that I am not a dietician or otherwise qualified health professional, so everything I discuss below is MY experience.
So the question is, can you become vegan in recovery? Can you stay in recovery as a vegan?
I’m afraid the most correct answer is the most frustrating: it depends.
Personally, I think that veganism helped me in my recovery. I know, that might sound crazy. But it actually encouraged variety in my diet, made me a more mindful eater, helped my mindset become more freedom-focused, and helped me have fun with food again.
I had to experiment to find new plant-based sources of protein, calcium, and iron. I tried different ways to cook and pair tofu, beans, and lentils. I tried different brands of almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, and oat milk. I tried dairy-free yogurt. I followed a ton of vegan bloggers and tried new recipes with ingredients I hadn’t used before. I made vegan dinners for my family. I hadn’t even realized how stuck I had become in my food choices until I branched out to get my nutrients from different places.
I was more mindful of what was in my food, mostly so I could make sure I was getting all the nutrients my body needed to thrive. Veganism wasn’t about elimination, but addition, as in: what foods could I add to my diet to get the right nutrients?
This way of thinking encouraged me to look at my food as more than calories but as something that has so many benefits for the health of my body and mind. When I was more mindful of what was on my plate, I stopped seeing food as my enemy because I knew that everything on my plate had a purpose, a role to play in helping me live a happy and fulfilled life.
I used to use time in the kitchen as a way to be around food, but never actually eat it. I would make food and make my family eat it, but I would let it go to waste before I ever took a bite. After becoming vegan, I started to experiment with how I could make some of my favorite recipes with my own vegan twist. This turned into recipe development and suddenly I started to love my time in the kitchen because I liked to try new things and see how it turned out. Finally, I was able to have fun with my food!
Veganism is often ruled out because it is seen as a label that is too restrictive for someone in recovery. I think that, sure, labels around food choices CAN be restrictive. But veganism doesn’t have to be restrictive! And it shouldn’t be! Hear me out…
The word vegan is often stereotyped and made to mean “only eating vegetables.” When looking at it this way, of course it seems restrictive because all focus is on what “can’t” be eaten. In reality, veganism is about so much more than food. It is about making a commitment to a lifestyle of compassion for all living things (One can obviously commit to the same compassion while still consuming animal products, but veganism just addresses it in a different way. No way is better than the other).
If you focus on pursuing your passion for the health of the earth rather than what you can/can’t, the world of veganism seems more open. Veganism does not have to be restrictive! You can eat plants and whole foods, sure. But you can also consume dessert and processed foods. The key to being vegan in recovery is still challenging your food rules/fears and focusing on your why.
That being said, the choice to become vegan in recovery requires an enormous amount of strength. You have to turn inward and have a serious conversation with yourself. Are you pursuing this lifestyle to avoid foods that scare you? Or are you pursuing this lifestyle from a place of compassion for those around you?
In my opinion, the answer to the above question is yes. But this answer may be different for you and may even change for me in the coming years. I would recommend being 100% solid in your recovery before attempting to transition to veganism. And, as always, (and especially if you are in recovery!) I would suggest working with a qualified dietician to help you make the right decision for you and your body because everyone’s needs and situations are so different.
Ultimately, everyone has to do what’s right for them. What works for one person may not work for the other. The most important thing is your health and happiness. Make your relationship with food come first! For now, this is what works for me. If I end up moving away from the label of veganism in the future, I will at the very least have learned so many lessons from this experience.