Defending Veganism

**Long/ranty post. Feel free to skip, but would love input if you have the time =)

Have you ever felt the need to defend your choice to be vegan? We get a lot of judgy vibes from people. They question our protein & calcium sources and we can properly sustain ourselves. Why would we want to go vegan in the first place? What pushed us from, in my case, a standard american diet to plant based living?

I don’t mind answering these questions. Even if the person asking seems like they don’t really care for my answers, I still believe it gets them thinking about things – about how they eat, their health, the animals and the planet.

But something I have come across during my recovery from my disordered eating, is how my being vegan is a form of a restrictive diet. One of the issues I have had in the past is restricting the amount of food I eat and what types of food I eat. And when I was in outpatient treatment, it was a hot topic with my specialist. She was convinced it was just a form of my eating disorder and that I would never truly be “better” if I continued to restrict such a wide scope of animal-based food.

I didn’t like a lot of what she had to say, but over time, I realized many of the things she said aided me in proper recovery. This wasn’t one of them. And now that I am in therapy, I have come to realize I am not even recovered from my eating disorder. I’m in a very good place, a very healthy place – much better than I was 2 years ago, a year ago or even 6 months ago. I am slowly moving forward, but am far from fully recovered. My therapist today brought up my diet choice and made the same points as the specialist two years ago and it really hit a nerve.

I got extremely defensive and explained all of the awesome benefits I got from being vegan. I feel better, I have more energy, I sleep better, my allergies have disappeared, I can’t properly digest dairy and I NEVER LIKED MEAT. Initially, going vegan was purely for health reasons. I had a cancer scare and after doing extensive reading, I concluded that going plant based could potentially reduce my risk of reoccurrence and that it couldn’t hurt anything.

Before going vegan, I was the pickiest eater ever. I wouldn’t try any new things, got serious anxiety about trying a new restaurant (and would order the exact. same. thing. from my regular favs). I ate much of the same thing day and day out, never eating many fruits or vegetables, or getting much protein and definitely missed out on a ton of nutrition in general. After being vegan for a year, I realized that it had opened a whole new world to me. I realized I had to break out of my comfort zone and try eating different things and I got to the point where I would try anything if it was vegan (avocado and mango are just a couple of the things I had never tried before in my 25+ years). And then I realized how much I love all of the little furry faces and how I could never eat them or from them again (which mean I also stopped wearing them or using any sort of care products of the sort). The environmental reasons came into play too and it just all sort of connected together for me. Annnnnnd my first physical and complete lab after going vegan proved I was healthier on the inside too.

So I’m feeling even more stuck in my recovery. This isn’t something I’m willing to budge on and it’s frustrating that what I’m doing could be considered restricting and unhealthy to myself when I feel like it’s brought me to my best self.

What do you guys think?

19 thoughts on “Defending Veganism

  1. Gosh, as someone who’s been in a similar position, I can empathize, Kimmy! And, I have the privilege of knowing you personally so I feel like I can comment without worrying that you’ll take it the wrong way. I think having an ethical commitment to a diet is valid, with the understanding that you might be compromising on your health or progress with eating disorder recovery. I think the commitment to veganism as the ultimate health choice is worth exploring. There is just not enough evidence to show that, as much as I wanted to believe it when I was vegan. Vegetarianism is a lot better studied in that regard. So, ultimately, it’s your decision which is more important to you. I see them as two separate journeys. Perhaps they intersect, but I honestly don’t think veganism is the ultimate health choice for everyone. The Weston A. Price Foundation is a great resource for exploring a broader approach to diet, and was a great place for me to learn about dietary choices. In looking back on my journey, I am grateful I made the choice to figure out my health needs first, with the idea that I could always return to a vegan diet if I wanted to. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary for me. Sending love, Kimmy, along with strength, hope, and empathy as you continue on your journey.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write about this! I really appreciate it. I really do think vegan is the best fit for me and I definitely went vegan initially for health reasons, but my thoughts have changed so much since then.
      I did hate how defensive it made me feel though, anytime I feel super defensive about something it’s definitely time to take a long hard look at things, which is what I’m going to do. I don’t see me changing, but it has at least opened up room for thought and research and discovery. Focusing on health and recovery definitely needs to be the beginning and end game in this. Thank you Carrie.

      1. You’re so wise and brave to explore your defensiveness, Kimmy. I agree, I’m always surprised when that feeling come up for me, and try to look deeper at the root. I wanted to just mention that you were so supportive of me when I was going through some big changes, and I wanted to offer that support back to you. No matter whether you’re vegan or not vegan, or whatever you eat or don’t eat, I support YOU and value your friendship. You’re a strong, resilient, courageous, and amazing woman! XOXOXOXOXOXO.

        1. You are so sweet! I am definitely feeling the very opposite of wise & brave. I feel like I am questioning everything right now… which I suppose is good in recovery. Thank you for being such a good friend Carrie, I appreciate you being here for me. Thank you for being one of my best cheerleaders <3

  2. I hear this often from people about how limiting veganism can be. And I hear them. I’ve had friends who went vegan (or vegetarian) to pretty much excuse themselves from the dinner table, and hide their eating disorders. I have seen people who had to stop their veganism to order to recover, some people who stuck with it through recovery, and one person who NEVER got the help.

    I think it can be easier to deal with depending where you live and what your community is like. If you are in a very vegan friendly place, with several vegan friends, I think it is easy to cope. I know I sometimes forget that the world isn’t vegan, and get frustrated when I find myself outside of my bubble. (It helps I RARELY eat out XD) But I think overall if you have an ED, you can only stay vegan if you have ethical reasons for doing it. It sounds like you do. Though I can still see your therapist’s concern, but I guess she should try and think about it like an allergy. Like if she is helping a client with an eating disorder who might have food allergies. Clearly they will want to still avoid certain foods… it isn’t a perfect comparison but I think it is the best one available.

    1. It’s just such a weird concept to me considering how I eat a much bigger scope of food after having gone vegan than before. I am trying to understand my therapists point of view too though and in a way it is restrictive in the sense that I will not eat a large group of foods.
      It’s a pretty good comparison actually – for instance, I’m dairy intolerant, so that knocks out a group of things anyway. I don’t like the taste of meat and never have (well before any disordered eating cropped up), so it doesn’t leave much non-vegan food anyway. Thank you for your thoughts, I really appreciate it.

  3. It is interesting that you feel you are being challenged on your vegan diet a bit because since I went vegetarian about 25 years ago I have seen veganism become a lot more accepted. In fact I had one of our vegan cynics at work saying he was starting to understand that a vegan diet can be really good for you. I think there is something powerful about a diet that makes you feel good about yourself emotionally as well as physically. I guess you have read The Full Helping where Gena has spoken about veganism and eating disorders (it is some time since I have read it so am not quite up on her recent writing).

    1. “I think there is something powerful about a diet that makes you feel good about yourself emotionally as well as physically.” This is so true. It’s important for everything to come together for my overall wellness.
      I have read Gena’s recovery stories and actually wrote one for her myself 😉
      Thanks Johanna.

  4. I often hear people say that they think veganism must be hard because it is such a restrictive diet, but that is coming from a very standard diet mind-set. Much like you, I eat a much wider variety of foods now since becoming vegan than I ever did pre-vegan. I think a lot of people don’t realise how much they rely on animal products as main parts of their meal, which in some ways makes that a restrictive diet in itself because they can’t see a way around it, so they imagine vegans just must be eating the non-animal parts of their diet? Realistically, any diet can be restrictive.

    I went vegan, and stay vegan, entirely for the animals. Health and environment are just added benefits! I don’t have experience in ED recovery, or having to answer those sorts of questions in that context, but if you can hopefully get them to understand the ethical importance to you, the desire to not contribute to animal suffering, perhaps they will start to be able to understand a bit more? Sometimes it gets exhausting constantly having to explain and justify veganism, or be the ‘vegan example’, so I can only imagine how frustrating it is in this situation!

    Many hugs.

    1. “Realistically, any diet can be restrictive.” There is a lot of truth to this.
      I think if I had went vegan purely for the animals, I’d be in a different boat. I feel like that is a much bigger part for me now though. I can’t imagine causing any sort of suffering just so I can eat.
      Thank you so much Susan <3

  5. I completely understand and agree with you. I find myself defending my choices in a regular basis… And it’s something I find extremely annoying. I don’t got around questioning people on why they eat meat and dairy… So why do I have to justify myself? Yet, I still do. I’m not one to judge other people’s choices or one to preach. I’m one who explains the why of my lifestyle choices with respect but never with anger or arrogance. The first thing I usually say is that being vegan isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. That’s a big difference. Yes, I am vegan for my health… But also for my beliefs. I don’t believe in harming animals and I don’t believe in destroying our environment. The second thing I explain is that in the nearly 10 years since I became vegan, my bloods have come back as optimal… Better than most people, from what my doctors told me.
    So no, I’m not lacking protein, calcium or iron and yes, I am very healthy.
    The third thing I say is that I’m happy to answer questions but I am not ok with being judged. If they start judging or making stupid comments, the conversation is over.

    1. “I don’t got around questioning people on why they eat meat and dairy… So why do I have to justify myself?”
      Even though I went vegan purely for health reasons at first, the animals & environment are why I’m still vegan now.
      And I’m with you – my blood tests came back so much healthier after going vegan. I was deficient in so many things before.
      Thanks Kate.

  6. Hi there! I completely understand where you are coming from. I was a vegan for a long time, but unfortunately used it as a tool in my very restrictive eating disorder. However, over time I became to truly believe in the ethical reasons for being a vegan. During recovery, I had to make the choice to let go of my vegan title because having a label to live by didn’t jive well with making true peace with food (for me). That being said, I know there are people who have been able to recover while following a vegan lifestyle. In my opinion, I think it depends on whether you are vegan as a lifestyle and ethical/moral choice or if you are using it as a diet/restriction. For myself, I had trouble separating the two. Alex at is an RD who writes more about this so I highly recommend checking her out! I wish you the best of luck!

    1. Molly – thanks so much for taking the time to reply with this incredibly insightful comment.
      I was questioned on my very specific label for being vegan, and I think I too may have to give that up (although I will probably still be vegan without calling myself vegan).
      I may have gone vegan for health reasons, therefore could be looked at as a restrictive diet. But my ethical reasons came into play about a year after and they are stronger than the health ones now.
      I will definitely check out Alex’s blog as I would love to more about the separation – it’s a tough one for me and I really do need to explore things more as I know it will be beneficial to my recovery.
      Thank you so much Molly.

  7. It is such a tough one. I think it isn’t helped by the genuine tendency for individuals with eating disorders to adopt vegan diets, gluten free diets, and various other diets that do support restrictive eating. Of course, not EVERYONE with an eating disorder who is also vegan is doing that, but I can see why professionals would make generalisations.

    The thing is, though, that your recovery will be unique to you. If you have confidence that veganism is healthy for you, that’s all that matters. You can prove people wrong! I’m sorry things are still feeling tough in so many ways but really admire your openness about it and how hard you’re working to come out the other side x

    1. Thank you so much Kari. You are right – my recovery will be unique to me, sometimes I need to remember that and not focus quite so much on how other people’s recoveries went. I am very confident that veganism is healthy for me, I just need to figure out how to normalize eating and such. I really appreciate your kind words and support <3

  8. I’m raising my hand on this topic, too!

    I feel that vegetarianism and veganism have actually HELPED me recover and stay in the recovery category with my eating disorder history.

    There is one person in my life that will still bring up ‘the restrictions’ on their ‘side’ of the argument and it drives me nuts. Mostly because this individual themselves will refuses to introduce new, unique, different, alternative, and healthier foods into their own diet/lifestyle.

    I’ve been TRYING to just step back and realize that – THAT – is on them – not me. Which is difficult in itself.

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