5 Signs Your Vegan, Gluten-Free, or Paleo Diet is an Eating Disorder in Disguise

by Melainie Rogers 

Gluten-free, paleo, vegan—these nutritional philosophies are frequently discussed and debated. But how often are they socially acceptable ways of sustaining an eating disorder? Of course there are situations where these diets are motivated by illness, love for animals, concern for the environment, or a doctor’s recommendation; however, in many cases they’re a strategy for maintaining control and saying no to the buttery cupcake or the Chicken Alfredo.

Here are five signs that your diet may be an eating disorder in disguise:

1) You avoid social events, family gatherings, dates, and trips.

Tara used to meet her girlfriends every Thursday night for dinner. They would try out a new restaurant in the city, each ordering several appetizers and mains between the four of them. After going gluten-free, Tara felt anxious about the choices the group would make. Anxiety prevented her from being able to be fully present at dinner, and she began showing up late or cancelling last minute. Eventually, she told the group she was taking a class Thursday nights, and stopped going all together.

If you’re avoiding social engagements, family gatherings, dates, and trips for fear of “unsafe” food options, your diet might be entering eating disorder territory.

2) You feel shame if you “cheat.”

Evan attended a potluck and ate the mashed potatoes labeled "vegan." When he heard they were mislabeled he felt a jolt of panic. The rest of his day was consumed by thoughts of the butter and cream he’d eaten. He felt disgusted and ashamed, and beat himself up for not triple checking the ingredients of each dish. He vowed never again to eat something he hadn’t prepared himself.

After a night out with her girlfriends, Anna had a slice of post-bar pizza. When she woke up the next morning, she felt deep shame about it. She chastised herself for the pizza (and the sugary drinks she’d consumed), and decided to do a juice-fast for the next 2 days.

The shame associated with "cheating" often occurs when your self-worth is tied to what you are, or are not, eating. This can be a sign of an eating disorder.

3) The motivation to change your diet is less about a healthy lifestyle and more about getting skinny.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but be really honest with yourself about the motivation behind your diet. Striving for a clean, healthy lifestyle is a great thing! But eliminating certain foods as an excuse to eat less is eating disorder behavior.

4) A great deal of your cognitive and emotional energy is taken up by planning your next meal.

If thoughts of your next paleo-approved meal or workout fills every spare moment, you might be bordering on an eating disorder. Like restricting, following a specific diet can become a way of feeling in control or coping with difficult feelings. If you’re consumed by thoughts of orchestrating a gluten-free/vegan/paleo-approved existence, it might be time to make a change.

5) Your diet is accompanied by other eating disordered behaviors.

Weighing yourself daily, fearing weight gain, scrutinizing your reflection in the mirror, over-exercising, binging, purging, feeling out of control around food, and using laxatives or stimulants are just a few behaviors that might suggest you’re struggling with an eating disorder.

What do you think? Have you ever used a nutritional philosophy as a socially acceptable way to restrict? Is it possible to abide by a nutritional philosophy without it going “too far?” If so, what does that look like? I’d love to hear your opinion!