Can You Remain Vegan & Recover From An Eating Disorder?

veganism and eating disorder recovery

Can You Remain Vegan & Recover From An Eating Disorder?

Can you remain vegan and recover from an eating disorder? Does struggling with an eating disorder while eating vegan mean its a disordered behavior? These are frequent questions we receive if a client is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors.

by: BALANCE Founder Melainie Rogers MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S

First things first, what is veganism and how does it differ from vegetarianism?

Veganism

Veganism is the practice of  1). abstaining from the use of all animal products, particularly in the diet (red meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs and other animal-origin foods like gelatin, honey etc), and,  2). an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. (dietary-, ethical-, environmental vegan).

Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from eating meat or fish, for moral, religious, or dietary reasons.

Types include: Ovo(egg)-, lacto(dairy)-, lacto-ovo, & semi-vegetarian, to include pesco(fish)-, pollo(poultry)-, and pesco pollo.

What are eating disorders and what types are there?

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

While no one knows for sure what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that it is a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. There are many types of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia and OSFED.

Anorexia Nevosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, distorted body image. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. Some people with the disorder also exercise compulsively, purge via vomiting and laxatives, and/or binge eat.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Bulimia Nevosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Orthorexia

Although not formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, awareness about orthorexia is on the rise. The term ‘orthorexia’ was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating. Although being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself, people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being.

OSFED

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) was previously known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) in past editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Despite being considered a ‘catch-all’ classification that was sometimes denied insurance coverage for treatment as it was seen as less serious, OSFED/EDNOS is a serious, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder. The category was developed to encompass those individuals who did not meet strict diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa but still had a significant eating disorder. In community clinics, the majority of individuals were historically diagnosed with EDNOS.

Is it possible to follow a vegan eating pattern and recover from an eating disorder?

Yes. It’s possible to progress in your recovery and weight restore on a vegan meal plan, but it can also be challenging. It’s important to openly reflect on the reasons for choosing to follow this dietary pattern. If you feel that your vegan or vegetarian diet manifested as part of your eating disorder and is being used as a means to control your weight, reconsideration of your plant-based diet may be beneficial to your recovery. We are happy to work with you to  assess these motivations throughout treatment.

Our treatment plans are customized to meet individual needs, allowing for vegan and vegetarian food choices. Goals of our treatment plans are consistent with all programming at BALANCE:

  • Adequate intake at intervals throughout the day so that all biological and psychological needs are met.

  • Eat a variety of foods and food groups to support access to macro- and micronutrients

  • Include real world food exposures

What are sources of essential nutrients in a vegan eating disorder recovery meal plan?

  • Protein: Tofu, edamame, tempeh, veggie burgers with 5 grams of protein or more, beans and other legumes, nuts, nut butters, and higher-protein whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and kamut.

  • Iron: Fortified breakfast cereals, soy-based foods, dried prunes, dried apricots, nuts, beans, legumes, and fortified whole wheat bread.

  • Calcium, which builds bone, is plentiful in edamame, tofu, almonds, sesame tahini, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages like soy or almond milk, and dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach, and bok choy. (Note: bioavailability differences exist in plant vs animal calcium foods)

  • Zinc, which boosts the immune system, is ample in soybeans, soy milk, veggie "meats," fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, and wheat germ.

  • Vitamin B12: Fortified soy-based beverages, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified veggie "meats." 

  • Riboflavin: Almonds, fortified cereals, mushrooms, and soy milk.

  • Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega-3): Canola oil, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, and tofu.

What is the first step to seeking help and how does BALANCE treat vegan clients?

At BALANCE eating disorder treatment center, our goal is to meet our clients where they are. To this end, we work closely with each client to better understand the spiritual and ethical frameworks that determine their food preferences.  Within the safety of a supportive environment, we then reasonably accommodate those preferences while encouraging clients to gently increase food variety and scope.  While at BALANCE, our clients will be exposed to a number of different foods and cuisines. This is part of our "real world" focus. Insofar as this focus allows, however, we honor our clients’ religious and philosophical backgrounds. Vegan, vegetarian, and kosher eating patterns are accommodated on a case by case basis. 

If you are looking for eating disorder treatment programs or services in the New York City area you can learn more about our options at BALANCE eating disorder treatment center here or contact us here.


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This post was written by BALANCE Founder & CEO Melainie Rogers MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S.

Melainie Rogers is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) and Supervisor and is dedicated to supporting others in their quest to achieve long-term recovery. She is the Founder and Executive Director of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™ and melainie rogers nutrition, llc. She is an expert on the topic of the intersection and treatment of eating disorders and veganism.