Under the Banner of Veganism. Deprivation Diets, Eating Disorders and Orthorexia.

Veganism is on the horizon of exploding with popularity. It seems like hopping on the vegan bandwagon is the chic’ thing to do with celebrities like Beyonce and Jay Z doing a 22 day vegan kick start last year, J-Lo recently confessing her love for the lifestyle and even Jessica Simpson going on a 2 week vegan cleanse prior to her wedding. I’m all for any publicity in the media to promote a vegan lifestyle but I think many people are confused about what being a vegan means.

garden-pizza-2

So the question is, what exactly is a vegan?

veg·an
ˈvēgən,ˈvejən/
noun
 1. a person who does not eat or use animal products.

That’s it. Plain and simple.

cookie bars


The problem is that many people are twisting the definition of a vegan diet to encompass far more restrictive and obsessive dietary lifestyles like any combination of the following:

  • raw plant foods only
  • gluten-free
  • soy-free
  • nut-free
  • seed-free
  • oil-free
  • salt-free
  • sugar-free
  • fruit-free
  • legume-free
  • alkaline foods only
  • fruitarian
  • grain-free
  • carb-free
  • starches only
  • 80-10-10
  • living off of sea vegetables
  • a diet primarily made up of fruit and vegetable juices

and so on! This list may seem ridiculous, but there are vegans that fit in each of those groups who believe their diet is the “right vegan diet” and there are so many people touting their “brand of veganism” that newbies, the general public and even long term vegans can become confused out of their minds! Obviously if you followed all of the diet combinations above, there would be literally nothing left for you to consume. So which of the above is the right vegan diet?

salad

I’m telling you that unless you have a specific food allergy (celiac, etc.), are significantly overweight (or morbidly obese), or have a life threatening illness or disease, the answer is:

NONE OF THE ABOVE

If you are following several of the items on the list above, you may be on a DEPRIVATION DIET. I don’t believe that those diets are sustainable in the long term.

Tofu plate

For me and my body, my vegan diet is one made up of moderation and commonsense. My diet includes an abundance of raw and cooked plant foods with lots of colors. I eat plant foods in their whole forms as much as possible and I enjoy some more processed vegan treats on special occasions. I eat tofu, lots of beans and lentils, whole grains, potatoes and whole wheat bread. I love food and I don’t enjoy deprivation. I use salt on my food, because I like the way it tastes and it doesn’t have any negative effect on my blood pressure. When I use sugars, I try to use less of it then a recipe calls for. I also choose less refined versions because I believe they are better for my body. I use oil on occasion, but I use it judiciously. Sometimes, when I’ve indulged in too much good food, I’ll go on a short juice bender or limit my intake of heavier foods for a period of time. I exercise because I like the way it makes my body and mind feel. I’m okay with all of these choices. They are within my belief system and they make me feel at peace.

I’m here to tell you that

CHOOSING NOT TO EAT ANIMALS AND THEIR SECRETIONS DOES NOT CAUSE EATING DISORDERS. 

People who severely restrict their intake of multiple food groups within the boundaries of a vegan diet likely have a mental illness that is causing an eating disorder. People who blame their eating disorders on veganism have likely been using veganism as a scapegoat to fuel their restrictive eating disorder.

NON SUSTAINABLE PLANT-BASED DIETS FUELED BY AN EATING DISORDER CAN CAUSE PEOPLE TO BECOME EX-VEGANS

stir fry

At some point people following deprivation diets will make the person eating in this manner feel severely deprived and that person may start to question their veganism. Instead perhaps they should be questioning their deprivation diet. Animal foods are not necessarily the answer.

The problem is, veganism isn’t just some restrictive fad diet. It’s a lifestyle and a belief system. So, if you’re a vegan, I’m asking you to evaluate that belief system and be honest with yourself about your motivations and your goals. Are you in it for the animals or are you in it because you have self-destructive tendencies?

In my diet transition, I originally went plant-based for health reasons. It wasn’t until about 6 months into my journey that I really made the connection that the decision to stop eating animals and their secretions wasn’t only better for my health, but also that I didn’t want to eat them anymore because I love all creatures and I don’t want to contribute to their suffering when I can live a healthy and strong diet by consuming plants.

potatoes

That’s when I became a vegan. Being a vegan makes me feel a lot of joy! I love my diet. I eat a more varied, colorful and beautiful diet than I ever did before eschewing animal foods.

I realized that eating a vegan diet has a profound environmental impact for good. It teaches my children compassion and love. Something hopefully that they’ll carry on and teach their children.

Finally, most of the people I know are not vegan. I respect their food choices and I hope they respect mine. This post isn’t intended as a bashing session. (and comments to that end will be moderated or deleted). I understand that many who have moved away from a vegan diet have done so due to health complications. Not having a support network of vegan friends and or the advice of a doctor that understands a plant-based diet can make it difficult to continue a cruelty-free lifestyle. I respect their decisions and wish them well on their journey to health and inner peace.

What I’m hoping to do here is to reach out to those who are struggling with vegan food because of restrictive eating habits. Come back and enjoy food again. Get some help from from a professional if you need it. Here is a link to help you find a vegan doctor in your area. Eat all the plants, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in all their colors and varieties. Make friends with other vegans that eat a wide variety of plant foods! Either online or in a local vegan group. Search out a medical doctor that respects your food decisions. Reconsider your deprivation diet before you consider eating animals again.

Love,

Somer

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138 comments

  1. Reblogged this on One Step Closer and commented:
    I might be trying out Raw Till 4 at the moment, but I still agree with everything written here. I feel as though The Blonde (EX) Vegan and a several other former vegans turned militant omni bloggers need to read this and take heed.

  2. I eat paleo and I think the same sort of thing goes on with paleo, or really any diet that restricts food groups. People who are attracted to restriction for disordered reasons are attracted to lifestyles that restrict food groups. That leaves people misinformed about what these lifestyles are really about! Great topic and beautifully written.

  3. Great post! And I see what you did with the title ;) I have to say though, I could totally get down with a starch-only diet, at least for a couple weeks. I swear I could eat potatoes non-stop if I let myself :)

  4. Veganism is most definitely a lifestyle. I noticed some of those high profile news releases on the topic and I cringed. Being vegan is not something you do for a month to fit into your wedding dress. Most vegans I know, came to this over a period of time out of a combination of compassion and wanting healthier choices. I personally feel that if your primary goal is to lose weight, as opposed to establishing a healthy long term lifestyle, then you probably will not stick with being vegan. And realistically, it may not be for you. It’s not a quick fix thing. I’d rather see people come out and say they are making smarter food choices by choosing organic, eating closer to the source and choosing mostly vegetables. This is a choice most people can realistically make and one that may end up “evolving” into lifelong veganism for some.

  5. Here! Here!

    I believe that this is an incredibly complicated subject, and one that we are not going to attach blanket statements to, because everyone. It’s has such a unique body and a unique food story.

    But I really commend you on bringing up so many very important points. My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of the word “Vegan.” It’s not a fad diet, it’s a way of life based on compassion for all of the suffering animals in the world. I don’t consider a blogger under attack after publicly denouncing Veganism one of these suffering animals though.

    That’s why I can’t call myself a Vegan. Yes, I would like to be a Vegan. But I’m not all the way there yet and I don’t want to mislead anyone (I still own leather shoes and bags and use cosmetics that I haven’t looked into at all, but I don’t eat anything from an animal). I respect those that wear that label proudly!

    I just fall into the category of those that eat a Whole Foods Plant Based diet, free of sugar and mostly free of salt and oil. Now that is a label that I wear proudly, and I don’t feel deprived AT ALL. In fact, I have never felt better in my entire life. I am relieved of the obsessive thoughts about eating a cupcake or a donut. It’s like a miracle has occurred. So for some of us, serious restriction is necessary, life enhancing, and even life saving.

    I just wanted to include my experience in this very, very important conversation that you have started. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts!

  6. i can feel the passion for veganism through your post, but it also read as being a bit standoffish. ive been vegan for 6 yrs and 801010 for one. ‘deprivation’ and sustainable’ in regards to diets and lifestyles are different for everyone. i have found a new balance to my health on 801010 that i find abundant and not restrictive at all. its all relative to the person and their goals (animals, health, vibrancy etc). We should not exclude or discredit any one way of going about being/eating vegan. inclusivity, not exclusivity. while some may become vegan for their health, it can evolve into more compassion for the animals and planet. accept everyones journey to veganism. and those that “fall off the wagon” and go back to eating meat, should be responsible and admit that they simply want to eat animals again (not bash veganism). there are unhealthy meat eaters and unhealthy vegans. its all about how dedicated you are in finding what works for you. but dont blame one lifestyle or another for your ‘illness,’ but rather your lack of getting to the root of the problem

  7. While I completely agree with you that restrictive diets, whether plant plant based or paleo, do not cause eating disorders, I completely disagree with you that a health promoting plant based diet that excludes processed food and eliminates or greatly minimizes sugar, oil and salt.is restrictive and not sustainable, having met an worked with over 10,000 people following this “restrictive diet” who are mentally sound, physically healthy, happy and thriving, free of the common diseases of lifestyle like heart disease, type two diabetes, autoimmune disease and obesity that plaque over 57% of Americans. I have even met children and entire families who eat this way all over the United States, Mexico and Asia.

    These bloggers du jour who “failed” on a vegan diet were not following a health promoting diet in the first place, which is why they failed, not because of the absence of animal products. And by their own admission, they all had eating disorders and an obsession with thinness before adopting their less than stellar version of the vegan diet.

    All one needs to do is look at the food porn on their blog to know this.

    Love & Kale,
    Chef AJ
    http://www.EatUnprocessed.com

  8. Such a great post! I recently posted on another blog that I went vegan back in 2009 but for health reasons but didn’t last longer than 9 months because I felt unwell. Looking back I realise it was because I was restricting my diet and dealing with some residual orthorexic tendencies. I’ve returned to veganism this year, for ethical/environmental reasons, after having dealt with my issues and am not restricting at all. This time I know I can make it last because I enjoy an abundance and variety of vegan foods, including soy (which I do not believe is as controversial as everyone makes out) and processed vegan products. There are worse things I could be eating. It makes me sad that veganism suffers because of deprivation diets.

  9. This is great!! I really needed to hear this. You nailed everything on the head. I just started MY vegan journey and reading so many things had me soooo confused. I love how u make it known its okay to be YOUR OWN kind of vegan/belief. Very very well said. Appreciated :)

  10. Eating disorders are not mental illness. They are one’s inability to consume healthfully. I do, however, agree with your commentary that abiding by a vegan diet is not conducive to development of unhealthy eating (or lack thereof) habits. I say this with a background of Bulimia for 11.5 years, “healthy” for the past 3, whilst abiding by a system of Independent Eating for the past 15. Good post.

  11. Hi Somer!

    It has been so long since I have commented on your blog. I hope you are doing well.

    I have to say, this post is spot-on. Well done my friend, well done. Another blogger and I were just chatting about a vegan blogger who has since gone back to eating animals. My blogger friend and I suspect she’s lost her way due to disguised eating disorder.

    I have to be honest. There are vegan bloggers out there who make vegans like me feel as though if you’re not 100% perfect, you’re a bad bad vegan.

    There seems to be this shroud of perfectionism around veganism that I cannot subscribe to. I mean, I have to be honest. I work in corporate America. I sit at a desk behind two 24″ computer monitors 47 hours a week. I commute 2 hours a day, 5 days a week in/out of the city of Boston. I cook all of my vegan meals on Sundays so I have healthy food to eat for lunch and dinner (if I even eat dinner, some nights I skip it and have an Amazing Grass protein drink with fresh fruit mixed in). Most often than not I skip breakfast functioning on coffee with soy milk and coconut sugar.

    I do not make my own almond milk. If I’m lucky I’ll have one green smoothie a week (on the weekends). I often go hours without eating. And.. well… I love my vegan desserts. I’m sorry but I do. I also love to eat fresh baked sourdough bread from the bakery nearby.

    I try and buy organic when my budget allows but that’s not always the case.

    I exercise every day because like you, I love the way it makes me feel.

    I’m not perfect, far from it. I try my best but some times, well, I make poor vegan food choices. More importantly, I try and steer clear of any industry that supports the exploitation and suffering of animals. So for me, being a vegan isn’t just about what I’m eating. It is about my everyday living.

    For example: Last Friday evening, upon arriving home from a very long work day and work week, I was starving and didn’t have the energy to prepare a decent meal. I also wanted something more than an Amazing Grass protein drink. So I ate tortilla chips and salsa for dinner. Not ideal but oh well… it is what it is. :-|

  12. It took me almost a year of thoughtful transition to finally become a vegan. I had overcome an eating disorder 2 years prior to launching my nutrition journey and was very aware (and very afraid) I would fall back into bad patterns. So I decided to take the “slow and steady wins the race” approach to becoming vegan, which I decided to pursue after chaperoning my son’s 3rd-grade class field trip to a local dairy farm last fall. (I don’t think I need to explain that, huh? Hehe!) So thank you for writing about the elephant in the room filled with restrictive and unhealthy folks in denial who feel more comfortable using a socially-acceptable label to disguise their disorder rather than admitting to the disorder. :)

  13. Its sad that veganism is becoming associated more with deprivation and health disorders than the good, wholesome, healthy way of life that it actually is. People want to be different and when they hit what they think is a different diet in order to make themselves feel a bit special, they realise that there are a lot of us here…not so different any more so suddenly there is competition, restriction, everything that forces people into narrower and narrower corridors and ends up with them in denial and hospital wards. What is it with society that we can’t just eat our food now without counting everything, weighing everything, including at least 7 “superfoods” and finding someone to bag in the process? You are absolutely right about veganism now being associated with elitism. Got to be a first world condition because Indian vegans are just “Indians” in their home country and have been for centuries. I guess we just have to wait till this wave of “ME” has passed and people learn to be a little more community minded and a little less self focused before we are going to see this kind of problem subside.

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