Veganism has taken the nation by storm. It’s a commonly googled term, a cultural trend embraced by well-dressed bloggers and your favorite celebrity probably swears by it. There are cookbooks, tv shows and bumper stickers dedicated to a lifestyle without animal byproducts. For over a million people in the US, this is a dietary choice that allows them to live better, feel better, do less harm to the planet and protect animals.
But I have seen this trend of plant based eating and stringent routine sometimes go from healthy to dangerous and I think we need to talk about why.
Eating disorders are also taking the nation by storm. Eating disorders are a mental illness categorized by an unhealthy relationship with food. While most of us could stand to eat a few more vegetables and a few less Oreos, people who suffer from eating disorders live lives impaired and made difficult by the simple act of eating food. According to dosomething.org, more than 24 million Americans struggled with an eating disorder in 2017.
The thing about veganism is that it is intended to be a healthy lifestyle choice. However, for individuals predispositioned for disordered eating, veganism can be a vice or alternative form of extreme restrictive dieting. It can slow heart rates, deprive muscles; it can quite literally kill.
I am definitely not claiming that all vegans have an eating disorder or that all diets are harmful– not even close. Don’t mess that up! But any dietary restriction can go too far. For those among us who suffer from body dysmorphia and disordered diet tendencies, these trends can go from healthy to dangerous really fast. The temptation of restriction, calorie counts and control can take hold. And they do not let go.
I think we need to start redefining what health looks like as a society. Health isn’t eating only carrots; health is a consistent and constant heart rate. Health isn’t drinking all of your meals; health is having enough energy to get through the day. Health isn’t necessarily being able to see your ribcage; it’s being out of the hospital and into the world.
We need to be mindful that eating a salad for lunch is not simply a task to check off a to-do list for everyone. We need to be aware that a restrictive diet is not an option for some people and shift our language to involve that. We need to understand that shaming is triggering. We need to know that some well-meaning advice or that crazy fact you learned on Food Inc. is not always helpful. We need to stop turning a blind eye to self-harm in the name of health because I don’t think it is a coincidence that we live in a country facing both extreme obesity AND an influx in eating disorders. Our crippling fear of obesity is beginning to become just as dangerous as the threat.
Someone very close to me has been fighting this battle for years. I’ve watched up close and seen how something as essential as food can destroy us from the inside out. These diseases are often not taken seriously and only 10% of people battling eating disorders ever receive treatment (dosomething.org). It’s scary; we need to be scared. We need to look for the signs and support eating what makes you feel good and stop eating dairy if we want to and use better language for looking good and prioritize health over appearance and eat chocolate if we feel the need and do things for the right reasons and reach out when something feels wrong.
To be Full.