This week, blogger Mikah Victoria shares her story and insights about going through eating disorder treatment as a vegan. This article originally appeared in the first issue of Seedling magazine.
I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at the age of 16, and I entered a partial hospitalization program when I was 17. For 1 year before entering treatment, I had been vegan. When choosing a center to pursue treatment in, I found one factor that made me want to avoid recovery.
When going onto the websites of most treatment centers, I found that they were united in not allowing veganism, vegetarianism, or any other dietary restrictions in their programs. The treatment center I ended up going to allowed vegetarianism, but not veganism. So I swallowed my pride and drank milk for four and a half months. This really hurt me, and I believe that it was a hurdle to overcome in my recovery. But it also allowed me to practice patience, motivated me to get out of there so I could eat what I wanted again, and gave me time to meditate on my philosophy. I think the time I spent having to eat vegetarian has given me a few key pieces of advice for people with the same struggle as myself.
Understand that your caregivers do want the best for you
When I first entered my partial hospitalization program, I felt like the people in charge of my diet were trying to break me. I thought they wanted me to change my morals and make me give up on the things I felt most passionate about. As time went on and I progressed in my treatment, however, I realized that they weren’t trying to convert me. They were in fact just trying to convince me to eat anything! As a habitual calorie restricter, it was my mind which was trying to break me.
Once I realized that my caregivers were looking out for me, I found it easier to open up in group therapy, and I noticed that my ability to avoid restrictive urges was improving all because I felt that others cared. Whilst I know that they cared about my wellbeing, I believe in my heart that they (my caregivers and the majority of people) are just not in a place where they can accept new ethical values. This leads me to my second point.
An eating disorder recovery center is not prime real estate for converting people to veganism
I’m very proud to say that in my life as a vegetarian and then a vegan, I have converted at least 4 people in my immediate friendship groups or family to plant-based diets. Because of this, I feel that I am a particularly good advocate for veganism/vegetarianism. My style of inspiration is (in my opinion) pretty lax. It generally consists of showing people that it isn’t hard to change your habits, and exemplifying that plant-based eaters can be healthy and happy.
In a place as hostile as an eating disorder treatment center, my advocacy style briefly went out the window as I was confronted with a multitude of people who had eating patterns that I just couldn’t understand (they likely couldn’t understand mine either). I was shocked to see people who had not only a strong taste and tradition-based attachment to meat, but people who had an intense fear-based attachment.
Many people I was in treatment with saw meat as a safe food and thus saw it as an inextricable piece of their psyche. I drew a parallel to this when analyzing my own pre-recovery diet, in that I saw consuming an almost entirely fruit-based diet as a way to comfort myself from the ills of my disorder. Once I came to understand that certain foods were being used as coping mechanisms in different ways for different people, I realized that although I could see the cruelty in their dietary decisions, it was not the time to be showing them how they could change. I could save that for later.
Mindfulness when eating was a make-or-break factor in my recovery
When I first entered the partial hospitalization program, I ate robotically. Eating was a hurdle to get over before I could do things that I placed more value on. When reflecting on my history of restricting calories, I realized something that increased my ability to be mindful.
Eating according to my values
This doesn’t just apply to eating vegan, it also applies to avoiding more harmful plant foods such as palm oil. I find that when I end up in a place where I must consume palm oil or animal products, I try my best to leave my body so as to feel less like a hypocrite. Less shame. Less guilt. These feelings of guilt, shame and, hypocrisy were very linked to my tendency to restrict. Since leaving the treatment program and resuming my plant-based diet, I have developed a better ability to be mindful; thus over time, I experience less and less guilt when I eat.
Others’ critiques of your diet, if unfounded, should be seen merely as baseless attempts to change you
Some may say when I type this out that I am being hypocritical, as someone who critiques diets such as the “carnivore diet”. But the most important part of my statement is the phrase “if unfounded”. This means, in context, that if the person doesn’t have your best interests at heart, doesn’t base their criticism on science or ethics, or makes their critique in a way that hurts you, their critique is null and void. Critiques that fit the criteria of being unfounded include:
- “Don’t you want to eat everything?”
- “Vegans don’t care about people”
- “Fruit is the least healthy thing you can eat”
- “You’re an a**hole if you’re vegan”
- “Nobody likes vegans”
- “You’re a murderer because of how you eat”
These can be juxtaposed with non-dogmatic critiques such as:
- “Eating more calories would be good for you”
- “Consider the lives of sentient beings before making decisions” “Beans are a healthy thing to eat”
- “Consider eating a higher ratio of protein”
- “Maybe eat fewer processed foods so you’ll feel better.”
Do you see the contrast? I suppose this can be summarized by the statement “be compassionate”. As vegans, we have a lot of compassion, shown by how we make changes to our lifestyles when we see wrongs in our decisions. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, be compassionate not just to others but to yourself, and make the rational decision to seek help. Nobody will get mad at you for complying with the rules given to you by your caregivers.
For more insightful articles like this, read Seedling magazine for free here!
About the writer
Mikah Victoria is an 18-year-old blogger from Texas. She writes about her experiences and opinions as a vegan, a woman of color, a teenager, a polyglot, and the proud carer of 5 adorable animals on her blog dearmikah.com.