There are many benefits to being a vegan. Your diet can be healthier, and your impact on the world around you can be more peaceful. The decision to become vegan is not one that can be taken lightly and isn’t for those that lack willpower: The focus and dedication you need to maintain a vegan lifestyle prove that you are capable of great self-sacrifice.
Sometimes, though, that self-sacrifice can turn into a harmful obsession. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling anxious about your food choices, fixated on the way food affects your appearance or avoiding social interaction because you’re a vegan, you might have an eating disorder. Here are three signs to watch out for:
When It Turns From a Lifestyle to Obsession
Just because you’ve chosen a vegan lifestyle doesn’t mean you eat healthily. Plenty of “vegan junk food” is available — there are even some “accidentally vegan” foods like Oreos that obviously aren’t good for you. If, however, you have chosen to take your vegan diet the whole foods plant-based route then you’re eating very healthily.
The WFPB diet focuses on clean eating, but when taken too far could be considered orthorexia. Veganism turns into an eating disorder when the focus shifts from avoiding animal products to avoiding any foods deemed unhealthy. In other words, you become obsessed with eating only healthy foods.
If your focus on eating healthy food only causes you stress and anxiety, consider seeking help.
When It Becomes Less About Food and More About Appearance
A healthy vegan diet can provide some benefits in the weight loss department. The daily caloric intake of vegans tends to be less than omnivores because plant-based foods have fewer calories than meat and dairy products. Vegans tend to have lower cholesterol and less inflammation as well. The physical rewards of following a vegan diet can be addictive.
If body image or maintaining a healthy weight is something that you struggled with before veganism, the positive reinforcement of weight loss can spiral into an obsession with being thin. This phenomenon is not specific to vegans and can happen to anyone who struggles to love their body. If your decision to start or continue a vegan lifestyle is based on your need to be thin, it could be considered an eating disorder.
When It Keeps You from Social Interaction
When you start avoiding BBQs and birthdays because it’s just easier not to be confronted with food you don’t eat, then being vegan is affecting more than just your diet. You chose this diet for a reason — either it was out of principle, for your health or both — but your physical health isn’t the only thing you need to nourish.
Cutting yourself off from food functions with friends and family members doesn’t just starve your body, it starves your mental and emotional well-being. Remember to take a holistic view on what “healthy” is and include non-physical aspects as well. If you can recall everything you’ve eaten in the past month, but you can’t remember the last time you laughed, that’s a sign that your veganism is actually an eating disorder.
Choosing to be a vegan is a noble gesture and can lead you into a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. It can also hide an eating disorder behind the guise of philanthropy. If any of what you read in this article strikes a nerve, take a good hard look at yourself, your motives and your lifestyle. Seek help if necessary.