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December 11, 2014

Vegan and In Recovery

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed. 

By Dallas Rising, a former The Emily Program client and woman in recovery

What does vegan mean to you? This is a question I ask people all the time, as it’s my job to educate others about veganism. In the nineteen years, I’ve been vegan, the word has gone from completely foreign to a household term and as the word has increased in use, perceptions about what it means are all over the map.

When I ask people what vegan means to them, most immediately launch into listing off all of the things that vegans don’t eat. “Vegans don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs, right?” Right. But that’s not the end of the beginning of the story.

People who aren’t vegan tend to identify us by what we omit from our diet. There are practical reasons that this is the case, but it’s actually only a small part of the entire picture. One of the more worrisome distortions of veganism is by those who are looking for socially acceptable ways to cloak food restriction.

As a person who chooses veganism as a way to oppose oppression and violence, I had additional apprehensions about seeking treatment at The Emily Program to combat the anorexia that had taken over my life. Everyone who seeks treatment is scared about what that may entail, to some degree or another. We’re told to trust our treatment teams and we’re challenged to discard unhealthy rituals or behaviors that we have used to cope and survive situations that have felt scary and overwhelming. As professionals, members of our treatment team can excel when it comes to detecting the bits of disordered behavior to which our loved ones or acquaintances may never have caught on. Sometimes these are things that we haven’t even thought of as destructive ways of approaching eating or exercising ourselves.

I had all of those normal worries going into my intake appointment. And I had the added worry that my veganism may not be seen as a core part of who I am, but as a symptom of my anorexia. I was really worried that when I went through my intake process no one would believe that, for me, veganism was rooted in an ethic that formed the best parts of myself – the parts that I was willing to fight this incredibly strong ED to salvage.

Veganism is more about what I stand for than what I don’t eat. And luckily, The Emily Program‘s intake team could see that and honored it. At the time, there was no IOP option for vegan meals, but my team did the best that they could to meet my needs in other ways and I relied heavily on the open friends and family support group for a while. I am really happy to know that vegan meals are now offered in the IOP program. The Emily Program deserves enthusiastic applause for being a leader in this regard.

Sadly, eating disorders affect way too many people and the numbers aren’t likely to decline anytime soon, it seems that neither will the myriad of special diets aimed less at weight loss and more at “healthy living” such as gluten-free, paleo, raw foods, or clean eating. But, happily (for me), more and more people are choosing veganism. Because of their own beliefs and ethics, they are choosing to forego animal products and nourish themselves with plants instead. I’m grateful and glad that people like me who go to The Emily Program will be able to get the best treatment possible and not have to choose between the best care or their conscience.

Get help. Find hope.