Veganuary 2023 and eating disorder recovery

The Veganuary is a global campaign by an organization of the same name, which wants to encourage people worldwide to try a vegan diet in the first month of the year. The trend is particularly widespread on social media and is putting pressure on non-vegans to go completely vegan for at least a month. How do I see Veganuary 2023 looking at people who are currently recovering from an eating disorder? Do I recommend joining the trend? And how can you maybe use the Veganuary 2023 in a more helpful and effective way for yourself?

In January 2022, around 629,000 people from 228 countries signed up for the Veganuary campaign and tried to eat vegan for a month. Above all, the Veganuary also has economic and commercial advantages for vegan companies - especially during these months, new products are often launched and advertised by lifestyle and food influencers. The basic idea behind the Veganuary is to spread veganism more and more in society and thus protect the environment by supporting and empowering people in the first month of the year to try a vegan diet.

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reasons to go vegan

More and more people are choosing to be vegetarian or even vegan. You probably also know a friend or other peers who eat according to these concepts. Vegetarianism avoids meat and fish, veganism also doesn´t consume dairy products, no eggs, no honey, no gelatine, etc. The reasons behind this can be different:

  • ethical reasons
  • Environmental protection reasons and sustainability
  • “health” aspects
  • taste preferences
  • Don’t support animal abuse
  • Reduce carbon footprint

These are just a few reasons why someone might choose to eat vegan or vegetarian. In general, we can agree with all points (although I would like to point out that you have to be careful with the “health” aspect, because some people may actually not get along with a vegan diet well).

Why I am not on a vegan diet

Why I usually eat vegetarian food is simple: I find the consistency and taste of meat incredibly unpleasant – even as a child I had a bit of a problem with it. Now, the thought of chewing on the flesh of a dead animal is just weird. But I am okay when other people eat meat. However, I don’t want to “label” my diet, because if I ever feel the need to eat meat, then I will just eat it and move on. From time to time I also have fish (yes, with fish I have less problems with the dead animal – I have no idea :D).

However I don’t eat completely vegan because I would still perceive this as too restrictive. We still don’t have vegan milk alternatives in all cafes, let alone baked goods. Even when I’m at my friends house, there isn’t always a vegan option. With my background of eating disorders, I don’t want to dare to limit my eating in this regard just yet, because it could quickly trigger more eating disorder thoughts. For me, not eating vegan is also a kind of self-care.

We don't need thousands of people doing environmental protection, etc. perfect, but millions doing their best.

Veganism and restrictive eating disorders

The question of whether veganism is possible and useful in recovery is an important question. During recovery from an eating disorder, the focus should be not only on regaining weight, but also on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Affected people often have the thought: “If I gain weight, then I would like to do it with “healthy” food.”. Vegetarianism and veganism in particular seem to support this plan.

The thought “only eat healthy” is a clear tendency towards orthorexia, the eating disorder behaviors (restriction, compensation, …) are replaced by other eating disorder behaviors (clean eating, plant-based nutrition, mainly fruit and vegetables, weight training, excessive Yoga practice,…) So veganism is often just an excuse to restrict and control foods again – just in a more socially acceptable way – but in the long run it won’t free you from your food focus and eating disorder.

Be honest with yourself - even if, for example, you were vegan before the eating disorder, then question what your intentions were at the time. Often the decision to eat vegan is already interwoven with disturbed eating behavior and body dissatisfaction. I would personally recommend that you first make peace with all types of food and then gradually - if you do it for ethical or environmental or other non-physical reasons - approach vegetarianism/veganism.

Ideas how to join veganuary 2023 in a recovery-supporting way

Even if I am not (yet) completely vegan, I think the basic idea and the intention behind it, to protect the environment and animals, is beautiful and important. However, as I said above, we don’t need a thousand people doing it perfectly, we need billions of people doing their best. So here are a few ideas – which I actually implement in everyday life that you could implement in Veganuary 2023 – if it doesn’t feel restrictive to you and doesn’t feed your eating disorder. Please be honest with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with saying it doesn’t feel safe for you. Mental health comes first.

  • ask in cafes, … for a vegan milk alternatives. If there is none, then allow yourself to take the normal version as well. Just by asking and showing interest, you encourage some cafes to offer vegan options in the future.
  • if you need cosmetic products or hygiene items, take a look at the shelves with natural cosmetic products. Try out solid shampoo, safety razors, period panties, diva cups, … or reduce your consumption a bit in general
  • try a vegan recipe every once in a while. (However, vegan is not the same as recipes that are labeled “healthy” or “sugar-free” or “clean”.) Choose a normal recipe, as if your grandmother were cooking – but vegan.
  • Try out which vegan milk alternative you like best. I personally love oat milk and pea milk 🙂
  • learn to do different things by yourself. For example, dry shampoo, hair oil, nut butter, vegetable broth, spreads, sauces and dips, etc.
  • buy more seasonal vegetables – yes, it’s admittedly a bit difficult in January in the Central European countries, but do you actually know where the berries, kiwis, zucchinis, etc. come from and what footprint they already bring with them? Becoming aware of this is a big step.

Many small steps make much more sense than wanting to change your entire consumer behavior overnight.

How you can differentiate yourself from the pressure to go vegan

Perhaps you are asking yourself why you should be so careful with this topic and not simply go without animal products for a month like others. But remember that you have a special background. Especially if you are still in recovery or have not recovered for too long, nutrition and exercise are vulnerable topics. Eating disorders are insidious and can eventually sneak back into your life without you even realizing it.

Maybe now is just not the right time for you to change your diet. That’s okay – there are many small ways you can contribute to climate protection and participate in Veganuary 2023 without rsiking your recovery. If you decide to become vegan for reasons not related to eating disorders, it will come naturally because when you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you are eating what makes you feel best physically, emotionally, and mentally. Take small steps.

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