Dear world: vegan ≠ eating disorder  »

Hello friends, parents, strangers, graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism, etc.:

Thank you for caring about our well-being! Generally speaking, the thought that others concern themselves with our health is, if not thrilling, at least vaguely comforting. However, it’s time that you back off. Because frankly, accusing us of being secret anorexics, bulimics, binge-eaters, “orthorexics,” or some combination thereof, is really fucking insulting, and we’re sick of it.

Articles like this one by Danielle Friedman in the Daily Beast, which includes one figure and links to exactly one study in ScienceDirect, only make it more difficult for anyone to take a vegan diet seriously. When Friedman describes it or quotes others describing it as “restrictive,” “in the service of an eating disorder,” “a ruse,” “a cover for something darker,” “really an effort to avoid food in general,” and “system of eating that’s restrictive and passes judgment on food that’s not founded on health principles,” that does a disservice to all of us. Further, in the 12th paragraph Friedman contradicts her entire article (this is also the part where she commits to a figure): “for most of the country’s roughly 3 million vegans, who don’t consume or wear any animal products, their eating habits never veer into mental illness.” Thanks for the benefit of the doubt, Danielle! Unfortunately, we’re not the ones she’s interested in.

No, Friedman doesn’t care about “most of” us; she wants to terrify parents whose children have chosen to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. THEY MAY HAVE AN EATING DISORDER, YOUR CHILDREN! Even though “most” vegans are totally fine and happy and eat foods both full of vegetables and full of donuts, that ScienceDirect study revealed that “young adults ages 15 to 23 who reported being vegetarian were, at some point, more likely to have also engaged in unhealthy weight-loss behaviors.” How much more likely? Friedman doesn’t say! And Vegansaurus doesn’t have $30 to pay to view the entire study, so we can’t tell you, either. We can quote from the results in the abstract, though:

Participants were identified as current (4.3%), former (10.8%), and never (84.9%) vegetarians. Current vegetarians in the younger and older cohorts had healthier dietary intakes than nonvegetarians with regard to fruits, vegetables, and fat. Among young adults, current vegetarians were less likely than never vegetarians to be overweight or obese. Adolescent and young adult current vegetarians were more likely to report binge eating with loss of control when compared to nonvegetarians. Among adolescents, former vegetarians were more likely than never vegetarians to engage in extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors. Among young adults, former vegetarians were more likely than current and never vegetarians to engage in extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors.

There you go. But is the answer really “not to let their kids be vegetarian until they go to college,” as one dietician suggests, because “[m]ost families don’t have the time to prepare vegetarian entrées”? How about taking vegetarian and vegan children seriously, and preparing vegetarian entrées? How about educating yourself about veg nutrition, so you can do your job as a parent and get your kids the nutrition they need, while respecting their individual rights? How many times do you have to be told EAT LESS MEAT BEFORE THE PLANET BURNS UP before you start eating less meat?

Here is a personal anecdote, even: I had an eating disorder, for a long, long time. More than anything else, what has helped me keep eating normally is my vegan diet. I saw a dietician when I could afford it, and she helped me through the “it’s OK to eat things” and “if you don’t eat normally you will die” bits, but keeping vegan keeps me feeling sane even through really terrible times. When I was sickest, I was omnivorous. Maybe I’m a statistical anomaly, but I think that if everyone were all better nutritionally educated—by proper dieticians, not “nutritionists” with “certificates” from “The Learning Annex” or whatever Holistic Institute of Cleansing Auras”—we’d be much better off.

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