I think it’s important to discuss the issue of restrictive lifestyles and their correlations with eating disorders. Lifestyle choices are made for a variety of reasons- sometimes it is physical health, for example chronically ill folk who have to follow the FODMAP diet or people with coeliac disease- and sometimes it’s for ethical reasons. This is all well, but a problem arises when toxic behaviours are introduced.
Ethical diets are not always responsible. Ethical diets are not always ‘ethical’.
Now, that’s a little bit of a paradoxical sentence, isn’t it?
Let me explain.
Ethics do not just apply to the main people who benefit to your desired ethics. You have to think- are you being ethical to yourself?
A wider consideration
A key thing I want to touch upon is this: Veganism.
So, I am a vegan myself, and will always be one to promote the ethics, but it really is important to consider the wellbeing of every individual.
I remember, as I was turning vegan, I had a little panic over some medications. I messaged my vegan friend Hannah to say ‘I’ve got an issue and I don’t know what to do’. I have a cocktail of meds thanks to good ol’ disability and mental illness, and within that I was taking both medications with lactose in them (a key strand found in milk) and some with gelatine. Unfortunately, this is unamendable. Beyond the ingredients, though, it is easy to argue that no medications truly are vegan, since medical technology does test on animals, but that is not something you can help. You have to take your medication.
Hannah said this to me:
You can’t help the animals if you’re not helping yourself. You can’t fight for them if you’re dead.
And oh goodness, that’s stuck with me from day one.
Though today we’re not here to talk about medications, I still felt it relevant.
Restriction is a no-no.
There’s a lot of encouragement to go vegan and a lot of people would like to, but a lot of people can’t, and more importantly, shouldn’t. For many people with eating disorders or symptoms which may develop into that, it is not safe, nor is there a motivation to do so for the right reasons.
I’ve always been one for the ethics, making me want to go veggie, but I know my initial attitudes towards veganism were very toxic. I knew I wanted to go vegan to restrict. For a while after wanting to go vegan for these reasons, I knew I needed to take a step back. I knew it wasn’t safe for me. I was advised it wasn’t safe for me by medical professionals, and on a day I was in a positive recovery mindset, I decided to look after myself and wait. Did that mean I took longer than I wanted to go vegan (as well as holding off, I did a very slow transition to benefit my mental health)? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. There were times I was not at all safe and certain measures have to be in place to get you through and out of those times. Veganism was the polar opposite.
Restriction comes in all forms, be it personal restraint or the power to say ‘sorry, I can;t, I’m vegan’ when someone offers you a chocolate bar without interrogation… and it’s probably quite fair to say, it’s sure not a safe habit.
For people with eating disorders, some lifestyles are completely nonviable, and in other cases they are things that you could do but are highly advised against, and that is something that needs to be respected by society. We need to be careful, to look out for our human pals as well as the animals, because is your lifestyle really ethical if you don’t apply the ethics to yourself and others close to you.
I am totally on the side of this answer: NO.
You come first.
Here’s a shout out to all the people who cannot fulfil such lifestyles due to their eating disorder. Here’s a shout out to the guilt some of you feel, with the advice to turn that around because you should feel the opposite- compassion to yourself. You the compassion you have for others and channel it inwards. Think about recovery. Work on wanting to recover before the overwhelming challenges recovery brings.
Please, just look after yourself. Look after your pals. And then you can think about how you may be able to contribute ethically afterwards.
As a vegan and a person in recovery, I thought this was an important message to share- not just externally, but from the inside (I specify this because I know it’s more frequent to question the thoughts of internal parties on the matter than those who are detached).
If you’d like to read my other 2019 post for EDAW you can find it here.