so this post is about eating, and how it relates to mental illnesses and disorders.
i am aware of how taboo subjects like eating disorders are, but then again so is mental illness & so is animal politics – and neither has stopped me from speaking my mind.
so why not mix all of these taboo topics together and see what happens??
okay but seriously – as we get into this, i’d like to remind y’all about that disclaimer above, especially in how it talks about content warnings for triggering material, and about practising active self-love whenever you try to dive into traumatic or just confusing conversations (like this one right here). you already deserve honest credit for reading some of this, because you are trying to educate yourself to do better for you and others – and that is really rad.
remember that this writing here is meant to help and not hurt, so do me a favour and be extra nice to yourself, please 🙂
so, why is this stuff so taboo? is it taboo simply because we don’t talk about it, and because we don’t talk about it then it becomes taboo all over again?
why is it discouraged for us to talk about our problems, in whatever way they manifest themselves into our lives? why is vulnerability and struggle discouraged when we all seem to value things like courage and honesty?
i think it is because we have all been
taught bullied by society into perceiving things like someone asking for help as someone being vain & wanting attention (as if wanting attention was a bad thing too?). that, and we’re taught too to understand illness as a danger to be feared – and so identifying as sick can scare people away.
because social norms tend to encourage repressing so much of ourselves (and to channel that frustration into how we interact with others and ourselves), people have little to no experience talking about this stuff. so when someone brings it up, like me right here or if you’ve ever tried to do, then other people get really uncomfortable and respond awkwardly by saying something inappropriate. maybe they change the subject, or maybe they try blaming you or say something implying that you not actually sick.
okay then, so eating.
for some people, the whole ritual of eating is no big deal.
and when i say the “ritual”, i’m thinking about choosing what food to eat & when, about the act of spending money on food, about the process of preparing a single meal, and about the stuff after involving cleaning and digesting everything (both physically and mentally).
but for some other people, like myself, this ritual of eating is actually a very complicated relationship that can become a struggle to manage and cope with.
however, i honestly think that a lot of people struggle with food & eating.
because food, in general, is a really powerful thing.
we tend to eat every day, maybe more than once and maybe with other people.
we do it at all big life events to celebrate or commemorate something.
and we do it in a rush, before work or school and we do it when we’re hungry but exhausted at the end of the day.
we do it to comfort our bodies, to treat our taste buds, and to nurture our health. or we do it in response to fat-phobic, body-shaming bullying fed to us by the media.
and sometimes we do it simply to get calories so that we can keep working as we try to pay down debts and bills.
for vegans, you’re most likely well aware of having very emotional, spiritual and political connections to what you put in your body, and what [who] you don’t.
i know i remember being rudely introduced to veganism in a very traumatizing way that involved watching a bunch of animals die with the slogan “your money, your fault”. that was 6 years ago, but it was still widely upsetting for a white privileged sensitive person like myself to experience in a particularly vulnerable time in my life.
but it doesn’t take a columbo to discover the countless number of blogs & books & documentaries that inform you about how much food is layered with a lot more than just taste (think sexual politics. think gentrification. think colonial appropriation. think child slavery. think environmental destruction. think migrant worker racism. think species-based violence.)
and so i say disordered eating, as opposed to eating disorders because
- i better identify to that and that’s enough of a reason
- but also because while i don’t currently have a severe eating disorder that requires intervention & treatment, i do think it is really important to think about how often we (myself included) tend to neglect our own self-care in lieu of waiting until things are really bad before we can concede that there are things in our lives that need to be addressed and changed.so while i am hesitant to rush about searching for disorders and illnesses to label myself with thinking that will help somehow – society already tries to box all of us into enough binaries as it is – i think that denying symptoms and denying the legitimacy of your own experience qualifies as a form of imposter syndrome, which is for another post, and oops i just did that thing again where i label myself…
in other words, you don’t need to be a media stereotype of someone with an eating disorder before you think it deserves your attention.
so to understand disordered eating, it is basically engaging in some of the same behavior as those with eating disorders, but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity.
but it is still can be dangerous and so needs to be taken seriously.
i personally find that sometimes, in certain situations and depending on how many spoons i have left that day, these identities can be empowering for myself and where i am at currently. empowering because i can find communities that share my struggles, even if not exactly the same way. and empowering because it is a big relief to me to see that there is nothing wrong with me as a person, but rather that there are symptoms of illnesses that are a part of me (just the same as there are other folks who may suffer more with things physically).
but some people may refer to this disorder eating by another name called eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) (more on that here), which is essentially some kind of eating disorder that does not meet the criteria for either anorexia or bulimia – so the disordered eating either has mixed features of both, or is just some extremely atypical eating behaviors that are not characterized by either.
for more on the variety of different disordered eating & eating disorders, click here.
so disordered vegan eating.
i think that being a vegan who struggles with some degree of disordered eating can be extra difficult – and for 2 really legitimate reasons.
- vegans don’t often want to share food-related problems with others because they worry that they will be judged for being vegan.
judged by other vegans for “being vegan wrong”, and “giving vegans a bad name”, if they dare to be sick or chronically ill while trying to not consume animals too.
judged by non-vegans for having the courage to reach out for help and then have it thrown back in your face when that “help” reduces you to your “diet”, or “ideology” of being vegan, effectively dismissing an important part of your identity as the source of all the shitty problems in your life.
- being vegan can make it actually really easy to hide disordered eating.
if you’re a vegan, and especially a poor sick vegan, you no doubt are well familiar with situations where it’s hard to find appetizing food that you can eat.
most “complimentary” food that you come across (whether at work, or at social events) often seem to be somehow intentionally non-vegan (like WHY did you put cheese on that perfectly good dish of formerly-vegan food?!). and so what happens is that you can get pretty comfortable with the dynamics of “you not eating while others eat”, of “you not eating when you should be eating like every animal should eat”. and not eating is a problem, and can escalate into anorexia nervosa.
and then on the flip end, you vegans might also know what it is like to have like only a single restaurant or dish of food that you actually really like – and this is no fault of veganism of course, but rather this speciesist society that puts animal body parts in everything and where culinary education produces cooks who know nothing about veganism or how to make meals without relying on cow’s breast milk (including in the form of curdling the fat of the milk, otherwise known as cheese). but so what ends up happening is that you can eat very little food for good portions of your days & weeks, and then end up binging on that favourite food of yours to compensate for all those meals you missed and whatever else. this style of eating too is dangerous, because it can escalate into bulimia nervosa.
if your curious to know more, some symptoms of disordered eating, otherwise know as “abnormal” attitudes and behaviours towards eating, include:
- binge eating
- skipping meals regularly
- self-induced vomiting
- obsessive calorie counting
- self-worth based on body shape and weight
- misusing laxatives or diuretics
- fasting or chronic restrained eating
- anxiety about certain foods or food groups
- any rigid approach to eating, such as only eating certain foods, inflexible meal times, refusal to eat in restaurants or outside of one’s own home
as far as i’d be comfortable sharing right now on this blog, i can say that i tend to simply not eat for long periods of time. not for any reason of fearing weight gain (which my male-representing privilege affords me), but because things like how my appetite tends to be often absent (and so i rely on eating only a handful of simple familiar foods).
or its because of intrusive thoughts that make me relate to the ritual of eating as simply, albeit strangely, not a priority in my daily routine. and because of shitty things like capitalism, it’s hard sometimes to see food without seeing money spent, which can mean some days i feel the need to “work” for my food. weird, i know.
so what are some good strategies to help you manage whatever relationship you have with eating food? well to be honest i am still working at that myself too, so i’m learning just as much as you are.
one good strategy that i like is learning to sometimes think less. as in, there isn’t always a need to put some much judgement into what you’re eating, or how much, or whatever.
mindful eating is one.
this is is about the way we eat, not what we eat.
essentially, it is a zen practice of learning to pay attention as we eat.
and so instead of putting food into your mouth almost unconsciously and not really tasting the food you’re eating, here you work at paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as you eat.
so you’re looking to pay attention to:
- why you feel like eating
- what you’re eating
- the smell & taste & sounds & look of whatever you’re eating
- how it makes you feel emotionally
- how full you feel while you eat
finally, try to read more, to find learned lessons from others, and community.
here are some good ones to get you going:
- Anorexia and Veganism: My Story
- The Vegetarian/Vegan Anorexia Connection
- Why I Chose to Be a Vegan (A Recovered Bulimic’s Story)
- From my Eating Disorder to my Life’s Purpose: How Veganism changed things Forever
- Vegan Eating Disorder Recovery
annnnd i think that is about all i have to say right now.
i hope it helped!
(image credit to Emm’s Positivity Blog)