You may already know that I am vegan. I have written a few articles about the movement, openly praising and promoting the rejection of animal products on moral, environmental and health bases. However, a lifestyle once thought to be restricted to yurt-inhabiting, Nirvana-aspiring, hemp-wearing hippies has spread like wildfire within the millennial population, seemingly becoming the latest in a string of popular dietary trends. As described in a previous article, although I fully support veganism on a large scale to combat the issues it argues against, the essence of what veganism truly is has become at risk of being overlooked and distorted. As such, as the phenomenon grows exponentially, it is becoming clearer that the movement, intended as an effort to protect our environment and reject animal cruelty, has an incredibly dark and dangerous side to it.
The increase in people opting to take on the challenge of veganism has been mirrored by an increase in eating disorders, such as anorexia and orthorexia. The concept of a vegan diet is obviously enticing, allowing for a severely restricted diet under the premise of moral duty. Not only does it allow people to openly cut out large food groups, without judgement and often with praise, but it allows their eating disorder to remain somewhat undetected. As a teenager, I suffered from an eating disorder and following recovery became a vegan, so the issue is one that I sympathise with. I was met with suspicion when people discovered I was becoming vegetarian, and subsequently vegan, for obvious reasons. However, this is not the case for many who may be using the lifestyle to cover up a mental illness. I would often refuse certain foods by saying I wasn’t hungry or I didn’t like it, a much more unconvincing excuse than veganism, which is generally accepted in society nowadays. If veganism had been as popular back then as it is now, it is not hard to imagine I would have used it to excuse my behaviour and as a consequence my illness could have remained unnoticed for much longer. Moreover, restrictive diets such as veganism or going gluten-free pose a threat to those who are in recovery, allowing them to prolong their unhealthy habits in a socially acceptable way.
I am not suggesting that vegans have eating disorders, nor am I suggesting that the lifestyle is unhealthy. Becoming vegan for the right reasons and ensuring that your diet remains healthy without animal products is commendable and in many cases much healthier. However, with the rise of veganism in society we have to be more aware of the darker side that could be motivating people. We must not suspect everyone we know who becomes vegan of having a mental illness, but we also must remain conscious of the use of veganism and similar restrictive diets as excuses to conceal eating disorders. Additionally, those who are vegans, including myself, should make sure we not only are maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, but also take the time to reflect upon the reasons behind our decision.