• Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Jan 26, 2024

Vegan Anorexia

Anorexia is an eating disorder where a person avoids eating to the point of self-starvation due to an intense fear of gaining weight and often has a false view of their body size and shape. This condition is very serious and can be life-threatening. Studies have found that more than 5% of people diagnosed with anorexia may pass away within 4 years after diagnosis.

People who follow a plant-based diet sometimes face challenges when dealing with anorexia. Since vegan foods tend to be less calorie-dense, it’s essential for those recovering from anorexia to be extra mindful about their nutritional intake to ensure they are meeting their body’s needs.

Recovering from anorexia while sticking to a vegan diet takes a lot of careful thought and planning. It’s important to learn about nutrition and to seek advice from healthcare professionals who understand how to manage health with a plant-based diet. Reaching out to a vegan dietitian specializing in eating disorders can be your first step to recovery. 

This article is here to help anyone who’s vegan and recovering from anorexia. It will give you the information and support you need to overcome the disorder in a way that’s in line with your eating choices.

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Recovery from Vegan Anorexia

Step 1: Nutrition restoration

Are you struggling with:

  • Hair loss
  • Loss of menstruation
  • Anemia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Many other physical symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

This is because anorexia is a serious condition that affects your whole body, not just your weight. When a person with anorexia doesn’t eat enough, their body has to find a way to get energy, which leads it to break down its own muscle and other important tissues, not just fat. 

This harmful process can lead to malnutrition, where the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, putting all the organs at risk. The damage goes far beyond what we can see. Therefore, anorexia is not just a psychological issue but a physical health emergency.

Recovering from anorexia starts with what’s known as nutrition restoration. This process doesn’t mean gaining weight; it’s about ensuring your body gets the vital nutrients to sustain your physical and psychosocial needs.

As part of recovery, you’ll follow a meal plan designed to gradually increase your energy intake every two to three days. You can use the example meal plan in the article as guidance. 

It’s completely normal during this phase to experience some discomfort, like bloating or constipation—your body is simply readjusting to a new, healthier routine.

Weight gain during this time is also expected and is a positive sign of progress. Despite this, you may encounter some anorexic thoughts, such as:

  • I shouldn’t gain weight
  • I will be looking disgusting with these several pounds

It’s essential to confront and overcome these thoughts and trust your body to feed it. Remember, this part of the journey is challenging, but pushing through will bring you closer to a healthier, more fulfilled life.

Step 2. Challenging your restrictive foods and food rituals

Reintroduce restrictive foods:

People with anorexia often avoid certain foods, particularly those that are high in calories. However, it’s important to reintroduce a variety of foods back into your diet. 

Why? Because a balanced and diverse diet is key to getting not just the calories you need, but also the essential nutrients that are vital for your physical well-being.

In simple terms, the goal is to eat small, frequent, and balanced meals and snacks that include a wide range of foods. This ensures you’re getting adequate energy and the nutrients necessary for your recovery journey.

Challenge food rituals:

You may prefer eating alone due to discomfort with others watching you eat or observing your food rituals, like taking very small bites and eating slowly. 

Additionally, you may hesitate to eat out at restaurants because of the lack of control over the calorie content of meals and potentially find the atmosphere overwhelming.

Recognizing these habits is a crucial step. It’s important to challenge and gradually reduce these rituals, moving towards a more flexible approach to eating. This can help in creating a healthier relationship with food and with social eating situations.

It’s always advisable to seek help from professionals who have expertise in treating eating disorders. Reaching out to our vegan dietitians can be your first step in the recovery journey. 

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Meal Plan for Vegan Anorexia

A meal plan for anorexia usually starts with portion sizes for each food group. Food groups for a vegan diet include:

  • Fruits and vegetables (F&V) (1 serving): 
    • ½ cup of cooked veggies
    • ½ cup of sliced fruits
    • 1 whole fruit
    • 1 cup raw veggies
  • Plant-based protein (1 serving)
    • ½ cup cooked beans or legumes
    • ¼ cup tofu
    • ¼ cup hummus
    • 2 tbsp nuts or seeds
    • 1 tbsp nut butter
  • Plant-based dairy and alternative (1 serving)
    • 1 cup fortified soy milk
    • 2 cups Almond milk
    • ¾ cup Plant-based yogurt
  • Grains (1 serving)
    • 1 slice of bread
    • ½ bagel
    • ½ cup cooked rice, bulgur, quinoa, pasta
    • 10 small crackers
  • Healthy fat (1 serving)
    • 1 tsp vegetable oil
    • ¼ avocado
    • 1 tbsp tahini
  • Cereal bar equivalent (1 serving)
    • 1 granola bar
    • 1 slice of bread + 1 tbsp nut butter
    • 1 cup bean salad + 8 crackers

When recovering from anorexia, adopting a balanced meal plan that includes three meals and three snacks from different food groups each day is the goal. To maintain hydration, drink a cup of water with each meal and snack.

See this sample plan for reference:

  • Breakfast: 1 Grain + 1 Protein + 1 Fat + 1 ½ F&V + 1 Vegan dairy
    • Example (one meal):
      1 slice of peanut butter avocado toast (Grain + Protein + Fat)
      1 ½ banana (F&V) + 1 cup fortified soy milk (Vegan Dairy)
      250 ml water
  • Snack am: Cereal bar equivalent
  • Lunch: 2 Grain + 1 Protein + 1 Fat + 1 F&V + 1 ½  Vegan dairy
    • Example (one meal):
      1 cup cooked couscous (Grain) 
      1 cup veggie tahini lentils (Protein + Fat + F&V)
      1 cup oat yogurt (Vegan Dairy)
      250 ml water
  • Snack pm: Cereal bar equivalent
  • Dinner: 2 Grain + 2 Plant-based protein  + 1 ½ F&V + ½  Vegan dairy
    • Example (one meal):
      1 cup cooked rice (Grain)
      1 ½ cup tofu stir fry (Protein + F&V)
      ¼ cup cashew-based frozen dessert
      250 ml water
  • Nighttime snack: Cereal bar equivalent

NOTE: This is just an example to demonstrate food group distribution and food diversity, you can adapt this meal plan to your own nutritional needs by adjusting the portion size.

Can you be raw vegan during the recovery from anorexia?

The raw vegan diet, a dietary pattern under veganism, consists exclusively of plant-based foods that remain uncooked or are not heated above 48 degrees Celsius. This diet may provide various benefits including improving heart health and blood sugar levels.

However, our team of plant-based dietitians advises you not to follow a raw vegan diet during anorexia recovery. Its highly restrictive and low-calorie nature, along with the filling quality of raw plant foods, may not fulfill the nutritional requirements for recovery. 

Can you recover from vegan anorexia without gaining weight?

Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to recover from anorexia without gaining weight? This question echoes in the minds of many people battling anorexia. But let’s set the record straight: weight gain is a natural and expected part of the journey to recovery from anorexia. 

Embracing a healthy weight gain is critical for your physical well-being. It steers you away from the life-threatening complications of anorexia and fuels you with energy. Meanwhile, it isn’t just about the number on the scale—it’s also about boosting your emotional health.

Always keep this in mind:
Gaining weight is a milestone of recovery, never a failure.

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One-on-one nutrition consultation for vegan anorexia recovery

Battling anorexia can be challenging, and going it alone only makes it tougher. That’s why reaching out to loved ones and professionals like psychologists, medical doctors, and dietitians is essential. For those with vegan anorexia, a registered dietitian who specializes in this area can be invaluable. 

Dietitians can clarify misconceptions, help you recognize harmful thought patterns, teach you to tune into your body’s signals, and foster self-compassion. They’ll also craft a meal plan tailored to prevent anorexia’s complications while honouring your vegan principles.

Are you ready to pursue a healthier version of yourself as you recover from vegan anorexia? Reach out to our plant-based dietitians today. Book your discovery call, and let’s take that crucial first step toward a nourishing future.

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