• Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Mar 12, 2024

Vegan & Binge Eating: Everything You Need to Know

Do you often find yourself eating when you are not hungry? Do you suffer from feelings of shame, discomfort, guilt, and unworthiness after binge eating? Do you keep browsing the internet trying to find a reason for this “lack of control”? Do you wonder why you keep binge eating even when you know it makes you feel terrible? 

While binge eating could happen while following any type of diet, this blog post will focus on binge eating and vegan diet since plant-based nutrition is our focus. 

Before we start unpacking the topic of veganism and binge eating and what causes binge eating, you may be interested to read more about the definition of a well-balanced vegan diet

Why do people go vegan?

There are many reasons for which people may choose to start a vegan diet. One could be for environmental purposes. Another reason could be to help and contribute to reducing animals’ exploitation. 

Health benefits of a vegan diet

Moreover, some people may choose to eat less meat and/ or turn to a vegan diet as a healthier eating pattern. Some possible health benefits of eating vegan include the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes by improving the glycemic control and blood lipids LDL-C. Besides diabetes, vegan diet could be associated with several health benefits if well planned as confirmed by the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada

Vegan and plant-based dietitians could help you get started and/or optimize your vegan diet whether you are pregnant, a new mom, a teenager, or an older adult. 

A Vegan diet to lose weight. 

Obviously, you must have heard about plant-based diets including vegan diet as a weight-loss-method. Recently, more and more people are switching to plant-based diets to help them shed a few pounds. What a better way to lose weight than eating fruits and vegetables all day right? 

Well, the truth is plant-based diets, including the vegan diet, like any other diets could be unhealthy if not well-planned. There are two extreme approaches that could be taken towards vegan diet.

Vegan diet and overeating 

The first approach consists of using the vegan diet as a “pass” to allow yourself to eat as much as you want. It’s considerably easy to overeat on a vegan diet because you may think it’s only “natural” foods. You may have convinced yourself that it couldn’t be harmful to consume legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and oils. 

In fact, any food could make you fat if you consume enough of it. It’s important to accept and understand that there is no magic diet that exists that will make you lose weight while overeating. 

If you are interested in losing weight on a vegan diet, make sure to do it in a healthy way. Hence, it’s recommended to seek help from Vegan/ vegetarian nutritionists through your plant-based weight loss

Vegan diet and restriction 

The second approach, one could tackle veganism with is restricting. In the first approach, people may choose this diet to be able to eat more while avoiding weight gain. Contrarily, other people could be choosing a vegan diet because of their fear of food. 

It could be that you are feeling out of control around certain foods/ food groups, so you decided to avoid these foods by going vegan. It’s safer since you have fewer options to choose from. 

This restrictive mindset could be one of the reasons for binge eating on a vegan diet as this article will reveal to you.

What is binge eating and is it different from overeating?

Binge eating is a little different from overeating. While overeating is occasionally, binge eating happens more often. Also, the person is considered still in control while overeating compared to when binge eating. 

The definition of binge eating is the act of uncontrollable eating of considerably large amounts of food rapidly in a short amount of time. It’s often accompanied with feelings of guilt and shame afterwards. 

What about binge eating disorder (BED)?

Eventually, if binge eating episodes occur at least once a week for a period of 3 months, it could be considered a binge eating disorder. 

Criteria of diagnosis also include that the binge episodes are characterized by:

  • A feeling of an urge to eat despite not being hungry.
  • A feeling of uncomfortable fullness afterwards.
  • Eating alone.

What causes binge eating – why do people binge on a vegan diet? 

Binge eating could occur while following any diet and not only the vegan diet. There are many binge eating causes including hereditary, sociocultural, and psychological ones. 

“Dieting” society – one of the reasons for binge eating. 

There is no doubt that our society has set the bar so high when it comes to body image. The focus on appearances and looks became the norm.

Girls want to be “Barbie” and boys want to be “Ken”. Truth is it’s hard to be any of them. 

Consequently, it became normal to obsess over dieting and losing weight to attain unrealistic ideas. Everyone wants to know how to lose weight quickly regardless of how unhealthy it could be. 

The excessive concern about weight and body shape lead to restrictive eating patterns. Surprisingly, up to 50% of all people who restrict eating to lose weight end up binging. 

What’s the first thing that will pop up in your mind if I tell you to think about anything except an elephant standing on a yellow ball? An elephant standing on a yellow ball, right?

The same thing happens when we try to avoid “forbidden foods”.  Following very strict eating rules such as eating a very low amount of carbohydrates or skipping meals could lead to more cravings. 

Psychological reasons behind vegan binge eating.

Some psychological reasons that could lead to binge eating include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness 
  • Difficulty dealing with emotions. 
  • Sadness 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Stress
  • Traumas (abuse, neglect, etc.)

All these mental distresses could lead the person to choose food as a coping mechanism to feel better instantly. However, binge eating doesn’t help and often causes further feelings of self-disgust, shame, and guilt. 

In addition, not consuming adequate amounts of nutrients could increase tiredness, stress, and negative emotions which in turn may lead to binging. 

How to prevent binge eating as a vegan? 

The following prevention methods could help you prevent/ control binge eating: 

Avoid skipping meals – Eat 3 meals + snacks. 

Skipping meals increases your chances of experiencing strong cravings and hunger. Hence, it’s important to ensure incorporating at least 3 well-balanced meals throughout your day. Snacks could also help reduce hunger between meals in order to avoid overeating. 

Consuming a well-balanced vegan diet means that the diet should provide all essential nutrients, fiber, and energy in sufficient amounts to stay healthy. 

A vegan diet could be very low in B12 due to the lack of animal products if not well-planned. To avoid mood and behaviour changes, one symptom of vit. B12 deficiency, you need to include vegan vitamin B12 sources in your diet.

Stop dieting/ restricting.

As explained above, restrictive approaches could only increase the occurrence of binge eating episodes. It may be difficult in the beginning to remove food restrictions. You may fear an eventual lack of control once you allow yourself to eat these “forbidden foods” when you want.

However, with time, you will get bored of these foods and will find yourself only reaching out to them occasionally. The more liberalized diet will help you prevent binge eating while following a vegan diet. It’s important to realize that gaining weight while lifting restrictions is normal and could happen. 

If you want to understand more about restricting and binging or need assistance through the recovery journey, consulting plant- based eating disorder dietitians could be a good option.

Manage emotions.

Since there is a psychological aspect to binge eating, it’s important to reflect on what’s making you turn to food. Identifying your mental binge triggers could help you prevent them in the first place.

This includes finding ways to deal with stress. Food could be considered as a “release” when facing highly stressful situations in life. Special methods to deal with stress such as mediation could be helpful to control anxiousness. 

Concerning mental disorders like depression, some diets such as anti-inflammatory diets were proven to have beneficial effects. You can read The Ultimate Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet  for more information about this subject.  

Seek support. 

Finally, managing/ seeking to deal with binge eating as a vegan or even overeating could be challenging due to the multiple dimensions of the problem. You may feel alone or helpless trying to deal with this behaviour by yourself. 

In fact, you can always seek support from vegan plant-based eating disorder nutritionists by booking a consultation. The team will help you understand and define the problem and start addressing binge eating causes and symptoms in a way that suits you best.

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