Veganism and eating disorders: An expert opinion from Dr Joanna Silver, Nightingale Hospital lead eating disorder therapist.

Nightingale Hospital’s lead therapist for eating disorders, Dr Joanna Silver, gives her response to a recent article published by the BBC.

The original article, ‘I went vegan to hide my eating disorder 

veganism dr joanna silver nightingale hospital eating disorder

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose (The Vegan Society). There are a multitude of reasons, including moral and ethical reasons, why people may choose to follow a vegan diet.

People with eating disorders use food as a way of controlling difficult emotions.  In my experience, as lead therapist for eating disorders at Nightingale Hospital, for some people following a vegan diet can mask an eating disorder.  This is particularly the case when a decision to become vegan coincides with the onset of an eating disorder or precedes it.

In both eating disorders and veganism people try to eat in a more ‘healthy way’ and eradicate many food types.  For people who may be vulnerable to eating disorders, this can lead to an obsession with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, strict rules, weight loss, nutritional deficits and social withdrawal.  Many of my patients have reported that they chose to follow a vegan diet as this can be a ‘socially acceptable’ way of controlling and restricting food.  Feelings of guilt and anxiety often arise when patients eat food that does not fit in with a strict vegan and ‘healthy’ diet.  In many cases this can lead to bingeing on ‘forbidden’ and ‘bad’ foods.

In order to recover from an eating disorder, it is important to see food as a source of fuel and a source of enjoyment, instead of labelling it as ‘good’ and ‘bad.’

Additionally, it is helpful to find other, more adaptive, ways to manage difficult emotions.

Dr Joanna Silver is Nightingale Hospital’s lead therapist for eating disorders, with a doctorate in counselling psychology.

Dr Silver has appeared across many broadcasts giving expert comments on eating disorders, body image and other related mental health issues.

For more information, please click on Dr Silver’s profile below. 

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