plant based eating and eating disorders
  • May 6, 2024

Eating Disorder Recovery on a Plant-Based Diet with Jade Wrigley: Episode 56

Welcome to another episode of the Imbodi Health Podcast! In this episode, we are joined by one of our Imbodi […]

Welcome to another episode of the Imbodi Health Podcast!

In this episode, we are joined by one of our Imbodi dietitian Jade Wrigley to explore eating disorder recovery on a plant-based diet.



What is plant-based eating?

When we’re thinking about plant-based eating, we like to think of it as a bit of a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum, we have all vegan styles of eating. This may be choosing to eliminate all sorts of animal products, and there may also be other lifestyle choices involved. For example, avoiding leather, or avoiding any industries that exploit animals in any way

On this spectrum we may also be talking about vegetarian diets, pescatarian diets, or flexitarian-style diets. So plant-based eating isn’t just one kind of style of eating, it’s more so a spectrum.



Why do people go plant-based?

Market research that was done in 2019 found that the top reason that Australians ate less meat was for health reasons, followed by a tie between environmental reasons, animal welfare, and cost – because meat and animal products are often quite expensive. 

Religious values were another common reason to go plant-based, as some religions require to abstain from certain animal products. 

Another common reason is any sort of sensory aversion to either the taste, or texture of meat, or any other sort of animal products such as milk.


Is there a link between plant-based or vegan diets and eating disorders?

There’s a lot of causes of eating disorders, and it’s really multifactorial. There is also usually a few factors that come into play – for example: 

  • Biological factors
  • Psychological or mental health-related factors
  • Genetic or hereditary links
  • Other socio-cultural factors like the environment that we grew up in, or were in even as adults.


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When we’re trying to kind of determine a link between anything, it can be really quite difficult for us to actually determine a strong link. With plant-based diets and eating disorders, it’s not one that’s very well understood. 

However, research does show a little bit of a correlation between plant-based styles of eating and eating disorders, but this doesn’t necessarily suggest a causal reaction. But, we know that there may be some sort of association there. 

We also know, when it comes to eating disorders and how they occur, a restrictive diet can be a massive, if not the main trigger for an eating disorder. So, potentially someone who is following a vegan diet may get triggered to fall into an eating disorder, even if that wasn’t the original intention.

One study in 2008 found that 68% of females with an eating disorder history felt that being vegetarian was related to the eating disorder. Bearing in mind, this is one study in a very specific population of people that doesn’t represent everyone’s experience. 

Research also suggest that if health is the main driver (versus ethical or environmental reasons) –  that it may be more related to an eating disorder. When we say that, it doesn’t mean that just because you are plant-based for health, that you have an eating disorder. It’s just one of the considerations to take into account when looking for that link. 



How can you know if there are any disordered eating behaviours underlying plant-based eating?

It always starts with just noticing the intention behind it, including whether there’s potentially any signs of orthorexia, which is a fixation on clean or pure eating. That might mean restricting certain food groups, for example. 

With plant-based eating, depending on what kind of end of that spectrum you’re on, there can be quite strong value-based reasoning for following this style of diet. So if you do notice that it does potentially come from more of an ethical or values-based perspective, then that may be quite different to following a plant-based diet in hopes to achieve a more ‘clean’ style of eating, or following a diet trend such as whole food, plant-based, no oil (WFPBNO).


It can be quite difficult to know what the intention is, so we do have some strategies and questions you can ask yourself.

  1. When did you start following a plant-based diet? Was it before, or after developing any disordered eating habits? See if you can put together a little bit of a timeline of how your relationship with food might have changed
  2. What is your intention for eating plant-based? This may require quite a bit of reflection, and it may also be something that changes over time. 
  3. Do you eat plant-based fun foods? Especially now in the plant-based space, there are so many vegan alternatives, like you can get vegan cheese, vegan schnitzels, vegan drumsticks. How do you feel towards eating the plant-based versions of chocolates, crisps, pizzas, burgers, ice-cream?
  4. Do you have any food rules? Examples might include avoiding carbohydrates, or foods in a packet. These can be separate from eating plant-based – just noticing that there’s other food rules or disordered eating behaviours happening at the same time.


Is eating disorder recovery on a plant-based diet possible?

First you want to really start by understanding the timeline of your eating disorder and understanding how plant-based eating fits in with this. Did one come before the other? Did they present themselves at a similar time? Or did you potentially start with a plant-based style of eating, and then that led to a bit of a spiral? 

You might decide to consider reintroducing animal products to challenge some food rules, or to make sure you’re getting enough of certain nutrients, for example making sure you’re getting enough total energy from your diet, or fats, or protein or carbohydrates.

Once you’re further along in your eating disorder recovery, you might want to then explore returning to vegan or plant-based eating. Just remember, it’s not black and white, it’s not this forever thing that you have to do. There’s always the option after kind of recovery, or, later-on in your recovery journey to go back.

I’ve (Megan) had a lot of clients where they’ve started off plant-based, and then decided to explore increasing their dietary variety to incorporate some animal products to reduce the restriction that they encounter in their everyday life. But oftentimes, people do feel really unsure about it. It may clash a little bit with their values. Sometimes, what my clients have decided to do is invest some of their time or energy in other ways around causes that they’re really passionate about. So, even if their food choices are a bit more liberal, or include more animal products, maybe they’re engaged in volunteering, or contributing to community groups, or advocating in other ways to do their part. 

The last thing that we always suggest is working alongside some treatment providers while you’re going through this journey, like dietitians of course! It can also be really helpful to have a healthcare team, with a psychologist and GP as well.




You can find Jade here:

Instagram: @jade.dietitian
Work with Jade: Book a free discovery call here

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