Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK suffer from eating disorders – debilitating illnesses with the highest mortality rates of any mental disorder. The journey to recovery is unique to every individual, but for Marissa Kai it all began with veganism.
“It’s not unusual for those following a vegan lifestyle while in recovery to be frowned upon and told that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. While this may be true in some cases, for others it is the only way out of the disorder.”
Marissa, a student and lifestyle vlogger, made a full recovery from bulimia nervosa after struggling with the disorder for several years. For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she shared her story.
“Going vegan helped me gain a healthy relationship with food, which ultimately made me want to recover,” Marissa explains. “It played a huge role in gaining my mental and physical health back after my eating disorder.
“I now wake up every morning with a purpose. And knowing that no animals are being harmed in the process is an even better feeling! Going vegan gave me a bigger and better purpose in the world.”
It is finding such passion that gives so many vegans in recovery the drive to actually recover. With less focus on body image, it becomes easier to overcome the mental illness and discover the good that going vegan actually does - both for the person and the world.
Recovery, however, is rarely straightforward. There is much more to it than simply starting to eat again. It is a mental illness, and therefore requires a change in thought process which doesn’t happen overnight – something Marissa is quick to stress.
“At the beginning of recovery I was still trying to stay slim, but as time went on I realised that I needed to do what was best for my health rather than my looks. Patience was key.
“You have to find out for yourself if you are doing it for the right reasons. I say ditch the scale, cover up your mirrors, and then you'll find out what reasons you are doing it for.”
Some people can take issue with a sufferer going vegan, perceiving it as a way to further restrict food intake. Marissa admits she was lucky in that respect. She was living alone at the time, meaning there were no struggles with her parents. Yet there were still a few people in her life who were somewhat apprehensive.
“My therapist did not openly say she was opposed to it, but I could tell she was. Also, my best friend who knew I had an eating disorder definitely thought it was just another diet. But over time, they all learned that I was going vegan for the right reasons and became more open to it.”
As well as recovering from her eating disorder, going vegan has allowed Marissa to discover a huge passion of hers: “Nutrition! I was acting before going back to college for dietetics, and since going vegan and recovering, I have wanted to make a positive change in the world and help people adopt healthy lifestyle choices.”
If you are thinking about making the transition but are worried that it may trigger old habits, Marissa has some advice: “I suggest building and maintaining a healthy relationship with food and your body before considering a diet change. Also, focus on the non-health aspects of it. Go vegan for ethical or environmental reasons. That should help to avoid any restrictive behaviours or eating disorder mind-sets.”