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Unlearning Diet Culture: Can we Eat Intuitively and Remain Vegan?

Unlearning Diet Culture: Can We Eat Intuitively and Remain Vegan?

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast Apr 28, 2023

Show Notes:

- Our online course The Roadmap: Going Vegan Made Simple, a 21 day online course taking you through all the basics you need in order to transition to being vegan safely and from a non-restrictive approach

- Episode 240 on the differences between mindful eating and intuitive eating

- The book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

- Our Intuitive Eating Series of episodes in the podcast (episodes 172-177)

- Check out, a fantastic registered dietitian nutritionist that has taught me so much about navigating positive nutrition as a vegan while practicing intuitive eating

- Check out the article by Taylor Wolfram titled "How to Balance Ethics and Intuitive Eating

- Check out the article by Taylor Wolfram titled "8 Ways to Deal with Diet Culture in the Vegan Community"

- Check out the work of Angela Wortley of especially her article titled "Veganism and a Non Diet Approach to Nutrition"

- Check out our interview with registered dietitian Charline Adriaens on How you Can Remain Vegan and Practice Intuitive Eating

- Check out our interview with registered dietitian Shannon Costello on Ditching Diet Culture and a New Approach to Health

Today’s post and episode are a continuation of last week’s, in which I talked about the differences between mindful eating and intuitive eating and shared a bit about why these two practices are at the core of everything we do at Brownble in our online program, our courses, our podcast. So if you haven’t listened to last week’s show or read the post, start there, and in today’s episode we’ll be talking about the gray and nuanced area between being vegan and practicing intuitive eating. There’s so much to talk about when it comes to this intersection, and I have a few resources to share that might help you find a spot that works for you between the two.


Everything we teach you and our approach to making more vegan choices has a unique angle to it in that part of our mission and our desire to help anyone going through this transition, is to also help you when it comes to improving your relationship with food and finding peace with the moment of eating again.

I’ve been vegan for the animals for over a decade now, and there is nothing like being witness to this movement to help animals for a long period of time to see things from afar and see how the trends, the foods, the movement itself ebbs and flows.

What we’re seeing now when it comes to veganism is different than it was 5, 10, 20 years ago.

On the one hand we can see how many more vegans there are, how much the word vegan is now mainstream, how you can find 5 times as many vegan restaurants or more, how restaurants have so many vegan options and labelled as such, even if it’s a place that is very meat focused. We now have a vegan alternative to every food item under the sun, and we also have countless recipes to make our own if some of these alternatives aren’t accessible to us. There have been so many changes in terms of legislation, changes when it comes to animal testing, changes when it comes to entertainment that uses animals. The list goes on and on.

There’s also a flip side to this growth. What I’ve seen happen on a more individual level, is a tight grip of control over, especially, the food side of things, which is just one side of what it means to be vegan (albeit a big one).

People have added so many additional rules and regulations, restrictions and no-go foods to a lifestyle that really focuses on a desire to start skipping products that cause harm, but simply substituting them for an animal friendly choice, and enjoying and carrying on with your life as usual.


I get it, we’re currently in a moment culturally where there is so much morality attached to the idea of “perfect eating”, "clean eating", “tweaking” your food to the ends of the Earth to support your health, and yes, our health is so important, but a pursuit of health through the control of food also has another side to that coin and can turn into unhealthy very quickly.

This is not what veganism is about, it’s not about perfect eating, and part of being vegan for some people has become this very tight grip of control over food intake where there doesn’t need to be this much rigidity, not even mentioning that the food aspect of being vegan is just one part of what it means to make changes that will benefit animals or the environment.

So what happened? Diet culture has attached itself to veganism, and there’s no wonder why along this path we’ll encounter vegans who aren’t well nourished, vegans who stop being vegan, and people who can’t even fathom being vegan because it feels too restrictive (and it very often is, when you add additional restrictions on top of it). Although you can certainly focus on health supportive behaviors (these are amazing!), none of that tight restriction needs to be a part of your vegan journey in order for you to have positive health or create positive change. I think it’s very important that as vegans we begin to notice in what ways diet culture has been hiding behind our choice to be vegan and might be calling the shots.

Separating Diet Culture from your Vegan Journey

As you know if you’ve heard last week’s episode on intuitive eating, part of the base of this framework that seeks to help you reconnect with your body’s signals and find more peace with food and your body, is saying goodbye to restriction and diet culture.

It is so important to ask yourself the question:

“If veganism includes inherent restriction because you’re excluding animal products”, can you practice intuitive eating and be vegan or vegetarian?"

I’m going to give you my perspective as someone who has been vegan for over a decade and a passionate intuitive eater for about 7 of those years. I’ll also share some resources from registered dietitians and counsellors that can help you navigate the marriage of the two and that were instrumental in me learning about the nuance behind this, and the red flags to watch out for. You can also listen to episodes 172-177 where I share so much of my experience using these tools, and I highly recommend you start with the book Intuitive Eating or work with a certified intuitive eating counselor that can go along the process with you.

When we see veganism as a choice we make because we really don’t want to consume animal products for ethical reasons, and we’re simply looking to substitute the animal-based ingredients for ingredients that aren’t animal derived, it would be akin to not wanting to eat brussels sprouts because you don’t enjoy eating them. Having a preference (favorite foods, foods you enjoy, foods you don't enjoy) is definitely a part of intuitive eating. There is definitely space for choice, preference and even our value systems within the framework of intuitive eating when the reality of a food choice for us is we'd rather not eat "x" and would prefer to eat "y".

There is a thin line however (and it is nuanced), between restricting foods as vegans because we don’t want to eat them, we see these products as coming from sentient beings, not as foods, and restricting because we fear certain foods, or are still attaching dieting rules to when, what, how much to eat, that in addition to excluding animal products could be harmful, and not in alignment with intuitive eating.


A Key Question you can Ask Yourself on the Motivation Behind a Food Choice

It really all boils down to motivation. Asking the question, “why am I choosing not to eat this food?”, and really being honest with yourself about the answer, can give you so much insight as to whether your chocies are in alignment with trying to practice intuitive eating, or you are still being restrictive with your intake for reasons other than preference and ethics.

When asking the question “why am I choosing not to eat this food?”, is it because you feel you shouldn’t eat it because it's attached to you fearing changes in weight, trying to reach a particular body shape or size, or perhaps because you’ve grown to be afraid of this food and its effects on your body or your health?, or, do you prefer to swap these foods for the vegan option because you don’t want to eat animals and actually have a preference for let’s say a veggie burger over a meat burger? Meaning, you’re not skipping on the burger, but you don’t want to eat meat.

The first answers are in my opinion still very much immersed in diet culture and therefore not in alignment with intuitive eating. The second set of answers are just about food preference, which I believe is aligned with intuitive eating.


Why is this Distinction Important?

Why is the difference between the two important? Because we can have a few of these thoughts merged together and wonder where we stand. Adding additional restriction to the already inherent restriction present within a vegan diet, having strong fears of certain foods, having thoughts of food purity or perfection taking on a disruptive role in your life and taking over other aspects of your life, all of these and many others, can lead to or be signs of unhealthy behaviors with food, disordered eating or an eating disorder.

The most important thing to remember is that intuitive eating is there for anyone.

I think everyone deserves to heal their relationship with food, vegans included, and sometimes, when we have issues with restriction, disordered eating or are struggling with an eating disorder, and you also have an inclination towards being vegan, you can absolutely push the pause button on going vegan and heal your relationship with food and your body first and then reassess. A registered dietitian or an intuitive eating counselor can help you determine if this is something that is right for you, or when would be a good time to inch your way into making more vegan choices if you choose to do so, and remember, that if you care about and love animals there are so many other ways in which you can help support this cause even if you can’t eat a vegan diet just yet.

It’s also important to notice, that as vegans, the images we see, the movement itself, what we see on social media, the documentaries we watch, the books we read, are all immersed in their very own culture and that we’re by default immersed in it too. It can be helpful to remember that it too has been affected by and greatly absorbed by diet culture, and that we need to start learning about this, recognizing it, and having lots of self awareness when it comes to why we’re making our choices with food.

I also know that intuitive eating isn’t for everyone, but it was life changing for me and for countless other vegans and non-vegans out there and it is there for you, if you’re ever feeling restricted with food, or that this restriction is often accompanied with bingeing, if you develop fears over certain foods, or thoughts of food have overtaken your life or are limiting your life, or you find yourself struggling with body image and any of these things are causing you distress, it might be time to look into a non-restrictive approach, to seek counseling and to try a different way.

When we see veganism through the lens of true preference, we allow for flexibility within it as well, when we’re re-learning how to tune into our body’s signals of hunger and fullness, when we’re re-learning how to respect our bodies and treat them with kindness, when we learn how to honor our health with gentle nutrition but without obsession or control (which is in fact the last principle of intuitive eating), it is my experience that we can still eat according to our beliefs and be intuitive eaters, taking advantage of all its amazing benefits when it comes to both our physical and especially our mental health.



Some resources to help you navigate veganism and intuitive eating together:

- Our Intuitive Eating Series of episodes in the podcast (episodes 172-177)

- Check out, a fantastic registered dietitian nutritionist that has taught me so much about navigating positive nutrition as a vegan while practicing intuitive eating

- Check out the article by Taylor Wolfram titled "How to Balance Ethics and Intuitive Eating 

- Check out the work of Angela Wortley of especially her article titled "Veganism and a Non Diet Approach to Nutrition" 



Brief Update about our Podcast:

Before I go today I just wanted to share some news, we’re taking a short break from the podcast while we get some things ready for you and do a little bit of behind the scenes work, and we’ll be back before you know it! In the meantime you’ve got over 241 episodes to tide you over and I’ll be in your ears keeping you company again really soon.

I can’t thank you enough for listening in and supporting our work and remember that the party never stops at and especially through our weekly videos in our online program My Brownble, and make sure to follow us on social media (Instagram · Youtube · Tiktok · Pinterest)

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