Veganism, a Value-Driven Lifestyle or Form of Restriction?

Co-written by Lindsay Hettrick, Dietetic Intern-California Polytechnic State University & Marlena Tanner, RDN, CEDRD-S

The new-found rage of “plant-based” eating has struck hard over the past few years. As many of you have noticed, Veganism has gained a large following as its popularity has continued to grow over the past decade or so. Veganism is defined as the practice of abstaining from the use of any animal products- meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and honey- specifically related to the diet. In considering this definition, it is reasonable to question whether the vegan diet is a trend or a form of restriction. 


The growing popularity of this dietary lifestyle over the past several years led Veganism to be named the “#1 health trend” of 2018.. The trend of Veganism has gained following for reasons varying from the uproar of society in efforts to protect animals and ban slaughterhouses, to the support that reduced animal product intake is more sustainable and environmentally friendly. There is also belief that a Vegan lifestyle may be “healthier” and promotes longevity and wellness. Veganism is believed by many to be the solution to the “State of the Nation” we are currently experiencing. The idea is that a plant-based diet will reduce the rates of obesity and chronic disease that are prevalent in our country. Though this may have legitimacy, there may also be repercussions to this trend.

We see this often with eating disorders, (ED) as dietary restrictions of many kinds can increase disordered eating. We may ask, is Veganism a value-driven dietary lifestyle or another form of restriction that may lead to or worsen someone’s eating disorder? 

Veganism is frequently practiced by clients with eating disorders. Whether the Vegan lifestyle came before ED, during ED or during recovery, it still plays a role in restriction for many clients. 

The physical results of a fiber dense, plant-based meal can include excessive bloating and feelings of uncomfortable fullness. This may lead clients struggling with disordered eating to further body image distress. Feeling full or bloated can often equate feeling “fat” which, in turn could additionally contribute to reduced overall intake. A possible lack of satiety or lasting satiation from lower calorie/less-absorbable forms of plant foods can also lead to confusion with hunger, cravings, and potential bingeing.  When restoration is necessary, one must be willing to consume balanced, dense meals, including high fats, grains, and vegan protein sources. 

A Quiz by the experts to assess the origin of your Veganism

(Created by Dietitians Melainie Rogers and Tammy Beasley )

On a scale of 0-100%, how much does each of the following reasons support your decision to practice veganism?

  •  Health _____%

  • Weight _____%

  • Environment _____%

  • Ethics _____%

Aside from avoiding animal-based food, what other lifestyle changes have you made to accommodate veganism?

Are you willing to increase the portions of your vegan meal plan to support the nutritional rehabilitation of your body and mind, as needed? 

Are you willing to increase the variety of fuel choices in your vegan meal plan to support the nutritional rehabilitation of your body and mind, as needed?

The concerns with Veganism span further than its relationship with disordered eating; lack of adequate nutrient intake in the diet is another potential issue. Nutrients seen in a diet containing animal products, but are limited in a Vegan diet, include iron, zinc, calcium, Vitamins B12 and B2, Vitamin D, Omega 3’s and protein. That’s a lot of nutrients! These nutrients are obtainable in the Vegan diet; however, one must eat a very well-balanced selection of food choices and might require some supplementation such as B12.  

Nutrients of concern in Vegan diets and their plant based sources:  

Iron : beans, peas, lentils, blackstrap molasses 

Zinc : whole grains, tofu, tempeh, nuts/seeds, fortified grains

B12 : fortified cereals, some fortified plant milks, some soy products, nutritional yeast

Vitamin D: fortified cereals, soy products 

Calcium: legumes, soy products, beans

Riboflavin- (Vitamin B2): green vegetables, breads, grains and cereals 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: flax, chia, walnuts

Protein: beans, legumes, soy, nutritional yeast, nuts and seeds


For a sample Vegan menu that meets most women’s daily requirements click here. Please note this is not a substitute for a dietetic assessment. Your needs may be greater than this. 


Marlena TannerComment