Disclaimer: Different diets work for everyone. I am not advocating that everyone be vegan - I am just sharing my personal experience.
Hi, I'm Michelle Cen.
I gained weight and recovered from an eating disorder twice as fast as a vegan than I did on a high-animal food diet I'd previously been forced on. To gain weight, anyone, whatever diet they eat, must eat high calories and limit excess activity.
In my case, my undiagnosed food allergies triggered my initial weight loss. I did not lose weight on purpose and was eating an omnivorous diet. Weight loss can trigger eating disorders in people genetically predisposed to them, as Dr. Shan Guisinger explains with her evolutionary Adapted to Flee Famine theory. So my unintentional weight loss caused me to develop an eating disorder too.
Weight loss causes eating disorders. Choosing to eat a plant-based diet isn't automatically an eating disorder. I became vegan at 19 for many reasons, including environmental and ethical. Being vegan helped me gain weight.
I'm not saying you have to be vegan to recover weight. I just want to prove that someone can recover weight and overcome an eating disorder without animal products. It's a myth that people on plant-based diets are orthorexic. These stereotypes damage those who choose plant-based diets for ethical and environmental reasons.
You wouldn't tell someone to give up their religion to gain weight. Similarly, someone's choice to not eat animal products can be a personal belief that has nothing to do with weight.
It's possible that some people with eating disorders choose to eat plant-based for the wrong reasons. But it's less common than people assume.
I ask that you not assume a person eating a plant-based diet wants to lose weight. It's demeaning and disrespectful to people. You labeling them as anorexic or orthorexic hurts your ability to connect with them.
We must understand that anorexia's symptoms are biological. And that if someone chooses to eat a plant-based diet, we should explore their reasons for it and not assume they have a restrictive mindset.
People would be more accepting of plant-based diets, especially in eating disorder patients, if they learned that it's possible to restore weight on a plant-based diet. This is why I'm sharing that I did, and in fact gained weight much faster on a plant-based diet. For context, this is my story:
When I was 17 and underweight, I had a very negative experience in family-based eating disorder treatment at one of the top children's hospitals in the country. Some of those doctors have since apologized me for how bad they recognize my treatment was. The experience, which I'll detail in a future video, made me lose trust in authority and the medical system.
Plant-based doctors I interacted with years later helped me regain that trust. They helped me use a plant-based diet to gain weight again.
I wasn't surprised that I gained weight twice as fast as a vegan than an omnivore. For example, there's evidence that protein from plants is more easily absorbed and used by the body than animal protein. And decades of research shows how plant-based diets reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and have many other benefits.
I gained weight faster as a vegan also because I maximized the caloric density of my food. I ate many more avocados than salads, for example.
I find plant-based doctors to be compassionate and understanding. I'll talk about a few now that helped me gain weight. And honestly regain faith in humanity.
I first have to thank Dr. Anthony Lim. He's the medical director of the McDougall program and a staff physician at TrueNorth health center, both incredible plant-based programs.
I enjoy Dr. Lim's presentations, which he delivers with "compassionate authenticity." When I was 20 I discovered this one presentation online he gave. He was talking about Kaiser Permanente's integrative healthcare system. He recounted how he once saw a 19-year-old patient with a low BMI. The patient said she was trying to gain weight. Dr. Lim referred her to an endocrinologist, who found out she had a thyroid issue. It was that simple for her to get the care she needed! All because the first doctor she saw listened to her and made the right recommendation.
I was astonished. I didn't receive that care. My primary care doctor, seeing me underweight at 17, sent me straight to a doctor for eating disorders. She didn't listen to my symptoms and try to investigate them with an open mind. My primary care doctor's automatic labeling of me resulted in years of expensive treatment and mental and physical damage.
Dr. Lim's presentation moved me so much that I contacted him. I knew I could trust him to not be like all the other doctors who assumed I wanted to lose weight or was orthorexic because I was now vegan. I told Dr. Lim I was struggling to gain weight, even in the past an omnivorous diet. Dr. Lim was very kind. He referred me to the naturopath Dr. Csilla Veress at TrueNorth health center.
Dr. Veress is one of the warmest physicians I've ever met. She empathized with me when I told her how family-based eating disorder treatment had broken me and my family. She believed me when I said I didn't want to lose weight, was doing everything in my power to gain it, and felt an inexplicable movement compulsion.
Dr. Veress helped me eat more high-calorie vegan food. At my request, she prescribed Functional Formularies liquid meal replacements to me which I used to supplement calories. Functional Formularies sells organic, USDA-certified nutrient-dense meal replacements that are free of many food allergens. They're also approved to as enteral formulas, meaning they can be used in feeding tubes.
Their liquid supplements were key to helping me regain weight. A starving person's metabolism goes into overdrive and requires thousands of extra calories daily.
I learned a lot from the online resources of many other plant-based doctors too. Dr. Michael Greger & Dr. Michael Klaper, for instance, had videos which helped me learn which foods were most calorically-dense and would help me gain weight.
The plant-based psychologist Dr. Doug Lisle had information about anorexia which helped me overcome it. With Dr. Jen Howk he lectures on clinical evolutionary psychology on the Beat Your Genes podcast hosted by Dr. Nate Gershfeld. He also appears on Chef AJ's show where he recommends Dr. Shan Guisinger for her approach to anorexia. Dr. Guisinger's Adapted to Flee Famine evolutionary theory that helped me finally understand and beat anorexia.
Thank you, plant-based doctors! And thanks to people like Chef AJ who help promote their work.
Overall, for me, recovering was much easier when I was plant-based. I went through weight gain once as an omnivore forced on a high-animal food diet, which felt horrendous. When I gained weight again as a vegan, it was so much better. Like I said, I gained weight twice as fast and this time it's stayed on.
Again, you don't have to be vegan to gain weight. I just want to share my truth. This is what worked for me.
Whether you eat animal products or not, know this: Especially if you're underweight, you can ONLY recover if you eat a high-calorie diet. You need to eat LOTS of calories and REST a lot. Your body has a lot of repair to do.
I know you can do it and heal.
I have more resources throughout EndAnorexia.com about what helped me on my eating disorder journey. For example, I have videos explaining Dr. Guisinger's Adapted to Flee Famine theory, which explains how anorexia is actually a migratory instinct.