Vegan or anorexia? Question for those who have struggled.

My daughter has been vegetarian for about 2 years and vegan for about half of that. Since she made the change to vegan I don’t feel like she is eating enough. She is 16. When I ask her about it she claims that she ate already or ate x,y,z in her bedroom but I rarely see her eat enough quantity. She is a pre professional athlete and works out vigorously. I would expect her to eat more based on her activity.

How would you approach this in a way that won’t cause trouble? If she is bordering on it, how do you prevent it ? (question for those who have struggled with it) What should I watch for? And what has helped you? When I ask her about it she will say that I’m not supportive of her vegan diet.

Replies

  • rebbylicious
    rebbylicious Posts: 621 Member
    I know it's hard with the schedule of a busy teenager, but maybe having dinners with her will help you monitor what and how much she's eating. You can even explore some vegan recipes together and make some things for the family that everyone would like- and she can help if she has time. If she never eats in front of you or when she does, doesn't really eat but just pushes things around on her plate that can be a sign. Anorexics are very private in what they eat and how much and are very controlled and obsessive about it. They also can be obsessed with food and recipes (even though they don't eat hardly at all). Other signs may include things like thinning hair, periods stopping (although if she's working out like crazy that can also stop her periods), dizziness, refusing to eat, overexercising, wearing baggy clothes and just a general obsession with body size. People joke about anorexia but it's a very serious issue and can be extremely deadly if left untreated. The mortality rate for someone with anorexia can be as high as 20%- much higher than someone with diagnosed depression. It's very hard on the heart. Just opening up the dialogue is important and maybe asking her about some of her favorite vegan foods and getting that conversation going is how I would approach it. And if you fear she has anorexia just having a heart to heart with her and letting her know of your concerns, how much you love her and want her to be healthy is a good place to start. I've not had anorexia (but certainly did get close in my teenage years), but I have a master's in counseling and I work with adolescent girls in my career as a counselor so I've seen this many many times. Good luck to you.
    She does get anxiety attacks that result in dizziness but they have slowed down since I got her some b12. Periods have not been happening since she is at her practice 16 hrs per week plus 1-3 hrs at home most days. I feel like a plant based diet should look much bigger in portions. She has to wear tight clothes because it’s ballet. So I do see her in a leotard or yoga pants quite often.
    How would you open up the dialogue without getting shut down?
  • rebbylicious
    rebbylicious Posts: 621 Member
    Adding- I have a friend who was in the hospital for Ed years ago. She was very much in love with food and recipes. I was shocked when I discovered it based on how much she talked about food. It was all about control due to her super controlling relationship. Luckily 3 months in the hospital got her back on track.
  • deannalfisher
    deannalfisher Posts: 5,601 Member
    i would focus less on the vegan aspect and more on the potential ED aspect - but it could be that her switching to vegan is about control
  • rebbylicious
    rebbylicious Posts: 621 Member
    Ballet is one of the activities/sports most commonly associated with eating disorders because there is so much pressure to be thin and the whole aesthetic of someone being that super slim ballerina is what they have in mind when they envision themselves. As for opening up a dialogue, I would just say that talking about more things in general is one way to maybe lead to that discussion. Just showing that you care about her, her interests, activities, her goals, hopes and dreams and just everything she is dealing with is the most important thing. Being non-judgmental is a big key here. It's so easy to get shut down especially by a teenager trying to gain independence and trying to make her see you're concerned about her and not trying to control her life (because EDs are often about just control if they feel they are out of control). Another way is to maybe listen to her friends. I will often have friends of a student come to me when they fear that said student is depressed, on drugs or may have an eating disorder (I'm a high school counselor). Friends see these signs more than adults do because they spend a lot of time with each other. You could even talk to her high school counselor and they can discreetly see if she seems to be eating lunch, or if there are other behaviors that seem out of the norm for her. They can even talk to her friends for you or even to her without letting her know that you called or came in with concerns. Teachers see her daily so teachers are also one of the best resources because they can see changes in day to day behaviors and will often come to me if they have concerns as well.

    She does online school because of her rigorous schedule and doesn’t socialize much outide of ballet. But I will ask her friend’s mom who she does see sometimes.

  • tracybear86
    tracybear86 Posts: 163 Member
    I have listed a couple good resources below. They have information that may help you determine additional signs and symptoms. You can also call and talk to someone at the National Eating Disorders Helpline if that would be helpful in how to approach her. It can be hard to pin down if someone is struggling with an eating disorder because they are very private disorders. I have struggled off and on for over 20 years so I applaud you for reaching out now. Getting help and treatment early in the course of the disorder is extremely important for long term success. The main red flag I saw in your post was that she is telling you she is eating in her room but you do not see her eat much otherwise. Also, I think veganism is good for ethical reasons (I am a vegan myself) but many young people with eating disorders use veganism as an excuse to reduce things they are "allowed" eat making restriction seem less obvious.

    https://www.feast-ed.org/
    https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/parent-toolkit
    https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
  • robertw486
    robertw486 Posts: 2,342 Member
    It's a slippery slope to engage the subject with a teen, but in the end that depends more on the type of relationship you have, and how you communicate day to day.

    And a great starting point is how her doctor feels about her weight and other health markers. I think it's easy for us as parents to project concerns that medical professionals might not be as concerned about.

    I had similar concerns with my daughter. As much as anything, it came down to her being a very picky eater, time management, and mood/stress. In her case the stress factors were more academic, and the mood factor was caused somewhat by PMDD. But she remains a picky eater, and in her case she is also slowly moving more towards a plant based diet, since she is very particular about what meats she likes and how they are cooked.

    I just opened up a dialogue with her about it, and we talk about diet and nutrition. I encourage her to list things she will eat, including quick to make things, that she likes. We accepted that if we make meals she doesn't care for, we have to have an alternative she enjoys more or she will likely not eat enough at that meal. She will be going with me today for groceries, and have input so that we can try to make meals that suit all our needs and wants. And as much as I can I just make it clear it's like anything else I do as a parent.... being that it's just a concern for her well being.

    In your case the fact that your daughter is an athlete might be a plus. The best athletes ensure that they fuel their bodies properly to help performance, avoid injury, aid recovery, etc.
  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,878 Member
    robertw486 wrote: »
    In your case the fact that your daughter is an athlete might be a plus. The best athletes ensure that they fuel their bodies properly to help performance, avoid injury, aid recovery, etc.
    I actually disagree with this. When I was struggling with my eating disorder in high school I was still in competitive sports year round. I played tennis up to 4 hours a day during the spring and summer, played competitive club softball during the summer and fall, and swam the rest of the year. At some of these points I was eating as little as 800 calories a day. If someone has an eating disorder they are not thinking logically about performance and recovery. I only point this out because a lot of eating disorders go overlooked or ignored because they are not the stereotypical norm of what society pictures when they think of someone with an eating disorder.
    I am very glad you found a way to have a good and healthy dialogue with your daughter and it sounds like her issues were not related to disordered eating. I think it is incredibly important to say something if you are concerned even if it is difficult. I think I would have been angry for the intrusion at the time but I wish someone had pushed me on my issues when they first started.

    And at least one study (and an abundance of anecdotal evidence from within the dancing community) indicate that ballet is an activity with a higher than average rate of EDs in general and anorexia in particular, so it's prudent for OP to be aware of that: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24277724
  • robertw486
    robertw486 Posts: 2,342 Member
    robertw486 wrote: »
    In your case the fact that your daughter is an athlete might be a plus. The best athletes ensure that they fuel their bodies properly to help performance, avoid injury, aid recovery, etc.
    I actually disagree with this. When I was struggling with my eating disorder in high school I was still in competitive sports year round. I played tennis up to 4 hours a day during the spring and summer, played competitive club softball during the summer and fall, and swam the rest of the year. At some of these points I was eating as little as 800 calories a day. If someone has an eating disorder they are not thinking logically about performance and recovery. I only point this out because a lot of eating disorders go overlooked or ignored because they are not the stereotypical norm of what society pictures when they think of someone with an eating disorder.
    I am very glad you found a way to have a good and healthy dialogue with your daughter and it sounds like her issues were not related to disordered eating. I think it is incredibly important to say something if you are concerned even if it is difficult. I think I would have been angry for the intrusion at the time but I wish someone had pushed me on my issues when they first started.

    I completely agree with this, and how the logic part goes out the window when someone is dealing with a disorder. Thus the dialogue about athletics and the logic (or lack of) in the discussion might be a strong indication of a possible disorder vs a young person just fitting it all in and doing what they think is right.

    You bring up another very valid IMO point about "the intrusion" of the discussion. Though my daughter was a bit irritated with the initial inquiries, it was more of a "I'm working on it and here are my reasons" discussion vs "leave me alone I know what I'm going" thing. In her case she actually wanted to gain a little weight and improve her strength, it was more a time management and input vs results thing. Now we can joke about her getting enough "brotein" and that the ability to lift heavy things comes mostly from lifting heavy things. :smile:


    And as a side, I'm glad you speak openly of your time dealing with your disorder. I'm honestly shocked just how many people deal with it, and feel that there are probably a lot more who stay in the shadows and never speak openly of it. People who speak up like you are doing help reduce the stigma for others, and that's a good thing.

  • aokoye
    aokoye Posts: 3,495 Member
    Given that your daughter already has anxiety, it would be worth having her see a therapist with the angle of exploring ways of managing said anxiety. Never mind that being a teenager is various levels of awful, she's under massive amounts of pressure (which is understandable but unavoidable given what she's doing and her trajectory). I realize that she might not want to see a therapist, but that's an especially good reason for her not to see one and it's nothing that a therapist hasn't seen before.

    This is very much a, get outside resources, issue. Frankly the anxiety (which may be related if she does have an eating disorder) is as well.
  • keithnsmith81
    keithnsmith81 Posts: 1 Member
    Hi, I'm no expert on ED or training etc so wasn't going to post but last night I watched a Netflix program called game changers. The guy who did it comes from my town which is the only reason I watched it. It has opened my eyes about plant based diet and does give a lot of information about the diet specifically in the elite athlete world. It may be worth a watch if only to get background information for your future conversations with your daughter. Good luck with it all.