Can you do intuitive eating as a vegan?
It’s a question I see pop up often in online support groups, and it’s a fair question. As someone who’s been eating vegan (no meats, dairy, or eggs) since 2011 and also eats intuitively, I want to share my views and experience with vegan intuitive eating.
To me, there’s a big difference between being vegan for ethical reasons and following a diet based on weight loss or health claims—and I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum.
Let me start with sharing a little of my own journey to veganism, how it actually helped me make peace with food, and how I practice intuitive eating as a vegan now.
My Journey to Vegan Intuitive Eating
It’s no secret I’ve struggled with disordered eating for much of my life. It started at the age of 15 when I began my first diet, which then spiraled into binge eating, over exercising, yo-yo dieting, and a lot of desperate hate and mistrust of my own body.
Basically, eating and body image have always been a touchy subject for me.
But in my freshman year of college, I learned about the book Intuitive Eating, which advocated perspectives on eating that were previously foreign to me:
- Listening to your body and discovering what you truly like to eat
- Actually enjoying eating without guilt or shame.
- Accepting your body how it was… and focusing on health rather than weight loss
It was by no means an overnight change—things like this take time to unravel and heal. But gradually, I started to shift my mindset away from that of restriction, calorie counting, and body shame and towards learning to enjoy foods and their benefits in a healthy way.
And a few years after that, I discovered veganism.
Finding Veganism: How It Freed Me
In 2011, my junior year of college, I discovered a vegan diet. (And by “diet,” I mean not eating animal products for ethical reasons, completely separate from health, nutrition, or weight loss.)
I learned about the horrors of factory farming, the ungodly number of animals killed every year for food and the methods by which they’re killed.
It was the same year I adopted my first dog, Lilly. My baby, my doggie soulmate.
The more I learned about how we treat animals, the more I connected it with my Lilly girl—and to put it simply, I just couldn’t see enough difference.
So, I made the decision to go vegan.
I decided to not eat animal products anymore—which might seem pretty restrictive on the surface, right? But there was something significant in this decision…
For the first time in my life, I was making eating decisions that weren’t all about me, my weight, or how my body would look.
It became about making heart-centered food choices based on my ethics. It was a moral decision that opened up a whole world of guilt-free eating.
Something that could be seen as restriction by others actually freed me.
I had a blast exploring vegan options that supported my ethics while letting me eat without guilt or restriction from things I love, like peanut butter and chocolate and vegan ice cream and everything in between. (See below for a list of my favorites.)
And once I was free of guilt and learning to enjoy what I was eating, I was free of the black-and-white diet-or-binge dieting mentality that had plagued me for so many years.
… but about a year later, I got pulled into the nutrition-centered side of veganism, and this is where the problem can lie.
Getting Pulled Back into Dieting Mentality
I stumbled upon the nutrition world of a plant-based diet. A whole foods, plant-based, low-fat, no-added-oil, no-added-sugar plant-based diet.
And unfortunately, long story short, it sucked me back into a dieting mentality that caused a lot of food shame and mistrust of my body’s needs.
At the beginning, I lost enough weight that people noticed, I felt on top of the world for a few months, I thought I’d found the “solution” to being skinny and protecting my health… and so I very strictly avoided all the “no-nos.”
But then… I came crashing down when I couldn’t sustain this degree of restriction after all.
Sound familiar? This is dieting mentality, the type of restriction that always leads me back to binging. And research shows eating to pursue weight loss often leads to regain of the weight through yo-yo dieting.
And that’s what happened to me here. I became so restrictive that it was bad for my mental health, I wasn’t enjoying my food, and I was overeating and binging on “safe” foods… or eating “bad” foods and beating myself up about it.
But thankfully, in 2015, I revisited intuitive eating and realized what had happened. I had strayed from listening to my body, from enjoying food, and from that beautiful balance of intuitive health I’d found before.
And now, today, I’m happy to be a vegan of 7+ years who loves whole food plant-based foods—fruits, veggies, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh, etc, etc—because they feel good for my body but who also loves vegan ice cream and chocolate and enjoys them without guilt.
I listen to my body (which is the whole point of IE, right?) while also following my heart.
How to Eat Intuitively As a Vegan
So, with the above being said, here are some ways I differentiate between vegan intuitive eating and dieting mentality within the world of not eating animals.
Consider the Motivation: Lifestyle vs Diet
Think about why you’re wanting to not eat animal products. Is it just another diet, or is it a lifestyle that feels in alignment with what you believe?
A diet is motivated purely by weight loss or trying to make your body look a certain way. A diet has food rules that dictate whether you’re doing “good” or “bad” and feels restrictive.
A vegan lifestyle is one of compassion, making choices that feel good and that keep you satisfied.
Vegan intuitive eating is just like any other form of intuitive eating—listening to your body’s signals, hunger and fullness cues, eating foods you enjoy, and practicing gentle nutrition without guilt or shame.
“Won’t” Versus “Can’t”
Wording is important. A diet dictates what you can and can’t eat. A vegan lifestyle is about foods you won’t eat for ethical reasons.
Veganism doesn’t feel restrictive for me because I choose not to eat animal products—not because I feel like I “can’t” have them. One of the very first principles of IE is unconditional permission to eat any foods.
For me, non-vegan foods just aren’t foods I eat—but I give myself full permission to eat any vegan foods I want, at any time.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Imperfection
Some members of my Intuitive Eating for Vegans group have talked about approaching veganism with a more fluid view. Basically, not beating yourself up for not eating perfectly vegan.
And I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t think it’s ever healthy to beat ourselves up about eating any food. It just leads to shame that isn’t productive.
If I find myself without food for hours and my only option is a muffin containing eggs or I eat some chocolate and later realize it contains dairy, for example, it’s okay. I just recognize it, maybe pack more eating options next time or find another chocolate brand, and move one.
It’s the same approach for intuitive eating in general. Everything is simply an observation. If I go too long without eating and eat past fullness on my dinner, that’s fine. I know it’s because I waited a long time to eat, and it reminds me to eat more frequently tomorrow.
Basically, you can absolutely be an intuitive eater as a vegan—if your mindset and emotional health are in a good, healthy place of abundance, and if your choices feel good and not restrictive.
Of course, this is just my perspective and experience. I know everyone is different. I’m not trying to preach or tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t eat.
I also know some people need to start with a completely clean slate, allowing themselves to eat any foods without guilt, when they start intuitive eating.
Do what you need to do as part of your healing process, whatever works best for you and helps you make peace with food.
But if you’re someone who shares the moral pull of veganism or vegetarianism and still wants to eat without guilt, I hope this perspective and these tips are helpful for you!
And now, in case you’re here because you’re interested in non-dieting veganism or are vegan (or vegetarian) already and wanting to shift into intuitive eating, I’ll end this post with a list of my favorite fun vegan foods.
These are foods I explored while in the third principle of IE, Make Peace with Food, where I discovered what previously “forbidden foods” I like. Enjoy. 🙂
- Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice creams (still waiting for Peanut Butter Half-Baked to show up in my area!)
- So Delicious ice creams
- Gardein vegan meats (I like their fishless fillets and chick’n strips)
- Tofurkey (I like their hot dogs, deli slices, and tempeh)
- Field Roast products (their Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute is our favorite for holidays)
- Upton’s Naturals seitan products
Cookbooks and recipes:
- Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week
- Frugal Vegan: Affordable, Easy & Delicious Vegan Cooking
- Minimalist Baker
- Oh She Glows
- Chocolate-Covered Katie
- White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Bars
- NuGo Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bars
- Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars
- Larabars (especially the chocolate chip cookie dough!)
- Dark chocolate cherry cashew KIND bars
- Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups (my go-to for movie treats!)
- Enjoy Life chocolate chips
- Lily’s dark chocolate chips
- Cocomel caramels
- Unreal dark chocolate-covered peanuts
- Any of the Go Max Go bars (especially Jokerz, which is like a Snickers!)
* Note: some of these contain Amazon affiliate links, meaning I earn a small percentage if you click and buy them. But there’s never ANY pressure to do so!
If you made it this far, I’d love to know your thoughts. Can you relate to my experience with vegan intuitive eating? Or has yours been vastly different?