Is Choosing a Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle a Trauma Response?

Exploring the connections between diet choices and mental health

This story is both scientific and personal.

In taking a continuing education course on trauma-informed care as part of my ongoing training as a physical therapist. I was surprised to find a few things listed under some common characteristics and conditions of those who have survived trauma. Asthma was one, which is also known as a highly inflammatory disease. But the surprise was a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. This revelation definitely made me raise an eyebrow.

I had chosen a course focused on practicing trauma-informed care since almost all of my patients seem to be recovering from the traumatic events related to whatever brought them into the hospital. I always welcome gaining insight into how to better connect with those in my care. The typical manifestations of trauma are seemingly easy to recognize while working with my patients. 

But how does trauma relate to choosing a plant-based diet? This question led me to do some research. 

First of all, let me disclose that I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I have asthma that developed in my early adulthood, and I also happen to be vegan. When the slide denoting these two things as connected to trauma popped up on my computer, I was immediately engaged with the presentation. 

I never thought of my diet choice as a trauma response, but I acknowledge that I derive a certain sense of satisfaction from having control of my diet. A functional medicine doctor convinced me to transition from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet to help manage inflammation, one manifestation of which is asthma, another depression. 

A quick Google search doesn’t truly reveal an answer to my question. Most studies or articles relating to this typically approach plant-based diets as either a cause of mental illness or as an illness itself. One article goes so far as to group veganism under the umbrella of avoidance restrictive food intake disorder. 

However, most of the survey style studies showed that those who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet did so after the onset of depression or anxiety. So the diet doesn’t cause mental illness. 

Positive takes on plant-based diets do exist. A scientific study correlates vegetarian lifestyles with healthy mood states. One article discusses veganism as a logical outcome of the moral reckonings of highly sensitive and emotionally intelligent people. Still, other resources cite plant-based diets as a means of healing from trauma

The only experience I have to relate to the correlation between diet choice and trauma survival is my own. I began my journey to going vegan as a pescatarian when I was 18. I gave up meat because the thought of eating sentient beings disturbed me. And why is that? 

A truck carrying chickens to a processing plant. Always a sad sight for me. I used to keep chickens and learned how amazing they are as creatures. Photo by author.

Living my life through a trauma lens made me more empathetic to all the suffering in this world, including that of animals. Why is it right for me to eat a cow or pig? They experience fear and sadness just like humans. And my empathy for these creatures is immense.

I recently went to see Avatar 2 with my daughter. It was really emotional for me. There is whale hunting involved. Understanding the relationship that the fictional Na’vi people have with the wildlife in their midst, it was excruciating to watch these parts. I sobbed like a baby. If James Cameron is trying to convince everyone to adopt a vegan diet like him, he did a pretty convincing job!

Perhaps as a vegan, my reaction to these scenes was different and more powerful than for most viewers. But James Cameron certainly did his best to evoke an emotional response from his audience. 

But still, my real question remains unanswered. Does trauma contribute to choosing a diet that avoids exploiting animals? I’m not even sure if the topic is worth researching or even if a real conclusion can be reached. 

To my fellow plant-based eaters, if you are also survivors of trauma, I send you the biggest, warmest hug. I’d also like to know if your experience with trauma helped lead you to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Regardless, I can’t imagine going back to eating animals at this point in my life. It’s been nearly 6 years. I don’t miss eating meat. And the longer I live this way, the more I see all living beings as deserving of compassion and respect. I do not wish to be responsible for inflicting trauma on any other sentient being. This I can live with. But is my diet choice helping me heal from my own trauma? That is yet to be determined.


Have you ever heard of the correlation between plant-based diets and surviving trauma? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

12 thoughts on “Is Choosing a Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle a Trauma Response?

  1. This is a new one! So interesting. And this?: “…approach plant-based diets as either a cause of mental illness or as an illness itself” – um… wow!

    I have no significant trauma. My veganism sprang from my days in the environmental club in high school trying to beef up my extracurricular activities for college applications. One day in the club they showed us a video of factory farming and that was it – I couldn’t justify eating meat after that. That was 30 years ago. It’s as simple as that for me. Studies like these sure are thought-provoking, but everyone is different. Thanks for the food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now that you mention it, I’d say yes.
    I was a vegetarian since 1986, and finally became vegan in 2021 (making the final break to stop eating fish). When you look at the date, 2021, what does it represent? We were still in the high point of the Covid19 pandemic. Though by that time when the decision was made, my husband and I were on a vacation. People were careful with masks. By then many were vaccinated. BUT, during the pandemic a few friends passed away. One was a new friend, but a sweet one, who also had cancer. Covid did him in. The other friend, was my best friend (other than my husband). We knew each other since we were teenagers. He died suddenly of a heart attack in the bathroom at work — alone. The guy was only in his mid-50s; kind-hearted and so much fun. He was the kind of friend you could be honest with, fight with, and know deep down you’ll always be friends. I never had to second guess his friendship. He loved me as a friend, and he loved my family. When he came to visit my husband and I, he’d spend a great deal of the time talking to my father-in-law who was in his 90s, You couldn’t ask for a better friend. My husband and I miss him dearly. Other than my husband, I’ll never have another friend that great.
    So, perhaps this had something to do with it. It was such a great loss — and as one knows, loss is what helps you grow spiritually. The next year, on vacation with my husband, I saw a baby octopus in a sea aquarium. The octopus made that connection with me and blinked (as a cat does when they like you). From that moment on, I said, no matter what it takes I will be vegan. About a month later I hired a vegan health coach to make sure I was doing it right. Every 6 months I get bloodwork, and at 59, I’m doing better health-wise than I did in my 30s and 40s!!
    It’s a beautiful journey and I’m glad I’m here. I hope my words helped your assessment of trauma leading to veganims.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Makes total sense, I have C-PTSD and went vegan last year when my children expressed their want to become it too. Once I realized that I hadn’t been living according to my respectful beliefs towards all living creatures, I couldn’t go back to my previous eating choices. I personally think in my case it’s a matter of empathy and sensitivity and while I was basically like this since my earliest childhood, growing up in a traumatic home made me much more attuned to the suffering of the others. I just didn’t put too much effort into dissecting my eating habits because I was too busy surviving but lately I’ve been doing a lot better thanks to adopting a healthier lifestyle and turning my mindset 180° so obviously, veganism was a part of the package, and I must say, it has helped a lot to my physical and mental health. I feel cleaner inside and outside.

    Liked by 1 person

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