'Help! How do I talk to my vegan daughter about her secret chocolate binges?'

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‘Healthy eating’ is never an easy topic for parents and their kids.

At best, if they get a few vegies in them every now and then, that’s a win.

But it was a very specific question, about a specific version of this topic that threw This Glorious Mess hosts Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo when a listener asked them for help.

The mum, who we’ve called Jodie, says her 16-year-old daughter is a vegan for “health and moral reasons”, but that she’s noticed something worrying about her approach to eating.

Listen: Holly and Andrew discuss the listener question before a fellow mum offers her tips. (Post continues after audio.)

Jodie says she’s caught her daughter binge-eating chocolate and ice cream in secret a number of times and when she confronts her about it she becomes “distressed and ashamed”.

“How can I bring up the conversation without shaming my daughter and tell her that it’s okay to eat these things?” she asks.

Well, according to Butterfly Foundation CEO, Christine Morgan, the best time to approach the topic is at a moment when her daughter feels comfortable and relaxed.

Morgan tells Mamamia that parents should focus on the feelings associated with the behaviour, rather than the eating of non-vegan foods itself.

“Being gently inquisitive. So try: ‘I’m noticing the behaviour, that’s fine. I’m more interested in why you feel so distressed about it’.”

If her daughter is distressed about her secret eating, Jodie could talk to her daughter about visiting a dietitian to make sure she’s still getting all the nutrients she needs, Morgan says.

Jodie's daughter may not be getting the nutrients she needs from her diet. (Image via Getty.)

She couldn't say if Jodie's daughter had a binge-eating disorder from what was described, but that it would classify as disordered eating, which can also be harmful.

"If you do strongly restrict the food groups and quantities of foods, it sets up a physical as well as a phycological urge to binge," Morgan says.

"It's the pendulum swinging and why it's so important we try to maintain a healthy pattern of eating and try not to go to extremes.


"If she was really morally committed to being a vegan, I would be wanting my daughter to go to see a dietitian to talk about how she ensures she gets a full spectrum of nutrients into her diet."

And if your loved one shuts down the conversation, Morgan says it's best to tell them that you are available to talk at any time.

This Glorious Mess listener Ann Marie found this approach paid off when dealing with her 19-year-old vegan daughter's disordered eating.

The mum said that a school psychologist recommended she keep an open line of communication with her daughter, including via text, as that was what she felt most comfortable with. One day she received a text: "Please mum can you make an appointment to see someone. I really feel I need to."

"So now she's regularly seeing a counsellor and things are looking up. Not resolved, but she's getting the help I know I couldn't give her."

If you or anyone you care about may be suffering an eating disorder or disordered eating, you can call the Butterfly Foundation national helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).

You can listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess here.

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