Vegetarianism And Eating Disorders

JUNKandPO via
JUNKandPO via

Women who suffer from eating disorders are four times more
likely to be vegetarian than women without eating disorders, according to a
recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics. The researchers found that 52 % of women with a history of
eating disorders had been vegetarians at some point in their lives. In contrast,
only 12 % of women without eating disorders had experimented with a vegetarian

For clinicians who work with eating disorder patients, the
results of the study were not too surprising.

“Going vegetarian can be another way to cut out a food
category, or a number of food categories, if you become a vegan,” Vanessa
Kane-Alves, a registered dietician with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Eating
Disorders Program. “It makes it easier when people ask you questions about
where those foods have gone. It’s a more socially acceptable way to restrict

Kane-Alves, who was not involved in the study, emphasized
that the research doesn’t argue vegetarianism causes eating disorders, or is
unhealthy. Instead, it suggests vegetarianism can be a symptom of an eating
disorder for some women. The takeaway of this study is, as a clinician, doctor,
psychologist or psychiatrist is if you have a patient who tells you they want
to be a vegetarian, it’s worth exploring that more than one would have
otherwise. Asking a client why they want to go vegetarian is a great start. Other
extreme food restricting lifestyles are:

  • Paleo
  • Raw
  • Vegan
  • Dairy Free
  • Gluten Free

In the study, the motivation to go vegetarian was starkly
different between women with eating disorders and those who were not. None of
the women without eating disorders reported becoming vegetarians to lose weight.
In contrast, almost half of those with an eating disorder history said weight
was their primary motivator. Of the women with a history of eating disorders
and a history of vegetarianism, 68 percent said there was a relationship
between the two. A vegetarian diet helped them lose weight, cut calories and
feel in control, they reported. In another study, of those who called
themselves vegetarians upon attending treatment, five percent of those who fully
recovered from their eating disorder were still vegetarians.

Were you a vegetarian prior to your eating disorder recovery?
Are you still a vegetarian?
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