Vegetarianism may be a signs of an eating disorder according to a new study.Vegetarians often describe their eating choices as a healthier lifestyle, but a new study shows that people with eating disorders may be co-opting this “healthier lifestyle”.
Research suggests that many women and teens with eating disorders are becoming vegetarian because it makes it easier to refuse food. While turning down a burger or passing up on a meal would normally look suspicions, being a vegetarian makes it more acceptable.
The research, which has just been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, shows that women with an eating disorder are four times more likely to become vegetarians than those without disordered eating.
"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, told The Huffington Post. "It makes it easier when people ask you questions about where those foods have gone. It's a more socially acceptable way to restrict foods."
This is especially true for teens. While parents might question a very restricted diet or skipping meals, vegetarianism becomes the perfect scapegoat.
In all the research found that 52% of women who had struggled with an eating disorder had tried a vegetarian lifestyle. Only 12% of women without an eating disorder had ever tried vegetarianism. Furthermore, 68% of the women who had an eating disorder and became vegetarian admitted that the two were linked. They said that becoming vegetarian helped them restrict food, lose weight, and reduce the overall number of calories they ate.
"The takeaway of this study is, as a clinician, if you have a patient who tells you they want to be a vegetarian, it's worth exploring that more than you would have otherwise," Kane-Alves said. She suggests doctors ask their patients why they want to go vegetarian.
The study found that women with eating disorders had drastically different reasons for becoming vegetarian than those without. Of the women without eating disorders, none reported becoming a vegetarian to lose weight. Among the women with eating disorders, nearly half said that losing weight was the main reason they became vegetarian.
It is important to emphasise that the findings of this study do not mean vegetarianism is unhealthy or that it is akin to eating disorders. Vegetarians can live long healthy happy lives and choosing to avoid meat is perfectly alright.
The problems arise when someone with an eating disorder uses a legitimate life choice like vegetarianism to help them indulge in an unhealthy practice. This is not only dangerous for the person with an eating disorder, it can also damage the credibility of the vegetarian lifestyle.