Some Vegetarians May Be At Risk of Eating Disorders

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
July/August 2003 Volume 14, Number 4
©2003 Gürze Books

Some college-age women who describe themselves as vegetarians may be more likely to be concerned with their weight and to be at risk of developing an eating disorder than non-vegetarians, according to the results of a small study at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. In this study, vegetarians were more likely to feel very guilty after eating, to report that food controls their life, to take laxatives, and to turn to increased and sometimes intense exercise to burn excess calories (J Am Diet Assn 2003;103:745).

Sheree A. Klopp and associates gave 143 female college students questionnaires designed to measure eating behaviors and attitudes toward food. Among the 30 women who said they were vegetarians, most classified themselves as “semi-vegetarians,” explaining that they avoided red meat but would eat some chicken or fish. None claimed to be vegans (avoiding all foods derived from animals, including dairy products and eggs).

The number-one reason the women gave for becoming vegetarians was to improve their health and nutrition, and 19% said they did so to control their weight. Only 15% said they became vegetarians out of concern for animals and their well-being.

The researchers found that the vegetarians were more likely to be preoccupied with their weight than the women who did not avoid meat. More than one-third of self-reported vegetarians appeared to be at risk for developing an eating disorder. The vegetarians more often reported weighing themselves several times a day, choosing diet foods and wanting to vomit after eating.

Klopp and her associates suggest that food rituals may be the link between vegetarianism and a tendency to develop eating disorders. In addition, people who omit certain foods from their diet may obtain a feeling of power and control over food, which is also a desire of people with eating disorders, according to the authors.

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