Vegetarians at Risk for Eating Disorders

There are many reasons to become a vegetarian. Many do it to live a healthier lifestyle, lowering their risk for heart disease and many types of cancer. Others choose a vegetarian lifestyle because of a moral conviction to not eat meat.

While vegetarianism can be a very healthy choice for many people, a new study reveals that many vegetarians enter the lifestyle for the wrong reason: to drastically cut calories and lose weight. In fact, when participants in the study were asked about their motivation to become a vegetarian, the most common reason given among adolescents was to lose weight or keep from gaining it.

The study, published in the April edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, was a collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota, the College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University, and the University of Texas. The researchers recuited 2,516 adolescents in Minnesota aged 15 to 23 years.

The participants were divided into two age groups: adolescents ages 15 to 18 and young adults aged 19 to 23. In both groups, results showed that there was a higher rate of binge eating among current vegetarians than those interviewed who had never been vegetarians.

The results of the study also showed that about one-fifth of adolescent vegetarians and approximately 27 percent of former young adult vegetarians had engaged in one or more eating disordered behaviors in the past year, including behaviors such as taking diet pills, vomiting, or using laxatives or diuretics.

Though the results indicated that vegetarians were more at risk for eating disorders among adolescents and young adults, the researchers found that vegetarians were more healthy in some eating choices. The vegetarians were healthier in regard to their choices about eating fruits and vegetables.
In addition, vegetarians lower their risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and some cancers, according to the study.
The researchers hope that the results of the study will help raise awareness about vegetarianism as a possible indicator of a risk of eating disorders. Though it bears that risk, it still has great potential to be a healthy lifestyle.
The findings of the study indicate that while vegetarianism can be a healthy choice for individuals who want to lower their risk for certain diseases, it may also be red flag for some parents. If an adolescent or young adult decides to try the lifestyle, it may be healthy to consult a dietician to ensure that balance is achieved in the eating plan.

Related: Orthorexia Eating Disorder

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