The Inter-Relationships between Vegetarianism and Eating Disorders among Females


      When individuals with a suspected or diagnosed eating disorder adopt a vegetarian diet, health care professionals might worry that this choice could function as a socially acceptable way to legitimize food avoidance. Yet only limited research has examined vegetarianism in relation to eating disorders. Our study objectives were to compare individuals with and without an eating disorder history and individuals at different stages of eating disorder recovery on past and current vegetarianism and motivations for and age at becoming vegetarian. Participants were females seen at some point for an eating disorder (n=93) and controls who never had an eating disorder (n=67). Recruitment and data collection for this cross-sectional study occurred in 2007-2008. χ2 analyses and analyses of variance and covariance were used to examine the research questions. Compared with controls, individuals with an eating disorder history were considerably more likely to ever have been vegetarian (52% vs 12%; P<0.001), to be currently vegetarian (24% vs 6%; P<0.01), and to be primarily motivated by weight-related reasons (42% vs 0%; P<0.05). The three recovery status groups (fully recovered, partially recovered, and active eating disorder) did not differ significantly in percentiles endorsing a history of vegetarianism or weight-related reasons as primary, but they differed significantly in current vegetarianism (33% of active cases, 13% of partially recovered, 5% of fully recovered; P<0.05). Most perceived that their vegetarianism was related to their eating disorder (68%) and emerged after its onset. Results shed light on the vegetarianism-eating disorders relation and suggest intervention considerations for clinicians (eg, investigating motives for vegetarianism).


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      A. M. Bardone-Cone is an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; at the time of the study, A. M. Bardone-Cone was an assistant professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia.


      E. E. Fitzimmons-Craft is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


      M. B. Harney is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


      C. R. Maldonado is an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology, Boise State University, Boise, ID.


      M. A. Lawson is an associate clinical professor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia.


      R. Smith is a senior LPN at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia.


      D. P. Robinson is an associate clinical professor at the Florida State University School of Medicine, Tallahassee.