Are Vegetarians at Risk for Eating Disorders?

Are Vegetarians at Risk for Eating Disorders?

“Are Vegetarians at Risk
for Eating Disorders?” At the turn of the century, if
you would have asked teens why they chose to eat vegetarian,
most might say they do it because they don’t want to kill animals, followed by wanting to
eat a healthier diet. More recently, “to help the
environment” became a leading reason among young people, followed by
eating healthier and then animals. A smaller fraction gave
weight loss as a reason. Yeah, they might think it’s
healthier and care about animals and the environment, but
they also might be doing it for weight loss reasons. Yes, we’re in the midst of
an obesity epidemic, but there’s also been a
rise in eating disorders. Might vegetarianism be a red flag for
the presence of an eating disorder? A survey of adolescent and
young adult vegetarians found they tended to eat better and
have healthier body weights, but those who ate vegetarian
were also more likely to report eating disorder-type behaviors. “It’s important, however,”
commentators were quick to point out, “not to suggest that vegetarian
diets cause eating disorders.” When people start eating more
plant-based their risk for chronic diseases goes down, not up. Maybe it’s the children who have
not yet adopted a vegetarian diet who require our special attention,
“as they have poorer diets and are at significantly higher risk for obesity.” To which the authors responded,
yes, they “agree that vegetarianism does not cause eating disorders”;
they’re just saying that one should explore with them why they’re doing it. “While it’s important to recognize
the potential health benefits, it is also important to
investigate a teen’s motives for adopting a vegetarian diet.” See, “studies have shown that
adolescents who have symptoms of eating disorders may [then go
on to] adopt a vegetarian diet as a weight-loss method, as a socially
acceptable way of avoiding eating.” So, rather than an increased
prevalence of eating disorders among those who eat vegetarian,
there may be an increased prevalence of vegetarianism among
those with eating disorders. See, the study was just
a snapshot in time; so, they couldn’t tell
which came first. Might eating vegetarian just be a
“way to disguise food restriction during the early stages
of an eating disorder? Or, does experience with
vegetarianism increase vulnerability for the development of eating
disorders in the first place?” To answer the question, you
need to know which came first, and… in most cases, eating
vegetarian came at least a year after the first eating disorder symptoms. Similarly, in a series of anorexics, in fewer than 1 in 10 did
meat avoidance predate the onset of their disease. It’s this kind of data that led the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to conclude that “prior use of
a vegetarian or vegan diet does not appear to increase
the risk of an eating disorder.” In fact, they may have even
lower dietary restraint scores. “Dietary restraint represents the
conscious limitation of food intake,” the perception of constantly
having to limit food intake to prevent weight gain. Perhaps the reason vegetarian
women exhibited less restrained eating is because they really didn’t
need to worry as much, because plant foods are just
calorically less dense. “This could translate into less concern
or stress when it comes to eating,” which may, in turn, help
explain why they saw fewer ovulatory disturbances among
women eating vegetarian. In fact, maybe that’s one
of the reasons vegans report less stress and anxiety. Perhaps one of the reasons
increasingly restricting animal foods is associated with better
mood is that vegans reported dieting significantly less,
and that’s one of the things that seems to be stressing women out. And vegans and true vegetarians
didn’t just have significantly lower levels of restrained eating,
but also less emotional eating, less compulsive eating, and
greater levels of acceptance in relation to food. “This highlights previously
unacknowledged positive aspects of adhering to a completely
meat or animal product free diet” when it comes to thinking about food. Though, we don’t know if
this actually translates into protection against
developing disordered eating. “Vegans appear to have the
healthiest attitudes towards food, closely followed by vegetarians.” But no one had actually
taken a large sample of vegans and just put
them through the EDE-Q, which is one of the most widely
used diagnostic tools…until now. The first large sample of
vegans to complete the official Eating Disorder Examination
Questionnaire and… vegans scored significantly
lower, significantly better, consistent with the data showing
vegans tended to diet less frequently. “Taken together, these findings
suggest that vegans and omnivores don’t differ markedly in reported
eating attitudes and behaviors, and when they do,
vegans appear to endorse overall healthier thoughts and habits.”

64 thoughts on “Are Vegetarians at Risk for Eating Disorders?

  1. I used to volunteer to work w/ young teens w/ eating disorder as part of my college degree. I did notice that those who went on diet a lot were bullied for being fat all their 14-18 yrs of life. When i took them out and ask what they want to eat, they in turn ask me what do i eat on daily basis to stay trim. So i ended up cooking for them and showing them what i actually ate on daily basis. These were before the age of social media and most of my charges who adopted my meal plans & eating habits actually lost significant amount of weight and stopped their bingeing all together. This video simply reminds me of those time. Thank you Dr G

  2. Good to watch this video. It refutes popular misconceptions and those which could, inappropriately, be used as yet another whipping stick against veganism.

  3. Let me guess it's going to conclude that no, vegetarians are superior perfect creatures right… ? When in reality most anorexic, binge-eating and disordered eating people are vegetarian/vegan or at least plant heavy.

  4. Eating meat destroying the environment,personal health , and ones inborn compassion is perfectly ordered in our society

  5. house painter: No dieting here. I've added bags of potatoes to my eating to get more calories. Potatoes (especially chilled) make you lose weight.  But the calories are comforting. Is there a disconnect here?  I'm 20 lbs above the bottom of my BMI, and climbing, and look and feel and perform (back to running & swimming) well. I used to weigh in 20 & 30 lbs more. I also started eating more to turn back the cold of winter, and it seems to be working.

  6. It just makes everyone so upset that there's a lot of good science on veganism 😂😂

    Makes it much harder to deny and discredit.

  7. I have an eating disorder, but eating vegan has been one of the biggest HELPS in my recovery road so far. At least so far haha

  8. And after carnists say that epidemiological studies are flawded bc of an alleged "healthy user bias" of vegans.
    For sure carnism is an unhealthy bias though.
    Living of cadaver/suffering while destroying our health and environement is the real eating disorder…

  9. Personally, I´d call the Standard American Diet an eating disorder and also the carnivore diet for humans is completely bonkers, and restrictive so I´d classify that as an ED as well. But I´m googling that EDE-Q to see what the exact criteria are…

  10. This is brilliant news! I'll send these findings to the UK Centre for Eating Disorders that keep unfoundedly discouraging all their patients to go plant based! Thank you Dr Greger!

  11. Eating disorders are often linked to other psychosis, JAMA recently published a paper on CBD and its effect on psychosis. You should read it.

    While treating women with psychotic illness, I noticed that many of my patients, in addition to their psychosis, had eating disorders (anorexia and binge eating) and I wondered whether my prescription of antipsychotic drugs was responsible. I knew that these drugs led to increased appetite and weight gain, which could provoke a counter reaction, ie, a drive to be thin.

  12. I have never had an eating disorder when I was a meat eater. Now that I have been vegan for four years I have developed an eating disorder and a negative relationship with food:(

  13. I don't care what anyones motives are as long as they stop hurting animals! Plus if someone wants to eat strictly vegetarian instead of nothing at all, then that sounds like a good thing to me. They can binge eat vegetables all they want without getting fat so there's no need to purge. Vegan diets are a win all around.

  14. I did have an eating disorder until I changed to a whole foods plant diet. I had the eating disorder FBSFES (Fat Boy See Food and Eat it Disorder).

  15. I think the way we eat in the US, is a total eating disorder in so many ways and we are still in denial about it.

  16. Yep, absolutely! Yet another case of reverse causation. Just like with low cholesterol and increased mortality and low salt intake and increased mortality.

    A lot of the vegan youtuber women report having had eating disorders prior to becoming vegan (Unnatural Vegan is a good example) and veganism was really appealing to them because they could lose weight and still eat a lot. Wouldn't be surprised if social acceptability had a lot to do with it, too.

    Honestly, though, I think they ought to seek psychological therapy for their eating disorders, too. Going vegan isn't going to treat the underlying emotional/psychological issues.

    I'm glad that there is scientifically documented evidence showing that it really is reverse causation.

    I noticed the same with amenorrhea, too, come to think of it. A non-vegan youtuber was saying she would never become vegan until vegan diets stop causing girls to lose their periods, but the single example on youtube I could find where a vegan girl did develop amenorrhea was one who also had an eating disorder, too–so it wasn't necessarily clear whether the vegan diet caused the amenorrhea or the lack of sufficient calories.

  17. 🙏 Thanks again Dr. Greger for yet another info packed, fact backed video. You have inspired me to share similar content with my audience. 👍

  18. I had a suspicion those with ED may get attracted to veganism for it's weight management advantage but may mask it with faked empathy for animals. Some warning signs: limiting diets, ridiculous cleanses, are borderline underweight, are not physically active/strong, losing their period or hair, self-absorbed.

  19. Another nail in the coffin of the woefully uninformed propagandists who claim that a plant based diet per se has a causal relationship with eating disorders and gut problems.

    R.I.P. anti vegan propaganda.

  20. Processed meat is bad, grass fed no hormones is the right kind. Vegetables oils are bad because they are processed, natural oils like coconut oil are excellent. Fruits and vegetables are bad IF they are not organically grown, organic is the way to go. Food is not confusing… Doctors make it confusing. Our ancestors ate pretty much everything and they were fine because it was all organic… I'm trying to make sense in a confused world with something as simple as food.

  21. Might it be that vegetarianism is a step on the path to recovery? A healthier relationship to food and better mental health can go hand in hand.

  22. I feel like trying to be WFPB makes me more of a perfectionist with food. If I cheat I feel like a failure. I know this diet is good for me, but I don't think it's fun to have to worry about everything that goes in my mouth. People say this is a lifestyle, but it is actually a diet and feels like a diet

  23. In my teens, my family adopted a macrobiotic vegan diet , I am now middle-aged and I have had some very serious eating disorders . I believe it goes back to the idea of good or shameful foods which is somewhat toxic also restricting certain foods which leads to a natural craving , it can be very tricky.

  24. Dr. Greger, please do a show on the rise of veggie-burgers. Please expose the ingredients and processing methods used to make these "Frankenstein foods" palatable. Thank you!

  25. This is really awful , uses every statistical trick in the book . A portion of the vegetarians are going to be in the superhealthy group to add to their already great health with vegetarianism . Conversely in the meat-eating group are going to be all the people that don't give a crap about their health and shovel in any old garbage all day . My father was good friends with Greg Sams who started the first ever Vegan restaurant in London called Cranks. I have been intimately involved in veganisum vegetarianism , all sorts from childhood . Some of my career has been spent in sales and to me Dr Gregor is a salesperson . He presents great information but it's very biased it is not the whole picture . Think of it as one of many viewpoints and make up your own mind. I wish him and everyone well.

  26. Eating disorders are a mental health problem. Empowering people with ED with knowledge, skill and understanding of how to eat and live a healthy lifestyle is what will help them. Then there are ED that have nothing to do with food but to cause self harm, in this case then an entirely different model of care is required.

  27. I'm flattered if people call me orthorexic, when I'm chugging down 4.000 calories of 100% whole-food vegan goodness every day!

  28. So redux would be: sure these people are killing themselves and we've made zero progress in figuring out how to help them, but please don't blame Veganism. Wow, that's just great. This is why no matter how hard you try, flying a banner tends to cultishness and demotion of all other concerns in the name of protecting the brand. Sad..

  29. There's an email blast coming out on Thursday. Sign up for the latest news and to get our free Evidence-Based Eating Guide: -NF Team

  30. It could also be argued that there are 300,000,000 Americans with severe eating disorders – McDonaldsrexia I'll call it.

  31. Dr Greger I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari he is vegan. and he writes our ancestors were omnivorous apes who thrived on a wide variety of foods. Just trying to understand because no matter how much I try to stay vegan after 3 months I get cravings. Is it hard wired in our DNA ? is that why ? I’m having a tough time. He also writes about how wheat farming brought Sapiens so much agony and violence and no nutrients how bad it is for our teeth and how it made humans work harder than ever and it made us stay put where before we always traveled. I am just getting to the part of how we started dominating cow; chicken, sheep pigs it’s really gross and cruel, really good book I recommend it

  32. vegetarianism is an eating disorder
    (isnt it great how this commend will generate likes from both vegans and carnivores…ppl who know me will know what i truely meant tho ;p)

  33. There is zero tribes on the planet that were vegitaRians. Just have some elk or bison.
    You will feel better and sleep better. Just do it.

  34. It is good practice to look at the motives. But people can recover from EDs and continue to eat a vegan diet, for some it is beneficial to be less restrictive during a recovery period.

  35. Just look at the YouTube Vegans. Many of them are underweight, eat high fat and high sugar diets and are now making videos about how a Vegan diet made them sick. No, there eating disorder made them sick.

  36. People try special diets, when we already are sick of something. It's not from a random thing.
    If it helps, it's good. Good luck everyone, and get healthy !

    WHO daily diet recommendations are a bliss, if in doubt. About 50g of protein, 50g of fats, 25g of sugars. All the rest is plant based. 200g of burger meat is 4X above the recommended dose. 1l of juice is 4X above the sugar dose. Eating olive oil like mad is above the recommended dose.

    It's like 2-4 spoons of each per day in recommended doses by the thousands of doctors that propose the WHO recommendations.

    The milk marketing would say anything to sell more.
    The meat marketing would sell anything to sell more.
    The sugar marketing would say anything to sell more.
    The processed food marketing would say anything to sell more.

    In reality it always comes down that we are sold more than we need to be healthy, because capitalism is like that.

  37. Hi doc. I would like to ask you a question if you don't mind answering. Imagine I drink WPI shake which has 50gr of protein OR I ate 300gr steak which has 50gr of protein. Let's assume my body utilised 30gr of the protein. What happens to the 20gr leftover? Does my body convert it into fat? Can body store protein for hours?

  38. Why would ANY logical person think that eating healthy would cause an eating disorder. Literally insane logic.

  39. This is exiting news!

    TIL that Dr Greger has finally discovered the difference between correlation and causation.

    What a time to be alive!

  40. Hi Dr. Greger Could you make a response video to Jeff Nelson “nuts series” I think the entire vegan community is now waiting on your response….

  41. Thank you! Been waiting for this since you mentioned the series in a q&a months ago. Very excited to see the upcoming episodes. Thank you for your work!

  42. I have a very long ED history (at least 35 years), but I didn't go vegan because of it. I went vegan for health (trying to avoid a family history of things) and ethics. The thing is, my ED got worse once I went vegan. 😩 I often feel deprived because I'm the only vegan in my family and at my job, and that really proves a major "trigger" when everyone is eating all of the things that I used to have that now I can' I'll binge on snacks (vegan, of course) in "retaliation". 😳 Then you have some plant-based doctors saying "no oil" and "low fat", blah, blah, blah.. and that leaves me feeling even more restricted and I wind up binging. 😭 I'm also extremely unhappy in my life and have long used food to cope, so… 😞 But I would never blame being vegan. I blame myself . I just wish I had a normal relationship with food. 😢

  43. Ask girls/women with ED’s. In my early 20’s I had anorexia for 2 years and did use vegetarianism as a way to acceptably restrict when eating with others. Fortunately, I recovered and today it’s a choice to eat WFPB diet for compassionate and health reasons. So, as a parent or concerned friend/relative, etc., this could be a red flag for an ED.

  44. Eating disorders are the least of your worries on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Mental illness from lack of DHA, b12 deficiency, Muscle loss (like dr greger has suffered) are a few things that are more important to worry about on plant based diets. Also increased uric acid, nitric oxide suppression, heart disease, diabetes from all the sugar and fructose, the list goes on and on.

  45. I can confirm that in my case, becoming vegan has almost completely removed any impact my eating disorder has on my life. I am now 32 but have been struggling with eating disorders since I was 15. Went through all the stages of anorexia, bulimia, followed by binge eating and yo-yo dieting. Every time I'd try to '' eat healthier'' I'd start off with great intentions and slip back into anorexia or bulimia. I ended up just never thinking about what I ate at all because I was afraid to go back to anorexia or bulimia as soon as I tried to take care of my health/weight issue so I gained a considerable amount of weight. Going vegan at first I naturally lost 30 pounds without doing much effort – no calorie counting, just intuitive eating and doing sports I enjoyed. I've now been vegan for almost 2 years and even though I did not continue losing weight after the intial 30 I am now just maintaining my weight without ever having to think about what I'm eating. I think being vegan helped me gain confidence in myself because I am living my life according to my beliefs so I don't live in guilt of participating in an industry I loathe… And knowing that I can effortlessly maintain my weight/shape has also given me a feeling of control over my life that I did not have before. I don't strongly feel the need to look a certain way anymore, don't compare myself to models or other women I see on TV (most of the time, i think we all have moments of weakness where we feel down about ourselves but this barely ever happens to me anymore). I am not sure if I will lose any more weight eventually, maybe… I'm not really worried about it. I focus on eating healthy and moving alot and… life will do what it will do…

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