Vegetarian Link to Eating Disorders

Daily Mail (London), February 21, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Vegetarian Link to Eating Disorders


Byline: IAIN FLEMING

THEY choose to shun meat for ethical reasons, boasting the benefits of their increasingly trendy diet.

But new research suggests vegetarians are also more likely to suffer serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia because they lack essential nutrients found in meat.

Researchers found that protein was often low in the vegetarian diet. This can affect levels of serotonin - a hormone which affects mood. Low serotonin levels are widely believed to lead to depression and the possibility of eating disorders.

The results were supported by Mary Hart, a psychotherapist at the Scottish Centre for Eating Disorders, who said the supposedly healthy diet of vegetarians could be a disguise in some cases for more serious problems.

'In many other studies, vegetarians have came out looking very good indeed because they have very healthy diets,' she said.

'The thing to remember about people with eating disorders is that their diets are quite good except when they are starving themselves or bingeing.

Often they choose only the healthiest foods to eat when they do eat.' The researchers at York University investigated vegetarianism in young women, who use it as a means of weight control. They found they use meat avoidance as a way of consuming fewer calories and vegetarianism legitimises eating disorders by extending the range of foods to be avoided.

The report said: 'Dietary recommendations to reduce fat intake, particularly animal fats, occurring at a time when thinness is idealised and obesity stigmatised, make it likely that vegetarianism is increasingly seen as a means of weight control.' Vegetarianism is more common among young middleclass females.Three quarters of teenage non-meat eaters who were surveyed by the team at York wanted to be slimmer. In meat eaters, the numbers wanting to be slimmer were 14 per cent lower.

More than half of the people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa avoid eating red meat and they are also associated with suffering from the condition for a longer period than those anorexics who are not vegetarian.

Of the vegetarians studied, a quarter said their reason for avoiding meat was to lose weight.

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