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Women with a Diagnosed Eating Disorder are Four Times more Likely to be Vegetarian

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A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has determined that women diagnosed with an eating disorder are four times more likely to be vegetarian compared to women with no eating disorders.

In addition to this, women with a diagnosed eating disorder were twice as likely to have been vegetarian at some point in their lives, compared to women without eating disorders.

Vegetarianism strongly linked to women with eating disorders

The study involved 93 women who had been treated for an eating disorder at some point in their lives, along with 67 women with no known eating disorders to act as control subjects. The researchers were interested in analysing the participant's eating habits and motivations for choosing food, as well as the age at which the women chose to follow a vegetarian diet.

The researchers determined that 52 percent of the women with a history of eating disorders had followed a vegetarian diet at some point in their lives, compared to only 12 percent of the women without eating disorders. The women diagnosed with an eating disorder were also more likely to currently be vegetarian. 42 percent of the women with an eating disorder also chose weight loss as their primary reason for adopting a vegetarian diet, with none of the control participants selecting this option.

Weight loss perceived to be primary motivation for following vegetarian diet

The more acutely ill the individual women with eating disorders were, the more likely they were to be following a vegetarian diet. 33 percent of the women who were presently struggling with their eating disorder were actively following a vegetarian diet, compared to 13 percent who were considered to be partially recovered from an eating disorder, and 5 percent who were in recovery.

The researchers were interested to discover that 68 percent of the women with eating disorders perceived that their vegetarianism was linked to their eating disorder. While there are a number of reasons for an individual to adopt a vegetarian diet, the motivation in the case for the women with a history of an eating disorder appeared in many cases, to be based on weight loss.

It is suggested that health care workers should explore their patient's motivation for following a vegetarian diet in order to screen for the possibility of an eating disorder.