A recent study published in Time Magazine asked the question, Is Vegetarianism a Teen Eating Disorder? Just by looking at the title of the article, even before I read the accompanying text, I formed the answer in my mind. Of course vegetarianism can be linked to eating disorders. It’s certainly not true for all teen vegetarians, but I was in no way shocked by the results of the study. Why? Even though I developed an eating disorder a little later in life -- my early 20s -- my decision to go vegetarian was a way to restrict my diet without having to answer a lot of questions.
It's common for people with eating disorders to eliminate entire food groups from their diet. Early on in my weight-loss venture, I cut out most sweets and fried foods, but I quickly realized that the easiest way to refuse the high-calorie food at other people's houses, or in restaurants, was to stop eating anything with meat in it. I could now feel justified in eating nothing but steamed vegetables for dinner (I used to go through mass quantities of 5-lb bags of frozen veggies).
I didn’t eat any meat at all for a few years. Then I added seafood back in. It was about five years, though, before I started to eat meat again on a regular basis. It was a gradual process, mostly chicken and turkey in addition to the seafood. It’s been almost two years now since I started eating meat again, and in that time period I’ve had a lot of other types of meat -- bison, steak, sausage, bacon.
In the summer of 2007, not long after I officially became a non-vegetarian again, I talked about my reasons for returning to being a meat-eater. I briefly mentioned that my original intention for becoming a vegetarian was “for the wrong reasons,” but I left it at that.
I understand why it could be difficult for people to admit that they became a vegetarian simply because they were trying to avoid the calories. I guess I wasn’t ready to make that admission myself two years ago, but at this point I could really care less. I’m far enough past it now that I don’t care who knows.
I’m sure my friends and family had a good idea about my motivations for going veg. If anyone ever asked me about it, which wasn’t all that often, I’d mumble something about how eating this way was better for the environment, and better for animals, and healthier for me (after all, I’d read books like John Robbins’ Diet For a New America). Most of the time, though, I just wished they wouldn’t ask -- I knew what my main motivation was, but I wasn’t about to admit it back then.
What I know now...what’s most important to me...is that I’m healthy. I’m not being negative about vegetarianism or veganism in any way; I still love my fruits and vegetables and I’ll happily scarf down some tofu. Yes, I was miserable during the time I was a vegetarian, but I don’t blame my misery on the lack of meat in my diet. I blame my misery on the fact that I wasn’t eating enough calories. There’s a big difference.
Has anyone had a similar experience?
Emily Jean knows that lots of women have good reasons for becoming vegetarian, but she knows it’s also a good way to attempt to hide an eating disorder.
[L]et's look at this from a different perspective...the teen who wants to hide an illness. Perhaps, an anorexic 8th grader feels she won't be judged, if she opts for a socially acceptable eating preference. "I can't eat meatloaf, Mom, because I am vegetarian" will certainly work better than "I don't want to eat meatloaf, Mom, because I don't want to eat."
Tiptoe thinks it’s a good idea, if a teen expresses interest in becoming a vegetarian, for a parent to ask questions about their motivation.
[If the answer is related to] weight loss, a red flag should be alerted. However, at the same time, many teens also answer that going vegetarian is about "health." This is when it can get tricky as the "health" scheme can become a guise for an already existing eating disorder or a pre-emptive eating disorder in conveniently restricting.
A recovering anorexic, Kim is interested in becoming a vegetarian but is “wary of introducing any food restriction into my life, even if the reasons are not related to calories.”
The Reluctant Vegetarian read the Time Magazine article and said it “really irked me.”
The Vegan Dietitian points out that Vegetarian and Vegan Diets Do Not Cause Eating Disorders.
(Contributing editor Zandria blog regularly at Zandria.us.)
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