Will the Real Vegetarian Please Stand Up? An Investigation of Dietary Restraint and Eating Disorder Symptoms

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Short Description:
This study examined the relationship between disordered eating behaviors and a meat-avoiding diet. Researchers compared vegans, vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and omnivores regarding various physical measures, behaviors, and attitudes related to food. They found that being a semi-vegetarian was more closely associated with disordered eating than was a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Article Abstract:

"Adherence to a vegetarian diet has been hypothesized to be a factor in the onset and maintenance of disordered eating behavior; however, evidence to support this assumption has been largely mixed. The two studies presented here sought to address the causes of inconsistent findings in previous research, including: small samples of true vegetarians, lack of appropriate operational definitions of "vegetarianism", and uncertainty about the appropriateness of existing assessments of eating behaviors for semi-vegetarians."

"Study 1 assessed eating behaviors in the largest samples of confirmed true vegetarians and vegans surveyed to date, and compared them to semi-vegetarians and omnivores. Semi-vegetarians reported the highest levels of eating-related pathology; true vegetarians and vegans appeared to be healthiest in regards to weight and eating. Study 2 examined differences between semi-vegetarians and omnivores in terms of restraint and disordered eating and found little evidence for more eating-related pathology in semi-vegetarians, compared to omnivores. Semi-vegetarians' higher scores on traditional assessments of eating behaviors appeared artificially inflated by ratings of items assessing avoidance of specific food items which should be considered normative in the context of a vegetarian diet."
"Findings shed light on the sources of inconsistencies in prior research on eating behaviors in vegetarians and suggest that semi-vegetarianism - as opposed to true vegetarianism or veganism - is the most likely related to disordered eating."

Spot Check Number: 2010
Sponsor: Towson University & University of Pennsylvania
Researcher/Author: C. Alix Timko, Julia M. Hormes, Janice Chubski
Geographic Region: United States Regional
Number of Participants: Study 1: 486; Study 2: 136
Population Descriptors: Vegetarians, College students, Semi-vegetarians, Omnivores, Vegans
Year Conducted: 2012
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