Vegetarianism and Disordered Eating

In November of 2011, I blogged about a study out of The College of William & Mary that showed that semi-vegetarians scored higher on restrictive eating behavior tests, but that vegetarians did not show signs of disordered eating.

In February, another paper was published finding semi-vegetarians to have higher scores for disordered eating than other diet groups. The paper out of the University of Pennsylvania and Towson University contained two studies.

The first study was a survey of vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and omnivores. The semi-vegetarians were the only group that had especially high disordered scores.

The second study compared only semi-vegetarians to omnivores. Again, they found the semi-vegetarians to have higher disordered eating scores, but the researchers believed some of these findings to be due to the questions not being appropriate for semi-vegetarians; in other words, people who choose to avoid meat are naturally going to score high on questions about avoiding groups of food.

In the discussion, the researchers stated that the vegans had the most healthy scores, healthier even than omnivores, and even wondered if becoming vegan “could actually serve as a protective factor against developing disordered eating.”

As the researchers noted, a flaw in this study could be that, “only those vegetarians or vegans who have healthy attitudes towards food opted to participate.” And, as always with cross-sectional studies, you cannot know for sure if the diet leads to a particular characteristic, or if that characteristic leads to a particular diet.


Alix Timko C, Hormes JM, Chubski J. Will the real vegetarian please stand up? An investigation of dietary restraint and eating disorder symptoms in vegetarians versus non-vegetarians. Appetite. 2012 Feb 14. | link

3 Responses to “Vegetarianism and Disordered Eating”

  1. Ariann Says:

    Can you define disordered eating?

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I don’t think this paper gave a precise definition. It usually is defined by answering a certain way for a given number of questions in regards to attitudes towards foods and eating.

  3. Ariann Says:

    Thanks, that’s kind of what I figured.

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