In All Things, Moderation — Vegetarianism As An Eating Disorder

I’ve always considered vegetarianism to be an eating disorder in many. And while I haven’t yet convinced the American Psychiatric Association to include vegetarianism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), I now have research to support that vegetarianism is a strong indicator of a possible eating disorder.

Stay with me and I’ll explain.

Vegetarian A recent dietary study was led by nutritionist Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, an assistant professor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota. The study concluded that adolescent and young adult vegetarians were four times more likely than their meat-eating peers to binge eat and engage in extreme weight-control measures such as taking laxatives and forcing themselves to vomit. The study further concluded that teenage vegetarians as well as young experimenters — those who try it but abandon it — may be at higher risk for other eating disorders compared with their peers.

The study authors suggest that parents and doctors should be extra vigilant when teens suddenly become vegetarians. Although teens may say they’re trying to protect animals, they may actually be trying to camouflage some unhealthy eating behaviors.

This is why I’ve always been suspect of vegetarians. I have no beef with the dietary choice, it is the reason for the choice.  In all things, moderation. True, if the stated reason for the diet is not to eat God’s little creatures, then it’s basically an all or none proposition.  I can respect that; I’ll order a steak when we meet for lunch, but I can respect that position (although I love all the conditions – “I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat fish, dairy and eggs.”)  But if the stated reason for the diet is health, then that’s a potential disorder. There is no net health gain by skipping an evil Whopper Jr. with 290 calories and 12 grams of fat, only to then drink a Starbucks Venti Frappuccino with 680 calories and 21 grams of fat while singing the vegetarian song (Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, I believe).

The rational dietary response should be, “meat contains fat, so I’m going to keep my consumption of meat to a minimum.” Not, “meat is evil and I’m going to remove any chance of it from my diet, to the point that I don’t want to eat something cooked in a pan that might have previously been used to cook meat.” The latter shows too much fixation on one component of a diet, and that dietary fixation explains why the study reached the predictable conclusions.  For an interesting first person story of using vegetarianism as a means to mask an eating disorder, go here.

Radio doctor and author, Dr. Dean Adel, who I have always found fairly reasonable, will lecture you on the dietary problems with eggs and cheese, but acknolwedges that his weekend ritual is to make himself a big cheese omelet.  Wine is bad if consumed in excess, but a single glass offers health benefits.  Even drinking too much water can be deadly, but does that mean it should be avoided?

In all things, moderation.  Even your dietary limitations.

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April 7, 2009Permalink Leave a comment

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