Vegan and Vegetarian Diets can Cover Up Eating Disorder Symptoms

Throughout the years, psychological literature has made a distinction between health-motivated vegans/vegetarians and ethical motivated vegan/vegetarians.

 

Health motivated vegans/vegetarians have a desire to improve their personal health. Whilst, ethical motivated vegan/vegetarians have a desire to save animal life, or/and due to the beneficial impacts the diet has on the environment.

 

Importantly, vegan and vegetarian diets are perceived as healthy diets, it might therefore make it easy for individuals with eating disorders to cover any disordered eating symptoms.

 

The different plant-based diets

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Include dairy and eggs in their diet, but not red meat, poultry or sea food.
  • Ovo-vegetarians: Some might include both eggs and dairy, and avoid eggs, meat and sea food.
  • Vegan diet: Exclude all animal product, including honey, dairy, and eggs.
  • Semi-vegetarians: Occasionally eat meat or poultry.
  • Pescetarians: Eat fish and/or shellfish.

 

 

Social media and its impact on body image and diet

Research shows that social media usage is linked to body image issues and social comparison in both men and women. Social media can have an impact on your body image and relationship with food. This is due to the increased exposure to thin and toned body types associated with particular diets. Healthy eating communities particularly ”green diets” have become popular on social media, especially on Instagram.

 

Studies show that 88% of women compare themselves to images they observe on social media, with over half of them emphasising that the comparison is unfavourable. Whereas, 65% of men compare themselves to images on social media with 37% indicating that the comparison is unfavourable.

 

This is extremely problematic as this can lead to lower self-esteem, unbalanced diet, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and possibly eating disorders. A 2018 study showed that there is a link between time consumed on Instagram and symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa. This disorder involves an obsession around consuming eating healthy food. Due to these reasons it is possible that people with body image issues may become vegan or vegetarian to lose weight or to control their weight.

 

Plant-based diet and weight control motivation

Research shows that vegans and vegetarians are less obese than meat consumers and have leaner body types as well. Therefore, it is possible that individuals that have body image issues and have a desire to lose weight might become motivated to follow a vegetarian or a vegan diet. Evidence actually suggests that vegetarians with weight control motives are more likely to objectify their bodies and find being ashamed of their bodies in comparison to vegetarians with ethical motives.

 

Veganism used to cover up eating disorders

One of the few things you should consider before becoming a vegan is to plan your meals because it is harder to consume sufficient calories beneficial for your health. Your body requires different quantity of macronutrients and micronutrients. When transitioning to a vegan diet, it can be challenging to ensure ideal health and the nutrients’ function in your body. Although there are plenty of vegan products that contain particular macronutrients and micronutrients, they often have to be consumed in higher amounts than non-vegan products. It might therefore be possible for individuals suffering from eating disorders to use veganism to cover up eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or orthorexia nervosa.

 

As veganism is a very restrictive diet, it may be very easy for eating disordered individuals to restrict unhealthy foods. Especially since veganism is often viewed as a healthy diet, cutting out fatty foods such as diary without other people perceiving this as unhealthy. A study revealed that half of the participants in the study suffering from anorexia nervosa were vegetarians. The participants in this study reported that there was an association between their vegetarian diet and their eating disorder. Some acknowledged that being a vegetarian helped them to lose weight, maintain their eating disorder, cut out calories and be in control of what they consume.

 

Another study shows that health motivated vegans are more likely to show symptoms of orthorexic eating behaviour than meat consumers. It is important to emphasise that ones you start restricting food groups, you are creating rules around food. This can have an impact on your everyday life. It is therefore easy to go from a vegan diet when you have body image issues and issues around food to eating disorders.

 

Treatment for eating disorders

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, and want to understand more about treatment or recovery, WeightMatters is here to help you. Our multidisciplinary team of psychotherapists, nutritionists, and a psychiatrist, offers assessments and specialized care plans suited to your needs.

 

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