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Offline MiraD

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vegetarian adolescents and eating disorders
« on: April 10, 2009, 04:50:43 PM »

Food For Thought: The Link Between Eating Disorders and Vegetarianism
PUBLISHED APRIL 06, 2009 @ 03:12PM PST
A new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, indicates adolescent vegetarians are more likely to have an eating disorder than their peers.
The study was designed to investigate the relationships between vegetarianism, weight and dieting behaviors in teenagers and young adults. Researchers found that 15 to 23-year-old vegetarians had healthier dietary intakes and were less likely to be overweight. But they also displayed a higher incidence of disordered eating behaviors, including restriction, binging and purging. The highest risk group was young adults who'd formerly been vegetarians, with 27% displaying symptoms of an eating disorder.
On the surface, the simple explanation is that adolescents and young adults with eating disorders stop eating animal products to lose weight. Any diet that allows you to reject an entire food group can be manipulated to benefit an eating disorder. Vegetarianism can also be a convenient excuse for someone looking to minimize or skip meals. In these instances, refusing meat is manipulated as a method of restriction, which is distinctly different from vegetarianism motivated by morality or health concerns.
It's important to realize that just because an eating disordered person is a vegetarian, it doesn't mean they chose a vegetarian diet because of their eating disorder.  Yes, I am a vegetarian, and I am a recovering bulimic and anorexia. I began cutting meats out of my diet when I was 11 years old, which was before I had an eating disorder. My vegetarianism continues to be an ethical choice and has nothing to do with weight loss.
But I do think my vegetarianism and eating disorder share a common trait: thinking beyond the plate. In a society that encourages inhaling mass-produced junk food on a daily basis, conscious eating is rare. Very few people actually contemplate what they put in their mouth or how it will affect their body. Such blind consumption contributes to a slew of health issues, including an obesity, heart disease and diabetes. To be aware of where your food came from, to consider the impact it will have on your body, is exceptional. At its best, this attitude leads people to adopt a vegetarian diet. At its worst, this awareness contributes to a destructive mental illness.
It only makes sense that people with eating disorders would also have moral opinions about where their food comes from. When you spend hours and days and years obsessing about the effect food has on your body, it makes sense to start thinking about the food itself. You consider the ingredients, the processing and ultimately the origin. Spend enough time pondering these answers and becoming a vegetarian seems inevitable. But that does not mean the vegetarianism is disordered, it merely means the disorder helped bring you to vegetarianism.
Even when they coexist, a vegetarian diet and an eating disorder do not need to be codependent. You can recover from an eating disorder without consuming meat. My treatment team was very respectful of my beliefs. They helped me setup a meal plan that incorporated alternative sources of protein. One of the advisers even made special trips to the natural food store and brought me black bean burgers every week. They proved it was possible to refrain from meat while learning to eat again.
I would like to end this post with some advice to concerned parents. Adolescent vegetarianism is not an eating disorder. It can be a very healthy and responsible diet. So if your child decides to become a vegetarian, actively support that choice. The first step is to engage them in a conversation. Talk about their reasoning, make sure they understand the beneficial impact this can have on our society and their long-term health, and make sure it isn't an unreasonable attempt to lose weight. Then ensure they still eat a balanced diet and get all the nutrition they need. That may mean cooking special meals or additional dishes, but try not to make them feel uncomfortable or left out at family meals. Do not, under any circumstances, shame them for their choice. Support their decision now and you'll build the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Offline Laura Knoff

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Re: vegetarian adolescents and eating disorders
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2009, 05:12:01 PM »
Vegetarian and vegan diets, unless properly planned, do tend to be low in zinc, and zinc is in much greater need during the development of the sex organs during adolescence. Zinc is required by the stomach to make HCL affecting the appetite, and by the immune system. Acne is a sign of low zinc levels, but the best way to determine if minerals are adequate is by a hair analysis. Zinc supplementation has helped those with anorexia and bulimia

Few commonly eaten vegetable foods have much zinc. The greatest plant sources are sea vegetables and pumpkin seeds. Organic blackstrap molasses, whole bran, wheat germ and sunflower seeds also have some. Refined grains have only trace amounts. How one prepares their whole grains and legumes makes a difference in mineral absorbability as well. Unsoaked unfermented or unsprouted grains contain high levels of phytic acid which binds to minerals including zinc making it less available. Sugar and refined carbohydrates also leach minerals from the system turning marginal levels into deficiency conditions.
Eating for health can still be vegetarian. It just must be organized to include good mineral sources -especially zinc- in adequate amounts for growing teens and young adults.
Bachelor of Science, Chemistry
Certified Nutrition Consultant, Nutrition Instructor, Nutrition Educator and Diet Counselor
Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition and Registered with NANP
Nutrition Educator and Nutrition Consultant Instructor at Bauman College since 2000

Offline MiraD

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Re: vegetarian adolescents and eating disorders
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2009, 06:36:37 AM »
thanks for this informative addendum to this article.