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Motivations for choosing a vegetarian diet.

Some have suggested that there is a sub-group of vegetarians (mostly women) who choose a vegetarian diet mainly to lose weight. In a few cases, vegetarian diets have been associated with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. One problem is that a number of studies examining eating behavior have combined so-called 'semi-vegetarians' (eating chicken and/or fish) and vegetarians (not eating any meat, chicken, or fish) into one group identified as 'vegetarian.' Researchers from the University of Colorado hypothesized that 'semi-vegetarians' and true vegetarians might have different motivations and eating behaviors. They studied 90 young women, of whom 54 were non-vegetarian, 16 ate chicken and/or fish (identified as 'semi-vegetarian'), and 20 consistently followed a vegetarian diet. They examined the women's motivation for food choice and their dietary restraint (whether they consciously monitored what they ate for weight control purposes).

Vegetarians were more likely than 'semi-vegetarians' to say that ethical and/or political reasons were a primary motivation for their food choices. 'Semi-vegetarians' were more likely to be motivated by weight concerns. Both 'semi-vegetarians' and non-vegetarians had higher levels of dietary restraint than did vegetarians. The researchers conclude that the higher levels of dietary restraint seen in 'semi-vegetarians' suggest that they are at higher risk for harmful eating disorders than the vegetarian women. This study illustrates the importance of differentiating between true vegetarians and 'semi-vegetarians' when examining eating behaviors.

Curtis MJ, Comer LK. 2006. Vegetarianism, dietary restraint and feminist identity. Eating Behav 7:91-104.

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, FADA
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Author:Mangels, Reed
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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