Sunday, April 5, 2009

vegetarianism & the controversy

i really hope not to offend anyone by some thoughts i'm about to share. i stumbled across a quite blunt (and somewhat offensive) article on vegetarianism, but as anything else, usually anything controversial and/or offensive has a kernel of truth hidden in it somewhere.

EDIT: after a bit of thought, i'm modifying my first bulletpoint--

first, my views on vegetarianism:
  1. i suspect 95% a large number of vegetarians are doing it as a sneaky way of dieting, and 5% a smaller number for their views
  2. a vegetarian that i respect is one that has done a LOT of research on farming and the meat industry
  3. though it is certainly possible to get all your required nutrients without meat, it is likely that many vegetarians do not do so
  4. if you think your body is somehow precious to the point where you feel as if you are dirtying it by eating (well-cared for & vegetable-fed) animal products, you are just seriously... wrong
  5. though i believe that humans can get used to not eating meat, to the point where they no longer crave it, i also believe that we as humans were meant to be omnivores
  6. if you have an eating disorder, you should seriously question the reason as to WHY you are cutting out meat products, and ask yourself whether continuing with a vegetarian diet is really a healthy decision

the American Dietetic Association recently published an article linking vegetarianism in teens to an increased likelihood of later developing an eating disorder. i find this very un-shocking, but very interesting as well. i was going to just highlight a few points from an article in the telegraph, but i think i'm just going to post it all, because there are a lot of good points raised--

Vegetarians at greater risk of eating disorders, say experts

Vegetarians are at greater risk of developing dangerous eating disorders than meat eaters, a new study has found, as young people who did not eat meat were more likely to binge eat than carnivores.

Former vegetarians were also more vulnerable to developing anorexia and bulimia than meat eaters.

The study of 2,516 young people found that reformed vegetarians were more likely to use extreme methods to control their weight than those who had always eaten meat.

Vegetarians and former vegetarians aged between 15 and 23 were most likely to binge eat, the study found.

Nutritionist Dr Ramona Robinson-O'Brien, of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota, said that the study results "indicate that it would be beneficial for clinicians to ask adolescents and young adults about their current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviours.

"Furthermore, when guiding adolescent and young adult vegetarians in proper nutrition and meal planning, it may also be important to investigate an individual's motives for choosing a vegetarian diet."

The study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that although adolescent and young adult vegetarians may eat a healthier diet there was evidence that they could be at increased risk of developing an eating disorder.

Of those who took part, 4.3 percent were currently vegetarian, 10.8 percent former vegetarians and 84.9 percent had always eaten meat.

Among 15 to 18-year -olds there was no significant differences in weight between each group; however, among 19 to 23-year-olds, current vegetarians had a lower body mass index, a calculation of their weight in relation to their height, and were less likely to be overweight or obese than meat eaters.

says the author in the article i read prior to finding this one (NOT MY QUOTE PEOPLE!):

It's why vegetarians are mostly girls. Because vegetarianism is a way of controlling one's food intake without drawing attention to one's vanity.

i think this is definitely true for SOME vegetarians. but more importantly, i'd like to comment on the relationship between "controlling one's food intake" and disordered behavior. as i wrote in #5, i believe that humans are meant to be omnivores. this does not mean that we cannot live a healthy and non-disordered life as a vegetarian, but it is not the "natural" way (in an evolutionary sense), and so i think for some, this creates a position of deprivation (even if not with respect to the amount of food consumed). to me, it is all about predisposition to addiction/an eating disorder. after all, not all girls who diet end up with eating disorders... and so we might say that the ones that do were somehow (genetically and/or environmentally) predisposed to developing their disorder. dieting does not cause an eating disorder, but it puts us at risk to developing one (versus not dieting). there have even been studies that link a relatively long bout of sickness (involving unintentional restriction of food intake-- mono for example) to the development of an ED (and i even know someone who developed her ED this way). i believe this idea of risk+predisposition is the case for vegetarianism as well. whenever we cut out certain foods (either in a conscious or unconscious manner) we are creating a sense of deprivation and training our bodies to want that food more. after all, humans have spent the majority of their time on this earth in a struggle to find enough food to eat, and so it has been advantageous for humans to overeat after a period of famine. this is quite self-evident in my own disorder, as my disorder quickly morphed from anorexia to bulimia after an extended period of deprivation. and though a vegetarian might be quick to combat this statement with: but i'm not starving myself, think about how you/your body might react if someone were to say that starting now you cannot eat any bread products. suddenly you want a freshly baked baguette... right? and so, this is why diets fail... after a period of "being good," dieters fall off the wagon (::cough:: deprivation ::cough::) and eat the forbidden fruits in larger quantities than they would have had this food been allowed in moderate quantities. and for ANYONE who says "well no, i would just want to eat [insert forbidden food here] all day long," TRUST ME on this one. . . my cupboards are now full of cookies, granola, muffins, cereal, ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate, etc. etc. etc., and i have no desire to eat it other than when i want a modest portion (which i allow myself to have pretty much whenever i want). back when i was restricting, this could nevvvverrrr have been the case.

alright, i'm done rambling, and i'm now hungry! i'd love to hear your thoughts!

SECOND EDIT: one more thought about the idea that we cannot sustain the amount of meat consumed without excessive amounts of energy and harmful effects to the environment. i do believe that most americans/those in developed nations eat TOO MUCH meat. i shall end with another quote from the same article that peaked my interest in this subject to begin with. i think this guy is dead on:

I absolutely concur with the notion that we in the developed world eat too much meat. We absolutely do. Current meat consumption levels are unhealthy for the people and a drain on the planet's resources. The neo-Malthusian projection that says there is not enough land to feed the nine billion people who will be living here by 2020 unless most of the meat-producing land is turned over to vegetable crops (or something) is probably not too wide of the mark.

So the thing to do is to eat less meat, not none. You don't make meat a moral issue and campaign to end it. You just lay off it a bit. That way there will be plenty to go round, the land will be able to yield its bounty much more efficiently (after all, without cow crap to nourish the soil, how are your precious carrots going to grow all big and juicy?), nobody will have to die of heart disease and we'll all be able to scoff a juicy steak from time to time.


  1. I have often felt that there are different motivations for vegetarianism and if it is simply to cut out a food determined "bad" then it will lead to an issue. I just think about the fact that ther eis now a disorder associated with eating all healthy foods.

    I am not a the point where I can have cupboards full of treats without wanting to eat them right away. Even the fact that I call them treats bothers me. I have some work to do obviously, but I'm confident that after I realize that I have really decided to stop depriving myself of what I am hungry for I will even out my eating.

    My disorder started with "not liking sandwiches"...

    I think this is a very godo topic. One I would be interested to hear others' thoughts on as a lot of the blogging/healthy eating community seems to be vegan or vegetarian. I just like meat and can't give that up! But that's honestly because I believe it is good for me. If I thought it was really bad for me I'd probably not like it.

  2. Cutting out meat is also good for the environment, as it takes a ridiculous amount of energy to make just one hamburger. I'm not a vegetarian...just thought I'd add in that little fact.

    I too am suspicious of most vegetarians. Now that there is a plethora of organic options available, many arguments go down the drain.

    great post =)

    -Clare @ Clare's Two Steps Forward

  3. i agree with clare -- the environmental reason are also very valid to me, and i would think that is becoming a more common reason that i definitely respect (and a reason that i try to vary between veggie and non veggie meals). i think that to say 95% is a little extreme -- maybe more like 75%? 60%?

    that said, i am (obvi) a total omnivore who went through a vegetarian 'phase' to

    a) be 'special'
    b) be restrctive
    c) be rebellious

    so i too am often skeptical of others' motives!

  4. Rebecca,

    Just posted a response on KERF, but I think overall the person with the ED gravitates to the style of eating; the style of eating doesn't cause the ED. I would differ from you and say there are plenty of healthy vegetarians (more than 5%!) but I do think the connection is significant.


  5. hi kath,

    oh i definitely do think that there are many healthy vegetarians, i am just questioning their reasoning... and i actually went back and edited my 95%/5% figures, thinking that i may have been a bit extreme =).

    i DO believe that the style of eating CAN cause the ED in those that are already susceptible to a disorder. take my sister and me for example... our mother clearly has food issues and is clearly underweight... and and yet my sister turned out ED-less, and i won the ED prize. both of us were at a higher risk than the average girl with a healthy/non-disordered mother. so my point is, perhaps had both of us grown up without that influence, we might have both escaped an eating disorder, and i think the same is true for dieting and (perhaps to a lesser extent) vegetarianism. dieting for me was a very dangerous thing to do, given my predisposition, and i think most teens who take on vegetarianism probably do not have enough information/experience to make healthy choices... and that puts them at risk.

    i do agree the person may also gravitate to the style of eating... i just think it does work both ways.

  6. I JUST found your blog through a comment on Sophia's blog (Burp and Slurp). So far I'm impressed.

    I've been a vegetarian in the past and I actually just stopped (yet again) about a week ago. I have a history of ED/DE and I would absolutely agree with you. Though I did go veg for the first time before I ever had any ED/DE symptoms (I was 13 when I went veg first; didn't really start disordered eating until college), I definitely used being veg as a way to hide my ED/DE later on. My mom had some pretty disordered eating habits but I think she hid them fairly well until I was older, so maybe I'm in a similar situation as you... my sister (a veg from the age of 7) seems to have missed out on ED so far (she's almost 16) but who knows. It didn't happen to me until I was older though. And my brother (19) is a veg too. My family is pretty environmentally conscious which is probably why all of us have been veg... those two have actually stuck with it though. I don't think either of them have a great relationship with food, but neither of them restrict (as far as I know). Okay I forget where this comment was going.

    I realized that for me, I can't be vegetarian/vegan and get a healthy balance of food. Even when I'm eating enough as a veg, I'm not eating a variety of food and I binge ALL the time. I still struggle with bingeing but I think that eating as an omnivore helps me stop that.

    Sorry to leave my life story in your comments :P I just really liked this post.

  7. hi maggie,

    your story was interesting. i totally agree w/ needing the balance of food... if i cut out anything i think that would trigger binge for me...

    i'll check out your blog too =)