17 Aug 2021

Unpacking the pathologising of plant-based diet followers

Vegetarians and vegans might be dietary abstainers, but that
doesn't make their eating pathological.
Courtney McLean is a PhD student supervised by Dr Gemma Sharp and Professor Jayashri Kulkarni in CCS's Department of Psychiatry. Courtney's focus of research is on eating disorders.

They have recently published a paper investigating the commonly endorsed notion that meat avoidance is a precursor to the development of eating disorders. They argue that this notion, common though it might be, is not based on strong evidence. 

They write that since the 1980s, vegetarian/vegan-focused research has been varied, often contradictory, and scarce, supporting the notion that commonly used diagnostic eating disorder questionnaires may be detecting and pathologising normal vegetarian- and  vegan-related eating behaviours.

The culture has shifted

They observe that vegetarianism and veganism have become mainstream over the last 40 years, and, as such, they recommend that adapted treatment options for these populations must become mainstream too.

They write, "We call on clinicians to not only ask ‘what’ foods patients are excluding but also ask ‘why’, as motivations (e.g. animal welfare, religious traditions) may not necessarily relate to eating pathology.  We urge clinicians to consider the implications of actively discouraging vegetarian and vegan eating behaviours in patients whose diet is strongly tied to their identity, as it may unfortunately hinder rather than help eating disorder recovery."


McLean CP, Kulkarni J, Sharp G. Eating disorders and meat avoidance: A call to understand the 'why' instead of the 'what'. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 8:48674211037889. doi: 10.1177/00048674211037889. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34365833.








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