Veganism and vegetarianism linked to anorexia nervosa in girls?

Cheltenham Ladies College

Animal advocates want to see veganism and vegetarianism becoming more popular because it means less cattle which in turn means less methane gas emissions and a brake on climate change. It also means less forests being chopped down to make way for cattle ranchers. There are numerous benefits to a vegan and vegetarian diet putting aside for a minute the health implications.

Cheltenham Ladies College

Cheltenham Ladies College. Photo: Tatler.

However, today I read that there is a link between anorexia nervosa in girls and a plant-based diet because plant-based diets are more common in girls with anorexia nervosa which is a serious eating disorder and the highest cause of death of any mental health condition in the UK.

It appears to me that these girls, for whom I have an enormous amount of sympathy, believe that a vegan diet helps you to lose weight. And it probably does. But the diet has to be balanced and Cheltenham ladies’ College, a leading private girls’ school, say that they provide regular blood tests to its pupils who decide to become vegans. They want to ensure that they remain healthy. They say that they do not actively encourage a vegan lifestyle but when their students do adopt it they offer medical support and regular blood testing. They want to make sure that their students diet contains all the required nutrients for good health.

They provide a range of dishes to their students including vegetarian, gluten-free and halal options. They do not offer a vegan menu. They say that a small number of students suffer from an eating disorder. Their menu is not the cause they argue but rather “it is a personal medical and pastoral issue, which should be handled on an individual basis”.

Schools are aware of the potential of a student choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet to choosing that diet for dieting reasons. It appears that one reason why girls choose a plant-based diet is because it is low in calories. The usual reason for choosing these diets is out of a concern for animal welfare, to protect nature and the planet.

It is harder to balance a vegan or vegetarian diet. A psychologist, Nihara Krause, said that “Both vegetarianism and veganism are much higher in girls and women who have anorexia nervosa”.

Matt Turner, for the Vegan Society said that there is no link to eating disorders and a vegan diet. He wants schools let their teenagers follow their beliefs. The society launched the “teen hub” last week to encourage youngsters to stop eating meat and dairy products. They are campaigning for all schools to offer vegan menus.

Parents of children who want to become vegans should ask why and also ask whether there is an eating disorder in the family. They should also check whether their children are being bullied about their weight or body shape. And also ask if the child is competitive and/or a perfectionist? Answers to these questions may point to the potential for anorexia nervosa to develop.