To meat or not to meat: disordered eating and vegetarian status in university students

Erin H. Sieke, Jennifer L. Carlson, James Lock, C. Alix Timko, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Rebecka Peebles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This study sought to examine associations between meat-restricted diets and disordered eating cognitions and behaviors in a large sample of university students and assess the relationships between motivations for choosing a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet and eating patterns. Methods: University students (n = 1585; 60%F, 40%M, mean age 20.9) completed an online survey; students were categorized into vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and non-vegetarians. Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians were sub-categorized into groups: those who cited weight or health among their reasons for adopting the diet and those who reported other reasons (e.g., religion). Outcomes were Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q) scores and rates of disordered eating behaviors. Results: Vegetarians comprised 8.6% (32M, 104F) and semi-vegetarians comprised 3.2% (6M, 45F) of the sample; 25% of vegetarians (n = 34) and 65% of semi-vegetarians (n = 33) chose the diet for weight or health-related reasons. Semi-vegetarians scored the highest on measures of eating disorder cognitions and were the most likely to report engaging in disordered eating behaviors, with vegetarians at intermediate risk and non-vegetarians the least likely to report disordered cognitions or behaviors. Semi-vegetarians adopting the diet for reasons of weight or health were at especially high risk compared to other semi-vegetarians, while no associations were found between motivations for adopting a vegetarian diet and disordered eating patterns. Conclusion: Semi-vegetarians, especially those adopting the diet for reasons of weight or health, are more likely to exhibit disordered eating cognitions and behaviors compared to vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Level of evidence: Level III, cohort study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEating and Weight Disorders
Early online dateMay 22 2021
StatePublished - May 22 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Stanford Undergraduate Research Program. In addition, Rebecka Peebles was supported by the National Institutes of Health (K23DK100558) and the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation. The funders had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Feeding and eating disorder
  • Students
  • Vegetarians

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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