Becoming Vegetarian? Be Sure to Become a “Smart” One

By Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW
Author of When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

There is a rising trend for young people to turn to a vegetarian eating lifestyle these days. The reasons for wanting to stop eating meat, (and sometimes dairy and fish,) vary from wanting to be kind to animals, to just wanting to be “pure” in the interest of being healthy. For some, however, the decision is really about restricting foods for the purpose of losing weight and keeping it off. Sometimes weight loss is a prime motivation; sometimes it is secondary.  Though the goals may vary from person to person, one thing remains clear. A person who opts to become vegetarian must keep in mind that the challenge of eating well and feeding the body properly becomes a priority if you are to grow up healthfully and thrive. Kids who become vegetarian must commit themselves to being as humane and care taking to themselves as they strive to be for animals.

In many instances, vegetarianism can be a "flashing yellow light " warning that here might be a child who is beginning to use food in a restrictive and inflexible way in response to underlying and unresolved emotional issues.  When vegetarianism is used as an excuse to diet, to lose weight, to take control of one's life in the area of food and eating in an effort to compensate for having lost a sense of control in other spheres of life, we may be looking at a young person who is ready to take the slippery slide into the onset of a clinical eating disorder.

The most critical sign of a healthy vegetarianism is a person's concerted effort to feed the body all the food groups, including enough protein and fats. Eating should be varied, consciously planned out and prepared with care. Meals should be eaten on a regular basis, in no way depriving the individual of all the food groups, even if he or she decides to forfeit certain food items.

The responsible vegetarian is a healthy, flexible and balanced eater, and is just as willing to take care of her own body as to stand up and show caring and responsibility for the animals whom he or she may be protecting.

Psychotherapist Abigail H. Natenshon has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders with individuals, families, and groups for the past 28 years. She is the author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. October 1999. Based on hundreds of successful outcomes, this book shepherds concerned parents step-by-step through the processes of eating disorder recognition, confronting the child, finding the most effective treatment for patient and family, and evaluating and insuring a timely recovery. A guide to eating disorder prevention, this book is useful to parents, health professionals and school personnel alike in countering the pervasive epidemic of unhealthy eating and body image concerns, and destructive media and peer influences. Her work can be reviewed further at her web site at

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