Examining vegetarianism, weight motivations, and eating disorder psychopathology among college students

Hana F. Zickgraf, Vivienne M. Hazzard, Shannon M. O'Connor, Melissa Simone, Gail A. Williams-Kerver, Lisa M. Anderson, Sarah K. Lipson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objective: Previous research has suggested a link between vegetarianism, broadly defined, and symptoms of eating disorders (ED). However, the literature supporting this link is mixed and limited by possible measurement artifacts. Using data from a national sample of college students, the present study examines ED symptomatology among three groups: (a) vegetarians whose meat avoidance is motivated by weight concerns; (b) non-weight motivated vegetarians; and (c) nonvegetarians. Method: Participants include 9,910 students from 12 colleges and universities across the United States who participated in the web-based Healthy Bodies Study. ED symptomatology was measured using the Short-Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire (S-EDE-Q). First, multi-group confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to test measurement invariance (MI) of the S-EDE-Q across weight-motivated vegetarians, non-weight-motivated vegetarians, and nonvegetarians. Gender- and BMI-adjusted ANCOVA was used to compare S-EDE-Q scores across groups. Results: 9.3% of participants were vegetarian. Cis-women and gender minority students were more likely to be vegetarian; those who became vegetarians after entering college were more likely to report weight-related motivations. Strict MI was supported for the S-EDE-Q global and subscale scores. Weight-motivated vegetarians reported higher levels of restraint, shape/weight overvaluation, body dissatisfaction, and global ED psychopathology relative to other participants. Discussion: To our knowledge, this is the first to explicitly link weight motivations for vegetarianism to ED psychopathology in a large, representative sample of young adults. Results suggest that students presenting with ED symptoms should be assessed for their motivations for adopting a vegetarian diet, and this information should be considered in treatment decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1506-1514
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • EDE-Q
  • S-EDE-Q
  • college student
  • eating disorder
  • healthy bodies study
  • measurement invariance
  • vegan
  • vegetarian
  • weight concern


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