NUTRITION HOTLINE: Vegetarian Diet
Q: I am in recovery from bulimia, and I would like to stop eating meat. Whenever I try I feel lethargic. Do you recommend a vegetarian diet? What am I doing wrong?
A: For people in recovery from an eating disorder, I recommend you discuss the pros and cons of being vegetarian with your nutritionist. You will want to make sure that the idea of being vegetarian is not part of the eating disorder.
If your nutritionist gives you the green light, then you will want to make sure you eat a wide variety of foods to help get all the necessary nutrients. Being lacto-ovo vegetarian (eating low fat dairy products and eggs) has health benefits and is a relatively easy way to eat. The nutrients that can be difficult to get are iron, zinc, copper, thiamin, Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating legumes, dairy products, and nuts every day can help to ensure an adequate intake of these nutrients, as will taking a fish-oil supplement. If you do not want to consume fish oil, there is a vegan DHA supplement available at health food stores.
Feeling lethargic may be due to an inadequate intake of protein and/or iron. Try eating protein (legumes, eggs, milk or cheese) at all of your meals, and taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. If the fatigue persists, I recommend you see your physician to have blood work done.
Being vegan (consuming no animal products at all) requires much more attention to food choices and nutrient deficiencies are common. In some parts of the country it can be difficult to get adequate protein when eating in restaurants. Also soy should be consumed on a daily basis, and for some people this becomes problematic for their gut function (soy is hard to digest, especially for people with irritable bowel syndrome).
Choosing to be vegan requires a person to be food focused to ensure adequate nutrition, and for this reason I am hesitant to recommend it for someone in recovery from an eating disorder.
By Diane Keddy, MS, RD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Winter 2008 Volume 6, Number 1
©2008 Gürze Books