Vegetarianism, which is increasingly widespread in Western societies, is underpinned by various motivations (ethical, environmental, health concerns …) and the question of its association with eating disorders continues to divide the literature.
This cross-sectional study aimed to explore and compare eating motives/attitudes and bodily preoccupations of vegetarian and omnivorous participants from the general population. Forty-nine vegetarians and 52 omnivores, aged between 18 and 70 years, completed a battery of questionnaires including sociodemographic characteristics, Body Mass Indexes (BMI - current, ideal, lifetime lowest, and lifetime highest), the Food Choice Questionnaire (FCQ), the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26), and the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ).
Compared to omnivores, vegetarians reported lower current (p = .017), ideal (p = .009), and lifetime lowest (p = .005) BMIs, more motivations related to health (p = .001) and natural content (p < .0001), but less weight control motivations (p = .015). While no differences were observed in EAT-26 scores, vegetarians had lower BSQ total scores (p = .043), and lower scores on the Body Dissatisfaction related to Lower body parts (p = .025) and Unsuited Cognitions and Behaviors (p = .015) subscales compared to omnivores. Separate gender comparisons revealed that these differences existed only among women. Hierarchical regressions revealed that the natural content motivation was the strongest positive statistical predictor of the vegetarian group (Expβ = 1.18, p = .002), while the weight control motivation was a negative statistical predictor (Expβ = .710, p = .023).
Results demonstrated that vegetarians expressed motivation for a healthy and natural diet, and were less concerned about controlling their weight than the omnivores. Vegetarian women had lower BMIs but expressed fewer psychological concerns associated with eating disorders than omnivorous women. Vegetarian diets appeared to be associated with health benefits and less body and weight concerns, particularly among women in the general population.