Restrictive Dieting with a Purpose


When I first became a vegetarian at the age of 17, my reasons were few and lacked support. I didn’t really enjoy eating meat, and it seemed like an interesting challenge. My reasons were not backed by any research, understanding about the food industry or fueled by any personal passion. The first few years were spent exploring new foods and recipes while constantly reassuring my parents I was not slowly dying from malnutrition. At the end of the day, I had no idea what I was doing. As I transitioned to veganism at the age of 19, I was left wondering why I felt compelled to restrict my diet even further. Was there a greater reason I was suddenly willing to put aside all dairy products or was it simply another challenge?

After a semester-long independent study about the ethics of veganism, I was convinced morally, environmentally and nutritionally that transitioning to a more restrictive diet was necessary. I could recite facts about the inhumane treatment of animals at factory farms, how lentils and beans contain enough protein to survive on and how livestock production is using so many resources that could be allocated elsewhere. More importantly, now I purposefully and passionately stood by my decision. It was no longer simply a challenging diet change but a lifestyle change I fully supported.

What I was not aware of was the risk that imposing a restrictive diet on oneself could result in an eating disorder or trigger underlying symptoms of an eating disorder. Similar to calorie counting without any knowledge of nutrition and the specific needs of your body, a restrictive diet without a healthy end goal or a purpose at its foundation can result in unhealthy practices and habits. Although society does not generally lump vegetarianism or veganism into the category of fad diets such as Weight Watchers or Atkins, they can still be manipulated to restrict calorie intake, or intake of specific nutrients, and to control weight or body image.

A study by psychologists Morgan J. Curtis and Lisa K. Comer titled “Vegetarianism, dietary restraint and feminist identity” discusses this issue by categorizing participants as to how restrictive their vegetarian diet is and their reasons for choosing to maintain a restrictive diet. Findings show that those who choose a semi-vegetarian diet and those who cite weight concerns as a primary reason for the diet instead of environmental or ethical reasons often further restrict and monitor their food intake, calorie intake and weight. This does not mean that all who fall under these categories automatically qualify as maintaining unhealthy eating habits. However, having a healthy end goal, a purpose or passion, knowledge of the restrictive diet and an understanding of one’s personal nutritional needs is necessary when imposing a long-term restrictive diet on yourself. Otherwise, whether intentional or not, a restrictive diet can eventually transpire into means to control and obsess over your body image or calorie intake.

If you’ve struggled with eating disorder symptoms in the past or you’re looking to prevent heading down that path in the future, take a moment to assess why a specific restrictive diet sounds appealing.

  1. Is this decision more than just a challenge to conquer?
  2. Is your decision backed by a deeper passion or purpose?
  3. Do you have an understanding of your own nutritional needs in order to maintain your health?
  4. Do you have an understanding of the restrictive diet and how to transition in a healthy way?
  5. Are you aware of what unhealthy eating habits and patterns look like in order to combat them?


Carrie Gavit is a recent grad of the University of Texas at Austin. She received her MA in Women’s and Gender Studies and studied the U.S. slaughterhouse industry. Follow her @CarrieGavit.

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