Vegetarians may be healthier than meat-eaters – but they are also more miserable, say, researchers.
Those who cut meat from their diet experience more negative feelings, have lower self-esteem and see less meaning in life, a study found.
The authors conclude that vegetarians may be less ‘psychologically well-adjusted’, suggesting teasing by omnivores may be to blame.
It comes after food critic William Sitwell quit as editor of Waitrose Food magazine after making a joke about killing vegans.
Researchers asked 400 vegetarians, meat-eaters and ‘semi-vegetarians’ to record their feelings over a fortnight. Of the three groups, vegetarians experienced the most negative feelings and enjoyed social occasions least.
Lead author Dr. John Nezlek, from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poznan, Poland, said: ‘Sometimes unwittingly, and sometimes intentionally, vegetarians may be excluded from social events or made to feel odd or different because they are vegetarians. Such things tend to happen for members of social minorities.
‘Over time, such experiences can take their toll on a person’s wellbeing. We believe that this study is important because it is the first to show that defining one’s self as a vegetarian has implications for the quality of a person’s daily life.’
A survey analyzed vegetarians and meat-eaters’ self-esteem based on how far they agreed with statements such as ‘Today I felt like a failure’ and ‘Today I felt I had many good qualities’.
Similar questions – asking how well their day had gone and how optimistic they were about the future – were used to assess depressive tendencies.
Vegetarians scored 4.62 for self-respect and meat-eaters 5.33, where a lower score was worse. They were also more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied with their life, the study found.
The authors, also from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, suggested vegetarians may suffer because they are seen by meat-eaters as morally superior.
They added: ‘Given that many celebrities advocate some type of vegetarian diet, non-vegetarians may feel that vegetarians are “putting on airs” and that they are “too good” for non-vegetarians.’
Twenty-four vegetarians, including some vegans, took part in the study. They were compared with 323 omnivores and 56 ‘semi-vegetarians’, some of whom ate fish or only avoided red meat.
When asked whether they felt they led a purposeful existence, vegetarians saw less meaning in life than the other groups, according to researchers. They were also more likely to experience stress and embarrassment.
However, a spokesman for the Vegetarian Society disputed the findings, saying: ‘What we see when people adopt a veggie diet in line with their values is they feel excited and positive about the contribution they are making.’
The study appears in the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition.
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