Is a Plant Based Diet Healthy?

Within the last few years, plant-based diets have become increasingly popular. In this article, “diet” refers to someone’s food choices rather than a weight loss technique. That being said, some people pursue a plant-based diet as a way to be environmentally friendly, show support for animal rights, or for potential health benefits.

When it comes to eating disorders, it’s important to examine the reason behind food choices and to consider if certain ways of eating are healthy—both physically and mentally.

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What is a Plant Based Diet?

A plant-based diet is exactly what it sounds like— a diet that is primarily based on food that comes from plants. This means eating fruits and veggies, but also nuts, seeds, oils, legumes, and beans. [1]

If you eat a plant-based diet you might still have meat, dairy, or other animal products from time to time. It’s just that the majority of your food comes from plants.

However, some people who have a plant-based diet may not eat meat or other animal products at all. Vegetarians and vegans also adopt a plant-based diet.

While all these diets are similar in that plant-based foods are the foundation of their diet, there can be nutritional differences and needs that vary based on whether you eat meat or not.

Benefits and Risks

There are risks and benefits with any type of diet. The risks and benefits of plant-based diets will vary depending on what type of plant-based diet someone is on.

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As mentioned above, some people who eat a plant-based diet might also eat meat and other animal products. Research shows that diets rich in plant-based foods have numerous health benefits and reduce the risk of several health conditions, including: [1]

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Certain cancers, such as colon, breast, and prostate cancer
  • Depression

Plant-based diets are also shown to improve mental and physical functioning. [1] Some potential risks of eating a plant-based include include mineral or vitamin deficiencies. Common vitamin and mineral deficiencies for people who eat a plant-based diet are: [2]

  • Calcium, due to limited amounts of dairy
  • Iron
  • Vitamin C


Similar to plant-based diets, vegetarian diets are shown to have some health benefits. Potential health benefits include lowering the risk of: [1,3]

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers

Research shows that vegetarian diets can provide all the necessary nutrients that someone needs. However, people who eat a vegetarian diet are more likely to be deficient in the following nutrients: [3]

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc


Someone who eats a vegan diet doesn’t eat any food that comes from an animal. People who eat a vegan diet are less likely to struggle with the following health conditions: [4]

  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure

However, similar to vegetarian and plant-based diets, there are certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies that can occur due to not eating certain food groups. Common vitamin and mineral deficiencies include: [4]

  • Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3 fatty acids

If you eat plant-based diet, it’s important to meet with dietitian or doctor to make sure you are getting enough of certain nutrients.

Plant Based Diets and Diet Culture

Diet culture plays a significant role in American culture. Diet culture is a term that refers to the societal belief that physical appearance and thinness are more important than health and overall well-being.

Diet culture can lead someone to search for ways to lose weight. Often this results in trying fad diets or disordered food behaviors as a way to be thinner. In fact, Americans spend about $40 billion dollars a year on dieting and related products. [5]

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If you are on a plant-based diet or considering adopting one, consider why you want to. Dieting can be dangerous. [5] Many people try a diet and then go off of it because it’s not sustainable. [5]

About 95% of people will regain the weight they lost and gain more within one to five years after trying a diet. [5] Finding a sustainable way of eating that is realistic, healthy, and enjoyable for you should be the goal.

Can Someone in Eating Disorder Recovery eat a Plant Based Diet?

While everyone’s definition of recovery is different, there are some physical and behavioral markers of recovery. One hallmark feature of recovery is that you are able to adequately and consistently provide your body with nutrients and abstain from disordered food behaviors.

If you are going through the recovery process and considering a plant-based diet, ask yourself why. This is especially important to consider if you have a history of restrictive eating patterns or strict food rules.

Adopting a plant-based diet may be another way to restrict food or control your eating. It can be helpful to talk about this with an eating-disorder therapist and registered dietitian.

They can help you navigate this choice and help you figure out if it’s the best fit for you physically and emotionally. This is especially important if you are recovering from malnourishment. Your body may need extra nutrients and support during this phase of recovery.

That being said, it’s possible for someone to eat a plant-based diet and meet their nutritional needs. [1] It’s also important for people in eating disorder recovery to include foods that are fun and enjoyable to eat, especially in social settings. [6]

For example, if your family has a tradition of eating a special beef dish every holiday, it’s important to have enough flexibility with your diet and food choices to be able to enjoy fun foods.

If you adopt a plant-based diet and this means you’ll exclude all fun foods from your diet, then it could be helpful to consider how you can be flexible around this. Food should be a source of pleasure as well. [6]

Everybody’s body is different. With any health choice you make, make sure it’s a good fit for you. It can be tempting to adopt new diets if you’re desperate to lose weight or you feel pressured by diet culture. Making a choice from a place of respect for your body’s unique needs can help you make in informed, sustainable choice.

Related Reading


[1] McManus, K. (2021, November 16). What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved March 26th, 2022 from

[2] National Library of Medicine. (2020, July 13). Mediterranean diet. Retrieved March 26th, 2022 from

[3] Craig W. J. (2010). Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 25(6), 613–620.

[4] Craig W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(5), 1627S–1633S.

[5] National Eating Disorders Association. (2005) kNOw dieting: Risks and reasons to stop. Retrieved March 26th, 2022 from

[6] Hart, S., Marnane, C., McMaster, C., & Thomas, A. (2018). Development of the “recovery from eating disorders for life” food guide (REAL food guide)-a food pyramid for adults with an eating disorder. Journal of Eating Disorders, 6(6), 1-11.

Author: Samantha Bothwell, LMFT
Page Last Reviewed and Updated on April 20, 2022 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC