Going meatless has gone mainstream in recent years, but what are the reasons behind it? Nutrition Expert Rachael Hartley shares the 3 most important questions to ask yourself if you’re considering or already are a vegan or vegetarian.
Going completely meatless as a vegetarian or vegan has become a rising trend in recent years. Typically, there two main reasons as the motivation for going meatless:
- Some are concerned about the ethics of eating meat, in particular, how animals are treated on factory farms and the environmental impact.
- The other is health – that removing meat and other animal foods from their diet will make them healthier.
For most, it’s a combination of ethics and health that drives their decision, and both reasons are valid. Animals are living creatures and what we know about how they are treated in factory farms is upsetting.
Beyond that, cutting back on meat is one of the best steps we can take to protect the environment. Studies have also linked meat heavy diets to all the major causes of chronic disease – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.
The problem lies within those who use vegan or vegetarianism to lose weight or control their eating. In that case, being on a vegan or vegetarian diet takes on all the risks and side effects of any other restrictive diet. – binge eating, overeating, excessive emotional eating, long-term weight gain, and lowered confidence. In fact, research has shown that going meatless for weight loss puts one at higher risk for developing an eating disorder or disordered eating.
What are some of the questions to ask yourself before you decide to go meatless?
1. Am I deprived?
Feeling deprived is a big sign that you’re going meatless for the wrong reasons. It’s normal to struggle at first knowing how to plan satisfying meatless meals or to even find yourself getting overly hungry at times as you’re figuring things out. You may even feel a bit deprived going out to eat and having less options. But are you constantly hungry, both emotionally and physically? Do you feel resentful for having to give up meat? Do you find yourself compensating for being meatless in other areas, like by eating more sweets, because you “deserve” it? If so, it might be smart to reconsider your motivations.
2. What are my values?
Instead of making the decision to eat in line with the rules of a predefined diet, investigate what’s important to you and then make individual food choices in line with those beliefs. If that leads you to eat meat on occasion, cool. If that leads you to not eat any animal foods at all, that’s fine too! By thinking that way, you’ll be able to discover the pattern of eating that’s right for you and make choices that are truly in line with your beliefs, which may or may not follow the strict definition of a vegetarian or vegan diet.
For example, you might care deeply about the environment, but discover a local farm with a deep commitment to sustainability and feel comfortable buying some meats, dairy and eggs from them. Or perhaps you have a very high risk of heart disease and want to go vegan for health reasons. You might decide that just as the occasional sweet won’t hurt, neither will the little bit of butter used to bake your favorite whole grain bread.
3. Do I really need to cut out all meat, or just some of it?
While many, many studies show benefits to eating a vegetarian/vegan diet compared to a typical American diet, studies also show the same benefits for simply eating less meat and eating more plants – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts/seeds. You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to be healthy, just eat less meat than the average American (who eats quite a bit).
Remember, there is a benefit to eating some amount of animal foods as there are nutrients that are difficult to obtain adequate amounts of in a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, there are definitely ways to become vegetarian or vegan in a totally healthful way.
At the end of the day, you know what diet is right for your body, so feel free to make decisions in line with that. Don’t restrict your eating based on the rules of a diet – eat in a way that feels right to you!
So dabble in butter. Flirt with fish.
And if you like, eat a damn egg!
Adapted from the original article.
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC. By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.