Many cite health-related or ethical issues as reasons to go vegetarian. Let’s take a look at what one dietitian learned during her journey to vegetarianism and back.
I grew up in a rural community, and although my family did not “farm”, we did produce some of our own beef. My father hunts and fishes and he always made sure we knew the animals he harvested each season were for eating, not displaying on a wall in the living room. From an early age I understood the fact that cows and certain other animals existed for a purpose, and that purpose was to feed us.
We didn’t name our calves. They weren’t right in front of the house. And when the time came we arranged for a farm-kill, meaning they were slaughtered on our land and processed at another facility afterwards.
This is the reality I grew up with so it never struck me as odd that we would do anything differently. That was just life.
Jump forward a few years, and I’m graduating with my degree in nutrition, relocating to a new city, starting a new job, living with a new roommate, working with new people and starting new friendships.
Just a few minor life changes, no big deal.
In a time when much of my life was quickly changing and felt out of my control, I knew I was able to turn to food and be in control. I turned to vegetarianism, and decided to tell myself a number of untruths to justify my change:
- I’m not an athlete anymore, I don’t need that much protein.
- I’m on a budget, I can’t afford to buy meat anymore.
- I have to cook for myself now, cooking meat takes too long.
- I watched this documentary/read this book/saw this article. That’s not the way I thought meat was produced, and I’m not ok with that.
- My friend is so right; I wouldn’t eat my dog, why would I eat this [fill in the blank].
- I just don’t like the way meat tastes anymore.
This last one was the biggest lie of all, because I’ve always known there are few things more delicious than burnt ends, ribeye steaks, buffalo wings, and of course, bacon.
It was hard to face this truth, but ignoring it didn’t make it go away: Vegetarianism may have been the last dying gasps of my disordered eating.
While I still firmly believe I did not have a full blown eating disorder, I do recognize my behaviors, thoughts, and reactions around food and exercise were highly disordered for a long time. So becoming a vegetarian was great because you know, vegetarians are supposed to be so healthy. Right? Not quite.
It was a label to hide behind.
I was confident I was making changes to my diet for the right reasons (at that time) but nonetheless, it was a label that made it easy to avoid probing questions about why I wasn’t eating something. It became part of my new identity as I went through a major transition in life, and it only seemed to make sense to overhaul another aspect of my life at the same time.
As things started to fall back into place, I realized I didn’t need to rule over my diet with such tight control anymore. I was back in the driver’s seat, making decisions I felt content and at ease with. There were still rugs being pulled out from under me, but I had the coping skills to deal like a well-adjusted adult.
And hanging out with foodies, family, and friends helped me realize how much I missed out on when I excluded an entire food group from my diet.
Eventually, I became more relaxed at potlucks and family functions, and I stopped experiencing anxiety when a restaurant did not have great veggie options. Or if we were at someone else’s house for a meal with food I didn’t prepare. I was able to accept a boxed lunch at the office with a deli sandwich and not meticulously pick off every piece of sliced turkey and pretend that I was full.
I simply grew into the most intuitive eater I ever have been, with no labels or expectations.
I became someone who just fully enjoys food. And you know what? It feels good.
Now, all of this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning a mostly plant-based diet. Not in the least. In my journey with intuitive eating and mindfulness, I find I still gravitate towards meat-free meals the vast majority of the time. I feel full, I feel satisfied, and I feel happy when I eat that way.
But I can also feel full, satisfied, and happy when I eat grilled kabobs with my husband, or grab carnitas tacos and margaritas with my dad, or take my sister out to a Cajun restaurant on one of the few times of the year I get to see her.
Any fears (unfounded though they were) I had when I restricted meat in my diet did not come true. The untruths I told myself have revealed themselves to be just that –
An inaccurate interpretation of who I wanted to be.
Adapted from the original article.
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Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD is a Kansas City-based Registered Dietitian helping individuals jumpstart their journey to wellness. By breaking the cycle of dieting, Cara focuses on creating sustainable lifestyle changes for people who are motivated to reclaim their health. Connect with Cara over at Street Smart Nutrition.