But I Can’t Be Vegetarian!
When I faced myself with the hard truth that I needed to lose what felt like a ton of weight, I had to take a good look at what I was eating. The truth was that I was centering every single meal around an animal protein. Add to that my sweet tooth and my diet was a disaster.
I knew I had to give something up. Truthfully I have always had a moral dilemma about eating meat so cutting it out felt natural. I initially became ovo-lacto vegetarian, then vegan, then mostly vegan, then pescatarian. There are so many combinations to flex your diet but the underlying component is this: limit animal products as much as possible and emphasize plant-based proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats and then sprinkle in the rest. I believe it truly is better for us and the planet.
Nowadays there are many terms for it. The Mediterranean diet is very similar to what more recently has been called Flexitarian. Again there is more of a focus on plant-based nutrition. For me even as a pescatarian, I can’t say I am a true pescatarian. I don’t rely on fish daily to get my protein. Rather, it is the only animal flesh I am willing to consume from time to time. I can easily say 90% of my diet is plant based with some eggs and cheese sprinkled in with fish and the occasional dairy dessert. For me it works, and is closest to the true Mediterranean diet that has been studied over the years. The modern Mediterranean version has been Westernized and includes a lot more meat and processed carbs so do not go by that.
The island of Ikaria in Greece for example has been known for years to have the most and the healthiest centenarians. These people maintain a very traditional form of Mediterranean lifestyle and diet free from processed foods. Instead it is rich in veggies, fresh herbs & fruits in season, nuts, olive oil, fish, whole grains, fresh goat’s milk, coffee and home made wine. They spend a lot of time out doors and have been studied because by many accounts they seem to have some secret to longevity. The traditional Mediterranean diet is mostly plant based with some animal products sprinkled in.
So if the idea of becoming vegetarian is daunting, consider allowing yourself permission to be Flexitarian and maybe Mediterranean. It’s ok. We tend to think we need to be all or nothing or fit into some category but that is simply not true. You may find as I did that once you reduce and eliminate meats, you simply cannot go back to them. I started with red meat, moved to also eliminating poultry and seafood to going vegan and coming back to minimal fish and dairy with some pasture raised eggs.
I honestly can’t go back to poultry or any meats except the occasional seafood. As fans of the show Survivor, my family jokes that I would be just fine living on coconuts for 39 days – ( I think it might be true as long as I win brownie rewards). But do not be fooled. Without variety to meet nutritional needs, a restrictive diet can be dangerous. I happen to find the research that supports limiting animal products to be very compelling. Dr. Fuhrman is an excellent resource if you are interested in reading more about packing nutrition into every meal. I do this in my recipes shared here as well as in my meal plans where I combine the theory with beloved foods from my childhood as well as new flavors. Practically speaking, I realized that for me, my enjoyment of meat had really always been all about the condiments so vegetarian options work really well for my appetite and waistline. Cutting back on chocolate is way harder - so I get it.
If meat is something you feel you just absolutely cannot give up, give yourself that break. It does not have to be an all or nothing thing. Take it slowly. Reduce it for your health. You do not need it 3 times a day. Start with 1 time per day. Limit red meats. Look for more plant based proteins. Supplement with a plant based protein shake to feel more satiated. In small ways and small steps you can start to see big changes. I have been primarily vegan for 9 years now and cannot imagine going back, but it’s something that evolved. Had I ever felt deprived and hungry it would not have worked.
I love that I can still be a foodie and indulge in international flavors while sticking to my flexible meal plan that I can adjust to lose or gain weight as I choose - sometimes I gain on purpose for muscle. It’s also great to hack recipes for vegan whole food options.
Food is colorful, flavorful and joyful without regret and heaviness – as it should be!
Feel lighter, feel right, and be healthy.