I was asked by a reader/friend to talk a bit about why I started eating meat after 17 years of being a vegetarian and to share how I transitioned to a new diet. I’m hoping that sharing my personal experience can be helpful to others who might be considering a similar diet/lifestyle change.
First I think it’s important to say that I don’t believe there is one “right” way to eat. Every person is different. Our diets may reflect family customs, culture, or values. Personal preferences, allergies, or certain diseases may also dictate what we decide to put in our bodies. So what works for me may not be the right choice for you. And I’m in no way telling you how you should eat; I’m merely speaking about my own personal experience.
If you have been reading my blog for awhile you may know that my diet has changed quite a bit over the last two decades. If you’re curious about the whole food journey thing, you can read more about it here.
Here’s a quick rundown…
I became a vegetarian when I was 13 years old. What started as a friendly bet with my brother later grew into a concern for animals and a desire to live healthy. As I grew older my passion about vegetarianism fizzled out, but I stuck with it because I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle. But more than that, it was really easy for me to go without meat. I’ve heard of vegetarians totally losing their taste for meat because they completely disengaged from it. I had a very similar experience. I never craved meat (aside from the occasional chicken finger sub!) and rarely gave it much thought. It became part of my routine and daily habits.
After adding in eggs and fish in my twenties due to nutritional concerns, I remained a pescatarian for nearly a decade. When I was 28 weeks pregnant with twins, I developed gestational diabetes. Although this diagnosis was the catalyst to adding meat back into my diet, I’m certain I would have done it eventually since I was considering it even before I became pregnant. I feel compelled to note that my doctor didn’t tell me I had to eat meat after I was diagnosed with diabetes (or at any point during my pregnancy). In fact, he – along with the nutritionist I met with – told me I could continue as a vegetarian.
I made the decision to start eating meat because I felt it was the right choice for me.
Of course, I had some concerns prior to eating meat which may have been why I hesitated for so long to switch back. My biggest concern was about what this decision would mean for me. Being a vegetarian for half of my life was wrapped up in my identity. I wondered if “giving up” vegetarianism would feel like a failure on my part. Would I regret this decision? What if I couldn’t go back? A part of me felt bad ending something that was at one time very important to me. And I felt guilty admitting to myself that it was no longer right for me.
I was also worried that I would have issues digesting meat. I’ve read that longtime vegetarians may stop producing the enzymes needed to break down and digest meat. While I wasn’t exactly sure if this was true, I was concerned how my body – and my babies – would react to meat. Alyssa, is pregnancy really the time to introduce a totally new diet? What if this puts too much stress on your body? Looking back, I may have been overreacting (pregnancy hormones!), but I was nervous about the transition.
Ultimately I decided to go for it, but I tried to transition slowly and with caution. I started with a very small portion of chicken that Matt prepared. And. They. Were. Delicious! Fortunately, I didn’t have any digestive issues or trouble with meat, but I still took things slowly. For the first week I only ate one meat meal per day and drank chicken broth for the added nutrients. Since I had to restrict my carbs and sugar to keep my glucose levels in check, I was really glad to have some additional food and protein options. (A lot of the vegetarian foods I was consuming contained too many carbs and I was limiting my fish intake due to mercury concerns.)
It’s been three years since I introduced meat back into my diet and I’m really happy with how I feel. I have a lot more energy than I used to and I’m able to recover from my workouts much faster. I don’t feel nearly as sluggish in the afternoon and I’m able to keep up with two crazy toddlers (well, kinda).
Eating meat has also opened up more meal options for me. Matt and I can cook and enjoy more meals together. Dining out (on the rare occasions that we get out) is a lot more fun, too. I don’t feel so limited in my choices and can experiment more with trying new things. I’m still not at the point where I feel like I want to add red meat into the mix. Maybe one day, but not right now. And I’m okay with that. Because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s okay to stay somewhere in between.
If you are considering transitioning to eating meat, here are some suggestions to ease back in:
- Have someone else prepare the meat at first. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know how to cook chicken (or any meat) at the time so I wouldn’t have known what to do. But I was also a bit grossed out by raw meat. So if you have a little “ick-factor” then make sure you have someone else prepare it. Or try going to a restaurant!
- Start small. Try adding small pieces of meat to a stew, chili, or sauce. It may even be a good idea to start with broths if you aren’t sure how you’ll react.
- Go slow. Try having one meat meal a day for the first week.
- If you are struggling mentally then try to think about why you made this decision to begin with. What are your concerns?
- Don’t feel compelled to explain yourself to anyone. Period. You are not obligated to explain yourself.
I’ve spoken way too much about this, but I’m sure I’m leaving something out! Please share your thoughts below. I’d love to know how others feel about this.