Sharing a personal story today on the blog about why I stopped being vegetarian after 18 years and started eating meat again. Hey guys…this blog post has in the making for about six months now. I’ve been waiting to tell this story until it evolved to a point where I felt there was a story to tell. You see, six months ago I ate my first piece of meat…in 18 years. And last month in Europe, I was eating meat almost on the daily. So, how did I get to this point? What did my journey to eating meat again look like? In order to understand this, I think I have to start from the very beginning. A very good place to start (pardon the Sound of Music reference – Salzburg was one of my stops on my trip last month).
The Younger Years. Becoming a Vegetarian.
When I was a kid, my family would take a one week vacation every summer as tradition. One summer, when I was 11 years old, we drove to the finger lake region and stayed at a motel called Chalet Leon at Hector Falls in Seneca Lake. This place was the best as a kid. I remember they had a path behind the motel that led straight to part of the waterfall that you could walk underneath. My Dad would literally bring his shampoo with him in the morning and shower under the falls (no joke). We would take the path further down and skip rocks in the lake. Well, my Dad would skip them. My sister and I would just not-so-gracefully chuck them into the water.
One morning at Chalet Leon, my parents asked the motel owners what they could do with us in the area that would be “kid-friendly”. They said oh, there’s this farm nearby you could take them to. Great. A kid-friendly farm, probably a petting farm. Perfect. So we went to the “farm”, which turned out to actually be a farm sanctuary, which provides shelter to over 500 animals rescued from poor factory farm conditions, exploits factory farming, and serves up vegan dogs on a platter (literally).
I saw some really horrible things at this farm (I’m going to spare you the details in case it’s triggering to anyone reading). Needless to say, the sanctuary was not the kid-friendly farm my parents had envisioned. As an animal-loving eleven year old, the experience not only greatly disturbed me but it stuck with me too.
About a year later, or maybe less than that, one evening at dinner, my Mom served lamb chops and I remember staring at them sitting in their pool of red juices and being so turned off, remembering my experiences at the farm, and I said to my parents very indignantly, “I’m not eating meat anymore.” Their first reaction was defensive and eventually they succumbed, I think saying it would be a short phase or something like that. Eighteen years later, it obviously turned out to be a longer phase than they expected.
Getting Curious through Intuitive Eating.
As many of you know, I’m now a certified intuitive eating counselor and I work with many women who want to make peace with food and their bodies. One of the keys to the intuitive eating journey is compassionate curiosity. Getting curious about your food choices, your food “rules”, and your relationship with food, without casting judgement, guilt or shame. And so as I went through this training and began working with clients, I started to look at my own eating choices and I began to get curious about my “vegetarianism”, well technically “pescetarianism.”
That curiosity led me to back to the eating disorder that I developed about a year after becoming vegetarian. It’s hard for me to believe that this timing was merely a coincidence, especially with the knowledge that I have now about eating disorders. You see, it can be common for restriction to start in the form of something that’s more socially acceptable like giving up meat or giving up all animal products and then to escalate from there. I was talking about this realization with my parents recently (as they were shocked that I was eating meat again) and my Mom reminded me that shortly after I stopped eating meat, I also gave up dessert too. So, one restriction led to another, and another, until it developed into a full blown eating disorder. She also reminded me that a couple of my good friends at the time had also stopped eating meat. So perhaps it was less about the animal rights and the trip to Farm Sanctuary (as I attested) and more about control and fitting in with peers.
As I recovered from my eating disorder, my vegetarianism stayed. And it stuck around throughout high school, college (despite a few drunken nights eating chicken fingers and wings), and up until now as I embark on the big 3-0. And I certainly don’t think that I’ve been stuck in disordered eating for the last 18 years; I think it just became a way of life for me. This is how I eat. This is how I’ve “always” eaten. I never thought twice about it. Until I became immersed in intuitive eating and gave myself the space to get curious about it.
And when I got curious about it, I realized that, you know what, I really liked the taste of meat as a kid (and the fact that I was binging on late-night chicken fingers in college leads me to believe that I liked it then too). But I do still have some beliefs and values that support plant-based eating. For instance, I do still deeply care about the treatment of farm animals. I do still believe in the health and environmental benefits of a more plant-based lifestyle. But I’ve been able to challenge those beliefs too. Like if I care about the treatment of farm animals and oppose factory farming, then why can’t I purchase my meat from the CSA I get my produce from where I know how they treat their animals? And if I care about the health benefits of plant-based lifestyle, then why can’t I still eat mostly plant-based (and my definition of plant-based does not mean vegan) but still allow myself the flexibility to eat meat when I’m craving it or when something sounds really appetizing.
And that’s the beauty of intuitive eating. It’s not black or white. It’s not all or nothing. Black and white thinking is diet mentality. I either eat meat or I’m avoiding it all together. I’m either avoiding carbs or I’m binging on them (another example of black and white thinking). But we can exist in the shades of grey. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can continue to eat in a way that feels good to my body and that respects my values around animal treatment but I don’t have to be so rigid about it. I can give myself permission to eat whatever it is I’m craving, even if that includes meat.
Where I Am Today.
The past six months have been my time to experiment. To see if I even like the taste of meat. To see if I like some forms more than others. To see if I even wanted to get back to including meat in my diet? It started with taking bites of Steve’s stuff. Bite of a braised short rib grilled cheese sandwich (um, yum.), taste of a turkey bacon sandwich, sharing his apple cider glazed chicken. And when I would take a bite, a smile would come across my face, and Steve would be like your eyes just lit up as if life was just coming back into you. But, it’s true. I enjoyed it. Which also supported the idea that maybe it was time to challenge some of these “rules” that I had created oh, so long ago. When I went to Europe last month, I traveled to places that are traditionally very meat-centric: Prague, Berlin, Munich and Salzburg. Now ya’ll know I love to travel – exploring a new place is one of my biggest passions. But for me part of that exploration is experiencing the local food culture. And I felt like I couldn’t truly do that without eating meat. So I tried their staple dishes: sausages, hams, beef goulash, pork schnitzel…and discovered that I liked some more than others (not a fan of sausage right now). And there was a sense of pleasure and satisfaction that came along with being able to enjoy the local fare while traveling through these cities (stay tuned for an intuitive eating while traveling post coming in the near future bc I feel like that’s a whole other topic).
I’m sure some of you are wondering: do you feel any different now? Do you have more energy? Are you more sluggish? And no, I don’t really feel any different at all. Which reinforces my belief that maybe how we feel has less to do with our food choices and more to do with how we take care of ourselves in other areas of our life (relaxation, self care, mental health, etc.). So what does this all mean for the blog? Well, I’m still going to be eating plant-based meals and seafood so you can expect to still see vegan-friendly, vegetarian-friendly and pescatarian recipes. In fact, that likely will still remain the bulk of what you see here. But I want this to be a space where all foods fit. So I’m going to be talking about all the meals I eat. Not just the ones that fit a plant-based model. In my Europe recaps, you’ll see the meat dishes I ate. I want the blog to be a space that promotes flexibility, not rigidity and I hope that you’ll stick around for more intuitive eating posts as I aim to promote a healthier relationship with food and our bodies. What Does This Mean For You?
Nothing. Unless you want it to mean something to you. The aim of this post was simply to share a piece of my personal life with you and how it translates to my professional life and the work I do with my clients. But if you do want to take away something from this post, I invite you to practice compassionate curiosity in your own life. Maybe this applies to food and you start to get curious about your own “food rules” or maybe you get curious about your career, your relationships, your self-care, whatever it is, without casting judgment on yourself. Curiosity is a beautiful thing as long as we’re not judging or feeling shameful about what comes up.
In my e-book, Nourish Your Namaste: How Nutrition and Yoga Can Improve Digestion, Immunity, Energy and Relaxation, I talk about the yogic principle of ahimsa, which stems from the first of the yamas, and translates to non-harming or non-violence. Some misinterpretations of ahimsa have led yogis to believe they shouldn’t eat meat. But the important piece that is missing with this interpretation is that non-harming also means non-harming of the self (in addition to non-harming others). If you decided to give up meat and realized that you were losing weight, felt weaker, tired, and low energy, then you would be doing harm to yourself by adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. No matter what eating lifestyle you choose, make sure it’s not causing you harm (mental or physical). If you find you feel amazing by eliminating meat, by all means respect that insight and go veg. But don’t go plant-based-to-the-extreme for the sake of the Yoga-Sūtra at your own expense. You’d only be doing yourself more harm than good.
Bottom line: You do (what works for) you. Don’t ever feel like you have to put a label on your eating patterns or defend your eating decisions as long as you’re being really honest and curious with yourself about your intentions behind them.
I’d love to hear from you about how or if curiosity has played out in your own life.
For more Mindful Monday inspo, check out the posts below!