It's World Vegetarian Day so to celebrate, I thought I'd share a little bit of my thoughts on how I embrace eating vegetarian meals without falling victim to the dogma of diet culture (and how it wasn't always this way).
And yes! If you didn't know already I was a vegetarian for almost six years back when I was in high school and early college. To be honest, though, I was a pretty lousy vegetarian. For starters, I was young and inexperienced in the kitchen so therefore going "meatless" really meant a lot more carbs and cheese instead of plates full of vegetables. I also realize now the impact that diet culture had on my decision to go vegetarian in the first place. My decision came around the time my eating disorder and disordered thoughts began to form and from the messages I had seen, being a vegetarian meant you were "healthier" and thin. Clearly, none of these facts were a recipe for success.
Flash forward a number of years (which included the beginning of my ED recovery) to my mid-20s when I had much better understanding of food, nutrition and how to cook. I was incorporating more meat and seafood but definitely still erred on the side of vegetarianism partly because I do love the foods it includes but also partly because I felt I SHOULD be eating that way for my health. But truth is, my health was still pretty problematic. I struggled with chronic fatigue and ongoing illnesses so much so that I was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
On top of that, I eventually developed a pretty terrible stomach problem which my functional medicine doctor attributed to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and which was exacerbated by many of the vegetables and plant-based proteins I was consuming. To help combat my severe bloating and stomach pain I was put on a short-term low FODMAP diet which aims to reduce the number of fermentable carbs you consume. In short, I soon was swayed the other way and began falling victim to the paleo diet trends and eating more meat. Not surprising that this didn't completely work for me either and I soon felt not so great eating this way not to mention the sense of overwhelm due to all of the food rules.
So where do I fall now? Truthfully, it depends but the biggest change is that I no longer label my style of eating. I've learned that my body does well with a certain mix of both vegetarian meals and meals which include high quality, smaller portions of animal/seafood proteins (especially nutrient dense ones like bone broth, chicken livers or sardines). Some weeks this means we have 1-2 dinners that are vegetarian and some weeks not. If we're out to eat and I see a meal on the menu that is vegetarian that looks good to me, I eat it! Same way that I have no shame enjoying a good burger.
I share all of this with you, not to hate on being a vegetarian but to keep it really real. I think there are several benefits to eating more vegetarian meals but only if it's what works for YOU! Not to mention there are non-health reasons for wanting to become a vegetarian and I totally respect that as well!
My advice is always to try it out for a bit, see how you (honestly) feel and go from there. When done right, there can be many benefits to eating a vegetarian meal here and there but that does not mean you need to give up meat entirely. Try with one night a week and see how it goes for you.
And if you need some vegetarian inspired meals, check out my blog and search for these favorites: