What a loaded statement. Reactions to this usually include all of the following: confusion, curiosity, fear, questions, assumptions, praise, confusion again … ending with “so what should I cook for you?”.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing to eat in a vegetarian way. For me it was learning that this was actually a thing.
I grew up in a meat-and-potato community, but I didn’t love to eat meat. During my intro nutrition courses, I learned about vegetarianism and thought this was something I could love for so many reasons: lower cost, lower environmental impact, easier food safety, ethnic food combinations, health reasons … and I wouldn’t have to eat meat!
I am blessed with an accommodating mom who loves to try new recipes and so I’ve never had to starve when I visit her. Though not all family and friends have been completely accepting of my food choices. I think they chalk it up to my being a dietitian with my ‘out-there’ ways of eating. My favorite statement has been: “oh I’m sure you’ll grow out of it”. As a person who does things with conviction, this comment only helped to reinforce that this is who I am, not what I choose to eat.
And that is what will make this a hard post for me to put out there.
I eat meat too. In secret. And I think this is terrible.
So far, I’ve been able to explain my diet as: I have eggs, milk and cheese, no meat. And people get that for the most part. Getting into explaining any changes or differences from that just gets too complicated.
When I started telling people I was vegetarian, I stuck to it quite rigidly so that people would get it, so they’d believe I meant it and they wouldn’t question me. I also wanted to do it the right way or no way at all.
But eating shouldn’t be like that – rigid and all-or-nothing.
Over time, I’ve adapted to eating in a way that makes my body feel right … Should I stick to vegetarian eating and throw out chicken because no one else in the house is going to eat it? Should I eat freezer foods high in salt (but vegetarian) because I don’t always have time to cook 1 meat dish for my family and 1 non-meat dish for me? Should I continue eating veggie options that bother my stomach or that are lacking in nutrition because I feel cornered into the label?
No. In fact, those things stand apart from the reasons I chose to eat vegetarian in the first place: environment, cost, ease of cooking, health, taste.
So a few years ago, during my pregnancy and even more once baby arrived, I started to ‘give in’ and eat a little chicken and fish. I felt like I was betraying all the work I’d done. And I told myself over and over again, it was ok, it’s temporary, once I have more time I’ll get back to veggie all. of. the. time. (yes, I was a new mom who thought ‘more time’ was waiting just around the corner until I get back).
I still prefer to eat plant-based meals. I really, really enjoy them and they make up the bulk of my food choices. I still don’t like red meats. But I choose to stick with my goals to keep my body strong, to enjoy food completely … and now to show flexible eating to my little human, without strict food rules.
I will eat what I want, what makes me feel right, what makes sense to me in that moment. My choices will change from one day to another and there is no room for other people’s opinions in that.
Over the next week …
I encourage you to watch for the food rules you’ve held that you might be ready to re-think. Question yourself. What do you want food to do for you? Do you find yourself thinking ‘it’s ALL or it’s NOTHING’ when it comes to your eating pattern?
If you find yourself confused about how food can fit comfortably in your life … or if you feel like food doesn’t fit comfortably in your life, know that you’re not alone. I work with people daily who feel constrained by a diet they need to follow to take care of their health. Or who want to eat a certain way but feel like they’re ‘self-sabotaging’ their efforts. Or that they just don’t have enough ‘willpower’ to stick to a ‘healthy’ eating pattern.
In fact this mindset shift is at the core of my Nourish your Health Program. We talk all about what to eat for your heart health, to lower your risks of diabetes and to get to your best weight … but more importantly, we talk about how to make that happen when life gets in the way and you have competing health (or personal) priorities. Learn more about The Nourish your Health Program
(spoiler alert … we do talk a lot about getting more plants on your plate, in a flexible way that works in your life and for your reasons!)
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on helping people take back control of their health & weight … before it feels like their health controls their life. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.