I Didn’t Eat Meat for a Year. Here’s Why I’m Eating It Again.
One in eight people will try a vegan or vegetarian diet, and 84% will ultimately go back to eating meat. Given those numbers, I’m basically just a statistic. But, being a dietitian and someone who has helped countless other people meet their nutrition needs, meal plans, prep, and feel their best with their preferred way of eating, I started my journey anticipating that I would be an exception.
But, after filling my plates with only plant-based foods for the better part of 2021 and 2022, I ultimately decided to add dairy and then meat back into my diet. With so many people dipping their toes into vegetarianism and veganism, especially with the popular Veganuary challenge that happens every January, “failing” at these diets is something we should talk about.
While I don’t see my transition from vegan to vegetarian to omnivore as a failure, the fact is that not eating meat just didn’t work for me. If you’ve fallen off the plant-based bandwagon yourself or are thinking about adding meat back into your diet again, you can probably empathize.
Remember, this is just my story. Many factors influence how we eat, including culture, budget, location, education, time, family constraints, food availability, and more, but here’s why I started eating meat again after being a vegetarian for over a year.
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Why I stopped eating meat in the first place
It all started with a pork loin, a cutting board, and my then 4-year-old daughter.
We were knee-deep in the “why” phase of childhood while I was cutting a pork loin for dinner. The conversation quickly turned south as I explained why the pork I cut into didn’t look like a pig.
“It’s the muscle, sweetie, not the whole pig” was a comment I’ll forever regret as I reassured a very upset little girl that no one was going to cut her muscle off and eat it for dinner.
After that night, I couldn’t get myself to even bite into a piece of meat without my stomach turning. So naturally, I turned to my massive collection of vegan cookbooks (a genre I’d been collecting since college, even though I’d never actually been a vegan) and dove headfirst into a vegan diet.
I knew the benefits of eating more plants: Better for your digestive system, improved heart health, more budget-friendly, and a big plus for the environment — but actually implementing it was the fun part. I got creative in the kitchen, making amazing meat substitutes from scratch, eating my weight in beans and vegetables, and feeling pretty good overall for the first six months or so. I took my vitamins and made a point to eat a variety of foods each day.
But regardless of the benefits I knew I was getting by avoiding meat and other animal products, I started to notice a lot of extra stress in my life. Food anxiety I hadn’t felt in years started creeping its ugly head, I desperately missed going out to eat and ordering something besides french fries, and I realized I wasn’t actually eating as healthfully as I thought I was.
Why I decided to add meat back into my diet
There wasn’t one single reason, but a cumulative effect that made me realize that an absolute vegan and vegetarian diet was not the best choice for me.
First, I started experiencing food anxiety, which I had been happily free from since I broke up with dieting several years before. I felt huge amounts of guilt if I unknowingly ate something with meat in it and would stress out about going places where I didn’t know what was on the menu. Worse yet, I’d avoid eating somewhere that had nothing I “could” eat and leave starving or end up devouring a bag of chips for dinner.
Then there was the logistics of it. With a husband and two kids who preferred to eat meat daily. I spent significantly more time and money buying food and making separate meals so we would all be happy. Time, dishes, and stressing out over who would eat what took the joy out of mealtimes.
And finally, with all of the convenience foods I was relying on — like meatless chicken patties, sausage, nuggets, and dairy-free cheese slices — I wasn’t actually eating any healthier, and when it came to sodium and fat, I was eating more of it than I would if I was eating the meals I was making my family.
When it came to sustainability, I was making my family meat that had been hunted on our land or purchased from local farmers while buying myself packages of fake meat for quick and easy meals. Adding small amounts of locally sourced meat had to be the more sustainable option for my unique situation.
Related: 5 Easy Ways to Eat More Sustainably at Home
Transitioning back to an omnivore diet
Going from no animal products to eating a plant-heavy omnivore diet again wasn’t done lightly. I started by adding eggs and dairy back into my diet, eating a small amount each day. Then a few months after that, I began eating meat again.
I was careful to add a little each day, or every few days, to avoid shocking my system (the digestive benefits of a diet heavy in beans and vegetables cannot be understated!) until I averaged eating meat with one meal most days of the week.
For me, eating meat again has made me feel energized in ways I didn’t know I wasn’t on a vegan diet. Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t eating enough or prioritizing the right foods, given the business of my schedule at the time. Once I added that food group back, my sleep and energy levels drastically improved.
My story is my own, and I hope you claim yours as unique to you without any guilt or shame surrounding it. Your diet should reflect your culture, values, unique needs, and lifestyle, and it can change depending on your stage of life and what you need at the moment.
Read next: 8 Healthy, Delicious Red Meat Recipes for Easy Weeknight Meals
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