I'm not vegetarian anymore. After 13 years of being vegetarian, including 8 years of being an outspoken hardcore ethical vegan, I ate meat in March.
What was it like? Since I'd been contemplating breaking veg for over a year, I imagined it would feel like a milestone. Perhaps ominous thunder would roar in the background as a fork piled with meat neared my mouth. Maybe there'd be tears-- of joy, overwhelm, or regret-- from myself or my husband. No such thing. I just enjoyed some delicious free range turkey stewed with lima beans and greens.
Well, actually, I experienced something unexpected: I felt like a character in a video game whose life bar went from 40% to 100% within a few bites. I felt instantly energized and deeply nourished.
The next day my poop smelled horrible. But my skin also started looking really good, glowing even.
I've been eating meat as little as once a month and as much as three times a week in the last four months. It's been rather uneventful since that first omnivorous meal. Aside from not feeling insatiable hunger and fatigue after exercising, I haven't noticed a dramatic improvement or decline in my health as a result.
Of course, my record keeping has been less than scientific. I've had a variety of lifestyle changes since March: I enrolled in karate; I dropped out of karate to save money; I began a new daily workout routine at home; I changed jobs; the seasons changed. Also I'm sure many of the effects of changes in diet take place in the long-term.
Given the results of my meaty experimentation, I'm not sold on the omnivorous lifestyle. Still, I'm reluctant to be a committed vegetarian again too. It's not about taste. I could take or leave meat, which is how I feel about any food besides broccoli. (Give me broccoli or give me death!)
Here's why I'm not vegetarian anymore:
My mind can't decide what my body needs to be healthiest.
Our bodies aren't governed our ethics. At Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I learned about bio-individuality. The concept of bio-individuality is that each person has unique food and lifestyle needs. One person’s food is another person’s poison, and that’s why fad diets tend to fail in the long run. That's also why some people thrive on a vegan diet and others seem to need to eat meat daily.
This means my brain can't tell make my body operate optimally on a 100% plant powered diet just because my brain doesn't support the exploitation of animals and because it read in The China Study that vegan diets are the best. The mind isn't a dictatorship.
I'm keeping my ego out of it.
My experience with both veganism and meat-eating has taught me that I can't intellectually decide how anything physically manifests. I learned I need to quietly pay attention to what is actually happening between my expectations and my analysis of my experience. That's where I discover the information I need to determine what is my next best choice when it comes to food and pretty much everything else.
My ego wants to go back to the comfort of vegetarian identity. However, there are so many tweaks that can be made to my diet (within and beyond the boundaries of vegetarianism) and my body-- the ground where it all plays out-- is constantly changing. I'll never know exactly when will happen but the more I quiet my ego, the more loudly I can hear my intuition guiding me toward health.
I'm okay with making self-centered choices.
My motto was, "It won't kill me to not eat animals, but it will kill them." Aside from weekly sugar-crazed doughnut indulgences, I was pretty gung-ho about keeping vegan. That was until I started actually having health issues. At thirty, I began having terribly painful and symptomatic menstrual cycles. A little research uncovered that eating eggs regularly could help. But I didn't even dare try eggs for a really long time-- despite suffering periods that left me unable to leave the house-- because I felt it would be selfish. I would not have recommended a vegan diet to a friend experiencing the same symptoms as I was, yet I felt I had to be pious and just suffer through it.
I'm now okay with making self-centered choices. I know it's not a popular thing to express (even though it's the way most of us live--vegan or not, human or not, if you actually pay attention) but it's my truth so I'm saying it. When I eat animal products, I consume the most "humane" version, but ultimately it's me expressing my will over another living being because it suits me.
Side note: Once I started eating just two eggs a week, my sugar cravings became manageable. I'm still working on the menstrual cycle issue. Things have improved but I'm not consistently symptom-free.
Have you ever dramatically changed your diet? Why? What did that experience teach you?
Olivia Lane Lovejoy is a Blogger, Green Living Educator, and Health Coach trained at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.