Perhaps you can relate to this: I think about food a lot. As a yogi, my quest to eat better and healthier leads me toward a plant-based path for all sorts of reasons. Just saying that makes me laugh a little, remembering my longtime love affair with pork belly. Or how, years ago, I considered In-N-Out Burger to be a well-deserved reprieve after spending a weekend at a vintage health spa in Ojai, Calif., where Betty White’s picture was on the wall, the grandmother of aerobics ran the program, and the afternoon snack was just one cup of vegetable broth.
About 10 years ago, largely because I learned self-care through yogic practices, I decided to eliminate meat from my diet. First, I stopped eating beef. Three years ago, I stopped eating chicken. Two years ago, I stopped eating pork. It was the last one to go mostly because of the pork dumplings my late mom taught me how to make when I was little. There have been periods when I’ve even gone completely vegan.
Having tried every iteration, I have reached a middle ground that works best for me. I am a flexitarian – a partial vegetarian – or, a person whose meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.
Some will say a flexitarian just a cheating vegetarian, but here’s what I know: I feel fantastic and staying on this less-rigid path is realistic for me. I can make choices to keep my energy levels stable, which helps prevent other health issues that run in my family, such as depression, anxiety, and elevated cortisol.
If you’re feeling like this might work for you, first see your doctor or a nutritionist, then consider the following steps:
- Set up a schedule for reducing animal proteins. For example, start reducing beef on (date) and be completely beef-free by (date). Reduce proteins one at a time, which will set you up for success and be less of a shock to your body versus going cold turkey (pun intended).
- For each meal, start in plant territory. Let vegetables, fruits, and legumes be a baseline and integrate the animal protein less and less as you move through your schedule for reduction. Do most of your eating this way and try to stick with it as much as possible.
- After going meat-free, make sure you know how to get enough protein. Tofu, seitan, tempeh, broccoli, peanut butter, beans, and quinoa are some good standbys. Protein deficient, you might experience lightheadedness, joint pain, moodiness, and poor concentration. This is where the flex part can help: have a bit of lean turkey or steamed fish with your meal, then get back on your plant wagon.
- Prepare for on-the-go challenges. Airports are notorious for offering just hummus cups, pasta, and egg salad, for vegetarian options. Pack food for travel and work and have snacks in your bag. My faves are roasted chickpeas, seaweed, and cheese with multigrain crackers.
Flexitarian is not cheating, it’s forgiving. Trying to force an all-or-nothing diet can be stressful and taxing for many people. When I was in the Sahara Desert, the only meal offered was lamb tagine. I ate it so I could fuel my body, and I haven’t had it since. Once back home, I hopped back on my plant wagon. Every so often, I make pork dumplings for my 83-year-old dad, and we enjoy them together and remember my mom.
Being flexitarian is the healthier me I’d been seeking for 30 years. Also, I have come to realize that a cup of vegetable broth is actually a great snack – tasty, filling, and packs a punch of nutrients in one little shot. Maybe Betty White was onto something.