Hi everyone, Get excited for another “almostenough” post by a fierce female! Kathryn is a member of my Graduate cohort and an impressively healthy human (not to mention a killer writer)! Enjoy her take on food and gather almostenough inspiration to live more like her.
A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be extreme.
When Mary Kate asked me to write a blog on healthy eating habits, I’ll admit I was a little surprised. At the time, I was stuffing my face with Nutella-coated Speculoos cookies that our professor had thoughtfully provided. I am not what I would consider a model of healthy living perfected. I do not do the Paleo diet or the raw food diet. I like Uppercrust Bakery. A lot.
As I thought about it, however, I realized I was making a mistake that I think a lot of us make. We tend to live by the “do it perfectly or you are a failure” mentality. I see this a lot when it comes to being a vegetarian.
I get two main reactions when people find out that I am a vegetarian. The first is that I must have an abnormal amount of willpower. People tell me about how they tried to be a vegetarian and even made it a whole week, but then they gave up. The second reaction seems to want to prove the opposite. People call me a “fake” or “cheating” vegetarian when they see that I eat eggs, milk products, and occasionally fish.
The two different attitudes stem from that same mentality of “go big or go home.” I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when it comes to diet and exercise is that we try to achieve some perceived standard of perfection. We set the highest possible goals and when we can’t obtain them, we give up. We don’t allow ourselves slow or imperfect progress.
Plain yogurt with local honey
These attitudes are particularly evident when it comes to vegetarianism. People think that there are strict standards in place to qualify as a vegetarian, and if you don’t meet them, you are a fake or a failure. Vegetarianism, however, (at least in the U.S.) is more of a spectrum.
In general, vegans do not eat any animal products, including eggs and milk. Vegetarians fall on a wide scale that I will group into categories for the purpose of this blog (in reality, these categories are fluid):
1) “Ovo-lacto” vegetarians: eggs and milk products, but no meat.
2) “Pescatarian”: eggs, milk products and fish, but no other meat.
3) “Pesco-pollo” vegetarians: chicken, fish, eggs and milk products, but no other meat.
4) “Semi-vegetarians”: meat in varying levels and in different ways. I have a friend who only eats meat when he buys it from a farm or farmer’s market. The rest of the time, he is a vegetarian. Another friend is vegetarian while living in the U.S., but eats meat while working in Central America.
Grapefruit: citrus season in Florida is the best
The goal of outlining these categories is to show that there is no standard of perfection. There are just people trying to do what is right for their bodies and for their environment.
Ready to roast sweet potatoes
If you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian, I will offer my best advice on how to go about it (I do this because I think that these ideas also apply to adopting any form of a healthy diet):
1) Decide why you want to do it. Maybe you see mass meat production as problematic or maybe you have high cholesterol. Base your goals on your reasons. You might want to go vegan or instead do a pesco-pollo diet. Accept that there are a range of options and there is no standard of perfection.
2) Do NOT quit eating meat “cold turkey.” This is the most common mistake that I see. People think that you have to go all in, all at once, or not bother. The cold-turkey method works only in rare cases. Cutting meat out of your diet is an entire lifestyle change. You will buy food differently and you will plan your meals differently, and you will likely find that this takes more effort. Also, it is a common misconception that food is interchangeable. In reality, your body reacts in different ways to different foods. A key example for vegetarians is that the body absorbs iron from meat differently than iron from vegetables. Your body will have to absorb protein and iron in different ways, so you should give it time to adjust. I spent two years becoming a vegetarian.
3) Make a plan with goals. There are two main ways to cut meat out of your diet in increments. The first is to do it by days. You could start with a meatless Monday and, over time, add in more and more days. Or you could do it by categories of meats, which is what I did. I took out ham, then pork, then red meats, etc.
4) Allow yourself imperfect progress. It is okay to “cheat” occasionally as you make the transition. That may be your body’s way of saying that you are moving too fast or that your vegetarian diet still needs tweaking. It is more important to do what is right for you than to try to meet some perceived standard.
5) Don’t be afraid to change your end goal. Everyone is different. If you perpetually feel weak and tired, you should consider a change. I have had friends who gave up vegetarianism because they were chronically anemic, while others have always had high iron counts as vegetarians. There are ways you can still meet your goals. If you are concerned about mass production of meat products, but find that anemia is a problem, you can make an effort to buy meat from local sources. I reiterate: there is no standard of perfection. Do what is right for your well-being.
I spent this much time on vegetarianism because I think that the same ideas apply to diets, in general. It is important to make a lifestyle change rather than jump on a fad diet. It is important to take it slow and let your body adjust. It is important not to give up after set-backs, cheat days, or failures—imperfect progress is okay. And, most importantly, you should not dictate your health based on some perceived standard. Not everyone is built to be a vegan or even a vegetarian. Not everyone is built to weigh a certain number or fit into a certain size. Life is about balancing healthy living with enjoying your life. You can still be a healthy eater and enjoy a Speculoos cookie once in a while.