I long for my days as a vegetarian. June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, which reminds me that for many years I was able to say no to meat and fowl. I never made it to vegan status as I kept fish and eggs in my diet, but I know I was thinner and had a more conscious and respectful relationship with food than I do now. I still treat food like medicine by eating the good stuff when I’m in the habit of caring for myself and loving myself, which should be a constant. By the same token, I eat the poisonous stuff when I’m in addiction mode, which means if I’m even slightly down or battling depression, I tend to look at food---my drug of choice---for comfort. Many people do, but that doesn’t make it OK for me and my body that revolts in every way.
If you’re wondering why I fell off the wagon, I’ll tell you. I never expected it would happen because I thought I had adopted such a strong aversion to eating creatures. I used to cringe at the mere sight of dead animals in packages, as well as the thought of what ingesting their cooked flesh would do to me. I was 20 when I made the switch because I was suddenly more bloated than I had ever been and feeling terrible. The elimination of meat was a miraculous gift from me to me---body, mind and spirit---a holistic choice unlike any other.
There were times when it was difficult, especially because so many of my friends and family members just didn’t get it. Times like Thanksgiving and barbecues were the worst. But I got through it and didn’t mind eating turkey, hot dog or hamburger alternatives. I loved juicing and the challenge to create meals using meat alternatives set me on a culinary adventure that led to the discoveries of seitan, kamut, veggie burgers, tempeh, the many uses for tofu, among other things.
Then one day when I was 32 and pregnant with my first child, my now 14-year-old son, I woke up in the morning and felt a kick inside unlike the usual pushes and punches from my baby. It was the most profound craving for a turkey sandwich with coleslaw on rye EVER. I never really liked turkey much, but that day I had to have it and suddenly I couldn’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t.
I still am a big believer in following your food intuition. We often know what nutrients we are lacking by what we are craving. Cravings can also indicate overload or addiction, such as with sugar, which means we need less. I have to assume my body needed more protein that day and for some reason nothing but turkey would do the trick.
I used to plead with other people to consider the amount of time meat takes to break down in the digestive system, to think about the hormones and the nitrates and the needless calories and the extra weight. But that day after eating that gosh darn turkey sandwich---a day that will live in infamy---I was convinced it was OK to eat anything and everything once again. And once again, I experienced those old familiar demons: irritable bowels, indigestion, nausea, bloating and weight gain, which had returned from their apparently shallow graves to attempt to ruin me.
The good news is I came back around to remembering what I didn’t like about meat and returned to my senses. I now consider myself a flexitarian.
Since wishing can’t make it so, I have to fess up to the fact that I did not coin this term. Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner wrote “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life” in 2009.
I didn’t even need to read the book to tell you how convinced by that title I have become. When someone asks if I’m vegetarian (I get that question often for some reason), I have to think about it for a moment. For the most part, I am, because I don’t eat meat every day, or sometimes even every week. I’m happy to say, meat is hardly the focus of my diet and never will it be again.
My current battle, however, is against white flour, sugar and gluten. Not easy! But the first assumption has to be made that I actually feel like eating a piece of meat or chicken. Then, my I have a check list that fires like any other synapse in my brain as a matter of reflex.
- Is this equivalent to candy? Meaning, is this meat nutritious in the way it has been prepared or frivolous to my caloric intake? Not that I ever eat it, but a good example is a fast-food hamburger. In my mind, I might as well devour a candy bar that I will enjoy with every cell of my being or a garbage burger that I won’t enjoy either for the flavor or the nutritional value.
- Is this the best source of protein available to me right now? The fact that I even reach for meat indicates an immediate need for protein. I ask myself if I would I feel just as good if I had a protein shake. The answer depends on the next question.
- Is this meat good quality? You could say it’s the same criteria as the first one I mentioned. However, it could be a piece of meat from a restaurant that may not be a fast food joint, but the quality may still be lacking.
If I can answer favorably to all of these questions, guess who’s not a vegetarian that day? I have adopted the everything-in-moderation approach to eating, which has given me some breathing room. I suppose that may also be the best approach to my flour-gluten-sugar dilemma.