For the last six years I've prided myself in being vegetarian. It all started as a New Year’s resolution back in 2008. Every year I set goals for myself to accomplish during the year, and as 2008 approached, I started thinking about what it was I wanted to accomplish during the year. While I was debating this, I watched a movie called Fast Food Nation in which they show you in pretty graphic detail how cows are slaughtered. Within a few days of watching that, I stumbled upon a PETA ad showing the cruel ways chickens are raised. After two minutes of watching it, I found my resolution. No meat for one year.
Based on the way I was eating back in 2007, the transition wasn’t going to be too difficult. The first couple of weeks were great. The only thing I started to miss was In-and-Out burgers, but that was something I could easily live without and let the cravings come and go. As the months moved on, it was easier and easier, and all of a sudden 2009 came around and I still didn't eat meat. I found that I felt lighter, had more energy and I was generally making better food choices because of it.
During this time, I was training for triathlons, and though I was burning more calories than the average person each day, I was still feeling amazing. Being a vegetarian was now part of who I was, and it was great. In 2010, during my first yoga teacher training I dabbled in veganism, and it was magical. When you go that strict in terms on diet, it's really easy to tell what works for your body and what doesn’t. While it only lasted about five months, I felt I at least gave it a good shot.
Fast forward to 2014. I started the year with a new passion, CrossFit. Because of the heavy lifting training and general intensity of the workouts, the recommended diet for CrossFitters is Paleo, which basically means meat and vegetables. I knew that there were raw/vegan CrossFitters who were strong and competing at elite levels, so initially I thought, No problem, I can stay vegetarian and still train and get stronger. I just had to be more aware of my protein intake and cook in a way that supported that.
But here's the thing: I hate cooking. So staying vegetarian and still monitoring and better incorporating protein into my diet in was going to be a challenge. During this time, I was also teaching a lot of yoga classes. Teaching yoga is my full-time job with a focus in training athletes. As an athlete myself, I train hard to stay connected to my inner athlete so I can relate to those I teach. As I started training more and lifting heavier weights, I was noticing I didn’t have enough energy and felt as if I didn’t have any “umph.”
I asked the coaches and it always came back to the same thing: protein, more specifically animal protein. There was a constant battle with my identity of being a yoga teacher and vegetarian with my new lifestyle, which was pushing me toward becoming a meat eater. A few weeks ago, my new lifestyle won.
That was the day I ate chicken. I went to the grocery store, bought one of those rotisserie chickens (because I wasn't about to cook one for myself and have it taste gross), made some risotto and asparagus, and ate my dinner. I just decided one day that the only thing stopping me from eating it was my identification with being a yoga teacher and vegetarian.
I had built up this idea in my head that being vegetarian was something that made me special, made me a better person because I had the willpower not to eat whatever I wanted. What I realized as I looked at my dinner plate was that, instead of depriving myself of food because I think that makes me better, I should eat to nourish my body. Right now in my life, I need meat. Don’t get me wrong -- I'm not about to go to the store and buy some steaks for me to chow down on, but I can already feel a difference and it's only been a week.
As you read this, my goal is not to convince you to eat meat if you’re vegetarian, or vice versa. My goal is to show you that our bodies and our goals change, and to listen to what your body truly needs in the present moment, whether it's meat or fish or being dairy free.
You're the only one who knows what it's like to be you, what you feel every single day and how much energy you have. Eat to feel healthy and strong, and stay away from processed or manufactured foods. Eat to sustain your level of activity, whether you work out twice a week, six times a week or not at all. Eat vegetables because they're good for you and will give you nutrients that you need.
Your life will change, your body will change. Learn to embrace the change to weaken the level of suffering. Most importantly, know that your needs will evolve and change throughout life, and that's OK!