As a yoga teacher, I've studied from many lineages, and I know that most promote vegetarian lifestyles. Most people feel that those who teach yoga should be at least vegetarian, if not vegan. I've even had a friend tell me she refused to go back to a yoga class after the teacher was spotted eating a ham sandwich.
I first became a vegetarian six years ago after watching the documentary Earthlings, and was convinced my life’s calling was to save animals from being tortured. My Facebook statuses borderlined on denouncing those who ate meat or posted the fancy veal dinners they ate. Naturally, I lost a few friends along the way.
As a vegetarian and sometimes vegan, my meals typically looked like this: I’d start off the morning with a green smoothie, oatmeal or multigrain cereal with almond milk, snack on grapes and cheese, and then have a veggie black bean burger with potatoes for dinner. Some nights I’d have frozen pizza or order take-out. In between meals I’d have a chai latte with a chocolate cookie or sweetened yogurt. After dinner, it was a glass of wine or a cup of ice cream.
Needless to say, I wasn’t a particularly healthy vegetarian. I often gorged on meat substitutes to stifle my meat cravings, and I rarely incorporated salads or more appropriate choices into my daily meals. But I told myself at least I wasn’t eating meat. At least I wasn’t taking someone’s life.
The Medical Diagnosis That Changed Everything
Then, a few months ago, I started having serious thyroid issues. For me, my hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease mean sweating profusely, having a heart rate of 140 bpm and being chronically fatigued. I am so physically exhausted I can’t even practice the gentlest of asana. When I’m in downward-facing dog, I feel like my heart is expanding and my breath becomes shallow.
My hair falls out easily from the brush of my fingers, and I’ve had so many irregular menstrual cycles that I took pregnancy tests practically every month before my diagnosis. I’m currently on two medications, and they’re slowly reducing my symptoms. But I still have a long way to go.
My doctor is a kind 68-year-old woman with a thick Russian accent who checks up on me each week to see how I’m feeling. The first time I saw her, she told me I had arrhythmia and asked if I was more stressed than usual. “Stressed?” I laughed. “I’m a yoga teacher.”
“So? Yoga teachers get stressed too,” she replied.
I was always wary of doctors before I met her, but after a few visits I came to trust her advice. So when she told me I should start eating meat again, after six years of being vegetarian, I only hesitated slightly.
My doctor said I could help balance my thyroid by eating foods rich in iodine, and suggested fish, turkey and eggs. She also said I should avoid eating wheat and that I was low on iron. “You need meat,” she insisted.
At a holiday party, I casually mentioned to a yoga teacher colleague that my doctor said eating meat could help alleviate my symptoms. He gawked at me as if I had just told him his dog had passed. “She’s absurd! You don’t need meat,” he said dismissively. “You’re a yoga teacher.”
Bringing Meat Back Into My Diet — And Benefiting
To be honest, I was heartbroken as I bit into my first non-vegetarian meal, a salmon burger. An hour before my dinner, I had seen articles on my news feed advocating for plant-based diets. I ended up having to unsubscribe from so many of my favorite sites.
But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my body adapted to the new diet. I’d read stories of how vegetarians and vegans would feel sick when they first started eating animals, but my body didn’t react that way. In fact, when I was a vegetarian I was sluggish and bloated after each meal. But that day after my burger, I never had so much energy.
Since I started eating this way, my sugar craving has greatly subsided and I'm no longer wholly dependent on four cups of coffee diluted with almond milk each morning.
Aside from my increased energy, my jeans don’t feel as tight after meals and I've noticed less shed hair on my wooden floors. My palm sweats have also decreased and the tremors aren’t as frequent.
As I wait for my heart rate to decrease so I can muster up the strength to exercise, I can feel my health restoring slowly.
On a typical day now, I keep to my green smoothies in the morning, then eat hard-boiled eggs with a half cup of plain and sugar-free Greek yogurt, a chicken and arugula salad for lunch, and sweet potatoes with a small serving of turkey at dinner. I try to chew slowly, fighting through the incessant hunger pangs brought on by my thyroid, and really savor my food, relishing all the new flavors I’m experiencing in my palate.
I’ve been eating meat for about a month now. When I first started, I said a silent prayer for the animals on my plate. Each day I’m fighting with my conscience, but I know eating meat right now is the best thing I can do for my health.
I can come up with a ton of ways for me not to eat animal products right now and let my guilt consume me, or I can wait to see what happens a few months from now. I honestly do not know whether I’ll stick to this diet, because my body could change down the line. It’s possible I could want to revert back to my old lifestyle. But if I do decide to return to being vegetarian, I know I'll still avoid processed meat substitutes and continue eating gluten-free.
It’s taken me a while to accept that I, and only I, can make the right choices for my body. No one knows what it feels like to be in your body, to have all these ailments and feel stuck. And the debate about the best diets could go on forever.
But I do know that to practice yoga is to seek a deeper understanding, of oneself and of the world. I’m happy I finally found my truth: to listen to my inner voice gently guiding me toward what is right for me, and me only.
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