Many people initially feel great when giving up meat. Oftentimes, when people go vegetarian, they also eliminate processed foods and sugar, and their overall caloric intake will decrease. Although many feel that the elimination of meat is the solution, cutting out the junk food is often the real reason folks report more energy and weight loss.
Sometimes, though, people begin feeling like their body needs to eat meat again—and there's nothing wrong with that. Listening to your body is of the utmost importance, and for some people, a vegetarian or vegan diet simply doesn't feel good. Some simply need more protein, and animal products are the most bioavailable source. Plants contain only the precursor to vitamin A called beta-carotene. Almost half of the population has a genetic factor limiting their ability to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is important for healthy skin, eyes, and our immune systems.
Iron and B12 deficiency are also common, especially among women, and a meat-free diet can sometimes increase feelings of fatigue, depression, cold hands and feet, and dizziness.
The most important thing to realize is that there's no one diet that works for everyone, and if your health is suffering, it's OK to give yourself permission to eat meat.
If you’re one of the nearly 60 percent of people who became vegetarian because of ethical reasons, there are some great alternatives to factory-farmed meat. Animal abuse is certainly a great reason to avoid industrial meat, but the great news is, not all meat is raised in confinement. A visit to your local farmers market is a great way to meet the producers and ask them questions about how they raise their animals. I also recommend visiting the farm and seeing the animals firsthand.
From my clinical nutrition practice and after doing an informal poll on Facebook and Instagram of my ex-vegetarian followers, I’ve found that no one strategy is right when it comes to the reintroduction of animal products. Everyone is different when it comes to comfort level, texture, cooking skill, and "gross-out" factor. It’s important to start slow and work with a nutritionist who is knowledgeable about supplements if you find that meat or animal fats don’t agree with you initially. Here are some steps I recommend to my clients:
If you’ve been avoiding ALL animal products, consider starting with eggs, yogurt, or cheese as your first foods. Eggs, in particular, are easily digested by most and contain a powerhouse of nutrition. They’re one of the most perfect foods in nature. Try them scrambled with herbs or as an omelet, full of fresh seasonal veggies.
Enough said right there, quite possibly the "gateway meat."
Handling raw meat can be really overwhelming for someone who has avoided it for a period of time. Find a restaurant that sources good meat and have them prepare it for you. Bring a friend for support, pick something on the menu that sounds appetizing, and start slow. Some find burgers easiest to start with; others prefer fish or chicken dishes. Most people feel meat off the bone in small portions worked best.
Another way to avoid handling raw meat is to use meat from the salad bar, a rotisserie chicken, or frozen meat. You can find boneless skinless chicken breast at the grocery store that simply requires reheating or can be tossed into a slow cooker with some salsa or broth. Instant Pots are also incredibly convenient—they’re like a slow cooker on steroids.
Oysters, clams, and mussels are a lot easier for some to consider eating, and they happen to be incredibly nutrient-dense. They’re a very rich source of vitamin B12, iron, and many other minerals. Place them in a pot with some white wine and garlic or broth, and simmer until the shells open. Discard any with closed shells.
Sneak in the meat.
If the taste and texture of meat really bother you, consider being sneaky. Add a little bit of ground meat and bone broth to your favorite soup recipe. Incorporate some sliced chicken into your veggie curry. Make a stir-fry and include a few shrimp. Clients who had texture issues said that sausage, all-natural hot dogs, and salami were easiest for them.
Just go for it.
Some of my followers just told me they got a whole chicken or roast and just "went for it." There are so many videos and cooking classes available online that it’s actually pretty easy to master the art of preparing meat in little time. It’s also quite satisfying, and the leftovers can be transformed into tomorrow’s lunch or soup.
Befriend a farmer.
If you don’t have a good meat producer at your farmers market, check out Eatwild.com and Localharvest.org and search for one. Finding a trusted source for your meat is something everyone should take the time to do. And if you’re looking for a full farm immersion, check out Belcampo’s "Meat Camp." I’ll be headed there soon and am looking forward to learning more about their grass-fed beef, their Animal Welfare-Approved slaughterhouse, and how to grill over an open fire.
This food blogger started eating meat again after five years of avoiding it—here's how it's changed her life.