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: