For the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer and contemplation regarding the foods I choose to eat and the foods that I choose not to eat. And in the last week, I’ve decided to fully shed the “vegetarian” label and shift my diet to incorporate seafood. Technically, I guess my new label would be “pescatarian” though I’ve never been a huge fan of food labels since they seem to be less about what is best for the individual and more about fitting yourself into a narrow box.
Perhaps it sounds silly to say I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer regarding my diet, but the food we put in our bodies makes a big impact on the way we live our lives, so it seemed appropriate to bring this to God just like I would anything else. As most of you already know, I’ve been a vegetarian for three years this month. Just writing that, I can’t believe that it’s been three whole years since I dramatically changed my lifestyle. I started eating vegetarian out of curiosity, but found that the lifestyle suited me so well that I didn’t want to return to my previous way of eating. My meals became heavily focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and non-meat sources of protein, like hummus, beans and lentils, veggie burgers, Greek yogurt and my beloved nut butters.
I felt fantastic and enjoyed pushing myself to think about meals in a different way. Instead of planning what meat I was going to eat and deciding on vegetables and whole grains later, I started thinking about my meals in a different light. My job as a food editor prevented me from eating 100% vegetarian; every now and again I would take a bite of a meat-based dish at a taste panel because developing meat-based recipes was part of the job description. Additionally, I would take a bite here and there of something I made for Joe that contained meat because I was curious about the flavor profile. For me, being vegetarian was never about not eating animals because of ethical reasons, it was about eating as healthfully as I could and doing what felt right for my body. For the past three years, being vegetarian has felt very right.
However, over the past few weeks I felt a strong prompting to more closely examine the way I was eating and how my body was responding. I would absolutely not say that I felt bad, but I would say that I wasn’t feeling 100% optimal. Something started to feel lacking in a way that I can’t fully describe. I’m sure some people will jump to the conclusion that I wasn’t doing vegetarianism “right” – that I wasn’t eating varied, balanced meals with plenty of protein. I can promise you that is not true. I tracked protein consumption and food combinations religiously, closely examining what I consumed each day to make sure that my diet was well-rounded and complete.
But despite those efforts, there were a few troubling things that I can’t pretend don’t exist. My period hasn’t been consistent in over a year and my skin (which is often seen as a window to your health) has been unhappy. And then there are the issues that I’ve had with my hair over the past seven or eight months. Nothing major but enough to make me do a double take and think a little bit more about my diet. Will eating fish and seafood change this? I have no idea but I guess I’ll find out.
I prayed, I read more articles on vegetarianism (and articles from those who used to be veg) than I ever did in the past, I tried to imagine eating different types of seafood. It sounded just fine to me. I tried to imagine eating chicken, beef or pork. The thought made me want to gag. The hardest thing for me to get over was, by far, the idea that the way I described myself would have to change. For three years I’ve been a vegetarian and identified myself as such. It’s guided my conversations, my blog, and who I am as a person. Diets are deeply personal and become a part of who we are as people in the process. But for me, my body and my health, it seems more important to identify with the food that makes me feel balanced.
So where does that leave me today? I’m hoping to incorporate fish or seafood into our meals at least three times a week in some way, shape or form. Other than that, I don’t think much will change. I am still planning on eating the way I have been the rest of the time, so day-to-day I don’t think my meals will look all that different. No matter how my eating style changes and evolves throughout my life, the vegetarian style of eating (thinking about veggies, whole grains and non-meat proteins first) is something I think all of us can reap a lot from health-wise.
I would love to open this up for discussion and hear from any of you who have had experiences with different eating styles, vegetarianism, or eating vegetarian for a time and then shifting your eating style to something else that suited your body better. Since diet can be deeply personal, I’m hoping that we can keep the dialogue respectful and kind, while also sharing differing points of view. I am so excited to read what you guys have to say!