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The Flexitarian Diet: Best of Both Worlds

Updated on April 3, 2012
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Kim is a board-certified Holistic Health Coach, Healthy Living and Cleanse Consultant, and studied under Drs. Andrew Weil and Walter Willet.

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What is a flexitarian?


For those of you who have never heard of the definition of “flexitarian,” it is described as “(n) a person who eats a predominantly vegetarian diet, but who eats meat or fish occasionally.” (Dictionary.com)

So the key here, my friends, is the word “occasionally.” Some people may call it “Semi-Vegetarian.” Whatever fancy name that you decide on, the important thing is to understand the concept and reasoning behind this diet.

Being a flexitarian is a more flexible, and realistic way to focus on eating more green vegetables and fruits. It's important to distinguish the difference between someone who eats mostly a vegetarian diet and occasionally eat meat, rather than the other way around.

I have come to the conclusion that the best option for me when it comes to following a healthy meal plan is to adapt a flexitarian lifestyle.


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A quick story about failure


I have been battling with my weight since college. My college roommate was a vegetarian and also a size “0”. After observing her food preference and eating habits, I learned that she was a vegetarian. So of course at the age of 19, the dumb and naïve thing to do was to mimic her.

I was pleased to see that the pounds were dropping. Yet, I was depressed and ALWAYS hungry. I had to fight off food cravings like they were evil spirits wanting to fatten my body up with bad stuff. It was definitely the epitome of a love-hate relationship one's body. At the end of the day, it was purely EXHAUSTING. Needless to say, I failed at trying to be a vegetarian.

The word “vegetarian” to me is a negative declaration of too many “no’s.” You can’t eat this, you can’t eat that. A meat-free diet can be challenging to stay on and for YEARS, I have given up many times. It was a never-ending emotional roller coaster ride.

Then I discovered the book “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Happier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life.” by Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD,LDN.

I learned that the Flexitarian Diet fits my lifestyle, and unlike many fad-diets, it is a sensible lifestyle approach to eating more plant-based meals and minimizing meat without completely giving it up. I can still reap the benefits of eating vegetables, whole grains, and fruits without feeling guilty whenever I slip up.

Starting the day with a healthy breakfast.
Starting the day with a healthy breakfast. | Source

How does it fit in with my lifestyle?


My mother was a wonderful cook. Growing up, I loved to eat every single one of her dishes. The Vietnamese diet consisted of mostly vegetables and herbs, with a variety of meat-based noodle soups, rice, tofu, and fish. Although there were mostly vegetables on the dining table, we often ate meat.

Over the years I studied nutrition so I was fully aware of what type of food fuels my body and what type of food will do damage. It became difficult and overwhelming to balance it all. Now that I am in my 30's, I finally figured it out.

So with the flexitarian diet, I take the 80/20 approach to eating. For the majority of my meals, I usually focus on eating whole organic foods from the farmer’s markets, and always pile my plate up with vibrant greens and colorful fruits. My morning ritual is a green smoothie full of vegetables and fruits.

The other 20% of my meat-eating moments are saved for special occasions, such as birthday parties, BBQ’s or family celebrations. Once in a while I allow myself to indulge in my favorite bowl of Pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle. C’mon, I have already given up white rice. Give this Vietnamese girl some breathing room!

Many people are simply eating fewer meat due to their own reasons, such as health, economic reasons, or simply because they are trying to lose weight or advocate for animal cruelty. My reason is all of the above, but I’m aiming to be more successful at it and finding the right balance in eating healthy and coming to terms with food.



I eat fruits EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I eat fruits EVERY SINGLE DAY. | Source
How can I deny my mother's homemade bowl of "PHO" beef noodle soup? This meal takes HOURS to perfect.
How can I deny my mother's homemade bowl of "PHO" beef noodle soup? This meal takes HOURS to perfect. | Source
My signature dish: chicken curry. Most of the time I make a vegetarian curry and substitute tofu or tempeh for the chicken.
My signature dish: chicken curry. Most of the time I make a vegetarian curry and substitute tofu or tempeh for the chicken. | Source

Benefits to being a flexitarian


Being a flexitarian gives me the health benefits of a vegetarian diet without having to beat myself up every time I slip up and eat a piece of chicken.

It’s just too hard to be perfect! Cutting back on meat is a practical compromise that benefits my body as well as the environment. I refuse deal with failure when it comes to eating anymore. There are so many reasons to my decision to be a flexitarian.

  • Weight loss. Wake-up call: you’re getting older and your metabolism sucks! I can’t eat the way I used to eat in high school and expect to still have the same figure. At the same time, I can’t expect to run 6 miles and lose the same number of calories. It’s called aging, for those who are still clueless as to what I’m talking about.
  • Reduce grocery bill. Meat and poultry are more expensive. I am definitely cutting my grocery bill in half by eating less meat.
  • Easier meal planning. I don’t have to stress over planning vegetarian meals 100% of the time.
  • Saving the environment. Yes, I dare to say that. I know that that the industrial production and processing of grain-fed livestock consumes a lot of energy and has a negative impact on the environment. Americans eat about 200 pounds of meat, poultry, and fish a year. I can help reduce that number by eating a minuscule piece of meat once in a blue moon.
  • Role Model. My fiancé is still a big meat eater and processed dessert lover. I can’t be a hypocrite!
  • More fun at parties. I have a big family of 56+ (and growing) and we up for a potluck get-together EVERY month at a different member’s house. We love to eat, and boy, do we eat. I look forward to those potlucks because with our busy lives, that is the best effort I make to stay in touch with each other’s lives. Unfortunately, the family tradition also means every month I would have to resist temptation, tie my hands to my back and steer clear of the wonderful food. How depressing is that? Now I can eat the meals responsibly and enjoy myself.
  • Enjoy comfort food. My aunt loves to cook some great Vietnamese comfort food that just makes any bad day better. I hate having to say, “I can’t eat that meal you made because there’s beef in it.” I think it’s rude and inconsiderate since she usually puts her sweat and love in making it, although not so literally.
  • Flexibilty when dining out. Most restaurants offer vegetarian dishes anyway. Being a flexitarian, I am more conscious of choosing and eating a big salad as an entrée, maybe a little bit of roasted chicken as a side dish.

Other articles on nutrition that you might enjoy!

How to transition to being a flexitarian?


As the name suggest, the key here is FLEXIBILTY.

A typical Flexitarian Diet provides 1500 calories, divided into 3 meals and two snacks. You can lower this caloric intake if your main goal is to lose weight. My goal is to be healthy and maintain current weight so my meal plan is different from yours.

If you are interested in transitioning to this eating style, it is recommended that you gradually start replacing meat with more vegetables and healthy grains. For example, start by having "meatless Mondays" and change it to 2 "meatless days," then 3 meatless days" and so forth. The important thing is that you focus on eating more plant-based food and less meat.

Currently, I am at the level where meat is more like a condiment or side dish instead of the focal point of my meal. 

Wrapping it up...


Being a flexitarian has helped me make better choices, eat healthier, save money, love food, lose weight, and maintain that weight. As a result I have never felt happier and healthier by adding more cancer-reducing green plants and beauty-enhancing fruits to my diet.This diet plan works for me. Perhaps one day I will transition to being a full vegetarian, or even a vegan. But until then…I will stick to this lifestyle.

This video gives a step-by-step guide on how to eat flexitarian meals. Although I don't count calories, I do eat most of the suggested foods in the video.

Hub #7/30
Hub #7/30 | Source


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Copyright © 2012 Turtlewoman (Kim Lam)

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    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I hadn't heard the term flexitarian, but I like it. It describes exactly what I am doing - instead of being restrictive, I am just changing the ratios of my meat and vegetables. Sure I eat meat, but I usually use it more as a flavoring. But I don't feel guilty about eating a steak or a piece of chicken either.

      You've described it well, and your photos are very appetizing. Voted up.

    • Turtlewoman profile image
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      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Yes, it's all about finding the right ratio that works for you! I'm glad you've found the balance. Thanks for the vote, Millionaire tips!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      I have tried several times in my life to give up meat altogether and it has never worked for me or my husband. We feel too deprived. I have started making our meat portions smaller, but we still eat meat almost everymeal. This is a great hub that has given me some thngs to think about.

    • KimmiS profile image

      KimmiS 5 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      I do agree with cutting down on meat. Anything is better than nothing! But is it really necessary to give another label in this society that is so over-labelled already? I'm already confused by the 'vegetarians' who eat fish or chicken. It seems like flexitarian is just a complicated word for someone trying to limit their meat intake. Why the need to declare it?

      For example, a vegetarian wouldn't eat Auntie's soup, and would have to explain to her, it's because I'm vegetarian. But a flexitarian would just go right ahead and eat the soup.

      "OK Auntie, I love this soup but just so you know, this is my meat limit for the day, I'm flexitarian!"

      Also, I'm not sure what meat as a condiment means, but it sounds like you are still eating meat at most of your meals.

      Almost everyone is a 'semi-vegetarian'. You would be hard pressed to find a true carnivorous human. The more vegetarian you are, the better. I just don't agree with the need to label it.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Turtlewoman, I am back to let you know that I've included this hub in my weekly favorites list for the week ending March 11. Congrats!

    • Turtlewoman profile image
      Author

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Thanks millionaire tips, you are awesome! Thanks for mentioning me in your article.

      Thanks homesteadbound, feeling deprived just takes the joy out of eating!

    • Turtlewoman profile image
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      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      KimmiS- sorry you're confused about about the different labels that people describe their eating style. Yes, in fact there are so many, from vegetarians to vegans to pescatarians, and even Raw foodists! Then there's other lifestyle labels like "minimalist" or "Buddhist." It's more of a guideline to help me succeed in eating healthy and making the right choices. It's along the line of "Buddhism" being more of a philosophy that strict rules. The only negative thing about labels is the pressure for a person to live up to it. But in this case, it's the opposite- no pressure at all, only positive results.

      By the way, I mentioned that I eat 80/20 ratio of organic plants+fruits/meat. In fact, I rarely eat meat at all, not even breakfast or lunch. But on occasions when my aunt brings over her meat dish, I'll eat a bit of it. P.S, don't you call yourself a raw foodist in one of your articles?

      Thanks for your input!

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      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Wow! I've never heard of this but this is how I eat. I rarely eat red meat and do not like much chicken but I eat eggs and fish. I think this is a great way to eat healthy and get the benefits from occasional protein!

    • Turtlewoman profile image
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      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Hi Kelley,

      Thanks for stoping by! I'm glad you eat healthy as well! I get my protein from eating eggs on the weekend too. Love, love, love, did I mention I love eggs?

    • KimmiS profile image

      KimmiS 5 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Turtlewoman:

      You are probably correct in noting that I consider myself a 'raw foodist'. I also don't consider a raw foodist to eat 100% raw, since almost none of them do. Hence my disdain for labels! I used to call myself vegan but quit since I am only 95% vegan, and still enjoy things like honey. So I am a mostly raw, mostly vegan vegetarian. Yikes!

      Believe me, I approve of your eating habits, and your drive to be both healthy and balanced in a way that works for you (and many others). It's the labeling that I've just had too much of.

      I call myself a raw foodist, and then a friend sees me eating some hot soup and I get 20 Q's. So, in my personal life I prefer to leave the labels out now...but in my online life I am promoting a certain lifestyle, so the labels seem more appropriate and less of a burden.

      On a separate note, your hub was well written, and I'm sure many people will find themselves under the same flexitarian label as you. I hope my comment did not give the impression that I thought otherwise!

    • Turtlewoman profile image
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      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Thanks Kimmy, I appreciate your clarification on the labeling. I also commend you for eating mostly raw, vegan! I've tried a couple of raw dishes myself, such as 'zucchini spaghetti' and loved it. So I actually love raw food, but still miss the hot soups that I grew up eating. I had no idea that raw foodist don't actually eat 100% raw. Not that it matters anyway, they're still eating healthier than the majority of population.

      Anyway, now that we've gotten that out of the way, say you and I go get a smoothie and talk more about food lol! Have a great day! Cheers to good health :-)

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      This hub appeals to my senses in every way Turtle woman, and I admire your strength when it comes to sticking to your eating patterns, no matter the status of how others might view your choice in eating, and diet.

      I think being a Flexitarian is cool actually, because balance is what we all need, I'm more into the ratio thing as well but do not eat any red meats or poultry anymore, I eat fish and shrimp mostly with my green foods, and fruits.

      Oh by the way, your hub and your awesome insightful commenting has inspired me to add you to my hublove collection, and you already know how I do with it all, hopefully you like the hub I made for you. Thanks for being such a cool person, and for sharing with me so much here on hubpages in a sincere way. Also congrats on your 50 hubs achievement.

      Your hub here is not only getting voted up, its being shared everywhere I can.

    • Turtlewoman profile image
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      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      Hey Michael! Thank you so much for stopping by to read my article. I'm glad that we have something in common as far as pursuing a more healthier eating lifestyle. It is tough to stand by my choices when it comes to eating, especially when I live with someone who isn't on the same page. I can only educate and inspire others to eat healthy. It's not so much of a label, but a personal plan to allow myself to focus on making healthier food choices. I've even dabbled with vegan, raw, and paleo recipes here and there. For me, flexibility is key and restriction is a recipe for failure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts....and oh my goodness, thanks for adding me to your hub love collection! I'm heading over there to read right now!

    • cocopreme profile image

      Candace Bacon 5 years ago from Far, far away

      This is a great hub! A few years ago I had to stop being a full vegetarian, too. My health was sinking fast because I wasn't getting enough protein and I started developing food allergies. I still eat mainly vegetarian with a rare (pardon the pun) bit of meat every now and again.

      I guess I am a flexitarian. I hadn't heard the term until a few months ago. I think vegan/vegetarian diets work really well for some people. But I don't think everyone does well on them. Just getting a bit of extra protein every once in awhile helps me tremendously. And like you said, having the flexibility to eat whatever is a huge relief.

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