The Flexitarian Diet: Best of Both Worlds
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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.
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Copyright © 2012 Turtlewoman (Kim Lam)