Guest Post: Becoming the Odd Duck Reviews ‘The Flexitarian Diet’

I am so excited to share Laura’s post with you all.  I am so glad that I ‘met’ Laura through blogging – her passion for health shines through in everything that she writes, and her example and encouragement has really helped me to clean up my diet.

I truly feel that healthy and compassionate eating is all about progress not perfection. Laura’s review of The Flexitarian Diet and her own approach to eating serve as a great example of this.

As you’re thinking through your New Year’s Resolutions, this is one post you don’t want to miss! 

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Hi readers! I’m Laura from Becoming the Odd Duck and I am so honored to be taking over Diana’s blog today. Diana is seriously (in my opinion!) one of the most amazing women I’ve met in our blogosphere. She’s so genuine, kind and respectful and I consider myself so lucky to call her one of my friends!

I wanted to talk about something near and dear to Diana’s heart today – vegetarian eating. The truth is, I’m not a vegetarian. But in the last six months or so, I’ve made big changes in my diet and started to embrace more vegetarian meals and I’ve cut way back on my meat consumption.

I grew up in a mostly vegetarian household. My mom decided to stop eating all meat, other than fish, when I was 5. While she didn’t ban my brother or myself from eating meat, she rarely served it at home. I would eat meat at my grandparent’s house and once a week when I was allowed to buy lunch at school. Other than that, we only had meat at home on very special occasions until we were old enough to start asking her to buy us lunchmeat and such for sandwiches.

I have never been a “carnivore” as some would say, but after starting college – I adapted a more typical American diet. I would generally eat meat for lunches and dinners and often my plate centered around the meat first. I would eat meat with breakfast on special occasions – but I definitely had days where meat was a part of each meal I ate.

Back in 2008, I started cleaning up my diet and focusing on my health again. Slowly since that time, I’ve adapted to eating less meat. Vegetarian meals would be made in our house once or twice a week and we switched from making meat the center of the meal, to a side dish with the vegetables taking the most space. As time as passed, the percentage of my weekly meals that were vegetarian had increased, but at a very slow rate.

The big game changer for me happened in August, when I attended Healthy Living Summit and heard Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner speak on the concept of flexitarian eating. I was familiar with the concept of flexitarian eating, but hadn’t spent any time considering my own diet being flexitarian.

First – let me give you a brief overview of Dawn’s points. A plant based diet has been proven repeatedly to be the cornerstone of disease prevention and good health. When we eat meat, we are less likely to include as many plants on our plate. It’s just common sense if you have a 3 oz serving of meat on a plate, that’s space you can’t fill with plants. As a nutrition student myself, I couldn’t argue with the points Dawn made for a plant based diet (which far span what I’ve said so far). However, I personally couldn’t (and still can’t) give up meat at this point in my life.

Dawn further explained the flexitarian concept. Flexitarian eaters consume a plant based diet, with “memorable meat moments” included. These memorable meat moments are the times that we don’t want to give up meat – like eating your grandma’s brisket or having Thanksgiving dinner. However, each time we eat meat – it’s memorable, for a reason and we thoroughly enjoy the meal.

In my opinion, this is such a far cry from the typical American, or at least from the old me. I would eat meat because it expected. Meat was a part of every meal and I never questioned whether I wanted to eat the meat, I just did. Stopping to take time and enjoy the meat on your plate and having it be special to you is such a novel concept to most people in America. However, it’s effective and every meal without meat makes a difference. Not only are you healthier from eating a more plant based diet, you are more connected to your food and enjoy eating it. In my practice, this has made me a generally more mindful person when it comes to my food and I’m much more likely to listen to what my body wants to eat rather that what I’m conditioned to eat.

The brilliant part of Dawn’s flexitarian eating style is the different levels of a flexitarian.

               A beginner flexitarian eats 6 (out of 21) meals a week meat-free.

               An intermediate flexitarian eats 9-12 meals a week meat-free.

               An expert flexitarian eats 15+ meals a week meat-free.

I loved how she encouraged people that even reaching a beginner level will help improve your health. This is honestly the concept that sold me because I was already at a beginner level (not eating meat for breakfast) and I was encouraged to keep working my way up the scale.

Since coming back from HLS and implementing some of Dawn’s strategies, I have switched to a diet where I eat meat, on average, once a day. I have many days where I eat vegetarian for the entire day, and other days where I might have meat twice a day – usually on the weekends. I generally eat meat at dinner and make the meal from scratch, which makes the meat more meaningful and special to me.

And since making these changes, I’ve had three big “rewards” from this new eating style I’ve adapted.

               First – I started eating beans and nuts daily since cutting back on the meat. By doing so, I’ve been able to cut out a lot of the carbohydrates I was eating and I find I personally am able to lose weight much faster eating less carbohydrates.

               Second, I am more conscious of the meats I do buy. I buy organic and hormone-free meats when they are available at my store. This not only is better for the environment and my health, it’s a better quality and makes the meat more enjoyable when I eat it. In the past, I never gave much attention to the source of the meat I bought. I’m really glad I’ve changed my buying practices now!

               Third, I’m eating much more fish now – particularly salmon which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. I never ate fish previously, but now I would say I eat salmon once a week on average. I actually crave salmon, which definitely has never happened to be before! Let’s hope my HDL levels are improving as we speak  :-)

So guys – even if you aren’t vegetarian, there are definite health advantages to eating more vegetarian meals. I’m very interested to see how my blood tests come back in a few months when I have my annual check-up at the doctor. I’m hoping to see some definite improvements in my cholesterol levels and glucose (from the reduced carbohydrate intake)! I also feel so much healthier from eating so many more vegetables, beans and nuts since cutting back on my meat and carbohydrates.

And don’t think you are alone in this in your house. You can transition your family members into eating a few meat-free meals each week. Casseroles are wonderful for this purpose – they will never even know what is missing! You can also decide to skip the meat on your plate while everyone else eats it. In my house, my boyfriend specifically asks for “meat-free” weeks every now and then, where he focuses only on eating plant proteins. Coming from my boyfriend, who LOVES meat, I am still amazed he does this! But as soon as I explained the nutritional benefits of eating meat-free sometimes, he caught on!

If you are interested in The Flexitarian Diet, Dawn has written a book that outlines the entire strategy and gives recipes and meal plans. I own the book and I must say, I love it. It’s full of great research and evidence for a plant-based diet. Dawn also has a Flex FAQ on her website if you want more information immediately.

 

Is anyone else out there like me and follow a flexitarian diet?