Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My vegetarian failure

Recently I decided to try eating vegetarian again. While I've been cutting back on meat, I'd still been eating it at least every other day. I decided to see what happened when I cut it out entirely. I tried this back when I was in my early 20s and it didn't go well. I was lethargic, sad, and "fuzzy", problems which instantly disappeared when I started eating meat again.

But this time I was coming into it with more knowledge. I understood the importance of B12, iron, and protein, and made sure I was eating a balanced diet including fruits, veggies, eggs, beans, dairy, and whole grains. Last time I got a physical my numbers were all in the good/excellent range, so I wasn't worried about coming in with a deficiency.

The first couple of days were fine. Then last night I got extremely emotional and collapsed into a crying jag. I felt overwhelmed with sadness. I wrote it off and went to bed, only to find I had real difficulty getting to sleep. Today, when I tried to work, I found I couldn't concentrate. I had persistent brain fog that interfered with my ability to get things done. Since I knew I'd had these problems when I stopped eating meat before, I decided to pick up some lean beef for lunch and see how I felt afterward. Even as I went to the store, I was berating myself. I was lazy and undisciplined. I was a bad person for not being able to do this.

Very shortly after a meaty lunch, these depressed feeling lifted entirely. I'm still tired from sleeping poorly last night, but I'm no longer wanting to cry or having negative thoughts, and the brain fog has lifted.

This is frustrating, since philosophically I agree with a vegetarian diet. But when I try to implement it, the physical side effects keep me from maintaining it. If I had the time and resources to work closely with a doctor and dietician, I'm confident we could craft a meat-free diet that met my individual nutrition needs. But I don't have the free time or money to put that level of attention on my diet right now, when a simple, occasional addition of meat, meets all my needs.

I came out of this experiment with a couple of takeaways: 1) I am incredibly grateful to have access to a diet that meets all of my nutritional needs while keeping me balanced. I have a greater appreciation for, and consciousness of, what I eat. 2) I have renewed respect for my vegetarian and vegan friends who are able to make that diet work for them. I'm sure some of you have run into sticking points. But, whatever your reasons, eschewing meat and animal products was important enough to you to power through them.

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