I was raised on a farm showing cattle for slaughter and consumption. There wasn’t a meal that passed without meat being a part of it. I believed that all farmers treated their animals with the love and attention we gave our animals and thought of organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as exploiting the methods of the few who abused their responsibility. (It would be many years later that I would come to realize how our farm was a part of the minority.)
To this day, I still regret chastising one of my college roommates for being a vegetarian. Luckily, I have chosen to use the analyzation of this past experience as a learning and personal growth event which highlights the “rose-colored glasses” phenomena I was experiencing. *I find it absolutely fascinating that our childhood experiences adorn us with a particular lens in which we are unaware we can change out. * For you cyclists out there, this is like riding your bicycle in the evening with clear lenses and during the day with dark lenses. You can choose to change your lenses out as you grow into adulthood and gather your own data and experiences.
This is powerful! Even though I wore lens A as a child, I have come to choose lens B and reject the assumptions I had as a child. This is not easy. This is also not common. We are all products of our environment, but I am here to tell you, healthier habits and patterns can be had with a simple changing of the lens. All of the information is there waiting for you to discover, but you have to be open to receiving it.
Well into my twenties, I was convinced that I needed meat with each meal to have the energy I needed to do my job which required hours of standing in an operating room. I believed that I would become queasy without it. I still was not in a place to change to a different colored lens.
One night I was cooking chicken and was overwhelmed with how much I wasted when I was cleaning it. That singular moment is when I decided to cut chicken out of my diet, which ultimately started my 7-year transition to a whole foods plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle. I was finally ready to head to the store and try on new glasses and continue changing them out for new ones until I got it right.
I am not a “Cold Turkey” success story which is what prompted me to discuss the evolution of a healthy diet and share one more way to “skin a cat” (I can’t believe how many animal-related idioms we have- and these are quite disturbing if we think about the literal terms! :$).
During this 7-year period, I identified with a concept known as the “flexitarian” lifestyle or “Flex”, as I call it, which believes in consuming less meat at meals yet not wasting food that is offered to you. Or perhaps, a way of life which allowed me to start cutting down on meat consumption, but didn’t limit my lifestyle in any way, as I saw it at the time.
Here are some examples of a Flex way of life:
- Using less meat than is called for in a lasagna recipe and subbing in more vegetables to add the desired volume and nutritional benefits.
- Only ordering vegetarian options at restaurants but still trying friend’s dishes with meat or fish.
- Only eating meat when in a situation where a special meal was prepared and it is meat-centric- such as at a holiday dinner or birthday party at a neighbor’s house.
- Only eating a meat dish on the weekend or when at gatherings with friends.
Each of these options may resonate with you as a potential option to increase vegetable consumption and lower meat consumption. As you begin to fill up on vegetables, your meat portions become smaller, and everyone wins in this situation! Suddenly, troubling issues with weight and a guilty conscience start to melt away…
I wish it were that easy, but The Flex lifestyle is definitely a step in the right direction!
Just remember that wherever you are in your quest for your happiest and healthiest self, you are in control of what you put in your body. Your friends, family and work colleagues may start to notice some of these smaller changes that you are making to your diet, and hopefully these are positive and encouraging interactions.
Conversely, should you be met with skepticism and criticism, don’t be afraid to change your mind about your choices if you aren’t quite ready to deal with those conversations. I definitely found myself in these predicaments and just wasn’t in a place to take the public criticism head-on for many years.
This is the idea of Flex! Do what feels right at the time and don’t beat yourself up later about it.
When I decided to start adhering to a cleaner diet little more, I came up with some ways to help me improve that success rate. For example, I used to get to restaurants early or leave for the restroom to have a private conversation with a waiter about what I wanted on my plate, as to avoid any commentary from my guests upon ordering. Both of these options served me well for years! It turned into another treasure hunt: how to engage the waiter on my meal preference so others wouldn’t notice. This only really became an issue when I started transitioning from vegetarian to a whole foods plant-based diet and my decision to cut dairy (including cheese and butter!) out of my meals.
It’s important the waiter understands what exactly it is that you are asking for and sometimes they have to check with the chef to see if they can accommodate your request-asking for meals without butter can blow people’s minds! IF they can’t, be prepared for a really bland, boring meal (think steamed veggies with no seasoning) or be prepared to Flex a little that night (veggies cooked in butter)- without beating yourself up! You are doing the best you can with what you have and that is definitely good enough!
I hope this discussion opens your mind to the endless possibilities in the restrictions you can or cannot place on your diet. Whatever decision you decide to make, if you look at it as a complete lifestyle verses an actual diet, you will be more likely to succeed in reaching your goal.
Nobody (initially) likes the idea of limiting the intake of certain delicious foods. You work hard and deserve to indulge in the foods on your plate; however, if you are wanting to change your habits to achieve a happier and healthier you consider indulging oven-baked potato wedges instead of duck fat french fries, or switch from the chocolate mousse cake to the cacao-banana smoothie; you have the power. Within a matter of weeks, your body won’t want the fried foods or triple-cream cheese. Your body will crave the tart greens and sweet fruits, and your brain with new-found willpower will be there as your body guard when temptations arise.
In the end, it will be up to you (in that powerful head of yours) if you choose to put hummus on your cracker instead of cheese. The first step is to realize how powerful you are! You are the master of your path and habits!
*Healthspiration* Take a first step to your happiest and healthiest self and embrace the Flex lifestyle by increasing vegetable consumption and lowering meat consumption.
*Opportunity Discovery* Find ways in your life you can easily make changes without others noticing. This will help gain confidence to make bigger and bolder decisions later on when/if the time is right for you. Consider promoting an office-wide Meatless Monday challenge or see if your favorite restaurant can accommodate a healthier version of your favorite dish. Opt for the vegetable side instead of the mac and cheese and ask for your veggies to be cooked in a healthy oil instead of butter. What are your baby steps and what change can you make today to start building self-confidence?
What are your thoughts on a Flex lifestyle and what is the definition for you? Have you incorporated flexible diet plans which are steps leading to your happiest and healthiest self you would like to share? Please comment below!
Stay tuned for my discussion on two other lifestyles: vegan-ish and reducetarian. Do either of these words resonate with you?