I have been a vegetarian for two years. Samir and I both made the decision for a few reasons, he was studying the experience of animals during the war as part of his MA in History and found it difficult to be eating meat at the same time. I’d been cutting down on meat slowly, growing up I never ate beef purely because I didn’t like it and aside from bacon and fish other meat wasn’t that important to me. At the start, we decided to cut down on our meat intake and I continued to eat fish and then in March 2015 we made the decision to mostly remove it from our diets completely. I read up on the effects of meat consumption on the environment plus the obvious suffering of animals and I decided that morally, I wanted to stop eating animals. Aside from an accidental bite of a fish cake in Portugal and eating meat whilst in Morocco (more on that later) I haven’t eaten meat or fish since.
I became a vegetarian a while after I had decided to stop dieting and instead, eat as intuitively as possible. I needed a period of time where I was fully allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and I didn’t want to feel guilty if those choices included meat. They rarely did and when we decided to take the plunge I whole heartedly did not want to eat those products. Can you be a true intuitive eater as a vegetarian? Yes and no. The argument for yes is that if it’s a moral choice then it isn’t restrictive. The argument for no is that vegetarianism is a way of controlling your food, similarly to a diet, and therefore prevents you from making wholly free choices of what you can eat.
Whilst we were in Morocco, Samir and I both ate meat for a week. I didn’t stress about it or feel guilt for doing so. It was the right thing for us to do during that time and that’s fine. The thing that bugs me the most about my choice to be a vegetarian, is other people’s opinions. People are so quick to tell you that you can’t eat something e.g. Eating a rocky road with mini marshmallows on, yet I would never start ranting at someone for eating a ham sandwich. Others are also very quick to judge, as soon as you mention that you don’t eat meat, people want to know why and often argue with you about why that’s the wrong decision whereas when someone chooses to eat a burger, I don’t immediately ask for a list of all the reasons they’ve decided to do that that. But that’s the thing, it’s my decision and mine only and it is your decision and yours only. That being said, all of my close friends and family are really supportive and never treat me in the way forementioned. I approach my diet with a very open mind, if I woke up tomorrow and wanted to eat bacon, then I would. I think that the problems start when people are inflexible with their food choices. Adding guilt and shame to the decision to eating a certain way can equate to diet like behaviours e.g. Eating a bacon roll when it’s the only thing you can eat in a certain situation or just because it’s what you want to do, and then feeling anxiety around that choice could leave to overeating or a binge in response.
I feel in tune with my body, I decided to stop eating meat and fish for moral reasons and if at some point I truly want to eat those things and my body is signalling that I should eat those things then I will. No regrets. I’ve never binged in reaction to not eating meat and if I did, then I’d take the time to undress the situation, to figure out if I was being restrictive. It’s important to mention here that restriction can be both physical e.g. Not physically allowing yourself to eat something, or mental e.g. Allowing yourself to eat something and feeling negative emotions towards that choice. I worry about the rise of clean eating veganism on social media and it saddens me to see so many young women trapped in this way of eating. It seems to me that during recovery from an eating disorder it can be a way of eating that they deem as ‘allowed’ and this mindset can have serious repercussions. The key here is to be open and make sure that you aren’t forcing any hard and fast rules onto your diet. If you have had disordered relationships with food then you have to be even more careful when making choices about vegetarianism/veganism and be sure that the reasons for these choices are healthy ones.
These are my own thoughts on the topic, gleamed from my own experience and I am not a nutrition or diet professional. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you a vegetarian or vegan? If so, do you allow yourself to eat meat or dairy if and when you want to? If not, do you find this has a negative effect on your relationship with food?