I’ve been procrastinating on writing about this topic because it’s not clean. It’s not clear cut. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it.
Yet those are the topics that are most interesting. Nothing in life is clear cut. However, I find I respect and enjoy most people who dig into those gray areas. That’s where the meat of the matter is, so to speak.
Nearly 18 years ago, I decided to stop eating meat. About two months ago, I decided to start reintroducing it into my diet.
My vegetarianism has always been rooted in ethics. It was always a matter of morality for me. I didn’t ⏤ and don’t ⏤ think it’s right for me to eat animals when we have other options available.
For the vast majority of my life, that worked well for me. I never felt less healthy because I didn’t eat meat. In fact, I usually felt better the closer I got to a vegan diet. What worked best for my health and for my ethics aligned.
I have a theory as to what changed. Well, a few. First of all, I’m older. Not that much older, but from 13 to 31, my body has gone through its fair share of changes ⏤ both intentionally and unintentionally.
In the past few years, I also started doing two pretty stressful things a lot more: sports and travel. Each on their own can be pretty stressful on the body. Sports require strength, explosive energy, and the ability to heal. Travel, especially long-haul travel, shifts your body’s internal clock, requires you to (often) run on very little sleep, and puts you in some of the most uncomfortable positions for hours at a time. (Often I wonder if the person who designed airplane seats ever actually saw a human.)
Mix that recipe together and, for me, the final product is chronic pain/soreness, sleep and hormonal issues, and lingering injuries from repetitive movements. In other words, I didn’t feel good.
About a year ago, I started eating some fish while I was in Brazil. In a developing country, it’s not as easy to find vegetarian options. In fact, it’s a pretty privileged position to be able to pick and choose what you want to eat based on something so non-essential to survival as ethics.
This is when I most started to feel like I was missing something ⏤ primarily because I was. Without the usual foods to supplement my diet, I felt wrong. I had perpetual cravings, was never satisfied, always hungry, and always cold. I had always been slightly anemic, but after some blood work, my doctor was concerned about how exceedingly low my iron levels were.
After changing everything else I could think of ⏤ removing gluten, not drinking caffeine, no alcohol, adding fish, focusing on supplements and whole foods ⏤ it felt like there was one final change that I’d been avoiding. When I sat down to seriously evaluate the thought of reintroducing meat into my diet, I’d get teary-eyed. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to remove all self-imposed restrictions on what I was eating. On the other, I wanted to live by my deep-seated values.
The thought that I kept coming back to was whether or not my ethics included myself, too. If my primary driver for vegetarianism is not wanting animals to suffer, should I do that at my own expense, as well? In other words, what if my ethics-based diet is making my health ⏤ and, as a result, me ⏤ suffer?
Like I said, it’s an unclear answer that can’t be tied up in a bow. But after a lot of thinking and some conversations with a very helpful friend, I thought I needed to at least try for some time. Just like my vegetarianism may not be a lifelong commitment, nor does eating meat have to be the same. Both may ebb and flow at different times depending on my needs and life at the moment. And that’s okay.
For better or worse, I do feel better. It’s an amalgamation of things that reflect my desire to prioritize my health. Changing my diet, exercising only a few times per week, traveling less, and sleeping more ⏤ all of these are part of my puzzle.
I don’t know if this is something that will be “permanent” or temporary. After so many years of restricting my diet in a variety of ways, I feel like it’s important not to decide that ahead of time. This is an exercise in exploring what works best for my body ⏤ limiting that or demanding that happen within a specific timeframe seems like another stressor that is detrimental to the process. At the end of the day, my goal is to just learn to sit with my conflicting emotions and keep my mind open to what being healthy looks like and feels like for me.