Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vegetarian To Omnivore

This post is a very difficult one to write. I spent a few days writing down notes and trying to find the right words to say, and come across in a way that doesn’t piss anyone off. Truth is, I don’t think there is any way around that so I am just going to have to speak my mind and let the words flow from the heart. So here it goes. 

Last thursday, I ended my five years of vegetarianism. Before you assume that I just couldn’t resist the taste of animal flesh any longer- the reason I decided to return to being an omnivore was for health reasons. I felt great on a vegetarian diet for a long time, but the last six months or so, I felt my health start to decline. My energy was low, I felt weak, I was really anxious and had a lot of ups and downs in my mood and had this strange sort of foggy brain feeling. I also started to notice that my hair was falling out even more than usual. ( I have been known to clog drains ). 

Tired of feeling tired, I began to do some more research on ways I could improve my diet. I started reading on different types of diets and listening to podcasts with speakers from a raw vegan diet to speakers with a paleo diet. ( And everything in between ). I began questioning whether vegetarianism was still right for me. I started weighing the pro’s and con’s but decided to stick to my vegetarian diet. 

The next few months ( while also marathon training ) I tried all that I could to reach optimal performance. I tried eating more veggies, raw veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, no fruit, more eggs...etc. etc. nothing seemed to help. My recovery times after hard workouts or long runs seemed way to long. I began to think that maybe adding adding meat to my diet could be the missing link. The thought of it horrified me. What would people think of me if I started eating meat again? Would I be seen as a hypocrite? A failure? Thrown into a pit and stoned to death by fellow vegetarians? Would it mean that I was less of a person? Less spiritual or compassionate? I had seen ex-vegetarians torn to pieces by vegetarians/vegans and was completely terrified. There was no way. But I wanted to feel better. What if eating meat helped me feel better? That question continued to nag me until I listened to a podcast (Underground Wellness by Sean Croxton) interview with a very wise woman named Zoe Harcombe. She talked about how she used to be a vegetarian, but then realized that there were nutrients that she was missing out on where animal products were not just the best source, but the only source. She says she loves animals just as much now, but she feels indebted to them, that she needs to thank them for being there for her to eat. ( she mentions she will not however, eat factory farm rubbish. ) She said she wants to eat the animals that have had a good life, grazed in open fields and were raised humanely and then thank them for being there for her and providing her much needed nutrients. - To vegans/vegetarians this sounds like just another excuse to eat meat. I know. I have been there and have thought these exact things. But as Sean said in response “My physiology really doesn’t know animal cruelty.”

A couple of days after listening to this podcast, I finally decided it was time to give meat a try. I reserved all rights to move back to a plant based diet, and just see how my body felt as I shifted back to being an omnivore. 

My first omnivourous meal included a bit of chicken. I must of sat down with my plate of food and just stared at it for 5 minutes repeatedly asking myself if I really wanted to do this...but I really wanted to feel better and was willing to try anything. Before I could give it a try I realized I had forgotten a knife. I can’t remember the last time I actually had to use a knife with my dinner. You don’t have many tough things to cut through when you are a vegetarian. I looked back at the poor little chicken breast and said "sorry chicken. I have to eat you now." Following Zoe’s feeling of being indebted to animals I thanked it for it’s life and took a bite. 

There is something I must clarify at this moment. Through my 5 years of vegetarianism I did not crave meat, but I am not afraid to admit that, the first bite of chicken tasted extremely good. I had completely forgotten what meat had tasted like and instantly realized why omnivores find mock meat items un-appealing. Not only did it taste good but it tasted right. By right I mean I didn’t feel a sense of guilt like I thought I would. I could of told you that I had to plug my nose and close my eyes as I ate the chicken in disgust but that would be a lie. I am not here to lie, and if this experience can help open other peoples eyes about their diet whether it be vegetarian or not, than this blog is worth any harsh criticism it may receive. 

It has been almost a week since I ventured back to the omni lifestyle and I have since had some chicken and fish. So far I have noticed less anxiety and I am a lot more mentally alert. I was so used to feeling in a fog that I had just passed it off as being normal. Who knew that being alert and being able to focus could be so easy? 

Not only am I feeling better mentally and physically, but also spiritually. The thought of vegetarianism of being this sort of superior spiritual state is a lot of weight to hold on your shoulders. I feel humbled in returning to the Omni world. There is no sense of superiority. I am just like everyone else and I feel more in touch with life and death - like I have re-entered the “circle of life”. It is hard to explain but I am at peace. 

Many people might wonder if I regret being a vegetarian for 5 years. The answer is no. It made me aware of my food choices, and helped me really research where my food was coming from. Most importantly it helped me find my passion for cooking. I learned a lot in those 5 years and I am very thankful for that. 

Although I have returned to being an Omnivore, as Zoe Harcombe said “I won’t eat that factory farm rubbish” I will still be very careful about my choices and what sort of animal products I buy and put into my body. I won’t eat just any meat, and eating meat again doesn’t mean I will be eating McDonalds and Taco Bell. I refuse to become disconnected with my food and will still be eating real, healthy, unprocessed foods and buy them as locally as possible in order to support the farmers that raise their animals properly. We will never live in a meatless world (if you still believe we will, then you are dreaming ) so why not support those who are raising animals properly? 

Eating meat again is a strange feeling. Giving it up for 5 years really makes you appreciate it so much more. Not only that but I can actually open a cookbook and cook any recipe I choose. I don’t have to skim through for vegetarian recipes or try to think of ways to sub this or that in order to give it a meaty texture or think about combining foods in order to get all the complete proteins I need. I feel like I have discovered a whole new world in cooking. It will be quite an adventure cooking things for the first time. My food blog will definitely be getting a bit of a makeover. 

Well, that is it for now. Vegans/vegetarians- feel free to tear me to pieces, or offer your support if you have ever found yourself in a similar situation. 

Whats up Omni's?

Happy Lent everybody...needless to say I won’t be giving up meat. 


  1. I am so proud of you. Not because you're now eating meat. Not because some people will say I told you so, or because other people will condemn you, but because you are always learning.

    People will assume, draw uneducated conclusions, and give their opinions on hundreds of things they've never done, places they've never been, or people they don't know because it makes them feel elitist, or smarter than they really are. You however, have figured things out for yourself through experience, through TONS of research, and have learned a lot about who you are, what you're passionate about, what your personal values are, and what you feel called to.

    I'm thankful you feel safe enough to know that this is ultimately your decision, and regardless of what other (irrelevant) opinions are, you're you, and you're the you that you choose to be. To become a vegetarian, you got a lot of heat from people, not because people hate vegetables but because you were challenging their thoughts of what healthy is. Now I'm sure you'll get the equal amount of heat for switching back, only because many people don't like change that requires them to think of an opinion of their own.

    I want you to be healthy, and I think that's your ultimate goal as well of course. I'm thankful to have you not just as my sister, but someone who inspires me to always be questioning, learning, discovering, growing, and doing more with who I am created to be.

    I love you.

    Sidenote: I love the photo, so fun.

  2. Amber, you're adorable.

    As much as I love having a vegan lifestyle, it cannot properly sustain me while I train and run races. It's not a victory on the meat lover side or a loss on vegetarianism, it's just major win for you as you move to a more full diet to help you train for your first marathon. =)

    BTW, you should try some currywurst. ;)

  3. You know, Amber, I am really proud of you for making this step and I don't think of you as a failure AT ALL.

    I had iron deficiency anemia a few years ago and the first question from my doctor was if I was a vegetarian.
    I was not (although I am not a huge meat eater), but vegetarians are much more prone to developing iron deficiency (which btw presented itself as (very bad) fatigue, shortness of breath, paleness,...). Have you checked your iron levels before?

    You shouldn't feel guilty that you're eating meat again. We are carnivores after all.... it's in our nature. Yes, we can live without meat, but our body is designed to get certain nutrition from meat. As long as your aware about your eating habits and what kind of products you buy, I think you're doing the right thing!!

  4. The fact that you're doing something for your bodily, mental, and spiritual welfare should overshadow all the negative things people may feel or say about you. You weren't put on this Earth to please others, but to be yourself and live your life. If eating meat is one of the ways you need to stay healthy (which I feel everyone does, no matter what they may think) then you must do it. I'm glad it doesn't taste disgusting to you. I was a vegetarian for almost 3 years as a teenager, and believe me... when I began to eat meat again my mother and my grandparents really saw how much my view of food had changed over that time. I find that it's important to remember that humans all along the evolutionary chain for the last few hundred thousand years have been eating plants AND meat. While it may seem cruel to kill animals for sustenance, it is something our bodies require to run at optimal levels. Think of all the animals out there (i.e. lions) that require meat, and remember that we aren't alone in that. No one thinks a lion is cruel for eating what it needs to eat to survive. Neither are we, as long as we don't go killing and wasting just for s&g's.

    Anyway.... I'm proud of you and I hope the transition isn't too rough on you.

  5. I was in the same situation as well. Except I was vegetarian for 3 years then switched to fish...and now finally meat due to mainly living situation. For me, to be conscious of what we're eating and how our food options affect other systems is important in itself and is just as significant. I enjoyed reading your writing and best wishes to your new path.

  6. You know your not going to get any opposition from me. I figured you would find yourself sooner or later what you wanted to be...either way. The "one" thing I'm happy for is that when you go to culinary can taste what you cook that has meat so you will know what people like! Yippee! Love you my sweets! xoxox

  7. Well this is blog was indeed a total surprise. I am proud of you and how you have learned so much about healthy food and taught all of us to be more aware of what we are eating. We now buy better food products thanks to you and your research and common sense.

    No one is going to criticize your decision, it is yours to make, and yours alone. No one ever said you can't be a vegetarian, and we all accepted that was what you wanted. You also introduced us to some wonderful vegetarian recipes that will continue to be part of your meals and Re part of ours too. Now you will have a meat course as well. I know Eric must be pleased with the change, and will probably look forward to the changed menu.

    I think most importantly, you will be a better nutritionist because you have found that when you are an athlete, you cannot be at peak efficiency when you are on a vegetarian diet. Do you recall when we were eating a lot of vegetarian meals that you were making and people were telling me I looked pale. Do you remember the first time I was rejected as a blood donor because I was anemic and did not have enough iron in my blood. After you left and we resumed eating meat, I was able to donate again.

    I think when you are in culinary school, your knowledge of vegetarian recipes will be a huge asset. Not to mention all the research that you have done to perfect better recipes without unhealthy ingredients. Now when you make meat recipes, you will have no problems tasting them to be assured they are perfect. You are going to be a star as a chef!

    Love you and am proud of you!

  8. hello! i found this post so great - i'm glad that you are finally feeling better and have found an answer! i must say be scared of people ripping you apart because of a decision you make on what you eat - that is crazy cakes!

  9. I was definitely shocked when I read your blog! I think it's awesome that you've walked through this process for yourself, and are willing to do whatever is needed to keep your body healthy. It's great for you to have learned more about your passion for nutrition. You're research and blogs inspires me to eat thanks :) And I love, love your willingness to speak the truth of how you feel without hesitation. I think we could all learn a lot from that in general in life.

    Keep up your amazingness. I'm grateful to know you and for the fun times we've had together in the short time we've known each other :)

    OH and I totally agree with Colin...I love the pictures :) And, I'm excited to see what fun recipes you come up with to try.

  10. Oh, gosh, Amber! I'm so proud of you for writing this post! I was super nervous writing my post about quitting my half-marathon but I couldn't really imagine how this might have felt. :)

    I am a meat-eater and have never felt a need to try a vegetarian diet. I think it's AWESOME for those who do, but at this point in my life, it's not something I'm going after.

    I think you made the best decision for you. Your well-being is the most important and as long as you feel right and good by the decision, that's all that matters.

  11. I loved this line from your post: "The thought of vegetarianism of being this sort of superior spiritual state is a lot of weight to hold on your shoulders"

    I feel that a lot of times...a pressure from being a vegetarian that I have to make the best choices...that people are constantly critiquing what I do.

    I incorporate a small portion of meat, usually fish, about once a week in my diet, and I'm totally fine with that. I think we all just need to figure out a way to eat that makes us feel the best we can emotionally and physically. For me, this is a mostly vegetarian diet with one 'cheat' a week. Good luck with training!

  12. I just happened to come across this post on your blog as I am currently searching for advice on how to transition back to eating meat. I should say first that I am actually a pescatarian. I was vegan for a year and a half, then began eating fish because I could tell something was missing in my diet. I've been eating fish for 5 years, about twice a week, no other meat, and have felt great. I'm considering adding lean meats like chicken to my diet just for variety.

    I'm curious to know what your experience was like going back to meat...specifically how the digestion was. I'm picturing myself curled up on the couch in what feels like never-ending discomfort as my stomach gurgles and twists until those fats and proteins break down (I actually experienced this once while I was vegan and ate chicken soup for some horrible reason). Any details on how your body responded would be much appreciated. And I get that mine may react differently than yours, but I just want to feel like I know a little about what to expect as I begin this journey...

    Many thanks from a pescatarian!

  13. Hi Leah!

    Thanks for the reading :)

    As far as transitioning back to eating might be a little easier for you since you are already eating fish, but I will admit that it did take my stomach awhile to be able to properly digest chicken and beef. What helped was for me to gradually raise the amount of chicken or whatever other meat I ate. I could tell if I ate too much I would kind of get the stomach twists and gurgles like you describe. It wasn't pleasant!

    So, my suggestion would be to gradually increase the amount of chicken you eat and your body will adjust :) Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me anymore questions you might have!

  14. Thank you for leaving this post up. I am a former vegan/vegetarian (six long years) and now I'm back to eating some meat. My hair has stopped falling out by the clogged drain-load, my nails don't break and split anymore and I have so much more energy. I love that the brain fog is lifting!

  15. What an encouraging post! This is my first time to your blog and I'm facing that same dilemma. I've been feeling similar but have been afraid of what others will think. Making the switch! I want to make a deliciously healthy turkey dinner for thanksgiving. :)

    Thank you kind stranger.

  16. Hi Amber, I know that you posted this years ago by now, but thank you so much for doing so. I hope that you are continuing to thrive, and thank you for having the honesty and wherewithal to speak up. A 'one size fits all' eating philosophy does not work for everyone, because we are all different.

  17. I have been vegetarian for 15 years and have just in the last year transitioned back into eating meat - I still struggle with the idea of benefiting from another beings' death, yet all the benefits you mentioned, I feel as well. Stepping back into the circle of life - being part of the food chain, is one - a whole lot of critters will get to eat me one day too!

    I found your article looking for some support - and also listened to the podcast you mentioned. I am grateful for both. Thank you.

    I started eating meat partly because of the research I started doing into my daughter's dental issues. I soon realised my maternal nutrition had been inadequate because of being vegetarian and also because of candida. Unfortunately they are not interested in eating meat at this stage - it is too foreign to them to consider, despite my urges. Maybe your article or the podcast might help them to at least give it a go... In the meantime I am looking to keep them as healthy as possible without meat - it is not easy. Slow foods and fermented foods help...

    Thanks, Leah

  18. Thank you for sharing your story I have been vegetarian for almost 15 years and suffering with iron and b12 deficiencies. I have been taking supplements and trying to educate myself so as to improve my diet but in the end I have concluded after 5 years of supplements and still no major improvement that I have to re introduce meat back into my diet. It is morally hard for me as a Yoga teacher/practitioner being a vegetarian is part of the lifestyle but their does not seem to be any other option other than to continue to suffer or re introduce meat back into my diet.

  19. Thanks for your article. I have been a vegetarian for 5 and 1/2 years. I am thinking about transitioning back to being an omnivore(because of health), however, I am worried about the side effects. Did you experience any side effects from not eating meat for so long? What were the steps that you took to get back into the omnivore lifestyle, did you take it slow and had one meat meal every two days or just went for it and eat meat like it was normal? Thanks for reading.

  20. Thank you so much Amber. I've been struggling too, especially since my health condition is declining after seriously sticking to a vegan diet. I just started incorporating some fish, Greek yogurt, and eggs in my meals, and I'm feeling better. I figured though compassion is important to me, so is freedom and courage. You're very brave to share your journey. I believe many people have been in this dilemma. I also agree that we should unburden ourselves with all the ideologies, travel light, enjoy our omnivorous nature while staying conscious of how our animals are raised. I believe I'll still have plants as 70% of my diet, but include various animal products (sustainable) for the rest.
    Thank you again Amber!