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Diary of a Retired Vegetarian

I'm an accredited journalist working at the intersections of science, food and public health. I am also a certified nutritionist.

After 10 years of vegetarianism, I've given it up.

After 10 years of vegetarianism, I've given it up.

My Salad Days Are Gone

The smell, the sizzling sounds and all the memories of family barbecues came rushing back when I took my first bite of a ribeye steak after 10 years as a vegetarian. It was like recovering a long-forgotten part of myself.

I had prepared for this moment and for the possible sense of disgust I might experience when having meat again. But to my surprise, it was the tastiest food I had had in a while.

One week into an omnivorous diet, I had been enthusiastically researching all the major food networks for expertly cooking different cuts of meats.

As I went home to celebrate my 30th birthday, my mum breathed a sigh of relief when I announced my drastic change in nutrition—no more cooking separate menus for family get-togethers.

Being the family's nutritionist means every one of your meals is scrutinised for subtle changes in macros. "Wait, are you saying fiber isn’t good for you now?! Should we all go on a carnivore diet as a family? I read about it in Grazia."

My answer disappointed them slightly. I couldn’t care less about the trends; I was making the transition for myself as an act of self-love.

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Going From Vegetarian to Omnivore

I had heard about people’s experience of eating meat after a hiatus from the all-protein diet. Allegedly, they felt an immediate surge in energy, and their bodies started healing many chronic ailments spontaneously. We’ve all followed Mikhaila Peterson’s journey and miraculous recovery, but I’d always been sceptical.

Reports like that in this hilarious Guardian article also talked about the lack of fibre mentioned above, resulting in a worrying drop in the number of bowel movements and highlighted the potential monotony of eating meat. But that has not been my experience.

By the time I finished that first steak, which I had wolfed down, I felt blood rushing to my extremities. To think that I accepted and normalised cold hands and feet all these years is ridiculous. Second, my stamina increased swiftly, and my appetite stabilised.

Before this, I needed several small veggie meals spread throughout the day to maintain my blood sugar and sufficient energy levels. Now, I discovered I no longer needed the snacks. I’ve gone back to eating two to three meals daily, and I feel great.

As a bonus, my hair started growing significantly instead of falling out. The elephant in the room, though, is, of course, whether eating meat improved the nutritional quality of my diet. And the answer is a resounding yes.

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Eating Meat for Health

Before I bought the ribeye steak, I scheduled a checkup with a blood panel. Shockingly, even though I thought I had been carefully accounting for all nutritional bases, I was in a deep state of iron deficiency anemia. Of course, I am a woman, and women are more predisposed to it, but the levels were exceedingly low.

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The condition came about insidiously as my body’s needs for iron presumably surged on account of other stressors. A more unfortunate possibility could be that I have a gene polymorphism preventing me from effectively using plant-derived iron instead of heme iron.

The theory makes sense, given my French descent. My ancestors ate a primarily animal protein-rich diet, so why would my lineage have evolved to thrive exclusively on plants?

My functional doc painted a nice picture for me. He said the solution was to either gobble iron supplements for a long hazardous recovery or re-incorporate meat again and give my body a break sooner than later.

By hazardous, he meant that the intestines are a mystery box when it comes to nutritional supplements like iron. We don't know with any degree of certainty what does or does not get absorbed and how much. However, food contains matrixes of other micronutrients that help the iron get absorbed and go where it's needed.

As he told me this, I journeyed back in my head to an Australian retreat I had attended, where an older naturopath lady told me artificial supplements are far inferior to food-state supplements. She was right on the money.

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Setting Priorities

As we weighed the pros and cons, I realized this was not the time for dietary dogmas or lofty planetary health aspirations.

Would I be judged for no longer eating a strictly vegetarian diet by my peers? Maybe. Did I care? Not nearly as much as I do about my physical state.

If I’m tired and metabolically challenged, how can I show up and give my best to others? It was a no-brainer, but it did take some internal convincing that this decision aligned with my sense of self.

Either way, I still ensure that whatever I put in my body is of the highest quality I can afford. In the case of meat, it means choosing grass-fed or grass-finished animals.

Luckily for me, I live in Scotland, and most Highlands’ bovines are de facto grass-fed, at least six months of the year (i.e., in the summer). So the wintery months will allow me to stimulate the local farm-to-fork economy, and I’m very excited about that.

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Your Changing Body

I have only been following an omnivorous diet for three months, and anemia does take about six months to a year to fully resolve in some cases. But I am so proud of myself for taking what seemed like an insurmountable step.

It is easy to get comfortable with a routine, including our diets, and ignore the signs that our body needs something different. Instead, we must listen a little more attentively to what it is trying to say as we go through new life phases.

Changing your diet can be scary, but it can be the most rewarding decision and, like a ripple effect, impact many more areas of your life than your physicality. So don’t be afraid to step out of what you are used to; your body will thank you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Camille Bienvenu

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