It’s taken me a lot to finally write this post. I feel like my world has been literally flipped upside down this past year – in particular this last month. I realise what I have to say may be controversial but I hope that you will hear me out. For others I am hoping you’ll be able to resonate with what I’m saying and offer compassion in what has been a very difficult – but right – choice for me. Before I go on, I’d like to share with you my story.
As many of you know – my childhood was far from easy. I was that kid with the fat glasses and the body to match. I was teased, I was an emotional eater, and I was unhappy with my own reflection. I tried anything and everything from w
eight watchers to Richard Simmons but nothing changed until I made one huge shift – and became a vegetarian.
At the time, I was 12 years old and working at the local SPCA. Two amazing people who also worked with me introduced me to a way of eating that meant I no longer had to consume animals. This was perfect for me, I loved animals and thought that if I loved them I couldn’t eat them and so it was.
For me, becoming vegetarian meant that I no longer frequented MacDonald’s, KFC or Burger King. Where was the joy in eating at those places when all I could get was hot chips? So because I was avoiding all of these deep fried food joints I was beginning to lose weight and feel amazing. I had found the holy grail of weight loss.
Later, vegetarianism became almost a religious movement for me. I studied it all; I was convinced it was the only way to go for the environment, for the animals and for ultimate health. I would live a long and healthy life this way. I was certain of it! And for many years I did.
There’s nothing like taking a course in Nutrition to realise that you actually know very little about it. During my year at IIN I studied over 100 different dietary theories and I tried them all that is except for the meat eating theories. I was a raw – juice loving – smoothie making super vegan! I should have felt great! But as the year went on… I felt worse.
My bulletproof youth was starting to wear off.
I began to feel really unwell. First I noticed how tired I was becoming. I would get home at night and collapse. I would burst into tears at the thought of cooking dinner. I was falling asleep every time I got in the car (while my husband drove). I was in bed by 8:30pm and things weren’t getting any better. I reached out to my friends and colleagues and the same theme kept coming up – are you getting enough protein?
So, I began to be more conscious of what I was eating and how much protein I was getting. Being vegan at the time, this meant lots of nuts, sprouted legumes, beans, spirulina, green juices, sea vegetables, chia seeds, quinoa you name it! But I was still tired… So I decided to start eating eggs – which was difficult for me having been a vegan for over a year at the time. However, it wasn’t working; I was still tired all the time. I had my blood tested and everything was fine, though my iron was on the fence. So, off I went to get the best iron supplement money could buy. I was doing everything the books told you to. I was what should have been a very healthy vegetarian.
My health steadily declined. I was becoming even more tired, I was hungry ALL the time, my muscles were weak, and I was almost always bloated. It got to a point where I was scared to eat at restaurants because so many foods seemed to make me unwell. I was putting on weight, and no matter what I ate – my tummy didn’t like it.
I began to do research into my First Nations Mi’kmaq heritage and what my ancestors would have eaten. Berries, - great! Maple syrup? - Oh yeah! Oh. and meat. There was no way.
That’s when something shifted. I’ve always cooked meat for my husband, but would look at it with the utmost disgust. Until I started to – um- salivate at the sight of it! What the hell? I was craving meat? Not just once, but all the time – I began to really crave it. Don't get me wrong – we can crave things we shouldn’t have but as I always tell my clients – when our body craves something it’s trying to give us an important message.
Meanwhile, I was watching my clients get better and feel amazing as I taught them to listen to their bodies and to eat what the earth provides, while I was doing the opposite! Though I was eating real, I was completely ignoring my own cravings. I knew in my mind that there was a reason I was having these cravings – but I refused to listen because of my own ethics.
Ok, maybe not completely – I began to think about it more. I wasn't ready to give it a go but I definitely wanted to research further. I began to read books about our ancestral diets – books such as Primal Body - Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas and the research of Mark Sisson and Sally Fallon… I looked into sustainable farming practices and organic farming. My brain was going full tilt and saying, “yes yes yes!” but my heart was still screaming no! I can still remember sitting in my Naturopath’s office and crying at the thought of it.
Again, something shifted.
I began to think more about my ancestors – about their connection to the earth and their love and respect for all things – yet they still ate meat. The difference was that they respected the animal. They would say a prayer to thank the universe and the animal for providing them food, which was about to nourish them. Was it possible to eat meat and still be connected? Could I eat meat and still love animals? I began to consider the idea. I began to believe it was the best thing for me.
Then one day – I gave it a go. It was the strangest thing I have ever done (in my world) and though I was riddled with guilt prior – I had a firm belief now that this was the right thing for me. It was difficult to say the least. A month later I am convinced. My bloating has gone away, I have more energy and feel sharper. I am slowly gaining back my health. I know I made the right choice.
Does this mean I will now start binge eating and become a crazy mad cavewoman? Does it mean I will start eating at KFC again? No way! This was perfect timing for me to reintroduce animal protein as I have a firm knowledge of nutrition and what is right for our bodies, in particular mine. Since eating meat again, I have found myself eating more vegetables then I did as a vegetarian and my beliefs stay the same.
SO what do I believe?
Becoming vegetarian saved me. It was exactly what my body needed at the time. I lost weight and gained the confidence to be the woman I am today. Eating real food is where it’s at. I still avoid processed foods, refined foods and all things unnatural. I eat healthy natural fats and plenty of vegetables with moderate amounts of clean protein – just as I’ve always taught my clients to do. Meat should continue to be considered a condiment and not the main course. Make veggies your main course and keep protein moderate.
I believe that there are two kinds of meat – Organic farm raised meat and factory farmed – grain fed meat. Never will I eat factory-farmed meat, and never would I recommend it to anyone. Factory farms will never be sustainable, ethical or healthful. I believe we need to extend compassion to every one and every thing. I believe that we need to respect animals and not take their death lightly. We should see them as equals – we are all animals. Just as some animals need to consume other animals – so do some of us. I believe in thanking the universe and the animal for providing nourishment and never taking that animal’s life for granted.
I believe 100% in bio-individuality. A big part of our training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition was the notion of bio-individuality which means that what works for one person does not work for everyone. While adding meat back into my diet worked for me, there are some amazingly healthy vegans out there! I am not and will never trash a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s about finding what works for you.
I believe we should ditch the labels – Paleo? Vegan? Vegetarian? Flexitarian? Ditch the label and just eat what nourishes your body and mind and leaves you energized. I believe we need to listen to our bodies. Sure we can sometimes crave things that aren’t good for us, but what we need to do is ask why we are having these cravings? Is it something our body needs or is it a sign that we are lacking comfort and love?
What does this mean for my Nutrition Coaching Page? You wont see that much change. My beliefs around whole – nutrient rich- foods hasn’t changed. You may just see the occasional meat recipe posted – which for my meat-eating followers should make you even happier.
To all my vegan and vegetarian friends. I’m still that compassionate girl you knew yesterday. I ask you to show compassion towards me and respect my decision to listen to my body.
Above all – do everything with love and the right intention.