dietetics, wellness

Flex(itarian) Zone

In diet culture, a lot of “facts” are presented in a very black-and-white fashion. Avocados are good for you, but white rice is bad for you. Keto will help you lose weight, no questions asked. Intermittent fasting will banish bloating forever. 

The list goes on and on. 

I’ve made it super clear to anyone who will listen that I don’t agree with these diets and this mindset around food. However, I don’t want to waste time telling you all about what eating patterns I don’t like, because that takes away from so many that I do like. I’m hoping to blog more about these in the future, but the first eating pattern I want to talk about is called the “Flexitarian diet”.  

One of my favorite flexitarian meals

As a self-proclaimed “flexitarian”, one of the things that I love is that this eating pattern is all about moderation. It’s the most non-black-and-white thing ever, and that’s freakin’ awesome, because it makes eating so not stressful, which is how it should be!

As a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”, this eating pattern is essentially what you think it is- being a flexible vegetarian. (For convenience, I use the term “vegetarian” as someone who avoids eating only animal flesh, not animal products). While each flexitarian can have a different definition for their own personal eating habits, to me it means vying for non-meat protein options about 80% of the time. However, if the urge to eat chicken strips hits, I honor that without guilt. If I’m in a setting where eating a meal with meat is my only option, then I eat without stress. Being a flexitarian has not only offered a healthy way of living, but it has decreased stress around food. 

One of the benefits of a flexitarian eating pattern is that it offers the benefits of a vegetarian diet while not completely eliminating meat. Consuming less meat can lead to lower cholesterol levels and better control over blood pressure. This is because meat (specifically processed and non-lean cuts) can often contain high amounts of saturated fat and sodium, which are two enemies of heart health. 

I always hesitate to talk about cancer risk, because I don’t want to be an alarmist and scare people from ever eating meat. However, the World Health Organization (I know there is some controversy surrounding them currently, but they are still a reliable nutrition source) has classified processed meats like hot dogs, salami, bacon, and ham as a carcinogen, which means they can increase cancer risk if eaten frequently or in high amounts. Additionally, red meats have been classified as a “probable” cancer risk. This is not to say that eating a burger at a Friday happy hour directly causes cancer, because it doesn’t. A flexitarian eats a burger at happy hour if they want to, knowing that their healthy lifestyle isn’t “ruined” by making this choice. 

My health will not be ruined after eating these (amazing) Hawaiian sliders

Another benefit that I have noticed in my own life is that my focus has been shifted back to eating fruits, vegetables, and foods in their whole form. I can’t honestly pinpoint why, but I think it might be because ensuring that I am eating protein at every meal has caused me to look at my plate as a whole and see what is missing. After assessing, I can fill in the gaps from there. The other night, my family ordered carry-out from Buffalo Wild Wings and I ordered a veggie burger. Knowing that my veggie burger with avocado provided protein, carbs, fat, and a veggie, I thought back to what else I had eaten that day. It occurred to me I hadn’t eaten any fruit yet, so I ate a few strawberries after and hit all my food groups. Gold star for me.  

Greek yogurt- a great protein option!

If you’re thinking of trying a flexitarian eating pattern, you’ll want to have a variety of meatless protein options on hand. Personally, I recommended options like eggs, quinoa, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Another expensive but more ~on trend~ option would be collagen powder, which can be added essentially like protein powder to mixed dishes, coffee, smoothies, and even baked goods. While I love an occasional protein bar for after a workout, I would recommend to proceed with caution, as a lot are loaded with added sugars, saturated fat, and don’t provide the satisfaction of eating real, whole foods.

No matter if you’re trying flexitarian to improve your eating habits, transition to a complete vegetarian diet, or incorporating it as part of a weight loss plan, establishing some soft guidelines for how often you’ll consume meat is a good idea. Personally, I aim for 4 times a week, always sticking with the recommended serving size or a little less. This is definitely a more loose flexitarian diet, but it’s what works for me! Finding what works for you too might take some trial-and-error, but a healthier you could emerge in the process. 

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