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What happens when a vegetarian of 17 years switches to meat and paleo?

Published on November 29, 2013,

There’s a fascinating article on Refinery 29 by Leeann Duggan describing why, after 17 years as a vegetarian, she switched to eating a meat-rich paleo diet and the impact it has had on her…

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After over 15 years eating in a way that I believed to be both morally right and healthy, I had a revelation – that I didn’t feel healthy. And, I sort of couldn’t remember a time when I had. I got sick a lot. Depression and anxiety were constant problems. I slept too much at night, napped like an AARP member in the afternoon, and still had no energy…

Despite the fact that my diet lacked red meat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and all those other enemies of health we’ve been trained to avoid since the Nixon era, despite the fact that I exercised and meditated and did acupuncture and took supplements and generally tried to maintain as chirpy and cheery an outlook as is possible for a natural born cynic, I felt the exact, diametric opposite of healthy. I felt, in a word, like crap.

And, despite the fact that my low-fat, grain-and-legume-filled diet looked exactly like the USDA food pyramid we’d all been trained to follow, I began to suspect that my eating habits might be the thread that connected my moods, my weight issues, and my complete lack of satiety. I finally admitted to myself that all the greens and superfoods in the world couldn’t make up for the effect grains and sugar were having on my body. After 17 years of tinkering with a vegetarian diet, it just wasn’t working for me. I needed a major change — like, quick, before my latest crash diet veered into ABC Afterschool Special territory.

So, in June, I committed to a way of eating that I’d freely dismissed as “insane” for years: the paleo diet. Yeah, the caveman thing: no grains, no sugar, no legumes, no junk or processed food — that is to say, all the foods I had a tortuous, love-hate relationship with. What paleo does offer lots of: veggies (obviously not a problem for me) and fat. Delicious, unctuous, satisfying, previously forbidden fat. Coconut cream in my coffee and veggies sautéed in enough butter to wake Julia Child from the dead — that was easy to get into. But, paleo also typically includes meat. For a week, I tried to do paleo as a vegetarian, which is kind of like trying to be a pacifist serial killer. I quickly realized that if I wanted to subsist on more than steamed kale and fried eggs, I’d have to make peace with meat…

For a 17-year vegetarian, it wasn’t easy eating salmon for the first time (ever!). Chicken was harder than salmon, possibly due to raw chicken’s unfortunate resemblance to a placenta. Steak was even harder than chicken — just kidding, steak was easy because holy crap, steak is freaking delicious. But, overall, it was a bumpy transition, both mentally and, um, gut-wise. Let’s just say that any longtime vegetarians making the switch back to meat would be wise to stock up on these.

However, after those first few bumpy weeks, the benefits started piling up fast. My mood got better. Like, way better. I discovered that “morning person” was, in fact, a real thing, and, even more stunningly: I became one. Ever bounded out of bed two hours before your alarm to drink tea, read paperbacks, and watch the sun rise? Turns out, that doesn’t just happen on Cupcakes and Cashmere, guys: It happens in real life, too. Better still, my new fatty, protein-y diet kept my energy levels steady throughout the day; no more napsies or falling asleep on the subway home for me.

There were cognitive benefits, too. My short-term memory, usually a reliable source of frustration and forgotten names, suddenly improved. I didn’t have to “dig” for words anymore. I felt more motivated at work and my writing got sharper and funnier (my editors may disagree). I think my brain had been starving for healthy fats, and that tragic half-teaspoon of olive oil on a salad from my dieting days wasn’t cutting it…

More at:  Confessions Of A Former Vegetarian

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