Part 1. My Story
In 2009, I stopped eating meat and became a vegetarian after reading the book Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin. The horrifying depictions of the meat industry were enough for me to completely cut out red meat and chicken right away. At the time I was a freshman in college and had barely started any of my nutrition classes and things that make total sense to me now about balanced eating, I had no clue about then.
I still ate eggs, cheese, dairy, and fish (sometimes), but ultimately I cut out a majority of my protein sources. On top of the college diet of alcohol + drunk food, it definitely wasn't the healthiest version of a vegetarian diet at all.
Over the years I started cooking more, eating a lot more vegetables, and cut out a lot of processed foods. Even though my eating evolved and I made these changes, I still didn't feel my best. Food is part of the picture, but not the whole thing. I was drinking too much on the weekends, not eating things that supported my body if I was eating at all, and also struggled with my appetite when I felt stressed.
At my previous job I managed corporate onsite health screenings and had my blood tested at one of the events. This is when I uncovered low iron, low B12, and low vitamin D - all a risk for people who choose to cut out animal-based foods. All of these play a role in our mood + energy, and no wonder I was cold all the time (I would literally wear sweaters in the middle of summer).
This was also around the time I decided to cut out alcohol - it just wasn't working for me anymore + I wanted more out of life.
As a dietitian I felt like I should have known that these were low, should have checked my labs sooner, should have been more consistent with my supplements. I have a friend who taught me, "don't should on yourself." You can should your way through a lot of things, but ultimately I was where I was + in a place where I was ready to reconnect with my body.
So, I made active changes - started eating more protein (plant-based and fish + eggs), properly supplementing, balancing my blood sugar by eating consistent meals + snacks, on top of all the work I was doing to remove alcohol (not easy), ease my stress + anxiety, and support my mental + emotional health.
After doing all of this, I'm happy to say all of my blood work is looking good. It's easy to assume we're getting everything we need from the foods we're eating, especially if we're eating relatively healthy, but stress (and how we handle it), skipping meals, and all the things going on in our life can really compound and impact our overall health - and the proof is in the numbers.
I've gotten close to eating 100% vegan, but never ascribed to the label. I believe in eating a mostly plant-based diet and if animal-based foods are included they should be of the highest quality and sustainably sourced. I don't like labels because I feel they are too restrictive, but I find my body runs best with fish, seafood, and eggs and not restricting any one food or food group.
Everyone has the power to choose the way of eating that works best for them and for whatever reason they want to.
If you're vegetarian or vegan or are looking to follow a more plant-based diet, there are the important things to remember and monitor as you make your transition in order to maintain your body balance. Tomorrow I'll be sharing what nutrients + other factors to keep in mind when eating a vegetarian or vegan diet.
What's your experience with vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based eating? I'd love to know - leave a comment below!
Krista is a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health coach, and certified personal trainer offering virtual nutrition coaching using a functional and integrative approach to help you feel vibrant, balanced, and confident. Looking to get your body + brain back?