In order to understand why I’m not a vegetarian, you first need to know that I used to be one.
For about two and a half years in college, I was meat-free. And yet yesterday I enjoyed a turkey sandwich for lunch. What gives?
Here’s what it boils down to. If you had asked me why I was a vegetarian in the midst of my meatless experience, I would have looked you straight in the eye and rattled off a bunch of facts about how many pounds of grain it takes to feed a human versus a cow for slaughter (the idea being that a whole lot of grain that could be going to feed the hungry is instead going to fatten up our meat). I would have insisted that I never really liked meat in the first place. And I probably would have thrown in a word or two about the environmental impact of a carnivore lifestyle.
But if you ask me now why I was a vegetarian then, I will look you straight in the eye and respond with a much different answer. Today I will tell you that I was secretly hoping to lose weight by limiting my food choices for supposedly moral reasons. Today I will acknowledge that it is no coincidence I was a vegetarian at the same time many of my peers and professors were. I stopped feeding on meat because it was their acceptance and approval I fed on.
Yep, I said it: I was a vegetarian because I wanted to be thinner and I wanted to fit in. I feel more than a little pathetic typing that.
(For the record, I didn’t lose weight as a vegetarian because – veg or not – I was still stuck in the same trap of emotional overeating, and going meat-free didn’t magically make that any easier. Also, I now firmly believe that my peers and professors accepted me not because of my eating choices, but because of me.)
The other piece of the puzzle is that at the time I wasn’t lying about my reasons for going veg. I wasn’t trying to pull off some trick. I did care strongly about issues of hunger and the environment, still do. But back then I simply wasn’t self-reflective enough to even realize something else was going on; I wasn’t being honest with myself in many areas of my life, my eating habits included.
All of this is to say that I am still very compelled by the reasons people give for being vegetarians. I admire them greatly. And yet I will not choose that lifestyle for myself, at least not right now, because of my history of doing it with an unhealthy mindset. I became a vegetarian so that I had a reason to restrict my eating, and now I work hard to reject that same urge.
At this point in time I feel that vegetarianism would inhibit my efforts to ditch dieting/emotional overeating and instead focus on eating intuitively. I’m not saying that you can’t be an intuitive eating vegetarian, of course. I’m not saying that going meat-free is directly connected to an unhealthy mentality. But my vegetarian experience was. For me, going veg was just another diet.
So for now, in honor of my commitment to not dieting, I’ll continue to eat my turkey sandwiches for lunch.
Are you/were you ever a vegetarian? What factors influenced your decision?
Has anyone else ever made a “lifestyle choice” that was really just a diet in disguise?