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Proudly Flexitarian

THANK YOU, Mark Bittman and Winnie Abramson, for making me feel so…normal.  A media double whammy — yesterday’s Winnie Abramson article “Why Paleo Didn’t Work for Me” and today’s Mark Bittman’s splash about his new “Flexitarian” column in The New York Times — have validated that plain, simple real food is enough of a dietary compass.  Somehow these articles have given me the courage to say goodbye to the complex I have about hating paleo — and any other sort of restriction, for that matter.

Shortly after I started this blog in December, I wrote a post about The Real Food Diet — which has been my foundational way of living and approaching food for years.  Then, after months of being knee deep in health + wellness reading, I began to question whether this simple framework was enough.  We are bombarded with information about sugar killing us, meat making us lean, meat giving us heart attacks, carbs making us cranky, etc.  Or as Mark Bittman put it in his column this morning, “And so a spectrum informs the contemporary diet: on one end is thoughtlessness; on the other, neurosis. One extreme is Morgan Spurlock’s orgy of fast food; the other is something like an ascetic diet of raw vegetables.  The first of these is not recommended. The second is almost equally extreme, almost impossible to achieve and of questionable value.”

My own self-doubt about whether my “real food” approach was good enough coincided with meeting someone who had recently finished the Whole30, a strict paleo “re-set” involving ridding your diet of all grain, sugar, legumes, dairy, and alcohol for 30 days.  He was evangelizing its impact — stable moods, boosted athletic performance, zero cravings, feeling pure and euphoric and younger and better than ever before — and he was so convincing that I bought it hook, line and sinker.  I ordered the book (which I quite liked because it doesn’t frame paleo as a diet (I’m super anti-diet), but it frames it as a way of life), got Sean on board, stocked our kitchen with coconut oil and nuts and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and committed to 30 days.

And the 20-something days we stuck to it (before going back to the dark side of hummus and oatmeal and wine) were…fine.  Not terrible.  Not amazing.  Not all that different actually.  Just really, really, really boring.  And annoying.  And a pain in the neck as a parent (I didn’t think it was fair to make my kids avoid dairy and grains too, so I was cooking multiple meals for dinner).  The Whole30 did re-set a few things for us: we don’t need to have a glass of wine every night with dinner, a day is complete without chocolate, always reach for veggies first and often.  And while those takeaways were important, we could have easily gotten there with plain old common sense, rather than some rigid “eat a lentil and you’ll ruin it all” plan.

Here’s the thing — I totally agree with these paleo advocates that refined, processed food isn’t good for you (obviously).  And I don’t think sugar does our bodies any favors (obviously).  But I don’t agree with limitations…I prefer choices.  I don’t want food to make me neurotic…I want it to bring nourishment and joy.  I don’t want to be the person at the dinner party who can’t eat anything being served…I want to eat from one big communal plate in the middle of the table.  I want to eat the same things as my kids.  I want to think about loved ones and dreams and ideas while I’m preparing and cooking my food…not whether my dinner is compliant.

If you want to eat paleo or vegan or fruititarian or in the zone or whatever the latest fad is, good for you.  But I have officially come full circle to thea place where I began — whole, real food.  Food that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic and doesn’t contain too many ingredients my grandmother wouldn’t have understood.  Food that I can enjoy with my whole family…with people from every corner of the globe.  Food that nourishes my body and my soul.  Like Mark Bittman, I’m standing proud as a flexitarian.  

What works for you?  How do you make sure your food is fueling you rather than zapping you of energy?  And if you have kids, do you think about their food and your food the same way?


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sara #

    HA! This is timely as we’re doing some version of flexi- paleo… Looking fwd to talking about it this wknd with ya! But what you wrote…amen!

    April 24, 2013
  2. Love this. And that flexitarian article. I actually hadn’t heard the term until now! Like you, I did a very strict diet when I was trying to cure my chili allergy (no gluten. No dairy. No sugar. No alcohol. No caffeine). Everyone kept asking, ‘do you feel amazing?’ and I felt like I was disappointing them when I told them the truth, which was that no, I didn’t! I mostly felt… annoyed. I would MUCH rather eat healthfully without ruling out entire food groups (I’m happy to rule out french fries and candy, obviously, but those aren’t food groups) so eating doesn’t have to be a chore. Thanks for this. (Also – a side note, but my husband has done “vegetarian month” for the past 2 years. He chose Feb. because it’s the shortest month. 🙂 I’d like to try to do it myself next year, but I’ll have to find a way to actually cook vegetarian. Most of those prepared vegan sausage/meat products have tons of spices in them that I can’t eat b/c of my allergy).

    April 24, 2013
  3. Bravo! Thank you, Brynn, for reminding us that we know much of the answers we need. It’s common sense, which can be very uncommon.

    I’ve lost 8 pounds following the food rules below. ( Eight pounds is not an earth shattering amount, but I feel better).

    1. Don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce. (This rule applies to the ingredient list).
    2. Pass up wheat as much as possible.
    3. Eat twice as many veggies as protein.
    4. Split the serving size in half. ( This is especially true in restaurants, where I ask to put half of the entree in a to go container before it’s served. No one has refused yet.)
    5. Limit wine to weekends.

    These rules will never be a best seller. But they work for me and I can remember them.

    May 7, 2013
    • Thanks for your comment, susan! I love your rules — so simple and practical and memorable. And congrats!

      May 8, 2013
  4. Thank you for this. I think it is fine to experiment with diets. Our body’s needs do change and we need to cater for that. My new rule is everything in moderation and when you are not obsessing with your diet you are more likely to stick to it. I am a big advocate of the flexitarian diet for the simple reason that everyone can do it. In my blog The Flexitarian I try to encourage people to eat less meat by publishing diverse vegetarian and vegan recipes. I also talk about the connections between food, ethics & the environment.

    May 17, 2013
  5. lauran C #

    Nice article. Very nice I do not have to join looney extreme. Often it is like you must either be fat-phobe vegan hating those evil meat-eaters; or you must eat 50lbs meat daily ranting of ‘grain cartels ‘ idolizing Atkins; as you live in the Paleo cave. Not to mention that neither of them helpful to low-income people.

    I reject white flour bread, white rice, white flour pasta, sugar, soda, koolaid, potato chips, booze, cigarettes, & severely restrict juice & vegetable oil. I (as $ permit) get lots of unsweetened fortified coconut milk, coconut oil, vegetables, leafy greens, berries, fruit, sweet potatoes, stevia extract, nuts, whole grains, fiber, vitamin D, cinnamon, & eggs from the healthiest hens available/affordable, fish oil pills, & occasionally some meat. I go days or even a week or so without any meat; but do not forbid it totally.

    I am not a fat-phobe. They reject good foods like unsweetened bakers chocolate, unsweetened fortified coconut milk, natural peanut butter, nuts, coconut oil, avocados, & yolks of eggs laid by healthy happy hens. Fat phobes allow too much sugar while banning or restricting good natural foods. My job is physically active. I do not count calories, weigh food, take diet pills, etc.

    December 14, 2013
  6. lauran%% C #

    Have you read the recent book: “(the) Vegetarian Myth ‘ ?

    The authoress went from judgmental vegangelical to being judgmental paleogelical. Now eating huge amount of meat daily. While some of her book may be good/useful/truthful

    a lot is illogical unfair ,,, stuff like: “we (humans) have Overshot by 6 billion there needs to be FEWER of us,,,,,,, asking how to feed all people is WRONG question It canNOT be done!” “We must abolish agriculture, rip up roads, tear/take down all dams, most of East Coast (USA including NYC) should be wetlands (swamps) ” Only allow very localized trade; all other trade should be forbidden. ”

    This of course will have most of us losing jobs, losing homes, losing access to healthy foods ,,

    Then she try to sound nice & cover her tracks by talking of direct democracy; but I am NOT fooled! In direct/real democracy people lead, govern, and represent themselves in all areas including trade. If person(s) wants/needs to sell me food and I want/need to buy it then direct democracy will allow this so long as nobody is enslaved or robbed. But she will disregard all of us by forbidding this fair honest sustainable free-trade and travel.

    I myself cannot eat much meat . If I eat huge amount of meat I feel bad in head and my stomach feel like it is full of cement; not fun! I can have small amounts of meat, eggs (yes I eat the yolk; it is most nutritious part) along with some other food such as veggies, fruit, whole grains and be fine.

    Stevia extract does great job of sweetening and has been proven harmless or even beneficial to diabetics.

    Unsweetened bakers chocolate is great ‘wakey wakey’ ‘ as in it keeps you from falling asleep on the job, improves alertness and even makes my eyes work better. It does not make me over-jittery or tight in throat way some chemical caffeine beverages do. I can have avocado as part of a healthy Mexican dish. While eating a whole avocado alone not work for me; I would never heed fat-phobe advice to restrict/ban avocado; but rather have generous serving of it as part of a salad or Mexican dish (that must be 100% whole grain withOUT bunch of vegetable oil; of course!)

    Thanks for giving people like me a chance to speak and a nice name to give ourselves.

    The flexetarian diet will also make me easier to get along with (at meal table)

    December 14, 2013

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