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How to Stop Being a Vegetarian: Eating Meat Again

Dietary Balance

Readjusting your diet to meat can be difficult after being a vegetarian.

Readjusting your diet to meat can be difficult after being a vegetarian.

Vegetarian diets are touted as being healthier and more nutritious than diets high in meat. However, vegetarian diets are not for everyone. For some it is healthier not to be a vegetarian.

This could be because of protein or vitamin deficiencies or other dietary concerns such as high blood sugar. Some vegetarians tend to eat too many bread products. This can be unhealthy if you are diabetic. Some people also develop food allergies that limit what they can eat and need to adjust their diet to accommodate this.

If you have been a vegetarian for awhile and need to start eating meat again for health reasons, how do you stop being a vegetarian?

Making Up with Meat

If you have been without meat for a significant period of time, it is not a good idea to eat a pound of steak right off the bat. Your body is not used to meat and will likely have a hard time digesting it. You may have stomach pains, cramps, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation from eating meat if you have been a vegetarian for a long time. These will pass with time and go away as your body adjusts to eating meat.

  • Begin gradually introducing animal products into your diet. How you go about this should be determined by how strict of a vegetarian you were. Vegans should add meat slower than those vegetarians who ate eggs and dairy.
  • Start by eating chicken broth or stock. It is typically light on the stomach and should cause fewer problems. Eat this for a while before adding any other meats.
  • Eat foods that are flavored with real meat before eating actual pieces of meat. Soups that are flavored with meat are a good way to get used to the taste of meat again.
  • Eat chicken first. If your body handles that okay, add fish, pork and beef.
  • Start by eating meat products you liked before you became a vegetarian. It will help with the psychological aspects of the transition.
  • Try eating meat that is disguised with other foods such as casseroles. The meat flavor and texture won't be as overpowering as simply biting into a big piece of meat.
  • If the texture of meat is a problem, try sandwich meats or even baby food meat. The texture is usually smoother and it doesn't look as much like meat because of the processing. This can help with the mental transition of reintegrating meat.
  • Eat digestive enzymes with your meal. You can find them at health food stores. Look for supplements that contain HCL with Pepsin. These will help your body break down the meat. Enzyme complexes will also aid with digestion.
  • Taking probiotics can help with digestion. Your intestines aren't used to breaking down the meat. Boosting your body with healthy bacteria that breaks down foods will help with bloating, gas, cramps, and other digestive problems.
  • Listen to what your body is telling you. If you are craving something in particular, it may be a sign of something your body is lacking. If your body isn’t handling the meat well, take a step back and integrate the meat into your diet more slowly. If you haven’t had any problems with the meat, then your body is probably telling you that your diet is working.

Psychological Aspects of Eating Meat Again

Many vegetarians stopped eating meat for ethical reasons. Eating meat again can often be more psychologically difficult than physically difficult because you may feel that you have violated your principles. A sense of failure is normal because you are not sticking to a chosen diet. Other vegetarians may give you a hard time because you have left their fold. Meat eaters may tease you for abandoning vegetarianism.

What many meat eaters don't realize is that being a vegetarian or a vegan isn't just a diet. It is a lifestyle. Changing your way of life is hard. Especially when the change is being forced on you by health or other factors.

When you start having negative feelings about this, just remember that you aren’t the only vegetarian who has started eating meat again. Think of how much meat you didn’t eat the time when you were a vegetarian. You are not a failure. You are making wise choices for your body. You can also make informed eating choices now. You can eat organic meat and avoid veal and similarly cruel practices.

There is a lot of literature about vegetarianism versus omnivorous diets. Read up on the facts. Talk to other people about what you are feeling. Look for vegetarian forums and groups and seek out other people who have made a comeback to meat.

If other people rag you because of your diet, just let it roll off your back. They probably teased you when you were a vegetarian anyway. If other vegetarians are giving you a hard time, let them know what you are doing to continue to make ethical food choices. Let them know if you buy organic or are only eating meat one meal a day.

Eating meat again seems strange, especially if it has been many years. It will get easier with time. You may still want to refer to yourself as a vegetarian if you have not fully integrated meat back into your diet. It will make it easier than trying to explain to others what you can and cannot eat. It may also take some of the pressure off in social dining situations.

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My Experience

I became a vegetarian in my early teens for ethical and practical reasons. I couldn’t eat a hamburger without thinking about cows. When I saw the veins in a piece of chicken I couldn’t help but think that I was eating muscles. The though of it disgusted me and the sensation of the textures on my tongue repulsed my appetite. After biting into an undercooked hamburger one day, I gave up meat on the spot. I didn’t want to eat food that had once walked around.

I was a lacto-ova-vegetarian meaning I ate dairy and eggs, but no meat, fish, or chicken. In my early twenties I began having problems controlling my blood sugar. I am cursed with a high susceptibility to diabetes thanks to the genes my mother gave me. Eating vegetarian I had a tendency to eat too many breads, starches, and carbs, especially whenever I ate with a group. The body converts that type of food into sugar. Then dairy and eggs started to irritate my stomach, so I had to cut back on them.

After about 15 years of being a vegetarian, I felt like my body was falling apart. I was so tired and drained all the time. I had no energy. Every time I went to the doctor, I had something else wrong with me. First it was blood sugar, then it was thyroid, then dangerously low vitamin D, then I started having acid reflux and laryngitis from that. My stomach hurt nearly every day and I was having headaches. Next thing I knew, I had developed food allergies and had constant sinus infections.

Finally, I had had enough. I was destroying my health. All of these health issues were leaving me with too few meal choices and putting me on the road to becoming a full-fledged diabetic. I didn't want to be unhealthy for the rest of my life trying to live up to an ideal that obviously wasn't working for me. I decided it would be better for me if I could have more meal options that would help keep my blood sugar balanced and broaden my food choices that were limited by allergies. I decided to eat meat.

It was probably the hardest decision I ever made. I agonized over it for probably a year before I finally decided to go back to meat.

I loved Krystal burgers when I ate meat, so I decided that my first meat meal would be a Krystal. I ate just one. The first bite was the hardest. It took me a good five minutes before I ate the first nibble. I kept putting the burger to mouth and then moving it away. After that bite it became a little easier. And each time I ate meat after that, it got easier still.

The hardest part was telling others that I am not a full vegetarian anymore. It was big news when it first happened. Then it got old and everybody forgot about it. Now people know that I am a vegetarian in recovery. I eat mostly vegetarian but have an occasional piece of meat when my body needs it.

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There is a new term "flexitarian" that definitely applies to me. Basically it means I am a semi-vegetarian. I eat mainly vegetarian still, but I supplement my diet with meat when I feel like it. I eat meat about once a week or every couple of weeks now.

I had digestive problems after eating meat maybe the first five or ten times I tried. Mainly, I think it was just stress related digestive trouble because I was so nervous and felt guilty about it. Now, I can eat it without problems. What works for me is not thinking about the food. I keep myself distracted while I eat.

Reintegrating meat has given me more options. I don’t have to be as cautious when eating out. I’m focusing on eating balanced meals rather than trying to stick to a certain diet. I have a wider range of food choices. I still have health problems, but they are getting better and better. I have more energy and I don't feel much guilt anymore. If I were meant to eat as a total vegetarian, then why would I feel so much better now?

I feel healthier eating meat. I still recommend the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle to anyone who can eat that way and maintain their health. I think it is an ideal way of life. I just don't think everyone can eat that way and stay healthy long-term.

If your diet is making you feel bad and sick all the time, why do that to yourself? Make some changes. For some that may mean eating meat again. For others, it may mean readjusting and balancing your diet. Everyone should be free to eat what their body needs to feel good and run right.

Feel free to share your story, give opinions and suggestions, ask questions, and make comments. All I ask is that you be respectful with what you say. Hurtful comments are not welcome. Most of the people who visit this article care deeply for animals and for the earth and most would choose to continue to be vegetarians if their health would allow it. Be mindful that one day your health might change as well.

Learn about Digestive Enzymes

Comments

cordelia on November 10, 2018:

Eating meat again??? Did i read this right? How REGRESSIVE it is to support turning people into the dark ages. Animals get their revenge you know - by eating them - they WILL put you in the hospital, OR surgery. Wake up. The rainforest is being ripped down at 1 acre/second - WHY??? to put cow there OR food for cows. Animals are being tortured throughout their entire lifespan from Rape to Slaughter, 51% or environmental destruction is Caused by people eating meat and dairy - it is Non feminist and You are suggesting people go back to eating meat? Incidentally, have you heard about karma? It exists. Go look into the many (and growing) sites and information about how to go vegan properly and shut down this insane idea. If someone goes back to eating meat - they were never vegan to begin with. Vegans practice ahimsa - no harm to any creature.

Chloe on December 03, 2017:

This article has been very helpful! I have lived a nauseous life, and missed out on many a summer camp or a tasty meal because of it. Then, I began college and started feeling even worse, for weeks on end. I went to a slew of doctors' appointments and they diagnosed me with a severe gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance. I am now vegan and gluten-free, but the dining hall at my college just doesn't make this possible. I think I may start eating meat again so I can actually eat, and so I stop feeling so sick all of the time.

Andi on July 11, 2017:

Eating meat again is not the solution. Meat is the worst thing you can eat.

Thankyou on July 07, 2016:

Thank you for posting this. I just had to do the same thing, and it was really helpful and comforting for me to read this and know that others have had to start eating meat again for health, as well. Your story sounds so similar to mine.

And, in regards to comments like that of SilverLady, I can only say this about the cruelty aspect: If you think that your vegan/vegetarian diet is free of animal cruelty, then you really need to wake up and get off your high horse. How many mice, bugs, and other living creatures are painfully crushed to death during crop harvest? Think about that before you go around trying to guilt others. In my 15 years of being a vegetarian, I am proud to say that I never tried to force my lifestyle on others; never guilted anyone into ruining their health.

Marek on May 31, 2016:

I just ate a beet soup, baked potatoes, soybean pate and a fish for my breakfast. It has been about a year and a half since the last time I ate any meat. I'd like to share how did it feel to eat a fish and what I was thinking as I ate it.

I bought a small smoked fish at the store. I put it on the table and prayed a Buddhist chant that I learned at a Buddhist temple some time ago. It is sung before eating to express gratitude for the food. Normally I don't do it before eating anymore but now it felt proper because the animal had to die in order for me to have a breakfast.

I started eating but I decided to eat only a half of the fish. One reason for this is that I wanted to be gentle on my digestion. Secondly, I have not yet made a decision whether I incorporate meat in my diet or not, so this was a kind of a trial. The other half of the fish I will either eat myself later or give it to my partner.

1) I didn't really like the taste so I squeezed some lime on it, and the taste improved. However, I did not derive any pleasure from eating. The only reason I ate it was to improve my health and strive for a balanced diet and to challenge my character. It's very unlikely I will ever eat meat in terms of enjoyment, as I do with vegetable dishes. Usually I was just feeling like I am having fun when eating, but this time it rather felt like performing a duty to my health and to the animal.

2) Some people are concerned with the texture of meat, but it didn't feel shocking.

3) It was really salty. The vegetable food I usually eat can be salty, but not to such extent. Definitely more salty than cheese.

4) The smell is more intense than any kind of vegetable dish, and I am still smelling it on myself despite having brushed my teeth.

5) I felt a mental connection between me and the fish. I imagined it flowing freely in the ocean when it was alive. Now it's body was on my fork. I felt both sadness and gratitude.

6) When eating vegetarian, you feel a kind of moral purity or sense of satisfaction after eating. Not anymore.

7) After eating, I felt that I can return to vegetarianism whenever I want. It's a daunting prospect to have meat again when a vegetarian, but it's that simple. You can go back any time. I never liked the taste of meat or enjoyed eating it, so I have no attachment to it whatsoever.

Marek on May 23, 2016:

I'd like to add something about dairy. In Ayurveda, they say that milk is the only food that does not necessitate any violence, given freely and with love. This is only the case with respectful, traditional treatment of cows, though. Reading these words has made me develop a new view on diary. I always buy organic milk whenever possible.

The above is the reason why cow is considered sacred in India.

Marek on May 23, 2016:

I'd like to share some of my thoughts on different aspects of this issue.

I think that even if you decide to start eating meat again, there is no reason to eat pork or beef. Just take a while and imagine the following scenario. Let's say you are starving hungry and you're in a place far from modern civilization, so you can't just shop for food. There are no vegetables available in the area, but there are many animals around.

You have a bow and arrows, a spear and a knife. Being the person you are, sensitive to animals' suffering, would you actually be able to kill a cow or a pig, or any other four-legged animal? Imagine how terrifying and heart-breaking would it be. But perhaps you would be able to kill a chicken or some other bird with bow and arrows, or use your spear to catch the fish from the river and then finish it with a knife. It would still break your heart but it would be easier to do. Bird and fish move and have life, but that life is less sophisticated and intelligent than four-legged animals. What is more, it is also easier on digestion and if you're into meditation, you might have heard that red meat is hard to process energetically or emotionally (meaning it disturbs your mind) because those animals are more sentient than fish, birds or the less intelligent forms.

I'm saying that you don't have to ever say goodbye to your ethical vegetarianism. You just become a lacto-ovo-avis-piscis (not sure if these are the correct words for "bird" and "fish" in Latin!) vegetarian for health reason, that's it.

What's more, if you're inclined in this way, when eating meat you could offer a prayer of gratitude to the deceased animal, or try to mentally connect with it and say that you appreciate its sacrifice.

I suppose that many choose vegetarianism as an expression of their compassion. But if vegetarianism is making you emaciated and weak in bodily strength, how will you ever help your grandmother in a taxing physical work? Strengthening your body, apart from the health you gain for yourself, might make you a more effective vessel of compassion for other people.

I'd like to touch upon how everybody is different in regards to nutrition. The wisdom of ancient India tells us that people are of three constitutions: the emaciated type what can never put on weight (vata), the obese type which very easily puts on weight (kapha), and the type placed between these (pitta). This is a very simplified description. You can look those three types up and learn what is yours. That people are of different bodily constitutions, I think, is the reason why some might thrive on a vegetarian diet, and some just the opposite. If you're a vata type, for example, you might need some meat.

Another point I'd like to make is how to go about eating meat. Meat is not meant to be eaten three times a day in extensive quantities. Once a day or every other day in a moderate quantity is beneficial. Moreover, a variety of meats should be eaten, and it should be eaten completely. So not just chicken breast every time, but one day turkey, another day duck, some other day fish, and intestinal organs, like the kidney of liver, should be consumed as well. If you killed an animal and ate only the breast, throwing out all the intestinal organs, you would be disrespecting the animal.

This way of eating has it confirmation in the (traditional) eating habits of the Japanese people, who have probably the longest life expectancy in the world. From early childhood, they are educated that they should be eating meals balanced in protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Meat is eaten frequently, but in small qualities and rarely as a main dish. It might be one of the ingredients in a vegetable dish. Fish is eaten more frequently than any other type of meat. I wrote "traditional" eating habits because the modern diet has become greatly modernized.

If you read the China Study book, the conclusion is basically that people in rural China, who eat lots of vegetables (and moderate amounts of animal products), are the healthiest. Afterwards it is assumed that total elimination of animal products would be even better. But it is just a theoretical assumption not supported by any facts. The rural Chinese are not vegans. In fact, it might be because their diet is balanced and meat is only eaten in small amounts, they are healthy.

It is easy to blame meat itself as the main culprits for the affluent diseases in the Western world, but we are not noticing that it might be rather the overuse of meat: eaten three times a day in immoderate amounts. We also shouldn't forget about the overconsumption of sugar and salt (according to the American Heart Association, the daily maximum intake for salt is about one teaspoon, but it seems that the majority of people are exceeding this number several times).

My personal story is that I never liked eating meat, even before I started to think about it through ethical and compassionate lense. Even before consciously becoming a vegetarian, when I had control over what I ate, as in cooking by myself and eating out by myself, I was always avoiding meat. At the same time, I was a lover of bread and sweet things. I am just speculating, but it might have caused me my candida/parasite-like digestive problems (some tough time). I am also very thin, have bags under eyes, and in winter my hands and feet are always freezing, so poor metabolism and circulation. I am feeling well and healthy besides that but I am considering transitioning to moderate meat eating to attain an optimal health. As was written earlier, the transition can be hard when you're an ethical vegetarian mostly, but maybe I will start from chicken broth.

Emily on January 02, 2015:

A few months ago, I stared feeling so weak and tired all the time. I thought maybe it was my diet (I've been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 7 years) and I started taking additional supplements instead of just a daily multi. It didn't help, so I thought about changing my diet to include fish.

However, before I could decide for sure (memories of visiting a fish farm and all of the fish following me around hoping for food haunted me), I ended up in the hospital. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune adrenal disease. Several of my distant family members also have it, so it has a genetic link. I was started on medication for it and feel 100% better now.

I just wanted to share this story to let others know to make sure it is your diet causing your health problems. You never know for sure. I do think there are some people who don't do well on vegetarian diets, but it's worth finding out for sure first.

The weird thing is that I still kind of want to try fish again. I think it's because I got myself so worked up about it before I found out why I was sick. I hope that will pass eventually, especially considering that I never liked fish anyway.

Liz on November 16, 2014:

DO NOT EAT CHICKEN FIRSTS you will get sick. Try something small like bacon

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on August 12, 2014:

Siobhan29 - It is tough knowing there are so many delicious foods that are off limits. Your idea sounded good. Experience some of what you missed and then go back to being a vegetarian afterwards if you wanted. You might consider a flexitarian diet. Basically you eat mostly vegetarian but maintain the flexibility to eat meat when necessary and desired. Good luck with your diet and culinary desires. Hope your anemia gets under control.

Taking the First Step on June 17, 2014:

I have been anemic for at least 15 years, never have energy, eat way too many carbs and meat substitutes, and have horribly high blood pressure, even on several medications, in part due to difficulty finding filling foods that are quick to prep. I am easily 30 pounds overweight. After over twenty years of not eating meat, I think I am ready to try eating meat, but texture is a huge thing for me. Even with vegetables, I gag when I try to eat anything that is chewy or squishy, so when I look at or think about eating meat, I just don't know how. I did try a taste of chicken broth and thought I was going to be sick, immediately needing to eat and drink anything with strong flavors to try to erase it from my palate. My friends and loved ones are supportive of me going back to meat because my diet has long made meals and dining out a challenge, but I cannot stop thinking that I am looking at some poor animal's muscle, that something was killed in a painful manner after a painful life is on a plate and I am supposed to eat it. I feel very torn. My health seems to require that I return to meat, but my mouth has no interest!

Okaru on February 13, 2014:

Hi, as a reforming vegan, I found that it is easier to eat non-vegan ingredients if they are not the main event. For example, make pancakes and rissoles with eggs instead of egg substitutes. Minced meat in soups and sauces rather than eating a steak. You don't need much meat/fish/eggs to be healthier, so it does not need to be THE item on the plate. I am still mostly vegan due to heart health, so I cannot really afford to load up sat fats, but I have found that including non-vegan ingredients does help. Being selective where those ingredients come from must also ease the conscience.

Lola on January 25, 2014:

This is one of the best hubs/posts about eating meat again, it really makes strong and considerable points. I am not a vegatarian myself, I have always eaten meat and never doubted my choices. But my best friend is a vegetarian. She hasn't eaten meat/fish for about 6 years now. She sometimes eats dairy and eggs, but rarely.

The thing is - she doesn't really use any nutritional supplements, only some vitamins. She is also not eating regulary or particulary healthy. And you can literally see her becoming weaker and more irritable day by day. She is starting to develope quite serious psychological problems, the once active and happy girl is turning to a pale apathetic creature now and I am very worried.

I have tried to talk to her about balancing her diet and maybe even start eating meat again, but she wouldn't listen. She thinks her diet is perfectly fine but it isn't. We are both college students with lots of stress in our lives. She really needs the proteins and energy back. How should I talk to her and encourage her?

jane on September 20, 2013:

I have been a vegetarian since I was 5, for forty years. Even though I try to eat healthy I am overweight and have very little energy. I stopped eating meat after watching a movie in kindergarten about where it comes from and I thought it was disgusting, still do. My husband and children eat meat and I even cook it for them, often making two separate meals. I hate eating, don't enjoy food and have a very weak stomach. I know adding meat to my diet would probably help me health wise and make me feel better but I just can't do it. I start gagging just thinking about it. I eat eggs if they are well disguised in something (like cornbread) because I don't like their taste. I will occasionally eat some dairy. I am at a loss, I really want to eat meat and have been thinking about it for a year, but I just can't. Would love to hear more ideas from others with suggestions. I read about broth or baby food, but really, really can't do it. I feel sick!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on September 16, 2013:

The only problem I experienced with vegetarianism is the fallacy (promoted by the food industry) that soy products are healthy. They are not--just the opposite--but I'd been eating the stuff for several years before I discovered the truth. Soy wrecked my thyroid function, causing the gland to enlarge and grow nodules. It had to be surgically removed, and I'll take thyroid replacement pills for the remainder of my life. So, my message to vegetarians is: Don't eat soy!

However, a plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients that the so-called "balanced" diet with meat can provide as long as you eat the right plant foods, but without the heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and other serious health issues that animal fats and processed foods cause.

The secret (and it's really no secret, but some people just don't want to know it) is to avoid all animal products (including dairy), all processed foods, sugar and oils. You can eat well, eat delicious meals and feel better than you ever felt in your life while protecting yourself from heart attacks (and bypass surgery), strokes, diabetes, even certain types of cancer.

Most people eat what they do out of habit. It takes some time and patience to change eating habits, but if you can guard your health and even (according to research) reverse some serious chronic health problems by what you put into your mouth, that certainly seems like good motivation to me. I believe the planet and everyone living on it would be better off if everyone was vegetarian, and a lot of people share that belief. I'm too realistic to think it will happen.

Of course, there are those people who could know with certainty they're chopping ten years off their lives by eating steak and chops, but would continue to do it anyway. In my opinion, they're on a par with the smoker who knows that particular addiction is life-shortening, but says, "Oh, well...we've all got to die from something!"

Health issues are one part of vegetarianism. Caring about animals is another. There's been so much research in the past couple of decades proving the intelligence of animals, as well as how they feel pain similarly to humans. Knowing that studies show pigs (yes, pigs!) are so intelligent they can play and win video games better than primates do, there's no way I could eat a piece of bacon. It's a matter of conscience for me. Everyone else has to live by their own conscience and values.

Siobhan29 on August 05, 2013:

I became a vegetarian at age 12 and have been for 17 years (vegan for a week each month to simply detox). The only issues I have had is anaemia but its only affected my ability to keep giving blood!

As much as I love being veggie, it's brought about a crisis as I am a chef, and am wanting to try the things I never did as a meat eater at such a young age. I've never had a steak before! Apart from the meats I miss (primarily mussels and black pudding - both in a sandwich was amazing) I want to try some more exotic delicacies, and also the meats I was too scared to try before. My only crisis is attempting to make the change because I've lasted for so long with no lapses - I don't even eat marshmallows or jelly sweets:(

Perhaps what I might try to do is get back into eating meat, try the foods I've always wanted to, then revert back to vegetarianism so I have no culinary regrets.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on July 21, 2013:

K - It is tough. In some ways, it is harder for people who don't like the taste of meat to eat it again than people who avoid it just for ethical reasons.

Any kind of allergies on an already restrictive diet can cause way to little dietary options. If you are able to eat some fish, then that is a really good start. Fish is one of the most nutritious types of meat.

If other kinds of meat don't appeal to you, start by just eating the broth. Broth actually has a relatively large amount of protein. It is a way to get used to the flavor before eating whole bites. Then I would suggest trying something where the meat is mixed in such small pieces that it is hardly noticeable, like a casserole with small bits or a soup or something similar. I wouldn't suggest trying to eat large pieces at first. If you can tolerate it in small quantities, stick to that for awhile.

If texture is the problem, try eating meat that has been processed more like sandwich meat or potted meat. The texture isn't as disgusting for some people.

Good luck and hopefully you will find some food options that expand your food choices to give you the variety you need.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on July 16, 2013: