How can you reap the benefits of a plant-based diet without giving up meat forever? A flexitarian diet is exactly what you’re looking for.
What is the Flexitarian Diet?
Is there anything more annoying than finding out your favorite foods are forbidden on your new diet? No more hamburgers? No more bacon? No more cheese? How will you survive?
Becoming a vegetarian or vegan isn’t for everyone. Following any kind of strict eating habit can feel both overwhelming and confining. While you might crave the health benefits of a plant-based diet, it’s hard to make the sacrifice to stick with it 100% of the time. If that’s you, perhaps a flexitarian way of eating is just what you need.
The word “flexitarian” is a mashup of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”. And it’s more of a lifestyle than it is a strict diet. Flexitarians, sometimes called semi-vegetarians, eat mostly plant-based meals. But as the name implies, they are flexible enough to eat things like meat and animal products from time to time, too. The flexitarian plan allows you to reap the benefits of plant-based foods without having to be dogmatic about it.
Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner coined the term flexitarian in 2009 with her book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life. She is a well-known advocate for living a mostly plant-based lifestyle for its incredible health benefits.
When it comes to the specifics of a flexitarian diet, Dawn Jackson Blatner recommends you follow a three-four-five regimen: eat 300 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, and 500 for dinner. You can have two snacks of 150 calories each, which gets you around 1,500 calories per day. She also suggests incorporating lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and non-meat proteins like beans, peas or eggs. It’s important to get nutrition from all of the main food groups.
Focusing on fresh, whole foods is the goal of a semi-vegetarian diet. As you know, there are incredible health and environmental benefits of eating plant-based meals. They fill you with the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to live and thrive. In fact, eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies is known to help with weight loss and decreasing your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
However, eating a completely plant-based diet can be a challenge. You might have dietary restrictions, cultural expectations about food, or young kids at home who are picky eaters. Or maybe you just love to eat meat, and the thought of giving it up is entirely unappealing. That’s okay too. Any of those reasons can make it hard to stick to a fully plant-based diet.
Remember, we’re all just trying to do the best we can. Taking small steps toward better nutrition will have great benefits for your overall health. The important thing is to keep going.
If you’re looking for some fresh recipes to kick off your flexitarian diet, here are a few delicious options to check out first:
Cons of the Flexitarian Diet
Sticking to a new diet can be hard, no matter what it is. Whether it’s the new foods, unusual recipes, or having a busy schedule, trying a new diet may be hard at first. As with anything, there are a few cons to the Flexitarian plan.
May Feel Deprived
Changing your diet can leave you feeling stressed and strained. Limiting your intake of comforting and familiar foods that contain meat can cause you to feel deprived, which makes it hard to stick to your new lifestyle. People who usually have higher levels of meat consumption may find plant-based diets to be too constraining. If you don’t like the meals you’re preparing, it’s only a matter of time before you go back to old habits.
Potential to fill up on Unhealthy Foods
Just because foods are plant-based doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Oreos and French fries are completely vegan-friendly. Are they nutritious? Not exactly. While some foods may fit into a plant-based diet, they won’t necessarily give you the vitamins, nutrients, and health benefits you’re looking for.
It’s especially easy to find yourself snacking on unhealthy foods that are packed with sugar and saturated fats. These are not the types of nutritional foods that will fill you with health and wholeness.
Prone to B12 and Iron deficiency
The only way to get B12 in your diet is through animal-based products, so vegetarians and vegans are prone to B12 deficiency. If you’re avoiding those types of foods, you may need to take a supplement to get the appropriate amount of B12 in your body.
Iron deficiency is another issue for plant-based eaters. Even though there are many ways to get iron in your diet—from things like lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts, and tofu—it’s still important to make sure you’re getting enough. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a B12 or iron deficiency.
Pros of the Flexitarian Diet
Plenty of Flexibility
As a flexitarian, you have lots of flexibility in your diet. This is one of the biggest pros of following a semi-vegetarian eating plan. While consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables is your goal, you don’t have to turn away from a plate of beef tacos or chicken enchiladas. Nothing in moderation is completely off-limits. You can eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, a salad with beans and salsa for lunch, and then not feel guilty about having chicken and waffles for dinner.
You can eat out at restaurants, go to parties, and cook your own delicious meals without having to stick to a strict set of rules. This flexibility allows for easy eating.
It’s hard being the only vegan or vegetarian at a party. Will there be any fully plant-based options? Will you have to ask for an ingredient list for each dish? Are you going to upset the hosts by not eating the meals they prepared? If these questions stress you out, a flexitarian approach will give you some relief.
You don’t have to bear the pressure and worry about the inconvenience of others. You also don’t have to bring your own veggie burgers to a backyard picnic. You can enjoy the same food everyone else is eating and just focus on having fun with your friends.
There’s a reason the veggie stir fry is cheaper than the filet mignon. Vegetables require fewer resources and less transportation to get from the farm to your fork. Eating a plant-based diet will keep more money in your wallet when it’s time to hit up the grocery store.
Get More Nutrients
A semi-vegetarian diet doesn’t focus on restricting foods. Instead, it encourages meals that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, which provide a wide array of health benefits. Whole, nutrient-dense foods are known to help people lose weight, improve heart health, and decrease their risk of chronic illnesses like cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Live Longer and Healthier
People who eat a plant-based diet often live longer, healthier lives. In fact, a community in Loma Linda, California is living an average of a decade longer than most people. Their longevity can be attributed to their vegetarian diet.
Among other things, how we eat affects our lifespan. Semi-vegetarians often weigh less than meat-eaters. If you want to live a longer, healthier life, a flexitarian diet is a great place to start.
Good for the Environment
More and more research shows the environmental benefits of plant-based eating. You can decrease your carbon footprint, save the rainforests, protect the oceans, and limit greenhouse gas emissions all while eating a plant-based diet. It turns out eating fruits and veggies is not just good for your body, it’s good for the planet, too.
If you’re looking for ways to start a healthier lifestyle for you and the environment, try a flexitarian diet.
Will you lose weight on the flexitarian diet?
You can absolutely lose weight on a flexitarian diet. Loading up your plate with fresh, whole foods will give your body exactly what it needs. Eating fruits, veggies, and whole grains can help you lose weight and stay healthy.
However, just because you’re sticking to a flexitarian diet doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to lose weight. It’s still important to maintain healthy portions, limit excessive fats and sugars, and move your body with adequate amounts of physical exercise. It’s possible to lose weight when starting a flexitarian diet, but it is, by no means, a guarantee. As always, speak with your doctor before starting a new dieting regimen.
Written by Aftan Hoffer
I’m a self-proclaimed flexitarian, living in Lancaster, PA with my vegetarian husband and our two picky, omnivore toddlers. We’re also a foster family, so the number of chairs around our dinner table can change from time to time. Meals at our house involve a variety of foods, so everyone has at least one thing they’re excited to eat. No one wants a battle at mealtime.