Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Sep

How to Eat Meat: Transitioning Away from Vegetarianism

Picture1 3As you all know, I have a number of vegetarians in my life, and there are many present and active in our MDA community. I empathize with the thinking that goes into their commitment, but I choose to eat meat and obviously encourage others to do the same for the sake of optimum health. I get a fair amount of emails from vegetarian readers who want to reintroduce meat into their diets. Although they see the health benefits of reclaiming omnivorism, they’re hesitant about the transition itself. Have they been herbivores too long? Will they really be able to follow through? The Primal mind is willing, but the flesh remains unsure. I’ve found their concerns generally fall into four areas that I’ll label taste, digestion, morality, and psychology. For all the vegetarians out there interested in rejoining the omnivorous side, let me take up your concerns and offer some Primal-minded suggestions.

Taste

Some vegetarians after many years are still nostalgic for certain meats (bacon seems to be the most common), while others have entirely lost any semblance of craving. Maybe they’ve managed to satisfy their taste for umami so well, they learned to live happily without any meat source. Alternatively, they may have vehemently talked themselves out of the taste long ago.

Faced with the interest in reclaiming meats’ nutritional benefit, they wonder how to rebuild a positive relationship with their estranged fare. We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and we tend to lean toward the familiar. As hard as it may be for meat lovers to understand, giving up a food group for years (and in some cases decades) means wholly disengaging from it. One’s associations with meat may become apathetic at best and full-on revulsion at worst. One reader worried because he’d come to hate the smell of grilled meat that wafted through his neighborhood from the corner restaurant. “If I can’t even take the smell,” he said, “I wonder how I’m ever going to stand the taste again.”

Readers will undoubtedly have good advice on the subject, but let me offer a few suggestions to ease the taste transition. It goes without saying (except I’m saying it) to take it slowly. Use small bits of meat (shredded or ground) as filler in what are already favorite dishes. Add a bit of shredded lamb to a ratatouille. Include small bites of chicken or shrimp in a Greek salad. Throw a little ground beef in a veggie stew.

Alternatively, let someone else do the cooking for a while. Make your first forays in a restaurant. Look around the room and see what other people are eating. Go with a visually appealing dish or something that just sounds good on the menu. Bring an experimental mindset. If the restaurant thing doesn’t do it for you, ask some meat-eating friends to share a couple of their best dishes. Host a potluck. Aim to try as many things as you can. Who knows, Mikey might like it.

Digestion

Beyond the scope of mere aesthetic appreciation, many vegetarian readers share a trickier concern. They worry – either because they’ve heard they should or (in some cases) they’ve experienced trouble in the past – that their bodies can’t digest meat anymore. Let me say there’s a lot hooey thrown around on this issue.

Do I suggest a 10-year vegetarian reignite his meat-eating lifestyle with a large t-bone steak or a blood sausage? No. But I think there’s a way for just about anybody (there’s probably some random outlier somewhere) to integrate meat again if they take it slowly enough.

Most of the clamor revolves around stomach enzymes. People declare their stomachs simply don’t produce meat digesting enzymes anymore, and they’re forever confined to a plant-based diet. Most of the time I hear this claim coming from people who’ve been vegetarians for five years or less.

This is one of the those times when I wish I could point to a group of studies and say, “See, there’s really no need to worry that a few years has selectively demolished your digestive profile.” Unfortunately, I have yet to come across any particular study with this focus. (If you know of one, please send it my way.) Nonetheless, reason and experience can often tell us what scientific research can’t. While long-term, strict vegetarianism or veganism can possibly lower the production of certain protein-directed enzymes, it shouldn’t be enough to halt it, let alone undo the genetic potential one has to produce them.

That said, I can see why people don’t want to jump in the deep end of the pool right away. Some people, particularly if they’ve been vegans or vegetarians for many years, do experience digestive upset during the first few days or weeks of including meat again. (Similar in some way to a sugar-burner turning fat-burner during the low carb flu period.) Rest assured it doesn’t mean you’ll always be plagued with nausea. In my experience, most people who take it slowly say they have little to no digestive issues during the transition.

Nonetheless, here’s a modest proposal for easing back into efficient meat digestion:

  • Start with good gut bacteria. Incorporate fermented foods, and go with a probiotic supplement for at least a few weeks before and after starting meat again. A healthy gut environment sets the stage for optimum digestion (among other benefits of course).
  • If you’ve had digestive issues with meat before, try broth, particularly bone broth, for the first week. It’s good nutrition, and it might be easier to handle. Continue broth until you’re ready to move on to solid meat.
  • Eat meat or fish alone, and don’t eat again for a few hours. (Be sure to eat it earlier in the day rather than at night.) Allow plenty of time for digestion and stomach emptying if you want to gauge how it will make you feel.
  • Use a marinade that contains an acid like vinegar or a natural meat tenderizer like the bromelain in pineapple.
  • If you experience ongoing problems, try a short-term course of HCL or enzyme supplement.

Morality

I’ll admit there’s no sugar coating the basics. Yes, it was an animal and – unless you forage for roadkill – it died to become food. As bad as a person may feel about this act, it’s the way of life of course. Nature isn’t a gentle, magnanimous force. We evolved to eat both meat and plants, regardless of what some people say. Meat eating (particularly after cooking was added to the mix) was a significant boon to our species. Yes, we can live without it, but we live better with it.

All that said, I can understand many people’s discomfort with the modern meat industry. In a fitting correlation, the livestock practices that produce the healthiest meat also tend to be more humane and less environmentally destructive overall. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s a better one.

These days it’s possible for most people to find more humanely raised, pastured meat either within driving distance, through local co-ops and buying clubs, or by direct mail. If local stores don’t offer what you’re looking for, research the area farms and natural buying clubs available to you, and check out direct farm to consumer mail order options. You should be able to find out how the animals are raised, what their diet is, and even what facility handles the slaughter and processing. Consider the facts, weigh the financials, and choose the best you can.

Then there’s always the do-it-yourself approach. As unappealing as killing an animal must sound, the option provides the best chance to ensure an animal has had as natural a life (and humane a death) as possible. Some people fish for their dinners or raise their own chickens for this exact reason. Raising a small herd of cattle or sheep is obviously more complicated, but I’ve known a few folks who do it. People also hunt, of course, for this among many other reasons. I’ll admit that I’ve done a mental 180 in recent years around the hunting issue. There are of course hunters who are cruel and irresponsible, but friends and MDA readers (among others) have helped me see how hunting – when done with respect and skill – offers a humane and even reverent way to relate to the animals we eat.

Last, take a look at opposing views on the ethics of eating meat. As Denise Minger recommended in her Ancestral Health Symposium talk, Let Them Eat Meat puts forth some interesting arguments. And Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth is highly recommended.

Psychology

Oftentimes, people’s emotional reservations are caught up primarily in the previous factor. Sometimes, however, there’s another level to the aversion – a heebie-jeebies kind of feeling. It’s more common in people who have been vegetarians/vegans for many years or who focused on the “repulsive” fleshly aspect of carne to maintain their commitment.

At some point, of course, you just have gird up your loins and sink your teeth into some. Some vegetarian readers have told me they try to ignore the meat in the dish. They tell themselves – in vain – that it’s just another ingredient. Their efforts to disconnect thought from sensory experience ends up making the situation worse. The flesh is all they can think about.

Although I can see why they would want to put it out of their minds and just do the deed with as little thought as possible, maybe the opposite approach is in order. Fire up the grill or, better yet, campfire. Give the occasion its primal due. Make a ceremony out of it. Think about that animal and all it offers to you now. Think about your ancestors and what they sacrificed through the ages to achieve basic survival. Toast them all. Celebrate the choice you have to indulge today. Eat with your hands. Feel the meat’s life-giving energy, and relish its connection to what’s essential and wild. After all, we’re all animals at the end of the day.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Have you made the meat-eating transition? Know someone who has? What’s helped (or not)? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. the other week i slaughtered a duck (which i raised) for thanksgiving. i have fond memories of loving to eat duck. i managed to get thru 4 bites — flavour was fine BUT the aftertaste — a wet dog taste — i couldn’t handle. it’s the same with broth snuck into ‘vegetarian’ food. it’s the thick, tongue coating wet dog taste that makes me nearly gag.

    i quit eating creatures with feet in the mid 80s. i try occasionally to eat creatures. even fish are hard for me to eat now. i was really looking forward to the duck. the other folks at dinner said it was absolutely delicious. i think i will have to be very, very, very hungry before i’m able to eat meat. and then it will be for survival, not enjoyment. it’s too bad. i finally created an environment where i can raise the animals for my dinner & the taste is unappealing.

    at least my omnivore friends will be happy — i always have extra critters to cook up for them.

    Tinny wrote on November 27th, 2012
  2. My mum raised me as a vegetarian so for 24 (nearly 25) years I have not been eating meat. My mum will always claim that she gave me choice in the matter but I have very clear memories of going shopping and asking for ham for my sandwiches, sausages in the chip shop, glazed ribs at a BBQ and various other meat dishes I came across only for her to say things like “but it’s a dead pig/cow/sheep!” and for her to tell me things in the most gruesome way that I feel has left very deep mental scars. She used to let me eat fish without kicking up a fuss but the more she said about meat the more applied to it fish as well, and it has even begun to encroach on the vegetarian foods I eat so I am now worried about becoming malnourished. My husband is a very patient and encouraging man and he has said that he will help me in whatever way he can and now that I have read this very helpful article I think we can begin my road to a healthy lifestyle (and mindset!). Thank you, I cannot say how much you have helped me!

    Natasha wrote on December 11th, 2012
  3. I haven’t beef or pork since I was 13 years old. I stopped eating chicken and seafood when I was 18 – I’m now 35. At 19 I became vegan and was so for 13 years. I realized that I had developed a soy intolerance and needed to get my proteins from other sources so I reintroduced dairy and eggs back into my diet. I definitely felt better but I knew I was lacking something so about 7 months ago I started eating seafood. I love it. I’ve have gone back and forth on the idea of introducing other meats but there is something holding me back. I think the majority of it is guilt. i don’t feel as bad about eating seafod but chicken, beef and pork…I’m not sure how to get over that.

    MellieMel wrote on January 3rd, 2013
  4. Dear Mark, great article/great website – much appreciated.

    However, you did not address the #1 reason for many people (including me) going vegetarian, which is the resources issue – which is also a morality-based component.

    The figures vary, based on who you talk to, but it is something like 4-10 vegetarian meals worth of ground resources go into feeding a cow enough that it will provide one meat meal (burger, steak, etc).

    Knowing that, in addition to the massive starvation problem in the world, how do you rationalize choosing to have a meat meal, knowing that the world will lose out on 4-10 vegetarian meals for you to do so?

    Thanks much!

    Ted wrote on January 16th, 2013
  5. I came to this article because I’ve been reading about PB, but I hate red meat and eggs. I don’t mind Hormel Naturals deli turkey (no toxic preservatives) or canned tuna, but everything else just turns me off. So I’m wondering if the PB eating plan is viable for me.

    Alisha Newton wrote on February 9th, 2013
  6. Just a brief anecdote of encouragement from an ex-10 year vegetarian (“over half my life” sounds more daunting, of course): last Sunday I wolfed down a good 6 oz of blue-rare ribeye, and it did me no wrong at all. In my case, all the aversion was mental, and surprisingly easy to overcome in the end once I just did it.

    L wrote on March 11th, 2013
  7. I’m 26 and at the age of 9, decided I no longer wanted to eat any kind of meat. What had led to this decision was multicausal – Firstly, my older sister was then working at a local Deli and would come home with appalling non-hygiene, horror stories. Secondly and further cementing my decision was a regular trip up to our country property and a visit to a cow that I’d always go and pat, who’d now been re-located to the freezer. In fact the owner casually asked me “would I like some Bell to try?” This intrinsic link had always been separate for me as a meat-loving kid – until that moment.
    17 years on, healthy and fit, I still haven’t touched land-meat (I began eating seafood again 5 years ago) in-fact I still have no desire toward meat whatsoever. However, my personal preference has been challenged by my new partner, who is very bothered by my ‘pescatarianism’ and out of love for him and a pragmatic stand-point (combined eating/ease) – I want to try to begin to introduce meat back into my life.
    As a nutritionist I know the benefits of lean meat in moderation, but overcoming the fears and years of conditioning one can do to oneself I’m on struggle street. Loving reading about everyone’s journey! Thank you.

    Laura wrote on April 8th, 2013
  8. Hi, im at the point where i started vegertarianism at a young age, disagree with my reasoning all those years ago and now cant decide if i can go back. I have been veggie 6 years and its very hard to bare the thought of eating meat. It must be psychological i am at the stage where i want to go back but i feel there is a block and its a anxiety that wont defer my mind from thinking about the food as food and not an animal. This is very hard but must sound so foolish to anyone who hasnt been a veggie

    Andy wrote on May 1st, 2013
  9. I have been a vegetarian for 40 years (since I was 4). I would love to add sea food and eggs to my diet, but am having a very difficult time as I find them disgusting. Just the thought makes me sick. Would love to hear from someone in a similar situation that was successful with this!

    jane wrote on May 17th, 2013
    • Hi
      I have been vegetarian for 20 years. I just started eating eggs last year. I hope it worked out for you. It really grossed me out too. The texture and flavour of eggs is hard for me. I find scrambled with cheese and a bit of coconut oil, salt and pepper and a bit of green onion to be good. Especially amazing is basil and goat cheese.
      The way I got past the block (mostly.. I still have a little trouble) was to start by adding a LOT of veggies an scrambling. Also when I was scrambling the eggs in the bowl I would add a dollop of salsa, then add veggies and dump in the pan. I found it changed the flavour just enough to start easing me into eating them. Then over time I was able to make it less and less. Now I am able to eat just scrambled eggs if that’s they way they are made, but still prefer with cheese. I sometimes get a bit of that same aversion, but I also find that I crave eggs like crazy, and am much more healthy. I used to be iron deficient, and even got turned away from a blood donation clinic, and now am told every time I go that my iron is fantastic. If you haven’t already incorporated eggs into your diet, I strongly recommend you give it a shot. But make sure you buy organic farm eggs. YUM!

      Christina wrote on November 9th, 2013
  10. This is a great post & I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments.

    I finally see someone who has been a vegetarian longer than i have (Jane, above, 40 years). I’m technically a pescetarian & have been for 32 years this August – no red meat or poultry. I just got into the paleo-style diet a few weeks ago and it makes a lot of sense to me. Since I started the diet I’ve considered eating meat but like some others here I can barely tolerate the idea – especially beef. I just can’t think of it as food, and not animal. If I did eat it, I would need to know it was humanely raised (as best as we can know these things).

    It’s kind of interesting that Mark hasn’t convinced his wife to eat meat, though!

    Ava wrote on June 30th, 2013
  11. Let me preface my comments by noting that Mark is one of the more insightful, articulate and inspirational health transformational people out there. In additional to much of his advice that I agree with he has pointed me to some other resources like leangains, a protocol I am now following and really getting ripped for a 60 year old guy. I have been a vegetarian for about 12 years. I eliminated / minimized grain intake about two years ago and it was the missing link, I was always pretty healthy but I dropped about 25 pounds without trying (I’m now lifting heavy to try to muscle up a bit, was doing a lot of functional training). I eat a lot of free range eggs and drink a couple of whey protein drinks each day, so I am far from vegan. Not everyone can afford to take in the kind of protein I do, I realize. If I was stranded on a desert island I would try to track down some game, otherwise, just not something I can do any more.

    George wrote on June 30th, 2013
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    blog; this web site contains awesome and truly fine information in favor of visitors.

    Caroline wrote on July 24th, 2013
  13. I have recently begun transitioning from gluten free/vegan to paleo for health purposes and needing to eliminate grains. While i can eat meat if I don’t think about it, I don’t love the taste or texture if its not covered up well, and reading these comments made me gag multiple times. Meat has always grossed me out. I hope that I can address health issues and be primarily vegan whilst maintaining balance in my body down the road.

    Littlemissgreenpeace wrote on September 6th, 2013
  14. My girlfriend eats eggs, fish, and has dairy products. However she can not eat meat she will get sick and will throw up. The weird thing is tho that she can eat stomach or heart. Than it is fine. This started after one day she got hospitalized because of some bad food, most likely it was bad meat. She wants to try to eat meat again. Any suggestions or comments on this?

    hasan wrote on November 4th, 2013
  15. I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years. Basically since I realized that I could decide what I wanted to eat. I’m 30 now, and have been thinking about trying to have chicken for a couple of years, but not seriously until today. I bought some farm raised chicken and brought it home, but I’m not sure I can do it. I’m having a hard time with the eating flesh from a dead body part. I’ve never wanted meat in my life. It wasn’t much of a decision to stop eating it, and It’s never been an effort. It’s just a fact of life for me. But something is messed up, and tests don’t show anything really wrong with me. So I feel like I should try this to see if it helps. So is there any advice out there from anyone like me who never wanted to eat meat, and decided to integrate it into their diet after a long time without it. I should note that I didn’t hate the taste of chicken as a child. It was the psychological block for me. Other meats I didn’t like. But chicken wasn’t a problem. That’s why I’m trying out chicken and not something else (like bacon. That likely will never happen).
    Thanks

    Christina wrote on November 9th, 2013
  16. What meats are the best to start with?
    My doctor recommended tartar, like lamb or beef, since they’re soft.
    My biggest issue is the texture of meat! You have to chew an eternity!!! Can anyone recommend how to transition into the tough texture aspects of meat?

    VeggieNoMore wrote on November 20th, 2013
  17. I had been pescatarian for 23 years until transitioning to paleo/primal 3 months ago. I had been having gut issues (bloating and stomach cramps) with occasional food poisoning symptoms after eating fish, losing whole days to it so decided to experiments with primal. Initially I didn’t eat red meat & fowl but restricting my diet even further than pesca was very limiting. Farming practice was my reason for cutting meat and my ‘beef’ was with meateaters not taking personal responsibility. (I’m amazed at the numbers of meateaters who are squeamish about knowing how it is produced.) I tried some roasted lamb and had indigestion – the meat felt ‘stuck’ and I was constipated. I restarted on free range chicken broth to get my stomach used to it with the addition of high probiotics (20 billion). Chicken, sausages (98% meat variety) and bacon seemed ok but large pieces of meat are still hard to digest. Maybe as an ex-pesca I need to learn to chew more!
    I don’t understand the paleo/primal community’s addiction to bacon – it seems the most processed meat – so maybe someone could help me with that? As far as farming practice is concerned it is the furthest from nature too. In the UK it’s hard to get fully outdoor raised pork and the closest has been pricey sausages & bacon sold as outdoor bred but on closer reading that is outdoors until weaned at 4 weeks then fattened in straw barns.
    I feel we should be flexitarian – eating a wide range of food including all meats fish & veggies, including days that would be meat-free, as I find the paleo approach focuses too heavily on meat. Surely the caveman wouldn’t have that many kills? And if an animal was brought down every scrap would be eaten not just the sirloin?
    Btw this lifestyle has really helped my digestion and have lost 15lb as a byproduct. I still have a few bloating issues but I think that is dairy and will do the Whole 30 to experiment.

    nikki wrote on November 24th, 2013
  18. I have been vegan and vegetarian for over 25 years. I am having thyroid problems among other things and Doc/people believe eating meat will help. I recently started taking fish oil which was a huge step for me. I am trying to decide if I want to take the leap to animal based broth or not perhaps mixed into foods. Then on to something else but not really sure what that would be, I am one who is grossed out by meat products. This is an extremely hard transition to make when I have been vegan/vegetarian since I was 15 years old. Very hard.

    Lynn wrote on January 6th, 2014

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