Why I Re-Incorporated Meat Again / by lee tilghman

This post took me some time to write. I wasn't sure how to put into words how/why I decided to eat meat again after 13 months meat-free.

Here's the honest, full story, 100% upfront.

Let's start from the beginning.

veganism

I started researching the vegan diet circa summer 2014, after getting really into running.

I followed many vegan bloggers and watched how they ate plants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In all their captions they talked about how they said they were "thriving" and full of energy. Most healthy bloggers on Instagram and on the web were plant based in 2014. There was something incredibly sexy and alluring about the lifestyle.  It seemed to help people connect to themselves and the earth around them, and like a great one-time decision to allow me to be healthy for a lifetime. 

It may sound weird but I viewed the vegan diet as an easy way to stay healthy...for life. There were so many different viewpoints on health (low fat, zero carb...) but the vegan lifestyle seemed like a decision that I only had to make once and I'd have health. Many people think veganism is hard and inconvenient, but I found it easy to just label and identify myself as a vegan in order to stay healthy.

In 2014, I signed up for a half marathon, and began experimenting with veganism. I was successfully vegan for about 3 months, and felt great. I felt my energy skyrocket, but then it plummeted. I also found it too restrictive for my previously eating disordered self, and started to eat dairy and select meat again. 

I kept eating this way for about a year (mostly plants but eating dairy sporadically or meat when out to dinner, traveling, etc).

Fast forward to January 2016, which is when I started my yoga teacher training. I was inspired to do try veganism again after dating someone who had been vegan for 6 years. I thought becoming vegan on January 1st whilst practicing yoga everyday would be a great way to dive fully into the lifestyle.

And let me tell you, that first month I felt great. I found food prep to be super easy, I never had to buy meat and worry about it going bad/rancid. I ate peanut butter + jellies for lunch every other day and big salads for dinner. For breakfast I ate sweet potatoes with almond butter or protein smoothies. 

Then, in February 2016, my symptoms of bloat, gas, fatigue, mood swings, and irregular periods surfaced. These are symptoms the I had always experienced in my 20's, but I was much more aware of them now. In 2015, my gyno had tested my blood and urged me to go to an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) but I had put it off for so long, excusing it as a frivolous expense. I didn't feel THAT sick. But the symptoms kept getting worse. But after my teacher training, I knew I needed to go. So, I made that appointment and went to endocrinologist in March 2016.

diagnosis

My endocrinologist diagnosed me with PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome on the spot. I cried, I felt hopeless, and quite frankly, angry at myself for not going sooner. 

My endocrinologist told me to go on birth control STAT, but I had already dismissed that idea completely and refused. I told my best friend who connected me with a girl in NYC who recommended reading Womancode. I bought it that night and read it in 3 days.

The Womancode protocol talks deeply about the importance of stabilizing your blood sugar in order to get your hormones regular again. It is the most important aspect of this entire process, and that starts with your diet. Before this book, I was not aware how many carbohydrates I was eating everyday. Alisa the author stresses the importance of QUALITY animal protein in getting your hormones back on track and even getting your period back.

At this point, I was still eating vegan, so it was very hard for me to swallow the fact that I may have to eat animal protein again. It took me a few weeks to stomach. 

I weighed out my options and talked to some very close girlfriends about it like Sophie Jaffe and Kacie Carter who are both certified integrative nutritionists. They both understood how hard it can be to transition to eating animal protein again after being a gung-ho vegan, even if just for a few short months. Kacie told me how important it was to feed our bodies with what they needed, so that we could help make the world a better place. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the only way to get my PCOS reversed and my hormones back on track.

fish & eggs

In March I decided to try the elimination diet and start re-introducing eggs. I got pasture-raised eggs and starting eating them 2-3x a week and immediately starting seeing and feeling the benefits. I had more energy, less bloat, less fatigue, and my skin even cleared up. My face de-puffed! I also felt so much more satiated after my meals. It was great.

A few months later in June, I went on a trip to Kauai with my family where the fish is super fresh. On the plane, my sister asked me if I was excited to try all the poke. I got some anxiety thinking I would be "expected" to eat fish in Hawaii. I wasn't sure if I even wanted it. I decided to take it day by day, and if I wanted to try some fish, it would be okay and I would let myself. I would let my body tell me what it wanted instead of my brain.

This mindset really healed me in allowing myself to really communicate my own needs.

I tried lots of fresh fish in Hawaii and it helped me deepen my experience on the island as it is such a huge part of the culture. I also love traveling and trying new foods when traveling and I felt like I was re-connected with that part of myself again. 

I decided to incorporate fish slowly back into my diet slowly, and once I returned to LA, I bought wild caught salmon and eat it once a week. I also ate smoked salmon on occasion. Just like eggs, I truly felt amazing after eating it, and felt myself coming back to life.

Fast forward to October 2016 when I started seeing a functional health doctor via Parsley Health. Parsley and I worked together to solve tons of my issues. They were the ones who told me to steer clear of onions and garlic to ease my digestive issues (which worked overnight) and they also helped me incorporate more stress relieving techniques such as meditation and 3PM work breaks. 

After 2 months of working with Parsley I still wasn't getting my period. I spoke with my health coach and she recommended I start thinking about eating meat, and taking Collagen Peptides with my morning matcha for my hair skin and nails. She also said this could help regulate my hormones regulating and possibly aid in getting my period back. 

I started meditating on eating meat again. I knew I needed a few weeks to think about whether or not I wanted to eat collagen. I had to warm up to this idea, after having these ideologies in my head about beef. But, I started making bulletproof matcha lattes at home and enjoyed it. I still don't drink it everyday, but I'm trying!

my first meat in a year

In January 2017, I boarded a flight to Mexico City with my best girlfriend for a 4 day vacation. On the plane, my friend started talking about tacos al pastor (a traditional central Mexican style of taco containing pork from a schwarma stick) and suddenly, it piqued my interest. I realized, I wanted it too. 

In all of 2016, I had never once craved meat.

But now? I realized I wanted it. And I was going to have it!
Like I said, traveling is one of my favorite things, and trying custom foods in new cities/countries is one of life's greatest joys for me. 

So when we got to Mexico City, we found a great tacos al pastor place and I had my first meat in over a year. Let me tell you. It was SO GOOD.

It was kind of nuts to me how they served me a plain corn tortilla with just a few pieces of meat on top. Not all the other fancy stuff vegan taco places sprinkle on top. No guac, no salsa, no cabbage even. The meat itself is so juicy and flavorful you don't need all that extra stuff. It dawned on me that I had been missing out on some great tasting things for over a year. And that is how I re-introduced meat. 

making my own meat

Once I got back from Mexico City, I started the Clean Program (read my full experience here). In this program, no eggs, raw fish/sushi, pork or beef is allowed. However, organic turkey and chicken is encouraged.  Going out to a restaurant and getting meat served to you is one thing, but buying it at a butcher and going home to prep it yourself is a totally new thing.

Within 1 week of the Clean Program, I was missing the satisfying feeling eggs would give me. I also had my health coach's voice in my head my body was asking for extra protein. I couldn't just survive in beans and salmon! I knew I needed to buy some real meat. And I wanted to make it myself so I was there the entire prepping process.

I was very aware of the kind and quality of meat I would be making for my first time at home. My friend Lily of Clean Food Dirty City told me about an onion and garlic free meat spot that made delicious, organic local bone broth called Belcampo. Belcampo also offers hormone-free, organic, pasture- raised beef, chicken, pork, eggs, you name it. They are a full service butcher shop. (They're also available in SF!)

I headed to Belcampo and picked up a 3 lbs, organic, heritage chicken, 2 quarts of in-house bone broth, and a box of eggs to eat once I was done with my cleanse. 

The people at Belcampo made me feel so much better. I asked them a whirlwind if questions...

"Where did this chicken come from?"

"What did it eat?"

It made me feel really good to know that I was getting a chicken from a family farm here in California.

If you're re-introducing meat, I recommend going to a small butcher house (if available) that raises their meat ethically and sustainably (not to mention hormone-free) to get your meat so you can feel a part of the process and feel GOOD about the meat you are about to eat. I know you're not raising the meat yourself but getting as involved in the process is very important from all standpoints. Eating quality meat is important in a well balanced life. The standard American way of consuming meat 3x a day from factory farms is making our animals, planet and ourselves very sick. Supporting small businesses and butcher shops is one of the best ways we can control this inhumane and toxic industry.

I went home and brined the chicken in salt for 24 hours (per my parent's recommendation) then roasted the chicken in olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and lemon juice. It was the juiciest, yummiest thing I've ever tasted. The entire week, I had fresh chicken available in my fridge to add to salads, wraps, bowls, and rolls.

One day, I made a kale salad with a few pieces of chicken and some avocado. I ate this around 2:00PM. I kid you not, I was full/satisfied through 8:00PM! That has never once happened to me even when I was eating more calories as a vegan. It felt so good to be satisfied and not need an afternoon snack (and trust me, I was the queen of afternoon snacks/grazing around 3/4 pm). I knew my body was so happy to be reunited with meat again. 

So much so that I even got my period in the beginning of February for the first time in months. Was it the collagen? The meat? Who knows. 

To recap, some of the largest factors in deciding to eat meat again were:

  • regulate my hormones
  • get my period back
  • to feel satisfied after meals and not need to "graze" all afternoon (this worked!)

The takeaway of this whole thing is that our bodies are constantly changing, and it is SO important to re-evaluate our own restrictions and limits we can put on ourselves. My decision to eat meat again was 100% mine, and only came to fruition after I did the research myself and felt ready to. We need to re-learn to listen to our bodies and what it's telling us. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong. This was just my experience, and I hope it resonates with you.