I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about changing our daily diet. What are my options? How can I commit to that kind of lifestyle change without failing?

As someone who’s already made these kinds of changes in her life, I thought it might be a good idea for a series on dietary lifestyle changes – what they are, how to convert, and what they can (and cannot) do for you. They’re typically uncommon and because we rarely think about changing our lifestyles in this way, they’re an untapped mine for opportunities to eat healthier.

Firstly, let’s talk about dietary restrictions. When I say “dietary restrictions,” I’m not referring to diet in the “American” sense. When we say “diet” we often mean “temporary,” as in “the Grapefruit Diet” or “The Lemonade Diet.” (Thank you, Beyonce.) That’s not what I’m getting at. Dietary restrictions are common place for people with allergies – allergic to peanut butter? You’re going to restrict Peanut Butter Cookies from your diet. Allergic to shellfish? Crab will eternally be restricted from your daily diet. Dietary restrictions are basically a daily lifestyle that makes it clear to you what you will and will not be eating.

Now.. let’s talk about options. When it comes to eating lifestyles, you have plenty of options.

Vegan. [cue horror music]

Veganism is a lifestyle where you commit yourself to avoiding the use of animal products and by-products for any purpose – food, clothes, accessories, anything.

There’s an emotional commitment to veganism, I think. There’s a passion there that you’re going out of your way to go against society and the prevalence of animal by-products for a very real purpose. Animal by-products are everywhere, and it requires major effort and consciousness to not slip up.

The positives about this are not only the commitment to the environment, but the commitment to your health. If you are vegan and avoid processed foods, you’re on a pretty solid path for good health. It basically leaves you fruit, nuts, and vegetables. If done properly, you can ensure that you get all of the nutrients you need with minimal interference and involvement from the outside world OR animal products.

The negatives are the serious risk of malnutrition if you’re not careful. Most Americans are used to getting the whole of their calcium from dairy products. If you cut dairy without finding a suitable replacement, you will feel it. Most Americans get their protein from animal meat. If you don’t plan for that, you will feel it. If you get most of your food from processed foods, you have to think about nutrition. Seriously. It’s not healthy for you just because it says “healthy” on the box, and most food manufacturers know that new vegans are dying for good tasting food… healthy-ness be damned.

Raw Vegan [cue hippie music]

Raw veganism is a lifestyle that consists of uncooked fruits and vegetables. The end. The belief is that any item cooked beyond 105degrees begins to decrease in nutritional value, so they avoid cooking it. I know raw vegans who do a lot of “cooking” in the summertime – leaving things like sweet potatoes covered in aluminum foil outside to “cook,” and the food can actually be quite delicious.

I think there are a ton of positives here – super inexpensive; no processed foods; with all the super low calorie counts for produce, you literally could eat all day and still not overeat; your body would get back to the way it should be, with only focusing on digesting things it’s been digesting for centuries. Not… high fructose corn syrup.

The negatives? The difficulty – no bagels in the meetings. No potato salad at the family reunion. No corn-fresh-off-the-grill. No ribs. No ice cream. You’re doing a wonderful thing for your body, but your mind’s memories of food will make the struggle long and hard. Then again, the harder the struggle, the better the reward? I don’t know too many unhealthy (not fat, unhealthy) raw vegans… and I know plenty of ’em.

Vegetarian

Vegetarianism is a daily lifestyle that avoids ingesting any animal. Red meat, poultry, fish, all of it. It’s not quite as restrictive as raw veganism because you are still able to cook, and it’s not as rough as veganism because you can have dairy (and leather Coach bags?), but it is cutting down on your overall intake. Particularly if you’re drawn to things like fried pork chops, burgers.

The positives here are that because you’re cutting back on a heavy-in-calorie food category, you can indulge more in your fruits and veggies without breaking the bank in calories and getting wholesome nutrition.

The negatives are simple. When I converted to vegetarianism a while back, I [foolishly] thought that just because I wasn’t eating meat that I’d lose weight regardless of what I ate… so I went in on the hot fries, the doritos, the grilled cheese sandwiches… why? I mean, it’s vegetarian! Well, (like many of the negatives above) ignoring proper nutrition will leave you running short. I developed a quick bout with hypoglycemia, but eventually got myself together by using the next option.

Flexitarian

What is a Flexitarian? It’s a typical vegetarian diet, that relies on the occasional meat dish. It means that meat isn’t the premier item in the diet – it’s a luxury, so to speak. It’s used for an occasion.. not a regular occurrence.

The pros here are that since you’re relying less on meat, you get much more creative with your dishes. You get to save a little money buying less meat, you get to indulge a little… you also don’t have to shut yourself off eternally from the things you enjoy. You just get to realistically cut back from them in an accepted fashion.

Are there cons to Flexitarianism? Seriously? Outside of the initial pain of sacrifice, I don’t think there is one. Lots of us are flexitarians and never even knew it. The joke is that flexitarians are vegetarians with commitment issues. I won’t tell you that you have to commit.. ’cause this is one instance where it might benefit you.

Pescetarian

A pescetarian is one who only eats fruits, veggies and seafood at the expense of red meats, pork, and poultry. Shrimp, crab, lobster, sushi? This isn’t a bad option.

The pros are simple – since you’re taking in so much fish, you’ll definitely get in your omega-3s, which (while I rarely promote focusing on individual nutrients, I do like when we’re getting nutrients in their original form.. from nature) promotes a healthy heart. I think my folks in NoLa or the DC/MD/VA area might appreciate this.

The cons? Living anywhere else not rich in seafood and trying to live this lifestyle. A pint of crab meat was little over $11 for me here in Miami. Uh, I’m good.

Pollotarianism

Ahhh, this one isn’t too bad, I think. In the same vein as pescetarianism, pollotarianism swaps out seafood for poultry. This allows a lot of room – chicken, turkey, duck. Ground chicken/turkey for burgers, still can eat eggs and cheese… various ways to cook poultry would allow for the creative eater to enjoy themselves for quite a while.

The positives – a simple solution for the question, “Well, where do you get your protein?” Limited restriction, but enough to make a difference and a major shift in your diet.

The negatives? Outside of the sacrifice? Outside of trying to figure out a different way to cook poultry every night? Meh.

Polpescetarian

This is simply a combination of the previous two. You’re basically cutting out red meat and pork.

You’ll notice that all of these options begin with – at their core – cutting out pork and red meat. Sometimes, if you can’t get the better quality of meats, it might be best to consider cutting it out. I could go into reasons why, but I’ll save that for another post. The bottom line is, if you’re doing a lot of fried pork, or burgers full of condiments and other things that might be calorie overkill, it might be a nice way to switch it up and maybe cut down your reliance on those items.

I’ve been all of these – yes, all of ’em – and couldn’t say that I am one in particular. At various points in my journey, I’ve been all of them. I haven’t had red meat or pork since 1999. I do go long periods of time without chicken. I eat very little dairy. I go extended periods of time eating like a raw vegan but because I still cook for my daughter, I’m tempted regularly to step outside of myself and chow down a bit.

I’d prefer to be a raw vegan. I know my dieting habits are pushing me in that direction, but I also know that’s giving up a LOT. So I’m not rushing it. After taking about six months to make the conversion, I eat chicken maybe once or twice a week, dairy maybe twice a week, and ground turkey maybe twice a month. I’m taking my time with it.

In closing, I do believe this is a decision best made after giving careful consideration to how you can execute it. As you can see, avoiding nutritional deficiency is a big issue and shouldn’t be taken lightly just to lose weight. It’s easy to get your protein and healthy fats outside of meats – peanut butter and basic nuts are a prime example – but if your daily routine can’t accommodate it, work to make sure that it does or find a more suitable option.

I’ll be writing more about this topic, so let me know – what questions do you have about these options? Do you live one of these lifestyles? If so, how has it benefitted you? Are you on the journey to change now, as well?