The hardest part about going on a diet is saying no to foods you genuinely love to eat. Even those interested in losing weight and passionate about the environment wrestle with the thought of going vegetarian or vegan because they can’t imagine giving up meat. It turns out there is actually a diet for people like this — and you may not have even known it existed until now. Do you want to lose weight and live healthier, even though you refuse to give up the hearty foods that — in your eyes — make food worth eating — like bacon? You may want to give the flexitarian diet a try.
Unlike a straightforward, more traditional vegetarian diet, the flexitarian diet permits you to eat meat occasionally. However, it’s still considered an effective weight loss die. On it, you will eat mostly plant based foods (depending on whether or not you continue to eat dairy, or keep fish as part of your diet). This is a great option for those who are interested in losing weight, but simply do not want to give up chicken sandwiches, bacon, or the occasional double cheeseburger.
Read on to learn what the flexitarian diet entails, its many health benefits, and what is required of those who hope to give this diet a try. Also view a quick sample menu and success tips guaranteed to guide you through your adjustment to a flexitarian diet with ease.
What is the flexitarian diet?
The flexitarian diet is a cross between the flexible diet and a standard vegetarian diet. The flexible diet involves eating whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as it fits into a personalized macronutrient (“macro”) ratio. This, combined with vegetarianism, aims to provide all the benefits of a mostly plant-base diet while allowing the dieter to eat the occasional animal protein whenever they see fit.
The diet is still mostly plant based, but doesn’t require you to give up meat completely. So if burgers are an important part of your diet — and you enjoy eating them — you can still follow a diet plan that might help you lose weight without having to wave goodbye to your go-to protein sources (e.g., beef).
The flexitarian diet isn’t much different from the diet vegetarians follow. You will get the majority of your calories from plant foods such as beans, vegetables, fruits, grains, eggs, and dairy products. You should choose healthy meat alternatives whenever possible. However, you’re allowed the occasional pork, steak, or beef, as long as you stay within your calorie limit.
A diet low in saturated fat
Meat, especially red meat and processed meats like hot dogs, tends to be high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease and other heart-related conditions. Plants are free of these fats, and even often include healthy fats that can raise your “good” cholesterol. Dairy has some saturated fat, but not nearly as much as a pork chop or hamburger. Significantly reducing your meat consumption is also beneficial for the environment, if that’s a motivator that might convince you to go almost completely meatless.
Say goodbye to processed food — painlessly
When you eat large quantities of nutritious food, there isn’t always room left over for empty calories. You might struggle with intense sugar and sodium cravings now, but it’s very likely these will subside once you shift your focus and eat more filling foods. The flexitarian diet isn’t about cutting out foods, but about eating more good food. Still, by default, don’t be surprised if this diet cures you of your processed food addiction without much notice.
Extremely nutritious — and low in calories
Plant foods are full of vitamins and minerals essential for following a healthy diet and preventing disease. They provide all the nutrients you need — as long as you are eating a variety of different foods, instead of eating the same exact things for every meal every single day. This goes beyond just fruits and vegetables, including foods like beans and whole grains as well. Fruits and vegetables are, however, pack a lot of nutrition into each serving while providing very few calories. You will not have much trouble staying below your calorie limit as long as you continue eating foods high in fiber and protein.
You can start where you’re at
On the flexitarian diet, you can start out as a beginner, dive right in as an expert, or ease your way into the middle as an advanced dieter. Beginners start out eating only a few meatless meals throughout the week, while experts keep meat strictly “occasional.” Even if you currently eat meat multiple times per day, you can slowly transition into eating less and less — until meat becomes an afterthought, instead of the first thing you consider when planning a meal.
Follow the recipes — or venture out on your own
For those who are less comfortable in the kitchen (many new dieters are — no shame!), the flexitarian diet actually provides a series of recipes to follow if you need them. This makes the diet much easier to follow if you aren’t sure what to shop for at the store or just do not have the time to plan out your own meals every single week. However, you also have the freedom to create your own food “schedule” if you want more control over what you eat and when.
Though a more traditional flexible diet lets you eat whatever and however much you want (within certain parameters), the flexitarian diet does have some rules. But do not worry — they aren’t too hard to follow. Many of them will actually seem quite familiar to you, especially if you have ever looked into or actually tried a more traditional vegetarian or vegan diet. As long as you follow the basic premise — mostly plant foods, with the occasional meat source here and there — you’ll be just fine.
The average flexitarian diet provides around 1,500 calories per day, 500 less than a typical 2,000 calorie diet. This aligns with general recommendations to decrease your normal calorie intake by 500 in an attempt to lose weight. Your specific calorie amount does vary depending on your age, gender, and activity level, however. If you lead a much more active lifestyle — or you plan on starting to, as part of your new diet — you will likely consume more (healthy!) calories to offset your deficit.
Fruits and vegetables
A diet that lacks the complete proteins found in animal sources like chicken or beef should consist of a variety of fruits and vegetables. You should include these foods at every meal and snack, if possible. While dried fruits aren’t always the best options (they tend to be high in added sugars, if you buy them pre-packaged), you can never go wrong with fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables are full of dietary fiber, which is an important component of weight loss.
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