Recently, after a few unexplained health incidents and countless doctors appointments, I learned that my 12-year-strong vegetarian diet was leaving me vitamin and protein deficient. My job requires eating a lot of pre-ordered meals, so while a vegetarian diet is often a healthy option and had served me well in the past, these days it meant I was eating a lot of nutrition-less plain salads and empty cheese pizza. I was foggy-headed, frustrated, and constantly tired.

That’s how I found myself standing in front of the salad bar in my local health food store, awkwardly staring at the different kinds of pre-cooked chicken like a dad in the underwear section of Nordstrom. After careful consideration I reluctantly put three scoops of the blandest variety I could find into a flimsy plastic container, thought about putting it back, paced around the bar a bit, stared at it some more, and then apprehensively walked to the checkout.

When I got home with my box of plain chicken, I prepared my meal slowly. I buried the protein in a salad: arugula, corn, chickpeas, avocado, hemp seeds, and almonds. I was surprised by how conflicted I felt. Even if it was just a single meal, it felt like something much bigger. It felt like I was doing something wrong. It felt like I was breaking a commitment. It felt way too much like failure.

I was surprised by how conflicted I felt. Even if it was just a single meal, it felt like something much bigger. It felt like I was doing something wrong.

Remembering why I was making this change, I did my best to quiet my anxiety and began to eat. When I finished what was on my plate, I had seconds. After seconds, I ate the rest of the chicken, right out of the container. It was delicious.

Image via Michelle Madsen

Why was my decision to change my dietary habits attached to such strong feelings of apprehension and anxiety? For 12 years, I’d woven vegetarianism into my identity, giving it more power than it deserved. I had let it become part of who I was, and how I advertised myself to others. I had grown comfortable with the restriction and overly determined to honor a self-induced and superficial commitment. Years ago, it stopped being something I did for the health benefits, and became something I did because I was used to doing it.

After eating chicken, two things happened. My energy levels slowly returned to normal, and the people in my life celebrated the change. I actually received excited texts from friends, and coworkers enthusiastically offered to take me out to try meals I haven’t had since I was a kid. Nobody questioned the decision. My stomach handled it just fine. The world kept going, and I was free to eat whatever I pleased. One grilled chicken salad: the world’s quietest revolution.

… I’d woven vegetarianism into my identity, giving it more power than it deserved. I had let it become part of who I was, and how I advertised myself to others.

Taking that small step away from vegetarianism made it clear to me that my identity is not made up by trivial choices such as whether or not I eat meat. I am me regardless of the superficial habits that are woven into my everyday life. Breaking a habit that was no longer serving me, as intimidating as it may have been, was a liberating and healthy change.

Examining our patterns from a distance and abandoning the ones that we no longer need takes a good deal of courage. Sometimes, though our intentions are good, we trap ourselves in habitual routines without realizing how limiting they have become. But if we can learn to loosen our self-induced restrictions and actually consider what they are bringing to (or taking away from) our lives, then we’ll find that having done something for a long time isn’t a good enough reason to keep doing it.

Whether it’s in our diets, our careers, or our relationships, we can all benefit from focusing our energy on only the patterns that add richness to our lives.

Have you had a similar experience with breaking a habit? What was it?

Feature Image via Abby Louna



  1. I see this is an old post but i want to thank you for this article. This really encouraged me to put the fear of “letting myself down” or “failure” behind me. Ive been vegetarian for 5 years now and recently i have been really craving chicken. After speaking to my physician about my cravings and whether or not it would be healthy for me, she assured me it would be. Actually it was suggested, as I am too vitamin and protein deficient. Still i struggled with the decision, I felt I’ve come so far in my health journey. Why throw it all away? What about my friends and family that have made the conversion with my encouragement? I felt not only am i letting myself down but everyone around me. This blog is giving me the courage to go for it today! I’m still a little reluctant, we will know for sure this evening if I can actually follow through but this moved me so much I want to say THANK YOU!

    1. I am so happy I came across this article and your comment. I am in the exact same boat as you and have been struggling with anxiety that I have put all this energy in eating vegetarian why should I eat chicken? Knowing that it is clearly a common issues, being vitamin and protein deficient makes me feel more comfortable in trying this

  2. Grateful you’ve shared your experiences here. I was vegetarian for approx. 14 years. When I was pregnant I realized I could not maintain without extreme exhaustion – and incorporated fish into my diet. It was seriously mindblowing how much it affected me. My son started eating bacon of all things after being pescatarian until he was about 4. I now lift weights and am again visiting my decisions in my diet, as I feel that maybe adding either chicken or beef in small quantities could help with protein intake. Cheers

  3. Same here Natalie! I was vegan/vegetarian for 5 years before the diet started to take a toll on me. I went back to eating the occasional chicken or fish. I do feel better now. I don’t eat chicken or fish every day though. Some people don’t thrive on a meatless diet and some people do. I think it’s a highly individual thing.

  4. It’s difficult to write on something like this when meat consumption is a highly disputed topic in the world today. With respect to the author’s decision to change her eating habits for health reasons, it seems that adding chicken into her diet wasn’t the only option but rather a more convenient one. The world doesn’t end when you start eating chicken again but the world will also keep turning if you slow down and take the time to plan meals that will be healthy, delicious, and still vegetarian. I also wonder at the author’s original decision to stop eating meat? Why commit 12 years to something that now seems so trivial? I’m all for reviewing our life choices and making sure our intent is still pure but sometimes that means looking at that choice and reminding ourselves of the important reasons we made that decision in the first place.

  5. People are vegetarians for different reasons. Personally, I try to minimize my participation in animal suffering, so vegetarianism means something different to me than what it could have meant to Natalie. If she felt her reasons for going vegetarian were superficial, then that’s her belief, but she’s not saying it is for everyone.

    Side story that I think is interesting:
    I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years, and it’s definitely easy to fall into a junk food filled diet that doesn’t provide the nutrition your body needs. Recently I’ve been cooking strictly vegan for myself (if I go out to eat or someone is feeding me I eat vegetarian meals), and I’ve felt so much better than I ever did eating a vegetarian diet. With my vegan diet, I have to cook for myself much more, eat way more fruits and vegetables, and I’m way more aware of the nutrition in my food because it’s so easy to miss things with a vegan diet. It’s much more difficult than a vegetarian diet, but I’ve found the health benefits to be SO worth it!

  6. It sounds like the writer’a decision to not eat meat may have been trivial for her, but it does not mean that that “lifestyle choice” is trivial for everyone. Making the CONSCIOUS decision to not eat meat for health, ethical, and environmental reasons is far from trivial. This, I think, many people have connected into their deepest beliefs. I think the fact that this notion was missing from the article is why many people did not take the message well.

    1. I do not, however, believe painting vegetarianism in this light was the author’s intended message. It’s all about intentional living, finding what’s right for you, and deciding where your beliefs fall and WHY you may make certain daily choices. It’s okay for these to change, but I think it’s important to always return to why you started making these choices in the first place and deciding if your beliefs still align. It’s easy to lose sight sometimes if you do it so often (every meal!) that it becomes habit.

  7. I can respect that this writer had to change her diet to gain more energy, but that doesn’t mean the issues which made her vegetarian to begin with were ‘trivial choices’. Talk about instantly dissing core believes to follow her stomach!

  8. Dear Anonymous,
    I do not think it is intended to be disheartening!
    I was a vegetarian for 3 years, but once I began training for a half marathon I ran into similar issues with my health (tiredness, muscle pain, fogginess). My body was suddenly craving chicken; I would salivate over friends’ grilled chicken dinners to which I had previously not given a second glance.
    I struggled for about 6 months over whether to add in chicken and turkey to my diet again, and once I did, I cannot explain to you how much better I felt!
    Once I stopped training, and went back to my regular exercise routine, I didn’t crave chicken anymore, and again am back to a vegetarian diet.
    I say all this because I think the point of this article is not to discourage vegetarianism, but to encourage listening to our bodies needs and being in tune with those first, rather than putting a certain diet plan first. I think it is to remind us that, since we are all different, these individual needs are worth being honored even when we disagree or can’t understand our own body.
    I hope this helps!

  9. Such an interesting piece – thank you for sharing your story. It’s crazy how much lifestyle choices can become a part of our identity and we forget that we can change them. Hope your new diet keeps you feeling energised!

    – Natalie

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