In a new report from the Human Research Council (HRC), it seems that only one in five new vegetarians and vegans sticks with their respective diet. The rest find their way back to animal products after less than a year.
The HRC formed a coalition three years back in order to study what play into a person’s decision to go vegetarian or vegan. By the HRC’s own admission, the study offered “some potentially disappointing but illuminating conclusions:” They found two percent of 11,000 adults ages 17 and older were currently a vegetarian or vegan; 10 percent abandoned the diet; while 88 percent have never given up meat.
Health, of course, is a major diet motivator. Research published in Climate Change found that reduced meat intake reduces the number of dietary greenhouse gas emissions. A vegetarian diet also lowers risk for disease and boosts life expectancy, while red meat has an adverse effect on these same aspects of health. But, in a majority of the former vegetarian cases, health is the only motivator.
Current vegetarians and vegans also go veg for the sake of animals, general disgust in animal products (this is a jab at you, mad cow disease), and taste. Also, your partner may be to (happily) blame for the change: Forty-nine percent of former vegetarians were living with a partner when they put a steak in their diet, most of which were non-vegetarians and vegans.
Interestingly though, former vegetarians told the HRC they disliked their diet for "making them stick out in a crowd" and were unable to interact with other like-minded dieters. What's more is they didn’t see the diet as part of their identity — not so much the food they were limited to.
The Daily News talked to New York-based nutritionist Lisa Young, and she said, overall, there is a high percent of people giving up being a vegetarian or vegan because they quit meat cold turkey. “If you start by eating smaller portions of pork or chicken, then cutting out all meat and dairy for a month, you can get a better feel for it,” Young explained.
Here’s the thing: it’s not so bad going back to meat. No one should feel a sense of failure or that they might as well eat meat since “they’re going to hell for other reasons,” as one Daily News reader put it. The truth is, for as harmful as increased red meat intake can be, it’s still the most convenient source of protein and iron. If lean, grass-fed cuts are eaten in moderation, they can be actually be good for you. Oh, and for the animal lovers, these products are the result of a much more humane process.
Look at Mark Bittman, author of How To Cook Everything and writer for the New York Times. He’s vegan, but treats himself to meat after 6 PM and limits meaty main dishes to holidays and special occasions. (You can read more about his diet, here.)
“To me, this little package sets the tone for a lifetime of more reasonable flexitarianism — a diet that skews radically away from the Standard American Diet, while preserving moderate amounts of something that most Americans still love about it: meat,” he told Prevention.
Don't forget Young’s advice either: you can’t quit all at once. Meatless Monday is a global campaign launched in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that requires people skip meat every Monday to improve both health and the environment. Just one day of beans, mushrooms, lentils, hummus on hummus on hummus — who knows where it'll lead you. Either way, you win.
Source: Asher K, et al. Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans. Humane Research Council. 2014.