How I Stay Strong In the Face of 'Diet Talk'

Ann-Kristin Afflerbach’s article perfectly encapsulates what Label is all about - knowing and living for yourself, without the restrictions of labels. In this piece, she discusses her struggles with resolutions, being vegetarian, and how she has come to terms with being a “flexitarian” as she calls it, someone who eats what they want in the moment.

With the start of the New Year, a lot of people have New Year’s resolutions. They often include changing their diet and exercise habits, and cutting out different things from their life. I have made resolutions over the past few years, especially with regards to healthy eating, becoming vegetarian, and the like. I have never stuck to my resolutions and I got very frustrated. This year, I decided to not make any resolutions which I knew I would not stick to; basically, no more ‘eating better’ resolutions. Because it often is not as simple as that. And it does not have to be.

Ever since I moved out of my parent's place, I stopped eating meat for financial reasons. Meat is expensive and as a student, it just does not fit into my budget. However, whenever I went out with friends for dinner, I would go for something with meat on the menu. When I visited my parents, I would request something with meat for dinner. But after a while, I realized I do not actually miss eating meat and I often feel bad after eating it. I said to myself that if I do not like eating meat, I must be a vegetarian now. And I tried really sticking to that label. But I felt incredibly restricted with my options at the university cafeteria, for example, and also at restaurants I love frequenting with my friends. 

When I told my close friends at a restaurant one time that I do not enjoy eating meat anymore, I got some mixed reactions. They all eat and love meat, so they did not understand and made jokes about me becoming the ‘annoying vegetarian’ now – or worse, the annoying vegan? I just brushed it off at the time, but it got me thinking. Why is a specific diet considered annoying for other people? You have to ask whether a specific dish contains this or that, but then again, that is what you would do if you strongly dislike something or are allergic to something. I do understand how it could be annoying for others when someone tries to force their lifestyle on them, but in this instance I was merely answering my friends’ question of why I chose a different burger than the one I usually go for. 

I was not entirely happy with the way I was eating and with what it meant for my life, health and social-wise. The thought of having to restrict myself to fit into a specifically labeled diet just does not appeal to me. Growing up, I struggled to find out who I was and desperately tried to fit in a box with a label, even though I was not comfortable with it at all. I think many of us experience this and as we grow older, our eating habits come to the forefront of this struggle as well. People left and right boast about their amazing chicken dinner they cooked last night, or how long they have been vegan, about how they cut out all sugar from their diet - and the list goes on. It feels incredibly overwhelming and I felt like I was doing something wrong. 

But the point is, there is no right or wrong way to live your life. It is your life after all. If you decide to eat meat, that is perfectly fine. It is also perfectly fine for you to choose a vegetarian lifestyle. Or if you choose to be vegan, but still have milk with your coffee because everything else just tastes a bit weird. People like to question everything you do, and it will sometimes be hard to stick up for yourself. It took me some time to do this myself, but it is a great accomplishment when you do. 

Especially with the growth of social media, we are often shown these perfect lifestyles, but that is just not the reality and we should not forget that. You do not need a label that fits perfectly with your diet, just do what makes you happy. I tried to be strictly vegetarian, was sometimes accidentally vegan, went back to eating meat, to only eating fish now. Maybe I could be called a flexitarian – I choose to eat what I like at that moment, no matter what strict diet that would fit. 

What I am trying to tell you here is that you only choose what you eat for yourself. No matter why you choose to eat or not eat – health reasons, trying to lose or gain weight, personal preferences, ethical reasons, environmental reasons – it is totally okay for you to do so and you do not have to explain yourself. This is how I stayed strong when I was questioned about why I eat less meat and why I would rather have the vegan option at a restaurant: I reminded myself that it is a personal choice and that I can do whatever I want. 

And if people are unhappy with your choices, try to talk you into or out of your eating habits – let them talk. You know best, you know what your body needs and what makes you happy.

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