When people think of a plant-based diet, two words automatically spring to mind: vegetarian and vegan. Both of these lifestyles have a huge following, with figures predicting that a quarter of British people will be vegetarian or vegan by 2025, and that just under half of all U.K. consumers will be flexitarian.
But what is a flexitarian diet, and how can the average person adopt flexitarianism into their everyday life?
What is a flexitarian?
Flexitarian, semi-vegetarian and casual vegetarian are all names used to describe a predominantly plant-based diet that doesn’t fully exclude meat. The general idea of the diet is to increase your number of vegetarian meals, and limit your consumption of processed foods and animal products.
The name itself is a hybrid of ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian,’ showcasing that this lifestyle is fully adaptable to each individual. Other than eating more veggies and less junk food, flexitarianism has no rules and can be tailored to each person’s lifestyle.
The people that follow flexitarianism have choice not only in what they are eating but also when. For example, you could choose to be meat-free on most days, but have the occasional burger when eating out. Or you could choose to eat meat every day, but cut your intake down from multiple portions to just one. Or you could do a mixture of the two, depending on how you feel.
No specific meal plan is right or wrong, as how you implement a flexitarian lifestyle is entirely your choice.
Flexitarian vs. vegetarian
The primary difference between being flexitarian and vegetarian is that flexitarians can still eat meat. While this works well for me, it is impossible to ignore the long-showcased benefits of eating plant-based food. With vegetarians being slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts, it is easy to justify how these diet types are highly effective for weight loss in general.
Plant-based diets can also help with health disorders caused by what we eat, as studies show that vegetarian populations have lower rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Documentaries like Cowspiracy, What the Health and The Game Changers have strongly advocated for full plant-based diets and the exclusion of animal products. And while the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle are obvious, this imposes strict dietary restrictions and creates an all-or-nothing culture.
In contrast, flexitarianism takes facets from vegetarian diets, like the inclusion of nutritious plant-based meals, but is then adapted to fit the needs of the individual. A diet rich in whole foods, with minimal meat and processed junk food, can be nothing but beneficial for losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
However, adaptability causes individual benefits to vary drastically. For example, a flexitarian who eats a single portion of meat a week will see more weight loss and better health than someone who consumes meat daily. While it is possible to see the exact same benefits that come with vegetarianism, results are typically dependent on each individual’s plan.
Flexitarianism is a great stepping-stone to deciding whether being vegetarian or vegan is a sustainable lifestyle choice for you. The sale of vegan meat hit $19.5 billion globally in 2019, with a huge 92 percent of plant-based meals consumed in the U.K. (in 2018) being eaten by non-vegans.
This highlights that non-vegetarians can still make an impact on their health and well-being without committing to a drastic lifestyle change. Being flexitarian allows for gradual change, rather than the eradication of certain foods from your diet in a single day.
Without the pressure of cutting out food groups, you can focus on eating in moderation and adding more healthy stuff to your diet. By consciously checking on how the incorporation of vegetarian meals has impacted you, you can make a decision about whether being vegetarian, or continuing to take the flexible approach, is a more viable option.
It is predicted that by 2040, only 40 percent of the global population will be consuming meat, with 35 percent consuming meat made in a lab and 25 percent eating vegan meat replacements.
With 20 years to go ’til we reach that point, we can start slowly and take each meal at a time. A couple of starting points for adopting this lifestyle as your own might include:
- Looking up vegetarian recipes. Ask friends and family or browse the internet, making a list of any meat-free recipes that sound interesting. Try your hand at cooking a different vegetarian meal each night, until you have a repertoire of tasty favourites.
- Cook what you usually eat, but incorporate meat replacements like Quorn, rather than actual meat. You may find that you enjoy the new recipe more.
Once you have a few ideas of what to eat, you can incorporate these meals into your day more regularly, until you have a routine that works for you.
By opting to focus on what foods to include, rather than what to get rid of, you will be giving yourself a world of choice, and will hopefully find the perfect flexitarian fit.