flexitarian vegetarian diet

Are you looking to enjoy the health and weight loss benefits that come from a vegetarian diet, but you are not quite ready to cut out all of the meat from your diet? If so, the Flexitarian Diet may be for you.

The term “flexitarian” is made up from the combination of the two words “flexible” and “vegetarian”. This style of diet, though relatively new when compared to others, has existed for several years. Essentially, those who follow a flexitarian diet eat less meat and eat more foods that are plant-based. Hence, the dieter enjoys the benefits of vegetarianism without giving up meat entirely.

The Flexitarian Diet concentrates on encouraging a person to obtain their protein from plants instead of animals. Using the book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to your Life”, as a guide, written by registered dietitian (RD) Dawn Jackson Blatner, flexitarians follow a five-week meal plan that gives them instructions on what to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Dieters can follow the plan, which includes recipes, or they can create their own plan and choose recipes that better meet their preferences.

How does this diet work?

The good news is that with this diet, there really aren’t any difficult rules to follow. Essentially, what you can expect is to:

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes
  • Get most of your protein from plants instead of animals
  • Eat meat every so often
  • Stick to eating natural whole foods and avoid eating foods that are overly processed
  • Keep added sugar to a minimum

With that said, Flexitarians follow a 5 food group diet. The five food groups are as follows (in no particular order):

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Dairy
  • New Meat (i.e. eggs, tofu, lentils, beans, peas, seeds and nuts)
  • Sugar and Spice (i.e. dried/fresh herbs, agave nectar sweetener, salad dressing, etc.)

Regardless of the plan that is followed, the goal is to stick to a 3-4-5 calorie regimen. What this means is a flexitarian should be aiming to ingest approximately 300 calories at breakfast, 400 for lunch, and 500 for dinner. Snacks should total to about 150 calories. The average flexitarian should eat an estimated 1,500 calories daily (this includes two daily snacks). However, a person may eat fewer or greater calories depending on their age, weight, gender, height, and their activity level.

Can you Lose Weight Following this Diet?

According to Blatner, the average individual who strictly follows this diet can lose up to 30 pounds in 6-12 months. Also, research suggests that vegetarians tend to ingest fewer calories, weigh 15% less on average compared to those who are non-vegetarian, and can live 3.6 years longer. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower rate of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. That said, keep in mind that altering your diet is often not enough to lose weight. Regular exercise will also be important. 

What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Following the Flexitarian Diet? 

Following this diet can provide both benefits and drawbacks. The most common benefits include:

  • Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes – Some research has found that vegetarian-based diets are better at lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes than other diets designed to be “diabetes friendly.”
  • More affordable – This nutrient dense diet doesn’t rely on hard to find foods.
  • Better for the environment – You’ll reduce your carbon footprint by eating less meet as livestock is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It’s easier to follow than vegetarian or vegan diets – There are fewer restriction with the Flexitarian diet, so you can make it work for you
  • Weight loss benefits – Just like vegetarian and vegan diets, being a Flexitarian can help with weight loss as it is more plant-based compared to other omnivorous diets. 

The most notable drawbacks include:

  • May feel deprived – Like any diet, this one can be restrictive and you may be required to give up or limit foods you enjoy.
  • It’s easy to resort to junk eating – If you are used to consuming meat protein you may struggle to eat a balanced diet if you’re not careful to eat the necessary plant-based protein. The wrong balance could lead to eating more junk and processed foods.
  • Risk of B12 and iron deficiency – Although this diet is not vegetarian/vegan, it is still meat-restrictive. You need to take care that you obtain enough B12 and iron in your diet, which are nutrients commonly found in meat and fish.
  • Requires a big change – You will likely need to make notable dietary changes to follow this diet. This diet may not be ideal for everyone’s lifestyle. 

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Flexitarian Diet could help a person improve their health and lose weight, as scientific evidence has shown that eating more plant-based foods and less meat does contribute to fewer calories in the diet, which can lead to weight loss.

However, while becoming a flexitarian is easier than becoming a full-fledged vegetarian (because not all meat is off limits), those who are interested in becoming flexitarians need to keep in mind that this is a strict diet program. Although the guidelines and tips in Blatner’s book are very practical and helpful, non-vegetarians will need to undergo a significant diet change.

Also, keep in mind that preparing meals using the required recipes is not always quick and easy. Following this diet will take dedication and it should not be forgotten that exercise plays a significant role in losing weight. 

Make Sure This Diet is the Right Choice for You

While it is a good idea to fully research this diet before making it a part of your lifestyle for weight loss or health reasons (or both), it’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your plans before you start in earnest. This diet will likely require you to make notable changes to the way you eat and what you consume. Your doctor can help you to determine if the Flexitarian Diet is the safe and best choice for you.

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