Flexitarian or Vegetarian Cheaters?

It doesn’t seem enough nowadays to just have a nutritional plan. You need to have the perfect word that serves as an appropriate label, just so everybody else can tell you exactly where you are going wrong! Maybe that is just the cynic in me. We have had vegetarians and vegans for decades but there is a whole new list of -arian suffix words that are making their way into everyday vocabulary.

So what do we mean by a flexitarian? Well, a flexitarian, or semi-vegetarian, is somebody who for the most part will focus on a plant-based diet but will occasionally eat meat. My guess is that when you just read that you had the exact same reaction I did: is that not just cheating? If you are going to live like a vegetarian and just have the odd steak now and again, surely that is just a lapse in will-power?

Inevitably there are some who disagree. The potential negative effects of eating too much meat, in particular red meat, has been well documented in recent years. In contrast though, so have the potential negative effects of eating absolutely no meat. The level of nutrients including protein, zinc and iron are generally thought to be lower in vegetarians without supplementation. So if you were to believe both schools of thought then logic would suggest you want some meat to provide essential nutrients, but you don’t want to go to excess. Being a flexitarian seems a little less silly when you think about it like that.

Eating less meat doesn’t make you a flexitarian though. Somewhat predictably there is already a word for people that just looks to reduce the amount of meat they eat: reducetarians. I promise you, I’m not making this up. The key difference between reducetarians and flexitarians is that reducetarians aim to just limit the amount of meat they consume, whereas flexitarians focus first on adopting a vegetarian-like diet, before occasionally adding meat.

So what’s the point? Why go to all this bother with defining different nutritional plans and inventing new terms? Well we have already mentioned the potential health benefits of both reducing and increasing our intake of meat. My guess is that this influences a lot of people, especially when they are designing nutritional plans to specifically work with their training. But we shouldn’t forget ethical reasons too. Animal welfare is a massive concern for a lot of people and they simply don’t care what label they have, they just don’t eat meat.

It seems there are just too many -arians to remember! On top of the ones mentioned you have pescetarians (fish eaters) and pollotarians (poultry eaters) too. And of course you can have a combination of the two!

If you fit comfortably into one of these groups and you know which one you are then that is great. But I would argue it isn’t all that important. When it comes to training you have to match the nutritional plan to your goals, just as you do with your gym work. So if you want to build muscle and that means you ditch the red meat and up the chicken, then do it. If you want to cut by getting rid of carbs then don’t look for a title. As long as you are eating the right stuff and achieving your goals, it doesn’t matter what label you give yourself!

Ollie Lawrence
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