Here’s a really interesting question from a reader and my thoughts on the matter…
So how does a vegetarian transition to Paleo? This is actually a pretty common concern among vegetarians, and sometimes a valid one. In my experience with clients and readers, I’ve noticed that some people’s bodies stop producing enough of the necessary enzymes and other digestive juices to break down meat after being vegetarian for a while.
This is made really clear when they start eating meat and feel like crap afterward. It doesn’t sound like that’s happening to you, so you’re probably in the clear. However, some people get bloating, intestinal pain, constipation, heartburn, or they feel tired right after eating it. Any number of things can happen, but those are some of the symptoms I’ve seen. Sometimes these symptoms are totally new to people and sometimes they’re just made worse by the introduction of meat.
I really don’t know why for sure this happens, but I’m guessing it’s that after such a long time away from large amounts of protein (nuts, grains, beans, eggs, and soy are not nearly as dense in protein as meat), people’s bodies stop producing enough hydrochloric acid and enzymes.
Sometimes people who transition from a regular SAD diet to Paleo even have issues with the amount of meat they start eating, probably for the same reasons. Subsequently, a lot of people give up on Paleo and say that they’re just not meant to eat that much meat, which is always disappointing to me because the solution is actually simple most of the time.
Having said all that, there are plenty of people who transition from being vegetarian to Paleo without any problems at all. You may be anticipating discomfort that won’t actually ever happen at all!
So what do you do?
Here are some tips to make the transition easier.
1. Don’t expect to feel sick after eating meat.
Making the change from being vegetarian to being a meat eater can be an emotional roller coaster, full of guilt, shame, elation, excitement, anticipation, and second guessing. I know because I’ve been there; I was a non-flesh eater for 10 years and the transition was tough on my emotionally.
So when you make the change, make sure you fully choose it. Maybe even say it out loud: “I’m eating meat because my body needs meat and I am meant to eat meat.” Or something like that to announce to yourself and the universe that you’re now going from one way of eating, living, and thinking to another. Make it a conscious thing.
Then when you pick up your fork to take your first bite, don’t have these words in your head: “Oh my God, oh my God, what am I doing?! I’m going to feel terrible just like I’ve heard I will. This meat is so bad for me – I’ll probably have a heart attack right after lunch. I’m eating a dead animal. Gross. Ugh, I’m going to feel so sick after this…”
Because you’ll probably make yourself sick by saying all that to yourself. Instead, say something like this…
“Thank you, animal, for your life and your flesh. I appreciate the nutrients and protein and sense of groundedness this food is about to give me. My body was designed to digest this food, and I will feel nourished and satisfied when I’m done.”
Or whatever you need to tell yourself that is positive. The calmer you are, and the less guilt-ridden or full of doubt, the better your digestion will work.
2. Give It Time
If you do find that your stomach gets upset or you feel tired after eating meat the first time, try doing it again tomorrow with those positive thoughts during a calm meal. Your body is having to readjust its expectations and responses to food, but your body is really adaptable. It may just take some time.
Remember also that your body is still healing from all those years of eating what our government erroneously told you to eat, and that process can take months or years. The other thing is that you may be detoxing. It may not be the meat at all that’s making you feel bad – it may just be the detox period and all the fun symptoms that go along with it ;)
3. Supplement with Enzymes and HCl for a While.
If after a week you’re still having symptoms, try taking enzymes and hydrochloric acid with every meal. You can buy those supplements at a health food store and they’re cheap, and you will not have to be on them for long. Make sure they don’t contain any milk, corn, soy, or wheat products.
The hydrochloric acid is something that your body produces and uses to break down protein. If you aren’t producing enough of it, you can sort of jump start your body’s ability to do so by supplementing for a while. Enzymes are the same way, and if you get an enzyme spectrum supplement, it’ll include protease, which is an enzyme that breaks down protein. Take the capsules with your second bite of food and see if that helps. It should – I’ve seen it work a thousand times.
Then just wean yourself off of them after a week or two.
4. You May Have A Sensitivity
If that doesn’t work, then consider the idea that you have a sensitivity to certain meat(s). It sounds weird, but people have sensitivities to all kinds of foods due to leaky gut, due to years and years of a standard Western diet. This may really be the case for you. When I eat too much chicken I get headaches. If I eat too much beef, my fingers hurt like I have a bad case of tendinitis. But some people’s symptoms are digestive or energy related, so test yourself out.
Here’s how you experiment. Eat only one kind of meat for a day and a half with your meals. If you suspect chicken, eat chicken sausage at breakfast, chicken breast at lunch, BBQ chicken wings at dinner, then the chicken sausage again the next morning, or something like that. See how you feel on those days. If you feel fine, then do the same thing with the next suspected meat.
And consider all the while that you may have a sensitivity to something besides the meat. If you’ve just begun eating Paleo, I’m willing to bet you’re eating a lot more nuts than you used to, and so many people have problems digesting nuts. It may not be the meat at all.
So those are some things to consider and try out when you’re transitioning from a vegetarian diet to a Paleo diet. Basically, make your switch a conscious choice and be ok with it, as much as you can. Give your body some time to adapt to the new foods you’re eating. Supplement if you need to, and test for food sensitivities if you’re still having issues.
I hope that helps, but if anyone has any other suggestions, please let us know in the comments!