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Is This Why Most Vegetarians Go Back to Eating Meat?

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Jennifer Lopez did it and lost 10 pounds. Carrie Underwood says it changed her life. Your co-worker says it cleared up her acne and gave her tons of energy. And no wonder—eating veg has been shown to have lots of great health benefits. But if you're thinking of giving up animal products for the new year, you might want to consider a recent survey that found that being a vegetarian or vegan is "just a phase" for most people, with 88 percent ending up back at the meat counter again.

Surprisingly, the reason most people quit eating vegetarian is the same reason most start: their health. "The main reasons vegetarians agree to start incorporating more animal products in their diet are declining energy levels, change in skin or hair, and even weight gain," says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO and founder of NY Nutrition Group. "Strict vegans and vegetarians are at risk for developing certain nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron, zinc, b-vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, and protein," she explains. "Plant-based sources of these nutrients do exist, however, not as abundantly as in animal products." She adds that this is often less of a problem for vegetarians than strict vegans, as they have an easier time getting the necessary nutrients because they usually don't eliminate dairy and eggs. 

Figuring out how to plan, shop for, and cook all-veg meals is another issue that sends many new vegans back to the comfort of their grilled cheese. "Following a nutritionally adequate vegetarian, and especially vegan lifestyle, requires a lot of on-going education, meal planning, time, and consistency," Moskovitz says. And then there's the weight gain. Yes, you read that right. One of the main reasons people give for trying a vegetarian or vegan diet is wanting to lose weight. While radical changes to your diet do often lead to some pounds dropped—often from not eating because you're not sure what you can eat—over time, many people find that those pounds, and then some, come back. "When you eliminate a huge food group such as animal products, carbs and fat-dense foods usually take its place, and they tend to have more of a fat-accumulating effect on the body than high-protein foods," Horowitz says. In addition, protein is very satiating, which means it will help you feel fuller longer.

Still, many people decide to try vegetarian diets for reasons other than their weight or health, like ethical concerns over the treatment of animals, worries about the environment, or cost. And the study found that people who end up falling off the vegetable cart, especially those who chose vegetarianism for moral reasons, can feel devastated—and this guilt can wreck your health. "When it comes to sustaining a healthy diet, a large part of that revolves around one's relationship with food," Horowitz says. "Feeling guilty after eating, no matter what type of food it is, can be a negative behavior with serious consequences that can interfere with intuition and the ability to trust your own body."

So instead of obsessing over the "right" way to eat, Horowitz advises focusing on eating a wide variety of nutritious foods that make you feel healthy and happy. Meatless or not, you can start by stocking up on these Top 50 Winter Foods for Weight Loss.

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