A Step-by-Step Guide: How Vegetarians Can Reintroduce Meat

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

For 10 years I refused to eat meat. Even though five years into this diet, I started to suffer from migraines, irregular periods, depression, and acid reflux. I knew I needed to make changes, but it took me another five years to realize it was the lack of protein at the root of my symptoms.

None of us deserve to suffer through those symptoms; we all deserve to have a healthy, thriving life. If you want to find foods that best nourish your body, I hope my journey and current knowledge can help you get there much quicker than it took me. Keep reading to learn from my mistakes and find a better way!

What NOT To Do

The first time I reintroduced meat after being a vegetarian, I made a big mistake. I was at a dinner where they served sausages for dinner, a highly processed food that, in hindsight, wasn't the best starting point. 

Being in my 20s and lacking nutritional knowledge at the time, I indulged in wine and dessert along with the rich meal. The consequence? I didn't even make it home before we had to pull over so I could vomit the entire meal. While I felt fine immediately afterward, the takeaway was clear: my stomach wasn't ready to go from zero to full-speed ahead.

I didn't give up, but I had to take it slow, and gradually I reconditioned my stomach to digest meat and all its essential nutrients without any adverse effects. As a bonus, my acid reflux, migraines, irregular cycles, and depression eventually all showed improvement. It wasn't a perfect transformation, but it was significantly better. 

There are countless reasons someone might start eating meat again. Maybe you need more protein, or maybe you miss the energy. Regardless of the reason, no one should feel ashamed or guilty for deciding to reintroduce meat to their diet. I’m here to guide you through the process if you’re ready to safely get reacquainted with animal proteins. 

It's quite common for individuals adhering to a vegetarian or vegan diet to eventually transition back to consuming meat. According to this study, the number of former vegetarians and vegans is more than five times greater than current ones. This doesn't imply that you must revert to eating meat, but it highlights that you're not alone if you decide to make that choice.

Reasons to Reintroduce

When you eliminate entire food groups, it's like rolling the dice with your nutrients, taking a gamble on potential deficiencies. Say goodbye to animal proteins, and you're not just skipping out on protein; you're also waving goodbye to the stomach acid bodyguard that keeps pathogenic infections at bay. Plus, protein is like the superhero that turns into amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, creating muscle, blood, hormones, and even your luscious locks, not to mention your teeth, skin, nails, immune cells, neurotransmitters that keep you happy, and your organs.

How do you know if you're running low on protein? 

  • Cravings for sugar
  • Slow to heal from wounds
  • Shrinking muscles or less strength
  • Low energy
  • Catching every cold or bug
  • Osteoporosis knocking on the door
  • Acid reflux making a surprise visit
  • Mood throwing tantrums

Sure, there's a laundry list of reasons to load up on protein, but why not get them from soy and beans? Well, here's the kicker – certain vitamins, like the B12 superstar crucial for the brain and nervous system, don't always play nice with plant proteins and are not always absorbed when eaten.

So, if you've made the bold decision to give meat another shot, great, but let's face it, your taste buds and stomach might not be on board anymore. These steps to reintroduction can help ease the potentially tough transition. 

5 Steps to Reintroducing Meat

1. Start with broth. 

If you're not accustomed to handling or cooking meat, buying anything raw might be a bit off-putting and could dampen your appetite. Consider buying an organic chicken broth as an approachable starting point. 

If you think you can handle it, try buying an organic chicken leg and adding it to a pot of water with lots of vegetables to make soup. Eat the soup and skip the chicken if you’re just not there yet. At least the broth is healing the gut lining and gives your stomach a little harbinger of more to come.

2. Think small and listen to your body.

Once that soup is easy to stomach, try eating a few pieces of the chicken mixed into the vegetables, beans, or pasta like a minestrone. Focus on the veggies rather than the meat. Think of animal proteins as a garnish for your meals, rather than the main event. 

For other meals, think about a sprinkling of poultry or fish on an entrée salad, rather than a full-sized piece of meat. Your body will adjust better when your diet remains similar to what it has been.

If cooking isn't your thing, consider indulging in a chicken curry from your favorite Thai or Indian restaurant. Tell your loved ones that you're easing back into eating meat but not quite ready to handle it in the kitchen yourself. They can either whip up a meal or purchase one for you, and sharing the experience might offer a sense of support.

If you’ve been vegan and are adding animal products back in, scrambled eggs might be a better first choice. I’ve had backyard chickens for years, and I promise you, they love to lay eggs; we aren’t harming chickens by eating their eggs. Remember, there’s no one right way to start. Everyone's needs are different, so choose options that feel right for you and listen to your body throughout the process.

3. Digest mindfully.

It’s not just what we eat, but also how we eat that can make a difference. 

Chew each bite slowly and surround it with veggies. Perhaps squeeze lemon on the meat to disguise the flavor a bit. Before bringing a bite to your mouth, take time to close your eyes and offer your gratitude to the nutrition that life gives you. 

Also know that if you start eating a serving of meat, you don’t have to finish it. You can freeze the remainder so you don’t feel rushed to eat it all at once. 

If you’ve ever experienced or heard about the “heavy” feeling that can come with eating meat after being vegan or vegetarian, then you might benefit from taking some digestive enzymes. You can look for natural enzymes such as bromelain (pineapple) or papain (papaya) in your local health food store and take two of them up to 30 minutes after your meal or find them on my online dispensary and take them with your meal preventatively.

Soothing options like fennel, mint, or chamomile tea can also help alleviate bloating.

4. Add variety.

Once you've mastered one protein, consider moving to another, and go slowly. Variety is what provides us with the macro- and micro-nutrients our bodies need. It’s also a good idea to try different cooking styles when you’re getting back into the habit of eating meat again. Although it seems improbable now, your body will begin to crave animal protein after time because it is probably low in these critical nutrients. 

Many herbs and spices can help make meat taste more delicious. Use sauces or recipes that combine meat with other foods (casseroles, soups, rice bowls, etc.) A variety of seasonings can help enhance your experience with meat and help make it more palatable.

Marinate your meat in acids like vinegar and pineapple juice to help tenderize the meat. Slow cooking your meat will help break down the proteins more making it easier to digest. If you continue to have stomach heaviness or other digestive issues after eating a particular meat again, you may need to take it slower. Reduce your portion size or try a different protein.

5. Choose high-quality, sustainable sources.

If you went meat-free for moral reasons like inhumane conditions at factory farms, you may feel less guilty about eating meat again if you know where it came from. Select pastured-raised, grass-fed and free-range meat from the grocery store, or research farms in your area to find farm-to-consumer mail-order options.

By choosing meats that come from ethically raised animals, in a natural environment, and fed a healthy diet, you can ensure that you are consuming sustainable and more nutritious options.

Plus, these practices promote the well-being of livestock and reduce the negative impact on the environment. 

Understanding where your meat comes from and how it is produced can help alleviate some of these concerns about the impact on your health, the environment, and animal welfare.

I did a lot of reading and questioning around the ethics of eating meat and came to the conclusion that our bodies evolved to function with the nutrients from animal products, so it was counterproductive to try and argue against what my body needed to work correctly.

Once my health started to improve, it was easier to continue. 

If you’re interested in educating yourself, I recommend these resources.

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production written by vegetarian lawyer Bill Niman’s wife, Nicolette Hahn Niman. 

You may also like this article: How to be a Regenetarian by the Sacred Cow project. Diana Rodgers, RD wrote a book, produced, and directed a film by the same name, Sacred Cow. She advocates for sustainability and for all people to access nutrient dense animal sourced foods.

If you want to learn more, I also highly recommend watching the film Kiss the Ground with one of my favorite ranchers, Doniga Markegard.

While I used to be vegetarian, I now call myself a regenetarian. Read more about my journey, plus how and why I seek out farmers and ranchers who grow food in a sustainable and healthy way. 

It was a very tough decision but I’m happy that I ultimately listened to my body and did what was best for my health.

More evidence

I’ve helped a number of clients reintroduce meat into their routine with great success. For example, Jennifer struggled with insulin resistance, weight gain, cholesterol, and gut issues. She was struggling to know how to fuel her body as a vegetarian. She slowly started eating meat and consuming more protein, and transformed her body, her health, and her life. 

Similarly,  Ysca, a nurse practitioner, said she’s in heaven eating bacon, butter and eggs every day, and feeling better than ever now that her symptoms have improved as well as her blood labs.

If you're considering reintroducing meat into your diet after being a vegetarian, I can provide personalized advice and support based on your specific needs and goals.

We can ensure you're getting all the necessary nutrients and help monitor your health to prevent any potential deficiencies or digestive issues.

You can schedule a free 15-minute call if you think you may be interested in working with me. 

Whether I assist you in this process of reintroducing meat after being a vegetarian or not, I believe you can do it. 

Start slowly, go gently, digest mindfully, and educate yourself about high-quality sustainable sources.