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I quit being a vegetarian when I was pregnant and I don't feel bad about it

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

I was a vegetarian for all the wrong reasons and it took having a baby to realize it

I found myself sitting in a fancy restaurant nearly in tears, because I was five months pregnant, and all I wanted was a steak. After six years as a vegetarian, the craving hit me so hard and unexpectedly I didn’t know how to handle it. The scent of perfectly cooked steaks wafted toward my table as my husband and I settled in for our anniversary dinner. I hemmed and hawed over the menu choices, but I couldn’t escape my red meat craving. It was all-consuming. I justified it by saying the baby needed it and reluctantly placed my order. Then I ate the steak and never looked back.

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I became a vegetarian as a teenager when many of my friends were opting for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, as well. While I watched the horrific documentaries on animal cruelty, I was never able to emotionally open myself up to the anti-meat propaganda. Still, becoming a vegetarian appealed to me. It was a new challenge. I hoped it might help with my running as a cross-country athlete. Mostly, I knew it would irk my parents to no end.

I didn’t mind being a vegetarian, though I wasn’t terribly passionate about it. It was easy to maintain my diet since so many of my friends were committed to a vegetarian lifestyle. It started as a habit and eventually evolved into who I was. I liked hiking. I was an English major. I didn’t eat meat. It was how I defined myself through high school and college.

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Even after college graduation, I stuck with my vegetarian diet out of habit and a certain streak of teenage rebellion (because my parents told me when I started, that it would last a week, and I was having none of that).

But things quickly changed after I became pregnant. I was no longer able to sustain myself on cheap cafeteria cheese pizzas, ramen noodles and off-brand golden puffs cereal. I was definitely not able to keep up a whole lifestyle built around proving to my parents that I could be a vegetarian if I put my mind to it. My body was telling me very clearly what I needed, and in that moment at the restaurant, I needed a steak.

If I had truly been morally dedicated to vegetarianism, it would have been a whole different story. I respect people who make the conscious choice to abstain from animal products. I know it can be a healthy and balanced lifestyle. If being a vegetarian was a part of my life that I felt passionate about, I would have fought through the craving and found a suitable substitute.

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Instead, my pregnant urge to eat red meat made me realize that being a vegetarian wasn't for me; I had merely spent the last six years trying to "prove something." I stayed a vegetarian for a while because I wanted to show my parents I was serious about it, then I continued as a vegetarian because I had absorbed it as a part of my identity and didn't want to look like a "poser." I was never doing it for me, and it took being pregnant to see how ridiculous it was for me to strictly adhere to a diet I didn't believe in or necessarily like.

Now, another six years later, I eat a mostly pescetarian diet, because that seems to be what my body handles best. Vegan and vegetarian foods are still a staple in my life, but they aren’t my whole life, and they don’t define me. I adapt my eating habits to the needs of my body as I change and age; my relationship with my diet is much healthier because I listen to my body, instead of making myself fit into a certain box.

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