“Flex” comes from “flexible” and “tarian” comes from “vegetarian,” so a flexitarian is more or less a “flexible vegetarian.”
In 2012, the term “flexitarian” actually entered the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.”
Another way to think of flexitarians would be as “semi-vegetarians.”
This version of semi-vegetarianism was first formulated by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, in her book The Flexitarian Diet.
In Blanter’s word:
“You can think of this diet as a ‘vegetarian-ish’ way of eating since this plan touts the basic principles and benefits of a plant-based diet, along with the inclusion of some animal proteins to a lesser extent.”
The goal of the Flexitarian Diet would be to minimize or reduce the frequency of eating meat, without removing it completely.
This is what separates flexitarians from normal omnivores: the former are actively trying to limit meat consumption.
Flexitarians just don’t want to eliminate meat 100% (for health or personal reasons), so they allow some into their diet.
What Do Flexitarians Eat? (The Flexitarian Diet Plan)
Since the Flexitarian Diet actively tries to reduce the consumption of meat, the meal plan will be predominantly plant-based.
Your plant-based food choices on the Flexitarian Diet plan will include:
Whole grains. Rice, oats, barley, and buckwheat would all be examples of whole grains. Most plant-based diets include a sizable amount of whole grains as their base.
Vegetables. Of course, even semi-vegetarian diets are going to include lots of vegetables! And they should because vegetables are great for you! They’re packed full of nutrients, fiber, and generally low in calories. Most people could stand to eat more veggies. If you find yourself not being able to stomach greens, I got you. Check out this post for tips on how to turn around any vegetable hater.
Legumes. Beans, lentils, and soy make up the legume family. When cutting out meat, legumes would be a great way to get protein (more on this to follow).
Fruit. Bananas, apples, and oranges all come from plants, so all are vegetarian-friendly. While high in fructose (sugar), they are also nutrient-dense. Our general stance on fruit around these parts is to eat “stick to whole fruit, avoid fruit juices.”
Nuts and seeds. Again, they come from plants, so almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds are good to go on any vegetarian plan you pick. So is quinoa, which although is often thought of as a grain, is actually a seed. Mind=blown.
Nuts and seeds, although high in fat and calories, are another great way to get protein on a semi-vegetarian diet.
Other than following a 100% plant-based diet until 6pm, Bittman offers no specific rules for VB6.
You do you.
This is going to lead us to a larger point: “flexitarian” is up to interpretation.
Since there are multiple plans for semi-vegetarianism, how much meat you eat will really depend on your goals and motives.
Does Cutting out Meat Help You Lose Weight? (The Flexitarian Diet and Weight Loss)
Many proponents of flexitarianism will claim it can help with weight loss:
Mark Bittman created VB6 (Vegan before 6) after his doctor told him to lose some weight.
Dawn Jackson claims her Flexitarian Diet can help those struggling with obesity.
However, anyone selling a diet book is gonna tell you it can help with weight loss.
What does the science say?
Since there’s no set in stone interpretation of what makes a “flexitarian” a flexitarian, it can be hard to prescribe any specific benefits to the diet.
This is a concern Emma J. Derbyshire brought up in a review of semi-vegetarian diets in Frontiers of Nutrition. Derbyshire states that before any formal recommendations can be done on flexitarians, “official definitions of these diets are needed.”
You need to know exactly what you’re researching before you can make heads or tails of what’s going on.
However, weight loss itself has been studied a lot, so we aren’t completely stumbling in the dark here.
Let me just say that if you’re trying to lose weight and wondering if a flexitarian diet is the solution, I’m proud of you for at least THINKING about different nutritional strategies that might align with your lifestyle and goals.
Lots of our coaching clients come to us with all sorts of different fitness questions, like what to eat and how to exercise, proving we all start from unique situations. The important thing is that you’re beginning to ask questions and looking for answers.
If you want help on your journey, we’re here for you. Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program partners busy people just like you with a coach who will get to know you better than you know yourself.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Flexitarian?
There are all sorts of benefits from eating lots of plants.
However, I’m also on the record for stating you should eat your fruits and veggies (scope out our Guide to Healthy Eating).
Let’s rap about the good things found in the plant kingdom:
Fiber: studies have shown that eating dietary fiber (found in plants) can have loads of health benefits. Fiber from plants can help lower raised blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, and help with digestive issues.
Vitamins and minerals: plants contain vitamins E, C, K2, and calcium, to name just a few. You need these things to survive.
Antioxidants:there are all sorts of toxins in the modern world (air pollution, BPA in plastic, etc). Plants, and the antioxidants in them, can help defend against some of these pollutants.
When you start to factor this together, it makes sense to eat a lot of plants.
It also makes sense that people who eat a lot of plants, like flexitarians, tend to be in good shape.
Here’s where the debate rages on the internet: are people who follow a plant-based diet generally healthier than omnivores because meat is bad for you, or because vegetarians tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods?
It’s hard to say.
More studies are rolling in every day, so I’m not going to declare a winner over the other.
I will say that I actually resonate with a “flexitarian” lifestyle, though I just call it “mostly healthy eating” = eat mostly plants, healthy sources of protein, and keeping total calorie intake under control.
The moral of the story: eat lots of plants…and maybe a little meat.
Should I Try the Flexitarian Diet? (Next Steps)
There are worse ways to eat than tons of plants with a little bit of meat.
If this is the first time you’ve tried to “eat right,” or the 17th, it’ll help you make small lifestyle changes towards a healthy diet.
This is our preferred approach here at Nerd Fitness.
That will bring me to my one concern on adopting The Flexitarian Diet or any other strict form of semi-vegetarianism: if you change too much at once, it might be overly difficult and you’ll grow frustrated.
Frustration can lead to abandoning a new way of eating.
We see it all the time here: people go Paleo or Keto for 21 days, hate it, then go right back to where they started.
Since they’re now demoralized from the experience, they don’t even try anymore, which is where the real harm comes in.
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Alright, I think that about does it for this article.
Read, “Health benefits of dietary fiber.” Source, PubMed.
Read, “The Protective Role of Antioxidants in the Defence against ROS/RNS-Mediated Environmental Pollution” Source, PubMed.
Read, “Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet.” Source, PubMed.
As this study references, fully plant-based diets tend to come in the lowest for energy provided, compared to omnivores. This makes sense, since meat can contain a decent amount of calories.
Here’s another indicator following a semi-plant-based diet would be good for you: “Vegetarian dietary patterns are associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome: the adventist health study 2.” Source, PubMed.