My name is Tanya and I am a vegetablarian!

Hello, world! My name is Tanya and I am a vegetablarian.  Huh?  There are two major reasons: 1) to find a word that more accurately captured my eating lifestyle (how I eat) and 2) to find a term that I could share with and teach others that could “more easily” translate the how of eating healthy.

As a health professional, many people assume that I am a vegetarian/don’t eat meat.   Even, in my personal life, new friends will typically observe what I eat and ask me if I am a vegetarian.   I have to laugh when people that I have known for some time express surprise the first time they see me eating meat (yes, I do eat meat! for vegetablarians, that is neither a requirement or a prohibition).  It is usually also acompanied by a surprised - “You’re not a vegetarian?!?” or “I thought you were a vegetarian!!” -  with that high pitched tone that is usually used when someone has violated some unspoken rule.   In thinking about it more, I realized there really was no term for what I was(or at least what I considered myself to be).

As a nutrition educator, I often hear from students, workshop participants as well as friends that use the words vegetarian and vegan referring to people and foods when they really mean “healthy”.   I often have to correct the popular belief that vegetarianism and veganism require you to be OR eat healthy.   This is BY NO MEANS a requirement in those practices.  One woman I met at a health fair even admitted to me that she was a “junk food vegetarian.”  Think about it: SUGAR andCHOCOLATE, these are both VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN; so, you can spend all day eating these things, not eat one vegetable, and still be a VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN.  Now, would you call that healthy?

Given all this, I found myself wondering why vegetarianism and veganism are practices defined by what a person does NOT eat, not what a person DOES eat.  All of my holistic health and nutrition training and experience had shown me that the most important part of eating for your health is how much of the good stuff you do eat, much more than how much of the bad stuff you don’t (more on that later).  And, of course, it seemed additionally complicating (and annoying) that there are so many subcategories of vegetarianism based on what the person may or may not be allowed to eat as an exception: vegan (strict –no animal products or byproducts),  ovo (can eat eggs), lacto (can eat dairy), ovo-lacto (can eat eggs and dairy), pesco/pescetarian (eats fish).

I have worked with various people at various stages of their wellness journey.  What I have discovered is that everyone’s journey is different.  Why?  Because everyone’s body is different.  And that means what is healthy for you may vary slightly than what is healthy for someone else.  Vegetablarianism is based on the general fact that almost everyone’s body needs and can use vegetables for good health (I actually have not yet found anyone who doesn’t);  at the same time, it does not require (or restrict anything else).  “Nutrition science” has just confused the issue – giving us volumes and volumes of magazine articles and news stories, studies and data points that suggest/recommend/define specific foods that you should and should not eat to be healthy.  I wanted to define a simple term for a person that eats a generally healthy diet; it all boils down to this - based on sound holistic nutrition principles, a diet that includes a healthy amount of vegetables (and fruits in moderation)is the simplest guideline for healthy eating.   And that is how the concept of “vegetablarian” was born…

So, tell me, are you a vegetablarian?


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Tanya Leake

Tanya Leake is the founder of EmBODY WELL and is an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified health coach, group fitness instructor, specializing in Zumba, dance fitness and sculpt.  She teaches a variety of modes of dance, is certified as an Advanced Sports and Exercise Nutritional Advisor, with additional certifications in Natural Health Fundamentals, Behavior Change and Nutrition Therapy.  She is also a certified instructor for Oldways’ “A Taste of African Heritage” health through heritage program.   She brings a wealth of knowledge from a holistic perspective on health and well-being.