Established by popular dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in the early 2000s, the Flexitarian Diet is similar to a vegan or vegetarian diet but allows you to eat meat, eggs, dairy, and other animal foods from time to time.
It offers the health and environmental advantages of the vegetarian diet — like reduced risk for heart disease — while being less restrictive.
What Is the Flexitarian Diet?
Essentially, this type of plant-based diet offers all the potential energy and immune-boosting benefits of a vegetarian diet, without the strict rules. It can help you to achieve your weight loss goals while still allowing you to maintain freedom. It’s a popular choice for eating healthier, by making dietary choices that are kind on both the planet and your body.
If, overall, society is able to reduce meat intake, the effects on the planet will be drastic. For every person who chooses to go flexitarian, there will be decreases in greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and freshwater use.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced a report that identified that eating less meat and more plant-based foods is a significant opportunity to mitigate climate change. While it may not feel like your individual choice of cutting back on meat consumption is having an impact, you are contributing to drastic reductions in emissions that will save our future planet.
How the Flexitarian Diet Works
There are some key guidelines to follow on this plan, rather than any strict dietary changes or calorie counting. It emphasizes consuming a primarily plant-based diet rather than animal sources, consuming predominantly whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, incorporating meat products from time to time, limiting added sugar, and eating the less processed forms of foods. This results in an intake that is low in saturated fat while high in fiber, contributing to weight control. It also enables you to feel fuller on fewer calories, leading to easy weight loss.
While exercise is not necessary on this diet, Blatner recommends that you get at least 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise five days a week, alongside strength training two times a week. Blatner highlights that any form of exercise is better than nothing.
The Diet Plan
In her book, The Flexitarian Diet, Dawn recommends that you start with the beginner flexitarian, in which you adopt a semi-vegetarian diet by eliminating meat consumption two days a week. You can eat animal products for the other five days, but limit it to 26 ounces total. Depending on how your body responds to this, you can progress to the advanced flexitarian in which you eliminate meat intake three to four days a week, and only consume 18 ounces of meat on the remaining days.
Blatner advises that you should aim to re-portion your plate so that it includes 25% lean animal protein, 25% whole grains, followed by 50% fruit and vegetables.
This diet is labeled as highly cost-effective, as reducing meat and dairy helps you to cut back on costs. It is estimated to cost as little as $42 per person, per week. The Flexitarian Diet book is available for $16.65.
Dos and Don’ts
Consume lots of soy proteins, non-starchy vegetables, and plant-based milk alternatives on this diet. Fruits, whole grains, herbs and spices, nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats should all be staples in your new diet.
Foods to limit on the flexitarian diet are animal protein, seafood, and processed refined grains (such as white rice and white bread). You should also limit your consumption of highly processed foods, such as chips and pastries. Avoid trans fats—these are commonly found in fried or processed foods.
Sample Diet Plan
Breakfast: Oats with berries and peanut butter
Snack: Carrots and almond butter
Lunch: Chicken stir fry
Dinner: Bean burger with sweet potato fries
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
As the flexitarian diet varies from person to person, i.e., some individuals maintain meat consumption three times per week while others consume much less frequently, there is a large variation in health benefits.
Improve skin health. High fruit and vegetable intakes provide vitamins A, C, E, and polyphenols, and these antioxidants lower inflammation, boost collagen production, and protect your skin from UV rays.
Longer life span. Flexitarians may live 3.6 years longer than individuals with high meat consumption.
Other benefits include:
- Lowered rates of cardiovascular heart disease
- Reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes
- Improved metabolic health
- May avoid deficiencies that individuals get from a vegetarian diet, including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12
Drawbacks of the flexitarian diet include:
- Supplements may be required to boost vitamin intake.
- Reduced meat intake can be a marker for disordered eating — up to 50% of individuals identifying with an eating disorder are vegetarian.
The Bottom Line: Is a Flexitarian Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The Flexitarian Diet is a great choice for people looking to reduce their meat consumption overall, without eliminating it entirely.
A great benefit of this semi-vegetarian diet is that, unlike other approaches with strict rules and limited flexibility, it is about you making choices tailored to your individual needs to get the best outcome.
It is a diet you can adhere to long-term, achieving and sustaining your weight loss goals. It’s not just about reducing meat intake, it incorporates healthier choices overall, such as reducing added sugar and refined carbohydrate intake.
Our advice is to ease into this diet and see if it works for you, allowing you to make better choices for your body and the planet gradually. You can also have fun trying out new plant-based recipes and encourage creativity in the kitchen!
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.