Yesterday I wrote about orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food to the point of malnutrition and starvation. Orthorexics will not put foods they consider unhealthy into their mouths even if it means not eating at all.

There’s another group of eaters called flexitarians. Flexitarians are sometimes referred to as semi-vegetarians or almost-vegetarians. The American Dialect Society defines a flexitarian as “a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat.”

Unlike orthorexics, flexitarians are health-conscious eaters who are willing to break their healthy diets once in a while for social, nutritional, or purely pleasurable reasons. They do not have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to food. They are, like the name obviously implies, flexible.

Flexitarians usually eat a vegetarian diet but might have the occasional piece of meat in a social setting or when vegetarian fare is just not available, such as while traveling in a place with limited food availability.

In some situations, a strict diet without variation is required. For example, people following religious or ethical dietary restrictions and people on strict diets for medical reasons can’t waver from their diet rules.

For those who have a choice, I think it’s important to be as flexible as possible in one’s diet, not only because it makes it easier to get all the nutrients our bodies require but also because variety adds enjoyment to life. People who eat a vegetarian diet for the most part but get true enjoyment from eating a hamburger and are not vegetarians for philosophical or religious reasons should allow themselves that indulgence once in a while.

Many strict vegetarians scoff at the idea of a “semi-vegetarian” or a flexitarian because they claim you’re either a vegetarian or you’re not, but perhaps people who are more concerned with what other people eat and with labels are the ones who need to do some soul-searching. We each have different food paths to take in life and there’s certainly no wrong or right way to eat.

To me, eating healthy isn’t just about eating what’s “right.” It’s also about giving your body what it wants once in a while and not being so strict with yourself that you become unhappy. After all, we eat healthy so we can have a longer, healthier life, not so we can have a long and miserable life. If our diets isolate us socially or make us dread every meal then we’re pretty much defeating the purpose, aren’t we?

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