After nixing animal products for nearly five years, I'm reassessing things.
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whole fish on a white plate
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I kind of became vegan on accident. I had previously gone (mostly) vegetarian for a summer in college to lose that infamous "Freshman 10"—I blame the late-night Taco Bell—but never thought I could nix meat and dairy for good. Chicken, yogurt and cheese were all foods I ate pretty much every day, and I was a self-proclaimed connoisseur of meaty chili and grilled cheese. However, after going vegan with my mom for a month as an experiment, we surprised ourselves by deciding we didn't want to go back.

I had lost weight, my skin was glowing and I just felt SO. GOOD. I also went from getting sick once a month to maybe once a year. Our improved quality of life was enough to get my sister and several friends to join our band of vegan misfits. Trust me, it wasn't as cool five years ago as it is now—and it still really isn't today where I live in Alabama.

I never would have thought that I would still be eating like a herbivore five years later, but my experience as a vegan has actually helped me become more passionate about food, cooking and, of course, the power of plant-forward eating. Dare I say, it has actually made me a better cook. However, after an internal struggle, I have recently decided to reincorporate fish into my diet.

I don't have any kind of "holier than thou" complex because I'm vegan, and I would never judge a person for choosing to eat meat, dairy or eggs. There is so much scientific research out there to show the benefits of consuming a variety of animal foods—fish especially—I just wasn't going to. But why? I eventually started to realize I'd been putting myself in a box—that eating a vegan diet had become a bigger part of my identity than I'd realized—and it was kind of controlling me.

I had long used my vegan diet to fan an old flame—my eating disorder—and had restricted my diet to fit my vision of "clean eating" to stay thin and "in control." Then, when I started putting on a few pounds in the last year or two, I started to spiral. I began to count calories again, only let myself have green smoothies for breakfast and salads for lunch—all while taking spin classes or running most days of the week. This was total self-sabotage looking back, because I often ended up binge eating at night since my body was in desperate need of calories!

My original quest for better health had morphed into a quest for perfection, and my mind and body were starting to feel the consequences. I had also realized I wasn't prioritizing certain nutrients—like iodine and omega-3 fats, which are both found in several types of fish. My body had begun to crave seafood again for the first time in years (likely because of this), and I've realized the value of listening to my body instead of punishing it to get results. I'd been reading the book Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield and finally understood that my body was my friend, not my foe, and if I would just take better care of it, we could grow to like each other after all.

This week, I decided to take the plunge and headed to Whole Foods to buy some salmon fillets (wild-caught and as sustainable as I could find). I whipped up a salmon grain bowl with lots of veggies (a la the The Pollan Family's Mostly Plants), and the world did not come crashing down. And yes, I did enjoy it.

I still currently plan to eat vegan about 90 percent of the time, as I honestly do feel better when I don't have meat and dairy in my system. The whole concept of eggs has weirded me out since I was a kid, so those likely won't be making an entrance into my diet any time soon. However, enjoying some sustainable seafood once a week is something I do want to start prioritizing. It doesn't make me a failure for not remaining a full-time herbivore. It's actually freeing to feel like my diet isn't my entire identity. And if my body decides it needs something different in the future—be it going back to strict veganism or eating yogurt from a cow instead of almonds—this time I'm going to listen.