Animal Rights

Struggling to Ditch Meat? Here Are Five Ways to Resist the Temptation

Are you a conflicted carnivore – loving meat but also hating that you love it? Perhaps you are worried about the carcinogenic, heart-clogging properties of cooked meat or the industry’s use of antibiotics creating threatening superbugs. Maybe you’re ashamed of all the wasted water and food that goes into meat production and the deforestation and damaging emissions caused by animal agriculture. Many of us also simply struggle to accept the justifications used to defend the killing of intelligent, emotionally sensitive animals.

But despite all the great reasons to opt for vegetarian alternatives, you might find that when you sit there in a restaurant with a menu in your hand, you simply cannot resist the smoky, umami-infused aroma of grilled hamburgers or sizzling, mouth-watering bacon. You wouldn’t be alone – initial findings recently presented at a conference suggests that more than 30% of meat eaters in the US, Germany and France are conflicted about eating animals. Here are five ways in which psychology may be able to help.

Be prepared

Most of our eating is mindless, meaning it is governed by habits, rituals (“eat turkey at Christmas”) and what is available. Mindless eating can prevent us from realising that we are being tempted. If you’re craving a carb-loaded, fatty meal when you’re hungover, you may order a burger because that’s what you’ve always done. But a falafel or a vegetarian pizza may also do the trick. Yet our power to overcome temptation depends on us first identifying that there is a conflict we need to address.

One way to counteract mindless eating then is to prepare ourselves for an upcoming temptation. If we want to cut down on meat and we know we are about to confront a situation where this goal will be challenged (for example eating out with a friend), we have an easier time achieving this goal if we commit ahead of time not to give in. One way of doing this would be to look at the restaurant menu online before you arrive and determining what to order.

Try mindful eating

The opposite of mindless eating might be called “mindful” eating, or mindfulness applied to food. This means placing greater attention on food-related thoughts and cravings as they arise. In one study 19 overweight individuals attended 10 weekly meetings on healthy eating, followed up by either a seven-week course in mindfulness centred on food cravings, or no mindfulness training at all.

The mindfulness training involved paying attention to various parts of the body for arising sensations, and attending to food-related thoughts and cravings – noticing them but not acting on them. While both groups lost weight, the mindfulness group also showed a decreased preoccupation with food. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t also apply to meat eating.

Broaden your outlook

Another trick from the psychology of self control is to adopt a wider mental frame.
This is where you think about a decision, not in terms of a solitary event (eating meat in this meal), but as part of a larger set of events. For example, you may want to think about all the meals you will eat or all the animal lives you will save in your lifetime. Setting aside fish and seafood, that’s about 30 lives per year for the average American.

Wide mental frames help us cast our momentary choices within the larger goals we have for ourselves, such as helping the planet or helping animals. Putting a positive spin on your decision – “saving lives” rather than “giving up meat” – might also help you avoid thinking in terms of what are you are losing.

Picture the animals

People currently avoiding meat tend to have a richer understanding of the cognitive and emotional capabilities of farmed animals – for example, they understand that pigs, like humans and dogs, have sophisticated emotional lives. They also are quick to connect the meat on the plate with the once-living animal source. When they see meat – they see an animal.

We know from recent studies that connecting meat to animals or animal suffering can spoil appetites. For example, many people find roast pork tasty, but much less tasty when the pork comes with a pig’s head on the plate. Getting to know the emotional lives of farmed animals and developing the habit of associating meat with animal suffering may be a potent tool in the meat reducer’s tool kit.

Find sympathetic friends

Many people who have given up being vegetarian say that they struggled to find a supportive network of like-minded eaters. Women in particular seem to be vulnerable to the challenges of coordinating their diets with others (they are often inclined to accommodate their meat-loving partners).

But it’s likely that some of your friends may have similar levels of discomfort with meat as you. So don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’re alone. And when dining with less amenable friends, you might scout out restaurants that integrate vegetarian options into their menus (as opposed to having a separate “vegetarian/vegan” section). This will avoid splintering the group into opposing pro and anti-meat factions. In addition, some research suggests it might increase the chances of everyone ordering a meat-free meal.

The ConversationSo if you’re struggling to become a vegetarian or just want to cut down on meat, why not give some of these strategies a try? The worst cravings may go away when you realise you can actually do it.


Jared Piazza is a Lecturer in Social Psychology at Lancaster University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation


  1. I am not convinced that the overall picture of the evidence about meat consumption is that it is unhealthy. I am somewhat troubled by the proliferation of articles on here where a serious discussion about the healthiness of meat doesn’t seem to be discussed at length. I remain suspicious that precisely those people arguing that eating meat is unethical open with it being unhealthy.

    Perhaps somewhat more troubling though it may be more esoteric is my concern that the evidence for the potential consciousness of animals seems far scantier than it is purported be, with a host of characteristics taken as proxies for or evidence of consciousness even though there is essentially no consensus on what consciousness is or what characteristics would serve as compelling evidence of it.

    At the very least, I find it implausible that, say, turkey or salmon is unhealthy. They may not only not be unhealthy but highly nutritious.

    • K holl. says

      I’m not sure in the proliferation of articles here that there can be a serious discussion about the healthiness of meat. It is precisely the overall picture of evidence that shows us that this, in general, isn’t likely. Attempts to argue otherwise would belie veracity. People can begin anywhere to discuss why animal product consumption has been found to be unhealthy for the majority of first world populations. Those who begin by arguing that eating meat is unethical can pull from a variety of scientific based reasoning to support their conclusions, and how does pointing out ones personal stance on the inhumanity of eating meat change the former supposition about health concerns? Scientific data overwhelmingly underscores that animal consumption (or alternatively excessive consumption) quite often is a detriment to human health, to varying, and serious degrees. Studies about inflammatory agents in animal products are widely available; arachadonuc acid comes to mind. Studies about other many deleterious effects are in the scientific literature; references for individual studies in peer reviewed science publications outweigh the less rigorous, opposing research which is often funded by the lobbies supporting products from the animal farming industries. Reputable scientific studies can be found readily using most research engines.–won’t post links because the data has been readily available for a number of years now. That’s probably why citing seriously and at length, the healthiness of meat, is not reiterated in depth in articles on this site. No matter the order in which reasons to eschew meat are presented, the conclusions stand, be it a concern for an individual’s long-term health, ethical concerns relating to animal welfare, or meat consumption’s direct correlation to global warming and famine, along with pollution from factory farming, overuse of antibiotics, etc.
      While being humane to animals may be an esoteric issue to some, there is ample documentation for the importance of recognizing this as an important ethical practice as well. The conclusion that animals have consciousness is inherently implied: if a being is aware of its surroundings and adequately functioning within these parameters, they are conscious, i.e. alive. This can be based on the rigorous scientific literature or mere observation. In short, scientists accept that animals are sentient as unassailable fact. In addition, conscience as ascribed to (prey) animals has been studied, discussed and demonstrated, too; it’s a validation shared across all disciplines having to do with animals. Behavioral research alone can provide numerous observations with which to support such conclusions.
      A concensus amongst scientists and philosophers about what consciousness is (vs conscience) while tangential to the effects on human health from meat consumption, again isn’t something on which the different disciplines in question strive to find consensus. They already agree on this as a synonymous given: beings, to be conscious are sentient. I’ve not come across scanty evidence that animals are conscious–what would that look like?
      As for turkey and salmon being healthy, factory farmed turkeys are usually sick, laden with antibiotics, engineered to the point they’re too heavy to stand up on their legs, kept in close quarters that breed disease, subjected to artificial lighting cycles to promote unnatural, excessive growth, fecal contamination issues abound, the stress caused by these artificial conditions raise the birds’ stress hormone levels all of which are passed on to the consumer by way of what remains in the birds’ meat. Salmon has been over fished in areas, heavy-metal contaminated waters leave high levels of toxic substances in their flesh, all passed on and ingested by consumers. Scientific concensus again is that this isn’t health promoting for humans. Perhaps the protein in these two animal examples can be considered nutritious, along with some amino acids and essential fatty acids. There is still plenty about them as food products that affect human health adversely to consequential degrees. I posit that the article’s author’s starting point took these facts into consideration as preliminary givens.

  2. Oss Ickle says

    If one reads nutrition research widely seriously, there is no evidence whatsoever that eating “healthy” meats, cooked healthily, is, er, unhealthy. Regularly eating McDonalds hamburgers is unhealthy. Regularly eating steaks that are charred to blackness on a grill is unhealthy. Regularly eating fried meats is unhealthy.

    The best argument for vegetarianism is the ethical one. But you’re, right, many veg. polemicists try to cast a wider net by invoking health.

  3. I should also add that I totally support articles like this. I have nothing against reducing meat consumption for ethical, environmental, and (depending on the details) health reasons, as well as overall efficiency/cost-effectiveness. I do not think my own dietary habits are reflective of what may very well be deeply unhealthy habits among others who consume meat, and I certainly thing the factory farming industry will be seen in the future as industrialized mass atrocity. So kudos to articles like this. Let’s just also have a deeper discussion about the specifics of the health issues involved in meat consumption, and of animal consciousness.

  4. Kat says

    @lancebush & Oss – eating fish and meat (regular) may not be unhealthy in and of itself but the way that the meats and fish are farmed and produced in this country is deeply troublesome. the prolific use of antibiotics and growth hormones, for example. The label ‘organic’ doesn’t mean anything and is not regulated by any means. Neither does ‘free range’ or ‘grass fed’. A lot of poultry products are injected with saline to make them look plumper and weigh more. Coloring is used on farmed salmon to make them look pinker.

    So unless you raise your own stock and kill your own meat, its unlikely that you get wholesome and untainted animal protein in modern day America.

  5. Hi Kat. Thanks for the response. I don’t have significant personal knowledge of the prevalence of or health risks posed by antibiotics etc. so I can’t speak from personal knowledge about the extraneous health risks of meat consumption. If true, this would be an argument against these practices, though, and not an argument against eating meat in general. Do you know if coloring salmon to make them look pinker poses health risks?

  6. Why would anyone want to ditch meat? Those places which have the best health and longevity are all omnivore, so meat and particularly meat fat is important for health.

    What we need to do is end the mass production and mad science involved in producing meat and return to natural practices where meat is healthy and the animals have decent lives.

    And anyone who thinks that four legs or two legs creates something special should look at the research into plants and their capacity for consciousness and feeling.

    We need to honour all that eat from beginning to end.

    • Evan A. says

      Legs don’t create anything special; brains do. Plants are not conscious and have no feelings because they do not have the organ necessary for experiencing those things — the brain.

      • Wrong according to studies. Plants have consciousness and much of our human consciousness is not even in the brain, or comes through the brain.

        All is sacred and deserving of respect, whatever it is which dies so we may live.

  7. Santoculto says

    What I always say. In bioethical terms the major problem is: treat all “animals” as if they are the same, the same personality, same levels (or lack of) sentience..and kill them to be consumed.

    • Santoculto says

      Split the selective process, creating two types of “animals” in farm: those with very lower levels of sentience, maybe analogous to “human evil-types”, to be consumed. And those with normal levels of sentience to be created as pets.

      Because the number of only-vegetarian human cultures is little and because genetic factors override any other with environmental nature seems possibly incongruent to argue that all healthier people in some places are like that exclusively or considerably because their omnivorous diet.

  8. Kurt says

    More delicious, nutritious meat for us normal, long living, omnivorous people who understand the purpose of those incisors in our mouths – incisors that real vegetarians don’t have. Thank you vegans!

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