Dinner Last Night

Those who’ve read this blog for awhile, know that our primary diet consists of plant-based meals. We gave up eating land animals in November 2010, and in May 2013, we stopped eating dairy at home.

With meat and dairy no longer in our diet, I developed some vitamin deficiencies. (Brian did not). I had my blood tested a few years ago and learned my iron level was quite low as well as my B-12. My doctor put me on supplements, but didn’t ask me to change my diet.

This past summer, my restless legs have become unbearable. Knowing that iron is a key factor in RLS, I got another blood test. I learned that even with an iron supplement, my level hasn’t budged. My ferritin level is 24, and my doctor (who is not an RLS specialist) would like to see it at 50.

I’m determined to solve this problem naturally and avoid prescription medication. Dopamine agonists (also given to Parkinson’s patients) seems to be the go-to solution in the medical community. From what I’ve read, it’s impossible to quit, has a laundry list of interactions and causes augmentation.

Augmentation is defined as a worsening of RLS symptoms that occurs after starting a dopaminergic medication to treat RLS. The medication is effective when it’s first started, but over time symptoms worsen or return to what symptoms were like prior to starting the treatment. – RLS.org

I recently joined RLS.org to get access to some of their member only documents. Here I learned that iron supplements are recommended for those suffering from RLS with a ferritin level under 75 and a goal of getting it over 100. With my level being 24 and since I’m already on a good supplement, that goal seems impossible on a plant-based diet.

Heme iron, which makes up 40 percent of the iron in meat, poultry, and fish, is well absorbed. Non-heme iron, 60 percent of the iron in animal tissue and all the iron in plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts) is less well absorbed. – The Vegetarian Resource Group

At this point I will do anything to stop the intolerable discomfort I experience every night. That means I’m introducing meat back into our diet. Unfortunately for me, it could take between 6-9 months to improve my iron stores.

I googled around for a how-to plan for adding meat back into a vegetarian diet and learned to start with chicken broth and some shredded chicken, then chicken stir-frys, followed by turkey, lean roast beef deli meat, then small portions of ground beef.

To those vegans and vegetarians who have enjoyed the recipes I’ve shared over the years, I hope you’ll understand. To the meat eaters, let me tell you about dinner last night.

I didn’t want to do a basic chicken noodle soup or a chicken soup with rice, I wanted something more interesting that that. I chose Chicken Tortilla Soup as our first taste of chicken since 2010.

The broth is 50% chicken broth and 50% water (8 cups total). I used 1 1/2 chicken breast, so the total chicken per serving was pretty low. Dare I say it was delicious and neither of us got an upset stomach.

2016 Cost of Camping:
26 nights free camping
254 nights paid camping
280 days this year thru 10/8
Total spent on camping this year: $7198.14
Daily average cost of camping: $25.70

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  • Reply Toby Rey October 6, 2016 at 8:57 am

    You will find the balance you need in your life. I have followed you for some time now and I’ve been impressed at how you have lived in an Airstream for so long! Inspiring. Be well.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Thanks Toby!

    • Reply Patty October 10, 2016 at 7:36 am

      You might want to get tested for Celiac disease. I had all your symptoms, including 0 ferritin, until I was diagnosed at the age of 58. I never had any digestive issues.

      • Reply Leigh October 11, 2016 at 10:23 am

        That’s interesting. It does run in my family. I appreciate the comment.

      • Reply Patty October 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

        Blood test is simple but you must be ingesting large amounts of gluten for it to be accurate. Genetic testing is available as well but more expensive. If you don’t have the gene then you know for sure. Gold standard for Celiac testing is a small intestine biopsy. Definitely get tested if you have it in your family. It stinks but going gluten free resolved all my twitching and anemia issues with the bonus of all joint pain disappearing, brain fog, etc. Left untreated it can cause huge neurological issues that you cannot undo.

  • Reply Bruce Pirtle October 6, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Will be interested to watch your success in treating RLS, as I, too, suffer. Perhaps not as intense as yours, but, who’s counting grains of sand.

    Wishing you success and luck.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Hi Bruce, I am really sorry to hear that. Thanks for the well wishes and I’ll definitely post updates.

  • Reply Wheelingit October 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

    I went through this exact transition myself, for specific unique-to-me health issues many years ago. I also suggest dedicated liver tablets. Great source of iron and vitamins, and way easier than eating liver. And of course you know to pair iron with Vitamin C to increase absorption. Do what you need to do for your health.


    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Thanks Nina, I’ll have to check it out. Yes – I do know about the Vitamin C trick. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Kerri October 6, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Oh the possibilities! Hah. But seriously, I’m gonna venture to guess that eating the actual *whole* sources of the iron are going to help you absorb it way better than any supplement could (you could take infinite amounts of MGs of iron but just not absorb them without the accompanying nutrients). This’ll be a game-changer for our food-focused meetup in March! πŸ˜‰ Good luck; hope it’s a smooth transition.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Yes!! I’m glad I’ll be fully adjusted by the time we see you in NOLA – it will be an entirely different experience!

  • Reply Kerensa October 6, 2016 at 10:58 am

    You have to do what’s best for you. I had a friend who went back to meat because his iron needs couldn’t keep up with his training regimen on his plant based diet. Since I married a meat eater, you know I won’t give you a hard time. We both tried fish again on the Oregon coast. Brandon thought he may be able to eat it sometimes. I had to pretend it was fake in order to swallow my bite. I hope it goes easier for adding it back in and helps you in the end.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:15 am

      It’s funny how much the brain affects our experience of food. I actually got a little upset stomach before we ate, in anticipation. Thanks for the support Kerensa.

  • Reply Kier from Oregon October 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

    We wish you a smooth transition in your diet and the much needed relief from RLS. You are too sweet to have to suffer like you have for waaayyy too long! Hugs to you both πŸ’ž

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Hug you right back Kier. xoxo

  • Reply Amanda October 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I sincerely hope this new diet helps you find relief. I’ve been dealing with some diet changes myself in the past 6 months due to health issues and the most frustrating part is how long it takes for diet changes to make a difference. Glad your first transition meal went well. I would love to share some recipes with you if you’re interested.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      Yes, please do! I’ll hit you up on chat, I want to hear what’s going on with you. xo

  • Reply David October 6, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Iron absorption can be a problem for some, even on a meat-laden diet. My spouse also struggles with low iron levels and what she describes as ‘crawly knees’. Supplements and injections have not worked, so she continues trying to build dietary iron levels.

    Best wishes for getting your iron levels balanced, it will be an ongoing challenge, but I’m sure you’ll meet your goal.

    • Reply Leigh October 6, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      I’m sorry for your wife. I can actually connect quitting meat to the onset of very mild RLS. Currently it’s my only hope, so crossing fingers!

  • Reply Shannon October 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Hang in there and come on over to the dark side — we will make you some yummy stuff with our favorite meat products…. rhymes with ‘acon’. Seriously wishing you the very best on the transition and great health!

    • Reply Leigh October 7, 2016 at 6:41 am

      Thanks Shannon! I’m secretly excited to eat bacon again. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Lori N October 6, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    I was a vegetarian for over 15 years, but food allergies and other issues forced me into eating meat again. I eat poultry, fish and limited dairy. The thought of pork and beef just makes me ill, so I still avoid those.

    Start slowly. Fish took a while – the smell would make me ill before I could even take a bite.

    Pay attention to your body. You might not need to eat meat every day. I have 3-4 meatless days a week and am doing fine.

    Good luck!

    • Reply Leigh October 7, 2016 at 6:43 am

      Hi Lori – the good news is we were always eating fish and I brought back dairy at home last month since my D is so low as well. I’m definitely taking it slow, neither of us want to feel bad.

  • Reply Brenda Lopez October 6, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    Leigh, so sorry you have gone through this. Although I am a meat eater, I have a lot of respect for vegetarians, pescatarians, vegans and others who eat little or no meat and dairy. But the best thing you can do for all of those who care about you (like us) is to take care of yourself. I hope you start to feel better soon. And you do know that Vitamin K will help you absorb Vitamin D right? Hugs to you and Brian.

    • Reply Leigh October 7, 2016 at 6:44 am

      Awww sweet Brenda. Thank you. I did not know that about K, I’ll look into it. xoxo

  • Reply Allison October 6, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    Good luck with the new diet. I am so sorry to hear about the terrible RLS. Hopefully you’ll be better soon. I have enjoyed reading your vegan recipes and have made some of them. However when we’re tired, we resort to meat and veg!

    • Reply Leigh October 7, 2016 at 6:45 am

      Thanks Allison. I’m sure I’ll still share vegan recipes, we actually had a fantastic one last night I’ll include in my next blog post. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Angela October 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm


    I also have severe RLS or Willis-Ekbom Disease along with Iron Deficiency Anemia. I am taking the Iron replacement therapy with Vit. C to help with the absorption. My doctor also recommended Folic Acid, Vitamin B2, Vitamin D3 and Magnesium. Unfortunately I still have to use Neupro patches to help alleviate my symptoms. I also have to be careful taking antihistamines (Benadryl) especially at bedtime because it can make my symptoms worse. The RLS Foundation site does have a lot of good information. I hope you find some relief from your symptoms. I know how miserable it can be.

    • Reply Leigh October 9, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Hi Angela, yes I’ve read about the antihistamines – SO good to know! That’s the first I’ve heard about Neupro patches. I’m so sorry you suffer from this as well.

  • Reply Rob Bryant October 7, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I have the same issues. I used spa tone liquid iron. 2 times a day . In my moringa drink in the am and in O J in the evening. I also get the b 12 shot every week or 2. It has helped big time . Good luck
    Rob Vernon b c

    • Reply Leigh October 9, 2016 at 7:48 am

      Thanks Rob, I’m going to have to check that out.

  • Reply Heather October 8, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I really hope this gives you relief!! Sending you good vibes!

    • Reply Leigh October 9, 2016 at 7:49 am

      Thanks lady! xo

  • Reply Nathan October 11, 2016 at 8:18 am

    We went from pescatarians to meat eaters when RenΓ©e was pregnant with Winter. I know everyone’s bodies and situations for being veggie in it’s various forms are different, but I think mine was always 20% “stop the animal cruelty” and 80% “will this make me less fat”. After going back to eating meat, we’ve all grown healthier in my opinion. Our food consists of much less processed foods, all of those veggie burgers and so much bread and pasta which have always been devastating on me in particular, from my weight to just how good I felt in general. The most dangerous part, for us, has been avoiding just eating the same thing over and over again – easy to do when sausage and bacon are so tasty or steak just seems like such an appealing option on the menu.

    Best of luck Leigh to this sorting out or at least helping out with your problems. The food you’ve cooked for us in the past has been amazing, and I’m sure you’ll get it sorted come this new realm of ingredients. πŸ™‚

    • Reply Leigh October 11, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Thanks Nathan. Yes, I think moderation is the key for sure. I can’t wait to cook for you again!

  • Reply Laura Smith October 12, 2016 at 9:47 am

    As long as you eat meats that are organic and responsibly raised and slaughtered I see no problem with eating meat. I went meatless January 1, 2016. I haven’t had any blood work done, so I’m unaware of my iron levels. I have plenty of energy chasing grand children. I wish you well with your return to meat.

    • Reply Leigh October 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Hi Laura, I’m super conscious about meat production (even back before we quit). I waited for a Whole Foods before taking the leap. Thanks for the support!

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