This post is not all inclusive and is general advice if you are looking to make a change to your eating habits to reduce or remove meat from your diet. I’m not going to put a whole bunch of quotes and statistics in here letting you know about the health benefits of changing your lifestyle when it comes to food. I am not a doctor and you should probably consult one before you decide to make the change. This post is my own reflection on vegetarianism.
Why Did I Become A Vegetarian?
Let me start off by letting you know how and why I became a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian about 14 years ago. Many people asked the question how did I become a vegetarian. Sometimes they ask why did I become a vegetarian. As odd is it may sound, I usually say that it started as New Year’s resolution because it truly did. At the time I decided to make the change, I was in college in my second year and I had recently moved into an apartment off campus. There was a lot of preparation when it came to transitioning to vegetarianism, and at the time I was only eating chicken as a meat source and maybe a little bit of fish and seafood. I had eliminated pork and beef from my diet quite a long time before I decided to go vegetarian. Our family didn’t really eat a lot of pork as I was growing up so it wasn’t hard to remove pork products from my diet. I know what you may be saying..no BACON? Nope. None whatsoever. I also didn’t surround my meals with a large serving of meat so then the question arose within myself to see if I could accept the challenge to completely remove meat from my diet.
As the date grew closer to New Years, you know…when people tend to make those resolutions that they never seem to stick to, I refined my research into vegetarianism to decide how I’d like to start my journey into the realms unknown. If you’re thinking about making the change, please understand that there are so many different types of vegetarian lifestyles and even if you start with one type, you can always change to another.
The chart below, courtesy of Easy Way to Become a Vegetarian, is an easy way to identify some of the main types of vegetarians. Easy Ways to Become a Vegetarian is a great website to get more information on transitioning to vegetarianism.
I decided that I liked cheese and dairy too much to go completely vegetarian. I honestly don’t eat a lot of eggs but a lot of products that I use contain eggs or there are times when I do actually use eggs to make baked goods. I also thought being a vegan was a little too strict for me to do right from the start. So, I decided to stick with lacto-ovo-vegetarianism. Being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian gives me the most versatility in my diet as well as somewhat reduces my chances of developing a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
So, I stopped buying chicken and replaced the protein I would normally get from chicken with soy protein and other sources of protein. Again, this is why it’s important to do your research because you can’t just give up meat after you’ve been eating it for years without knowing how you’ll get the same vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. A lot of people transitioning to reduced meat or meat-free lifestyles don’t eat enough of the right foods to sustain a healthy life and they end up getting sick. One thing I will also say is that some people have allergies to foods in the vegetarian lifestyle, like soy, so you don’t want to crazily think you can just start this lifestyle from scratch because you may end up doing more harm than good.
Why Did I Become A Vegetarian?
Now, why did I become vegetarian? I am by no means a belligerent vegetarian. What I mean by that is that I am not a vegetarian who preaches to the choir and yells about animal cruelty and tries to convert people to give up meat. I recognize everyone has his own reason for what he eats and how and why he eats. I’m not here to try to get you to do something that you may not want to do solely for the sake of animals. I love animals. I love animals a lot. I choose to eat eggs and use animal by-products and I’m not worried about who’s going to judge me based on how I live my life.
My main reason for switching to vegetarianism is for health reasons. High blood pressure, kidney disorders and heart disease run in my family, so I believe that removing meat from my diet will reduce my overall risks in encountering and ultimately suffering from one of the diseases that I’m genetically predisposed to. Again, I could probably throw some statistics in here that says something like vegetarians have a 60% higher likelihood to…. or vegetarians have an overall reduction in heart related….but that is why I encourage you to do your own research and consult your doctor so you are armed with the best information possible before attempting this transition.
Another reason I gave up meat is that I actually did not like the taste of meat, especially beef. The most common reason I hear from meat eaters as to why they “can’t” give up meat is that they love the taste of meat. People like the flavor of the sauces, seasoning, smokiness, and accompaniments that go along with meat. I believe that few people actually enjoy the meat just by itself. Several of my friends have responded that they never really thought about it that way and maybe it’s the flavorings that are added that they really enjoy and not the meat itself. Some people really do just like the taste of a nice juicy steak with no seasoning, but I find that to be somewhat rare (no pun intended). So don’t say you can’t do something until you actually make an attempt to try it.
One other reason why I gave up meat is because of how sluggish and bulky I would feel after eating meat. People like to eat meat because it makes them feel full. It takes almost twice a long, if not longer for meat to breakdown and move through your system. I started to think about the fact that the clock of decomposition starts when most meat is slaughtered. First it sits on a grocer’s shelf for a little while, along with some preservative juices and decays while it waits for someone to purchase it. Then it may rest in your refrigerator for a little while longer. Then you cook and eat it and all the while the meat is decaying. Then it hits your stomach, where your stomach struggles to rip the meat apart and break it down so it will pass. Then, it continues to decay even further while slowly dragging itself through your intestines which then usually ends in a smelly poo. Granted it also has to do with the amount of fiber and other things you eat when it comes to the ease of your digestion. Sorry if this is too much information and I’m laughing as I type this but, but when I transitioned to vegetarianism, I noticed that I was pooping everyday regularly, the poo came out with more ease with less time on the toilet, and it didn’t smell. I know…..I’m sorry for that last sentence.
Tips on Transitioning to Vegetarianism
- Consult your doctor. As if I haven’t said it enough already, your doctor should know your body almost as well as you know yourself. If you are thinking about adopting a meat free or reduced meat intake diet, check with the doc.
- Start small. Try to reduce your overall intake of meat over the course of a week just to see if you can survive with less meat in your diet. Then, completely remove one meat group (fish, chicken, beef, veal, pork, etc.) but make sure you replace it with another food group that will give similar or the same nutrition but hopefully it will be with vegetables or fruit. I know a lot of people who replace meat with carbs or starches but as you may know, they tend to burn off a lot quicker and leave you feeling hungry. You may have to eat more frequently if you don’t have enough in your system to curb your hunger.
- Do some research. Don’t just throw yourself into a meat-free or reduced meat intake lifestyle without understanding what your body needs in order to not feel hungry and get all of the nutrients it needs to survive. You don’t have to be one type a vegetarian. Like I said I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian because it gives me the most versatility & flexibility. You may start with veganism, lacto-vegetarianism, fruititarianism, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism or be a pescatarian, but you can always change to whatever suits you best. It takes some getting used to.
- Be creative and be willing to adapt. A lot of people find it hard at first to eat out at restaurants as depending on where you live, there may not be a lot of places that offer vegetarian options. Be aware of items you can substitute on a menu or which items have the least amount of meat that you can take out so that you don’t feel like a bother when you go out to eat and you can still have a good time.
- Try new things. This kind of goes along with being creative, but being a vegetarian is a lifestyle it’s not just eating preferences. So as this is a part of your lifestyle you need to be able to try things you wouldn’t have normally tried before. Don’t refuse to eat things because they look weird or smell weird. You just won’t know until you try them. Learn to substitute. Welcome the challenge to be innovative. Just pick an item off the shelf even if you don’t know how to use it and find a way. This is why being a vegetarian is so exciting because there’s endless possibilities.
- Find recipes that you can make with ease and love. If you get stuck with trying to find ways to use items in the kitchen, there is plenty of help for recipe ideas on Pinterest, Instagram, and other blogs out in the web universe. I found a lot of great ideas on Epicurious. I also really loved the recipe books written by Nava Atlas.
I especially liked The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet because I didn’t actually like to cook before I went vegetarian and that book really simplified the process of selecting ingredients as there are only 5 ingredients per recipe and most of the recipes only take about 30 minutes or less. She also has Vegetarian Express : Easy, Tasty, and Healthy Menus in 28 Minutes(or Less!)which has 150 recipes all at 28 minutes or less.
- Save the best for last. Take out the meat groups that you eat the least of first and then wean yourself off the one you eat the most last.
Incorrect Assumptions About Vegetarians
So, let’s clear the air a bit about some common misconceptions about vegetarians/vegans.
- All we eat is salad. No..NO…annnnnnd NO! I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to survive very well if all we at was salad. That’s usually the first thing I hear out of people’s mouth when I’m attending a gathering and there aren’t many meat-free options. “Well…we have salad!” Siggggggggh! I guess, thank you for thinking about me but I don’t force the fact that I am vegetarian down people’s throats. I don’t make people go out of their way to find a restaurant that works for both of use or make dishes that are vegetarian at a party I’m attending, as it’s my choice to be a vegetarian. I can find my way around a kitchen or menu.
- We are all skinny. This will go along with number three below, but having a meat free diet doesn’t guarantee that you will be skinny. We all know that each of us has a different genetic composition, so you may be predisposed to just carrying a little or a lot of extra weight. We’re not all skinny let me tell ya!
- You will lose weight. Don’t let this be your only motivation for switching to a reduced meat intake or meat-free lifestyle. There is no guarantee that you will lose weight. We also should all know that along with a healthy food intake, you also need to have a healthy exercise regimen along with drink plenty of water. While many people do lose some weight in the initial transition as well as throughout the transition, you still have to work to maintain a healthy weight after the transition. Diet AND Exercise, not just one or the other.
- We are all animal activists. Again, this isn’t true as each person who becomes a vegetarian does it for different reasons. Granted there are a lot of vegetarians that do it to bring light to animal cruelty and conservationism, the actions of some are not representative of the group as a whole.
- We’re all hippies. Maybe this is another generalization as often times grassroots or progressive veg-heads are seen in the media or maybe people even think back to the times of the 1970’s. We don’t all live in a commune or on a farm, sit around singing Kum-Ba-Ya, smoke weed or take drugs, are against “the man” or the government, do yoga or anything else that people tend to associate with being a “hippy”. I’m not going to lie. I have been doing yoga for about 10 years. Shh! Don’t tell anyone.
Here’s what I’ll say to those that are still on the fence about becoming meat-free. A lot of people say “Oh I could never become a vegetarian.” In a way, you’ve already set yourself up for failure if you don’t even attempt to try. You can do it if you just put a little effort into it and don’t just give up and go back to what you’ve known your whole life or what is easy. I take this philosophy to almost everything in life and not just vegetarianism. Pour yourself 100% into something and your glass will always be full.
Let me know if you have questions about vegetarianism or what your experience has been as a vegetarian/vegan in the comments.
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