If you had told me as a child that as an adult I would become a vegetarian, I would have thought you had hit several branches on your way down the crazy tree. Growing up, no matter how much my parents tried to force them on me, I had an extreme aversion to vegetables. If they were present in my food, I would eat around them. If they were anywhere on the dinner table, I would avoid them like the plague. When my parents would announce dish with so much as a hint of vegetables in them, I would purposefully fill myself up with snacks before dinner so I would be too full to eat any of it. As of today, it has officially been 6 months since I made the switch to become fully vegetarian, and don’t see myself going back to meat in the foreseeable future. In this blog post, I’ll go over what led me to make the switch, what the journey has been like since then, and any advice I have for anyone wanting to go vegetarian.
Let’s first start off with the events leading up to ultimately deciding to completely remove meat from my diet. Since early college, I had been telling myself that I would want to at least try to go vegetarian. Since I was still living under the roof and financial support of my parents, and couldn’t really afford to buy my own food at the time, I put this goal on hold, and continued living my life as is. Fast forward to the end of my final year of college, and I realized that I’ve done enough procrastinating and making excuses, and I decided that now would be the time to start.
A coworker of mine had decided to adopt a plant-based diet earlier this year. While her reasoning was mostly founded on health reasons, the effects of switching have made the decision so much more rewarding. Not only did her health improve, as well as shedding off a significant amount of weight, she also said that her anxiety has since decreased as well. With anxiety being a crutch that I have to deal with myself, I figured there’s no harm in trying to cut out meat from my diet. At first, my reasoning to go vegetarian also fell on health reasons – I had been eating severely unhealthy for over a year, and as a result, gained a lot of unwanted pounds as well as just not feeling my best on a daily basis. I’d be lying if I said that a percentage of my motivation wasn’t also to prove to my parents that I’m capable of eating fruits and vegetables. But as I did more research (i.e. watching a total of one documentary) about the benefits of removing meat from your diet, I became so much more invested in the cause, and now have the added dimension of feeling a moral responsibility to boycott the meat producing industry altogether. The dismal treatment of animals as well as wanting to preserve our environment as much as I can trumped my initial reason of wanting to lose a few pounds.
While the transition hasn’t been an easy one, it has been very rewarding. Not only do I feel lighter and healthier, but my conscience is also clear in terms of protecting animals and the environment. Over the past six months, there were several important lessons I’ve learned throughout this change, and these are things I urge anyone considering changing their diet to keep these things in mind.
The first couple of weeks is the hardest. Just as it is to change any of your habits, the first several days or weeks into becoming vegetarian were the hardest. Making any kind of lifestyle change takes hard work, self-discipline, and consistency. There was a period of time at the beginning where the mere sight or smell of meat would trigger me, and I would have to leave the room in order to avoid breaking my diet. On the three month mark of going full vegetarian, a friend of mine had a birthday party catered by a taco man. My five month anniversary of going vegetarian happened to fall on Thanksgiving. Literally one week after I went full vegetarian, I went to a friend’s wedding where I had ordered a meat dish when I RSVP’d several months before. In all of these circumstances, it would have been so easy to suspend my diet and motivation for just those days, but I also realized that if I got into the habit of letting myself slide, I would never take the lifestyle seriously. Here I am today, six months into vegetarianism, and I’m so glad I didn’t let myself slip any of those times, and I’m confident my self-control will save the day in the future.
Ease yourself into the process. When you get into the shower every morning, you don’t get in as soon as you turn on the water. If you find that the water is too cold or too hot, your immediate instinct is to get out until it gets to a comfortable temperature. The same goes for any kind of lifestyle change, and so you want to ease yourself into the change. If you just wake up one day and decide to give up meat starting that day, your body probably won’t respond to it in a healthy way. While you might feel fine the first day or two, after about a week, you’ll notice that you won’t feel like yourself. Your body was so used to the lifestyle you had for such a long time, so as soon as it senses something is missing, it will immediately scream for you to fulfill those voids to avoid shutting down completely. A good way to wean yourself off of meat is to progressively eliminate your intake. In the days leading up to fully eliminating meat from my diet, I was limiting myself to just one meal containing meat everyday, and the way to hold myself accountable for that was by finishing everything in my fridge that had meat in it. Once I was done finishing those products, I was also done with meat. This is a good way to ease yourself into going vegetarian in a healthy way without wasting any food you might already have.
Know why you’re switching to vegetarianism and educate yourself as much as you can. Just like I said earlier, my initial motivation to become a vegetarian was pretty shallow in comparison to what it eventually evolved into. Too many times, I’ve heard people say that they’ve been thinking about going vegetarian to eat healthier or “just to try it.” These aren’t necessarily bad reasons, but if you’re serious about wanting to change your diet, I would suggest educating yourself on the deeper benefits of going vegan or vegetarian. Wanting to “just try” the vegetarian diet or wanting to shed a few pounds are selfish reasons to change your diet, and so as a result, there’s not too much urgency to it, making it easier to fall off the wagon. When you shift your focus away from your own wants or needs, and onto things like the environment or the well being of animals, you all of a sudden gain a real purpose outside of yourself to eliminating meat from your diet.
Don’t be too hard or strict on yourself. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. When I first started, I not only eliminated meat and fish from my diet, but I also made it a point to not eat anything with any kind of meat broths or byproducts, nor did it suffice to eat around the meals that had meat in them. One day over the summer when I went to the family party, this practice was put to the test. Being Filipino, it’s extremely hard to adapt to this diet, and it’s also difficult to get any family members to understand why you’re doing it. At this particular family party, all of the food served had some kind of meat in it. I realized that if I observed that level of strictness I put on myself, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. By putting those restrictions aside and focusing on only not eating meat itself, I was able to have a satisfying meal at the party without feeling guilty about it. I’ve since made it a rule that when I’m at a party or when I go home to Sacramento, I’m suspending my extra rules (I’m still gonna avoid the meat). That way, I won’t be drawing attention to myself, and I’ll be able to enjoy myself without compromising my newfound moral compass.
The past six months haven’t been easy, but they have been rewarding. I feel like I’m finally giving my body the treatment it needs, and I’m standing up for a cause I’m passionate about. I may catch a lot of eye rolls at the mention of being a vegetarian, and a lot more sighs of exasperation when I explain my reasons, but my motivation behind this lifestyle change are enough to not let those little things deter me. I understand that this may not be for everyone, but I do believe that it’s worth a shot to at least educate yourself on the health and environmental benefits to adopting a vegetarian diet. It is my goal to take another plunge and go vegan (or at least completely plant-based) by this time next year, and I’m excited to see what lessons I’ll learn along the way, as well as see the lessons I’ve learned the past six months continue to go to work in the coming year.
To the vegans and vegetarians reading this, what are some tips you may have for me going forward? And to anyone thinking about going vegetarian, or at least curious, are there any questions I can answer for you? Let’s chat in the comments.