I would like to preface this by saying that I am not trying to sell anyone on being a vegetarian or convert any of my readers to becoming a vegan or vegetarian. Rather, these are simply my observations on the effects of vegetarianism in my life. One thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that some people are just as protective and sensitive with regards to their diets as they are with their political and spiritual beliefs.
On January 23rd 2011, I made the decision to become a vegetarian. It was a decision I had previously batted back and forth – I have many friends who are vegan and vegetarian, I understand the environmental and health benefits, and I believe in treating animals humanely. However, I always considered it too difficult to become vegetarian, something that I would never be able to commit to, so I never really tried. I made a half-hearted attempt that lasted three days in high school, and I wrote an article for my now defunct personal blog this past summer about adding more vegetarian food into my life, but I never had enough conviction to make the change and remain steadfast to it.
I should also add that I love the taste of a medium rare steak, or a savoury roast beef, or baked chicken.
I’m not going to lie. The entire reason that I decided to make the switch then and there was because at the time I was interested in a particular vegan. I justified it by saying, “Oh, I believe in it, this is a decision for me,” but at first, it really and truly wasn’t.
The first week was a novelty. I actually found it entertaining to say, “Sorry, I can’t, I’m a vegetarian.” I ate falafel, salads, and … more falafel. The change itself was so strange and sudden that I just kind of found the whole thing funny.
The second week is where it all fell to the dogs. I realized that I felt hungry, ALL THE TIME. I wasn’t feeling full. I had run out of meal ideas and was completely sick of falafel. Not only that, but I was exhausted. I felt that my brain had settled into a stupor, and my moods were all over the map. One minute I’d be flying high and feeling great, the next I’d feel tired, depressed and anxious. I was annoyed that when I was out with friends, my meal options felt extremely limited. I hated tofu and didn’t want to order any meals with it, but that seemed to be the only option for vegetarians. I wasn’t sleeping as well, and my hunger actually felt like it had manifested itself into sharp little teeth gnawing away at my stomach.
I panicked and began emailing my vegan and vegetarian friends, one of whom is studying to become a nutritionist. She pointed out that I needed to incorporate B12 into my diet, to which I responded, “Um, what’s B12?” Apparently it’s a crucial vitamin linked to neurological activity, just as essential to protein and iron. I began taking a liquid iron supplement in my orange juice, and a women’s multivitamin. I also began drinking fortified chocolate soy milk in the mornings and evenings, which is chock full of protein and B12. I visited the Big Carrot, an (expensive) food coop that carries a wide array of imitation-meats. Buying the supplements has been a little expensive, but giving up meat has forced me to pay attention to my nutrition, and the effect these supplements have on my body and my mood is well worth it.
After a particularly bad day (in which I actually started crying, felt completely full of angst, and started blaming the vegan for all of this), it was like I finally broke through the surface. I wasn’t doing it for a person, I was doing it for myself. My body started feeling more energetic. I didn’t feel as “heavy” anymore. I knew that my diet was having a positive environment impact. Suddenly, it didn’t feel like I was suffering to be a vegetarian; instead, it felt like I was pursuing happiness by making a choice every time I sat down to eat.
My waistline has begun to shrink, and my muscles have become more defined. I’ve lost some of the “baby fat” roundness to my face. And my grocery bills have dropped significantly. Before, I’d pick up two or three packages of chicken and beef, typically around $20 per trip. Although I’m buying more vegetables, I am not buying $20 worth. Meals at restaurants are also significantly cheaper (you know the “add chicken for only $3.99″? Yeah, I don’t really qualify for that anymore).
All in all, I feel more healthy, confident, and powerful. I also don’t feel accountable to please a particular person … if I’m faced with no alternative but to eat meat, I’ll do it, no big deal, and I won’t feel guilty. But on the whole, eliminating so much saturated fat and cholesterol from my diet has been liberating. Plants can provide me with the protein, iron, and energy I need without filling my system with additional nastiness. Plus, I have the nice sensation of knowing that nothing died to keep me alive for another day.
So even if you have no interest in becoming a vegetarian, I truly recommend a reexamination of your diet. It’s painful and annoying, and it honestly feels at times like it’s the end of the world as you’re making the switch, but in the end, you’ll be happier and healthier, and ready to put that mind and body to work in creating a higher networth for yourself.