Going Vegetarian: Everything I’ve Learned In 6 Months
How to Go Vegetarian, and Everything You Should Know Before You Do
Last September, I decided to try going vegetarian. I challenged myself to go meat-free for a full month, just to see if I could do it. Coming from a family of meat-eaters, I expected it to be very difficult. And yet, a month flew by in a heartbeat. I couldn’t believe how easy I was finding it. Being vegetarian motivated me to try new recipes, made me reflect on the food I was consuming, and meant that I was automatically eating more fruit and vegetables. All in all, it seemed like the perfect lifestyle choice.
Unfortunately, soon after my monthly challenge was up, life started getting in the way. Between college and my full-time job, I could barely fit in time to shower, let alone cook meals for myself every night. I had a subsidised lunch in work, but the only vegetarian options were heavy cheese toasties that made me feel sluggish. Also, Christmas was coming up, and with it all the temptations of holiday food. I felt stuck and defeated. So, I decided to give up and incorporate some meat back into my diet.
Over the next two months, despite enjoying the comforts of my mom’s homemade dinners and pepperoni pizza, I felt persistently guilty about giving up on vegetarianism. Not only did I feel like a quitter, but I was also painfully aware of the impact of my eating habits on animal welfare and the environment.
Burgers didn’t taste the same anymore. I didn’t enjoy having bacon with my eggs. I picked at the ham in my sandwiches. The truth was, I didn’t enjoy meat at all anymore. Continuing to eat it felt pointless and wasteful. I decided I wanted to get back to a vegetarian diet, but I needed to be smarter about it this time.
you don’t have to give up your favourite avocado toast when you go vegetarian!
A New Approach
Not wanting to fail again, and determined to fully adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for good, I got into research mode. I wanted to make sure that this time, I was fully equipped with the knowledge I needed to make it work for me.
Here’s a couple of things I did before I went vegetarian (for the second time):
I started a Pinterest board full of vegetarian and vegan meal ideas and helpful resources. This way, I had easy access to recipes and information about the best plant-based protein sources, supplements, and veggie life hacks. You can check it out and follow it here.
I made a staple grocery list. This is a foolproof list of staples I always want to have in my pantry to ensure that I can always make quick, healthy meals. I always have this list on hand and take it grocery shopping with me. Sometimes, I still forget to buy chickpeas or peanut butter, but at least it’s less likely with an organised list.
I started meal prepping most weekends. This truly changed the game for me. Although I still don’t like to prepare meals for the whole week, I do find it helpful to spend two hours on a Sunday getting ahead on the cooking. This might mean roasting a sheet pan of veggies that I can put into Buddha bowls throughout the week, pressing and freezing a block of tofu, or making a simple chia jam to top my morning porridge. It saves time, and limits the amount of hummus toast that I eat in a given week. You can read more about my weekly prep rituals in my reset routine guide.
I started watching vegan and vegetarian YouTube channels. There are hundreds of excellent content creators out there making delicious food that would inspire even the most adamant meat-eaters to enjoy veggie meals. My favourites include Pick Up Limes, Madeleine Olivia, The Happy Pear, and AvantGardeVegan. All very different, all creating equally delicious food.
I set healthy boundaries. From the beginning, I knew that it was unrealistic for me to go vegan straight away. Therefore, I decided to keep eggs, cheese, and milk as part of my diet. This is mostly because I still live at home, and am not in the position to cook everything from scratch. Also, I just really love cheese, and don’t see myself parting with it anytime soon. So, even though I’m not ruling veganism out, it’s just not feasible for me at the moment.
I did my research before travelling. As any vegetarian or vegan will tell you, eating while travelling can be a bit of a challenge. It’s easy to run into communication issues or find yourself with no vegetarian option at all on the menu. Well, maybe except for plain tomato pasta and the occasional mushroom risotto. Before travelling anywhere, I decided to do prior research. The Happy Cow website, vegetarian-friendly search filters on Trip Advisor, and dedicated veggie Instagram pages have been massively helpful in finding great vegetarian-friendly places to eat abroad. For example, on my recent city break in Lisbon, I found too many veggie-friendly coffee and brunch places to try. It requires some prep, but it’s worth it to find the best food spots!
buddha bowls have quickly become my go-to veggie dinner – they’re quick, healthy, and so colourful that I feel like I’m eating the rainbow!
Reasons to Go Vegetarian
I went fully vegetarian at the start of January, 2019. It has now been over 6 months, and I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck with it for the entire time. Save for a single Haribo bear that I ate by accident, I have not slipped up even once. Truth be told, I’m almost never tempted by any meat products these days, and I don’t see myself ever going back.
If you’re thinking about trying out a vegetarian diet, and you’re a little bit hesitant about it, my advice is: just try it! Like me, you might find it a lot easier to keep up with than you thought. It will challenge you to get creative with your meals, you’ll easily get your five-a-day, and you’ll likely feel a lot more energised after your meals. Plus, as journalist Oliver Milman wrote in the Guardian, eating less meat is the best thing you can do for the planet in 2019. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment, and saving a lot of animals in the process.
Before you take the leap and go vegetarian, take a look at some things I’ve learned on my journey over the last six months:
nothing like a green smoothie to make you feel like you’re making healthy choices!
Pros of Going Vegetarian
It saves animals. This is the most obvious advantage. It is estimated that a vegetarian saves around 25 land animals every year. I went vegetarian because I no longer wanted to contribute to the cruelty of the meat industry. While it’s true that by not cutting out eggs and dairy products I am still contributing in some significant ways, I do feel better now that I have cut out meat.
It makes a visible difference. I am a firm believer that every little thing makes a difference. For example, by choosing vegetarian options in supermarkets and restaurants, you communicate demand for those products. In the last year alone, the meat-free freezer section at my supermarket has expanded to four times its original size. I’ve also seen many of my favourite chain restaurants releasing vegan burger options, and coffee shops are rolling out alternative milk options at an unstoppable pace. Reduction is the first, and perhaps most impactful, way of making a change in the meat industry. It’s a domino reaction, and it quickly catches on.
It’s expanded my cooking skills. Having to get creative with my meals this year has greatly improved my cooking skills. I’ve had to find new ways of cooking all sorts of vegetables, and find recipe substitutes where needed. I’ve also found new ways to adjust the meals my family make in order to make them veggie-friendly. And my greatest achievement of all? I’ve finally learned how to cook tofu in a way that tastes great, which I never thought was possible. (Hint: it involves maple syrup)
It’s inspired me to eat healthier food. Being vegetarian does not automatically mean being healthy. It’s just as easy to eat starchy, sweet, and fatty foods on a vegetarian diet as it is while you’re eating meat. What I have found, though, is that the recipes I seek out and the inspiration I take from my favourite YouTube channels (mentioned above), are all colourful and health-forward. These days, I love packing my meals full of various fruit and veg. I love when my plate looks like a rainbow explosion. I also cook more at home than I used to, simply because I know I’ll have better options.
It’s cheaper. Contrary to some popular beliefs, healthy eating does not have to be expensive. Sure, some meat alternatives can get a bit pricy, and don’t even get me started on the prices at some of the salad bars that have popped up around Dublin. But overall, a tin of beans is always going to cost you less than a pack of chicken fillets, and is just as filling. As I’ve stuck with my staple grocery list, I’ve found myself spending a lot less while following a vegetarian diet. Oats, beans, and seasonal veg are all great examples of some of the most inexpensive items at the supermarket, and they all happen to be staples in a balanced vegetarian diet. As a bonus, veggie options in restaurants are usually a lot cheaper than their meat alternatives, too!
It makes you feel better. Focusing my diet on plant-based foods has given me more energy. I’ve noticed that I feel a lot more awake throughout the day, and my skin has massively improved. A vegetarian diet also reduces the risk of heart disease and is said to prevent some types of cancer. With such positive health claims, it’s worth it to at least give it a shot.
It’s just as delicious. You’ll still be able to enjoy the vast majority of your favourite foods. It might take a little bit of getting used to, but once you’ve figured out all the substitute options, you’ll probably never look back.
Some Downsides (and ways to minimise them!)
As with everything, I’ve also experienced some negative aspects of going vegetarian. They don’t bother me all that much, and I do believe the positives outweigh the negatives, but they’re worth mentioning anyway for the purpose of honesty.
Yes, it’s a little harder to get good sources of protein. That is, if you don’t like to eat beans, absolutely despise tofu, and you believe that nuts and seeds are bird food. Otherwise, it’s not that difficult at all! The average person needs about 45-60 grams of protein per day. This fluctuates a little bit depending on your biology and level of activity, but overall, it’s really quite attainable. For reference, a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, half an avocado, and a cup of chickpeas is enough to get your protein intake for the day. You can find lots of resources about plant-based protein sources over on my veggie Pinterest board.
You’ll probably get bloated. A lot. Bloating is a very common issue — around 15-30% of people experience it regularly, and women are especially prone to it. Unfortunately, a lot of the staples of a vegetarian or vegan diet are known culprits of bloating. Beans, lentils, cauliflower, onions, and water-loaded fruit such as watermelon and apples can escalate the issue. I’ve learned to deal with my regular bloating by now, and although it does cause great discomfort at times, I understand that it’s a byproduct of the veggie life that I just have to accept.
You’ll be a lot more limited in restaurants. Although many places are responding to increasing demand for vegan and vegetarian options, it’s still very annoying to go out for dinner and find that you can only have one of the main courses, along with a side of fries or a plain salad. Certain cities, such as Berlin and London, are great hubs for veggie options, but other places can be a lot more tricky. My solution is to think ahead, and research places with a good few options for me to choose from. I am an avid online menu reader, and love to hear from fellow vegetarians and vegans on forums such as the Happy Cow. Some safe options that I always consider if I’m stuck are pasta, pizza, and falafel.
Being vegetarian does not make you a healthy eater. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a vegetarian diet does not mean a healthy diet. In order to make sure you’re having balanced meals and not just relying on starches all the time, you’ll have to put in some extra work. It might mean you have to set aside some time to meal prep veggies over the weekend, or up your greens intake by sipping on green smoothies. It might also mean that you have to take a vitamin supplement, such as B12 or a reliable multivitamin. I took a multivitamin supplement before I turned vegetarian, so this does not bother me much. But if you’re against supplements in general, make sure you pay attention to the micronutrients in your diet. When in doubt, just add to your fruit and veg intake anyway — it definitely won’t hurt.
You’ll have cravings. It’s going to happen. You’ll see a friend eating a great burger and get a sudden craving for it. An Instagrammer will post a gorgeous picture of eggs Benedict topped with bacon, and you’ll inadvertently drool over it. You might just be drunk on a night out and really want some chicken nuggets or a mean kebab. For me, the greatest temptation lies in the texture of things. This is why it took me so long to take a liking to tofu. I thought I could never get it to the same texture as chicken — until I made it taste even better. Whatever your version might be, you don’t have to give into your cravings. You can prepare for them instead by researching some good veggie fast food options in your area, or always having a pizza on hand in your freezer, ready to pop into the oven when you get home after a night out.
As you can tell, despite the cons, I am still a strong proponent for switching to a vegetarian lifestyle. There’s no hurdle that can’t be overcome. You just have to want to put in the effort to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
6 months are up. What now?
Having gone a full half a year as a vegetarian, I am proud to say that I will stick with it. Going back to eating meat is simply not an option anymore: it would mean taking a massive step back. It doesn’t even feel restrictive at all to me — this is just the normal way that I eat. My whole family is used to it now, and it’s no longer any trouble while I’m travelling. Simply put, it’s easy and natural for me now.
If you’re considering reducing or eliminating your meat intake, I urge you to give it a try. I would never try to push a lifestyle or dietary decision on anyone, but I do recommend it from my own experience. Do your research, see whether it’s the right move for you at this point in time, and test it out for yourself.
You might just find that it’s the best decision you’ve ever made, and the planet — and the animals — will surely thank you for it.
Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? I’d love to hear some of your tips and favourite recipes! Leave them in the comments below, or send them to me over on Instagram! I’d love to hear from you!
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