So as National Vegetarian Week draws to a close, I thought now was a good time to share my experience of when I turned vegetarian for a month.
After reading hundreds of articles and online posts over the years about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, I decided to give it a go to see what all the fuss was about – and also if I could actually stick to it for a whole month!! Some may think pssshttt what’s she making a deal about, it’s easy peasy! But being half Greek-Cypriot, where meat has always come as pretty standard with every meal in our household, this was definitely a challenge!
I actually did this back in February – or ‘Veguary’ as I called it, but have been a little slack in putting pen to paper to share my thoughts, as I really didn’t have this super-amazing experience with boundless energy, feeling fantastic and full of life, which everyone talks about… Obviously health benefits are not the only reason for vegetarianism, and actually not the key reason that most of us make the switch. Animal cruelty is definitely an issue, and whilst I take extra care to eat free-range eggs for example, I’m very aware that the meat industry isn’t always quite what it may seem.
Rightly or wrongly – and I’m sure I’ll be criticised by some – I have consciously decided not to look into the way that meat is processed and the treatment (or mis-treatment in some cases) of the animals involved, as I absolutely know that if I actually did, then deep-down there would be no way I could ever be touch meat again! I know this may seem selfish, and believe me, I feel bad, but like watching a horror film, I’d rather be blind to the issues I know I can’t handle.
Anyway, moving on to living a month completely meat-free. One of my main focuses was to try and make sure I get enough protein in my diet. When turning veggie, I’d been warned about a particular pattern that so many people fall into, where they end up consuming large amounts of carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes and rice, when they first turn veggie, partly due to their lack of nutritional education and seemingly unaware of the importance of protein in their diet. So pre-February I filled my boots with vegetarian recipes from some of my favourite food bloggers, chefs and nutritionists and stocked up my cupboards with some go-to ingredients to ensure I could go into this in as healthy way as possible, and avoid slipping off the bandwagon at any point over the next month.
The start of week one went past pretty quickly, swapping fish and chicken for halloumi and lentils in my salads seemed to be a pretty easy swap. When the evenings ran away with me and I forgot to meal-prep, the microwaveable vegetable red thai curry and wild rice from a well-known supermarket which rhymes with ‘lame berries’ – was an absolute life-saver!! (<– This is not an ad, it’s actually delish!)
Little things I noticed, which were a little bit of a shock, were the amount of animal products in sweet foods too. Anyone who knows me well, will know I have a real sweet-tooth, so when I reached for my favourite raspberry marshmallow bar, I was devastated to find beef gelatine in the ingredients list. I mean I knew there was gelatine in jelly sweets and chewies, with one supermarket even having produced a vegetarian version of their famous little pigs, but I never actually realised a soft, fluffy marshmallow contained gelatine too! (Maybe this is a well-known fact I just never knew!)
Despite my efforts to make sure I was eating very balanced meals, by the end of the first week I was tired, bloated and sluggish – far from this content, energised feeling I’d been promised. I hadn’t changed my sleeping pattern, water intake or exercise regime, so felt really disappointed this wasn’t having such a positive effect.
Over the next three weeks, I found myself feeling pretty much the same. When I replaced meat with lentils, beans and pulses, I was left feeling terribly bloated. Cheese has never agreed with me, with some worse than others, and when I tried to get my protein source from tofu, I found that didn’t either – to the point where my mouth feel itchy and I had this sort of tightness in my chest. Perhaps I’m slightly intolerant, who knows?!
Whilst a small handful of nuts can be a great nutritious snack, they are also high in fat, so I was careful not to have too many of those, and as the month went on, I found this whole vegetarian thing really quite limiting.
I totally get why people choose a vegetarian diet for more reasons than one, and had I experienced this wonderful feeling everyone talks about, then perhaps I would have stuck to it too, but unfortunately I didn’t. My body didn’t agree with many of the alternatives, which didn’t really leave me with a whole lot of choice. Being healthy is something very important to me, and yes following a vegetarian diet can be super healthy, but when your body doesn’t agree with so many of the alternatives you are feeding it, then it really is not.
Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone, and I have gone back to eating meat now, feeling full of energy and a lot more myself again. Over the month of living completely meat-free, I really got to thinking about it all a whole lot more. Despite the fact I deliberately chose not to read all the articles or watch the videos on what really happens behind the scenes in animal farming, I am more conscious than ever to commit to having more meat-free days.
I know that’s not half as selfless as the vegetarians and vegans out there today, but considering my situation, I think that’s a start…