Are you always finding yourself on the pendulum between being a vegetarian and a meat lover? If you are one of the thousands still deciding between the two for your very own reasons, I wanted this to be an honest account of my experience with vegetarianism that will hopefully help in making the right choice for yourself.
I decided to embark on my journey of becoming a vegetarian early this year. According to the Harvard Health Publications, I am a Lacto-ovo Vegetarian which means I do not eat meat, poultry and fish but I do eat eggs and dairy products.
In the past, at times it would occur to me that a plant based lifestyle was what I wanted. Regardless, I just did not have the motivation or drive to begin. Even if I had begun, I did not have the discipline to follow through with it. As soon as the absence of meat from my meals played in my mind, I would automatically dismiss it as being bland or too boring and difficult to maintain.
1. Giving it a good hard go
In December 2015, my fiancee and I made a trip to Gujarat, India. I had all my qualms about going to India playing in the back of my head. What would happen if I could not agree with the food and became bed ridden from diarrhea? What if a stray dog bit me and I ended up with rabies? What if there were no clean toilets around and I could not bring myself to use the toilets? Clearly, my expectations of going to India were were driven by preconceived notions of what I watched on local telly and heard from friends and family who did not have the best experiences.
Apart from my fear of unclean food, I also had to deal with the fact that I had to be a vegetarian during the tenure of our trip because Gujarat was a city that had little meat, both within homes and in restaurants.
My trip to Gujarat was possibly one of the most eye opening experiences to date. I can’t say much about the other areas in India because I have not been anywhere else, but Gujarat was nothing like the picture that I had in my mind.
The two weeks that I spent eating vegetarian food spurred me to continue being a vegetarian long after I left Gujarat. Where we lived with my fiancee’s family in Satellite, Ahmedabad, I discovered that the food that they put on the table on a daily basis was so simple yet highly satisfying. My fiancee’s grandmother cooked for us throughout the second half of our trip. We would sit at the dining table and she would start dishing up hot puris onto our plates with dhal and some sabji (veggies) on the side.
I would eat to my hearts content, incredulous that the absence of meat and the non complexity of the food could be the source of so much contentment. And even if I ate to the point of bursting it didn’t feel a sickening sense of fullness, it felt more like a healthy satiation that was not too taxing on my digestive system.
Clock wise from the top (not the best quality photos), Vegan dinner at a friend’s wedding, Dhokla (made from rice flour) and green chutney, Dosa with dhal and potatoes, Jilay (my fiancee’s cousin) having uppuma for breakfast, Chole bhature (chickpea curry) with khadi and puri and finally mini puris with vegetable and dhal. Super yummy vegetarian dishes!
2. Taking it slow
When I first decided to go full steam with my decision, I knew it was not going to be an easy feat. Unlike being in Gujarat, I would be constantly lured by non vegetarian options which were widely available where I lived in the real world. I also knew that eating with friends and family was not going to be the same and some people would question my decision. Was it religious? Did I all of a sudden realize that animals were killed in the process of putting meat on my plate? Was it a wedding diet? Yes. I am getting married in November this year but the answer to all those questions was a big fat no.
I told my friends and family that my decision was purely based on the way that a plant based diet made me feel health wise. My fiancee, like his family, was also for the most part vegetarian and only ate chicken occasionally. Cooking for two became a whole lot easier for me! And that awareness helped most people come to terms with the new vegetarian me. It was difficult finding places that had good vegetarian items on the menu but most of the time I found something or rather to meet my dietary requirements while eating out socially. Some people continued to be shocked to their core that I could keep up with the absence of meat but I understood exactly how they felt because a couple of years ago I would have felt the same way about vegetarians. My paradigm shift was not everyone else’s and I was completely a-okay with that.
Apart from making the readjustment in my social world, I also had to ease my body into the idea of eating mostly vegetables, fruits and grains. I tried to make sure that I was in tune with my body and listening to it the whole time. I started off with being a weekday Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian, I would indulge in any sort of meat during weekends. This worked out pretty well but after about a month or so of packing vegetarian lunches to my then office and filling up on a variety of vegetables at home for dinner, I stopped looking forward to my meaty weekends.
I could feel the difference in the way my food was digested sans meat which prompted me to cut down having meat to once a week. I still do consume meat once a week sometimes when I feel like it, but these days it is only fish, seafood or chicken. Most of the time, I save these for special occasions like family dinners or parties and such. And no, my body does not reject meat after not having it for a long time it just stops craving for meat on ordinary days.
3. The Outcome
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My initial couple of weeks on a vegetarian diet in Gujarat made me feel different internally. I always had the habit of going to the bathroom to ease my bowels as soon as I had something to drink in the morning even when I was eating meat on a daily basis. Sometimes, though, although this was a natural process, I did not feel completely empty afterwards. The initial change made me feel like I was completely empty and detoxified and at first I put it down to the water that I was consuming as well. Fast forward to the present (approximately 8 months later), I still feel the same way about easing my bowels in the mornings. I cannot remember the last time I had to strain on the throne and as disgusting as it sounds, everything just slides out easily.
Sourced via Google images
I also felt pain quite differently from what I used to feel in the past. I used to have chronic neck pains and sciatica while working at my job at an insurance company. That stopped in the initial few weeks during which I was on my trip and completely disappeared. I was curious to find out if this was just my body reacting positively to being on a holiday. At present (8 months later), I still get some soreness and stiffness especially after working out hard or sitting for too long but I find that my recovery is a lot speedier. My body does not have the dreaded heavy feeling from the build up of lactic acid that I used to get in the past after physical exercise.
Image extracted via Google Images
The 3 pm slump. It was common in my day to day life. When it came past lunch time mid afternoon, my mind used to go into a daze and my eyes sometimes felt like they had to be preened open to stay open. In the beginning stages of my vegetarian switch, that quickly disappeared. The afternoon slump was gone and I could not seem to believe that I had become less reliant on my afternoon naps. Fast forward to now, I continue to feel less tired after food but due to a drop in my iron levels, I sometimes feel a different form of tiredness. I will describe this in further detail when I cover the negatives.
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I reckon one of the most significant positive outcomes for me from going vegetarian was the fact that I discovered a different form of spirituality and calmness come over me. This one is a little difficult to explain because with spirituality it is something that you feel within and everyone experiences it differently. During my initial visit to Gujarat, I woke up every morning to the sound of temple bells because where we lived, there was a temple right opposite the house. From that point on wards, I would feel a strange sense of calmness from just sitting at times and taking in my surroundings. My yoga practice changed. The way I felt whenever I set foot into a temple of any kind or house of worship changed. It was all very new to me and I don’t know for sure if it was the positive outcome of the change in what I was eating or whether it was my increased spiritual affiliation that pushed me towards becoming a vegetarian in the first place. Either way, they seemed strangely linked.
That’s me 🙂
When I first embarked on my journey with vegetarianism, it was not for the sake of losing weight. It was purely because of my experience with my health in the past and I was curious to see how it would impact me in my daily routine. By changing what I was consuming on a daily basis, I quickly noticed a change physically just as I was noticing change internally. Becoming leaner quicker by sticking to my usual exercise routine became achievable. For the first time in a long time, the tone in my thighs were noticeable – this was always the area that was hardest for me in terms of weight loss. I also lost that bloat-y feeling that I used to feel in my stomach in the past and although I did not develop a 6 pack, I definitely noticed wayyyy more tone in my stomach than I ever did in the past. My consumption of vegetarian food, however, did not include much junk food like pizzas, pastries and the works so I am not sure if weight loss can still occur with junk food involved! I was definitely consuming more carbs but I made sure it was of the healthy variety like brown rice, legumes and all sorts of vegetables which also leads me to my next positive experience.
Extracted via google Images – Do you know your veggies?
Giving up meat meant my experience with all sorts of vegetables became a little more exciting. I am constantly learning new ways to cook with vegetables from making curry from pumpkin and potatoes to lentil pasta sauces to learning how to make different types of bread and dishes from my future mum-in-law. To me the experimentation with vegetarian dishes has been an adventure in the kitchen. I’ve started cooking and eating vegetables that I never did in the past and looking into the nutritional value of food that could replace meat. Learning about different ways of cooking from multiple sources keeps me stimulated and excited about staying on the green side.
Unsurprisingly, the experience of switching did not come without some negatives as well. Below are some of the negatives that I experienced, both long and short term
Image extracted from google images
Yup! I did. In the beginning I felt quite a bit farty. It is common to feel a bit more gassy when you suddenly start eating a lot more fiber than you did in the past. Luckily there was no awful smell to accompany the fart fest but I cannot deny that it was a bit embarrassing in the beginning. But the additional farting went away after a while once my body got used to the additional fiber. I also noticed that once I stopped eating as much fruits like plums and prunes after my meals because I felt too full to eat anything else, there was even less gas to expel. Gradually, I no longer had problems with feeling gassy or bloated due to the switch unless I eat a whole lot of beans the night before, but if you make the switch and find gas a bit too overwhelming, this article from Everyday Health has some explanations as to why and how you can combat the gas. Through elimination of certain types of food, you can discover what works for you.
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At first it was not noticeable but fatigue and tiredness due to my change in diet came a few months down the road. It was primarily due to the fact that I was eating close to no red meat at all and very little meat in general to have proper iron absorption. And for someone who already had low iron levels every time a blood test result came through, my body was definitely protesting about having even less iron from the lack of consumption of meat. Apart from a doctor pulling down on my eyelid and shaking her head about me being anemic, the symptoms were quite obvious in my day to day routine. I was only able to run shorter distances than I used to in the past before being completely winded, occasionally I felt dizzy after getting up from a squatting or sitting position, my energy levels would drop quite dramatically at times especially while out running errands and before or during the time of the month, I felt unusually tired. I started taking Sangobion iron tablets, recommended by a GP a couple of weeks ago and actually feel a positive change from my daily dosage of one tablet. Never used to believe or be a fan of supplementing but in my situation, taking iron tablets to regain my energy has been a blessing. It is definitely recommended that you check in with a GP if you feel unusually tired after making the switch or if any other health related issue crops up!
Image extracted via Google Images
Giving up meat did not take as much effort as trying to re-adapt myself to eating out with people again. Most of the time in social situations, people thought I was eating rabbit food. Yes, at times I was the stand out green freak who had to explain to everyone else at the table that yes, I am a vegetarian and yes I have had enough food and I am full. People had to reconsider their choice of places to meet up because of my dietary requirements, although I always insisted that anywhere we went I would find something on the menu, and feeling bad because of that never really went away. I became quite used to eating expensive salads at fancy restaurants that did not have vegetarian choices or nitpicking at vegetarian side dishes. I also grew quite accustomed to people grimacing or shaking their heads at the sight of the food that I ate. That never really goes away and I guess I just got used to the little sacrifices I had to make in order to keep going and I have every intention to continue in my vegetarian ways.
The most difficult part about a lifestyle change is starting. I still think that if it were not for my trip to Gujarat which made me trial out a vegetarian diet and experience how my body reacted to it, I would have never even thought of giving up meat. So if you have had this on your mind for a while, I would recommend that you give it a go before making a decision. Even two to three weeks of testing the waters (no cheating!) and experiencing the outcome would go a long way in helping you make your decision. And if it does not work for you at all, hey at least you can say you tried.
A vegetarian diet is not for everyone and I would never go around coercing people into giving up something that their body isn’t ready to. If it does not feel right don’t do it, always listen to your body and your GP.