Oh yes. A year has lapsed since I made the unexpected decision to slowly become a lacto-ovo vegetarian after my first trip to Gujarat . It is surreal even for me at times that an entire year has gone by since I toyed with the idea of completely eliminating meat from my diet and then went on to actually make it happen and last.
Slipping off the bandwagon is much simpler when you serve a cause that is purely self directed. I became a vegetarian for myself, and for the way my body reacted towards the abstinence from meat. Not because I loved animals too much not to eat them. Although I do love animals ALOT. And not for religious purposes. And definitely not because of a health scare that brought it on. Although one of the main motivations might have been the fact that my husband is a chickentarian (he only eats Chicken) and cooking for the both of us would be simpler to do, my decision was more of a personal, self directed choice rather than anything else.
When I first started, I documented my experience after a couple of months in an attempt to keep myself motivated and share the differences that I was experiencing. Click here to read more about taking the plunge and starting if you have been sitting on the fence with this decision for a while.
Now, a year down the road, I write this post with the intention of, once again, documenting my progress and not in an attempt to convert or judge people who eat meat. Here is an account of my experience as a convert a year down the road.
1. No More Cravings!!
The cravings were regular when I first started. I was grateful for my meat days and would sometimes get hunger pangs quickly after main meals. A few months into it I still craved the odd fish head Chinese noodles that we get in Malaysia. Strange but it was perhaps the only meat dish that I constantly craved for. And now it’s all gone! I cannot remember the last time I craved meat so much that I absolutely had to have it. I did not immediately recognize when I stopped plotting to make room for my next meat allowance but I suppose that was the beauty of it. How quickly and unexpectedly the desire slipped away. Now if only I could apply that same theory to chocolate. Hmm.
2. An Appreciation for Simple Meals
Most days the simpler the meals, the more satisfaction my body seemed to draw from it. Some days, I just longed for rice and dhal (lentils). There were days in the past when I used to be flabbergasted at how my husband could find satisfaction from eating khichdi, a simple Gujarati preparation of yellow dhal on rice mixed with spices and eaten with yoghurt. It was waayyyy too simple for my thought process, let alone my diet!? Now I get it. I don’t know if the sensitivity of my tastebuds somehow heightened or if my body just got used to the idea of getting more from the less complex diet. Either way, the change was more than welcome in my life.
3. No Reliance on Iron Supplements
Mood swings, light headedness and fatigue plagued my early days of embarking on a meat free diet. A trip to the doctor confirmed that my iron levels had plummeted and I took to iron supplements in order to restore the iron levels that I had been losing out on. This worked remarkably well until somewhere along the road, I stopped taking them and realized that I did not need them any longer. The symptoms of low iron levels eluded me as my body became more and more accustomed to the absence of meat. In fact, if anything at all, I felt like I had more energy than I used to have in the past.
4. Bad Gas
The embarrassing issue of gas crept up constantly during the initiation stage of my pilot project. Although, through research and my conversation with other vegetarians, this was quite common as the body began to adapt to the rise in ante of fiber, I discovered that some types of food more than others brought on the gas a bit more. For me, it was beans and lentils, the exact type of food that I needed in order to replace the protein that I was not getting from meat. It took me quite a while to discover the triggers that caused gas and the different ways of food preparation that would bring on a bad reaction mostly because I had a particularly sensitive stomach. What worked for me was soaking overnight and boiling beans and lentils for a longer period of time. Or perhaps cooking it in a pressure cooker. Food preparation can make a huge difference to the side effects that you might be experiencing.
5. Social Implications and eating out
Tossing and appreciating yee sang to welcome in the Rooster year without the salmon bits stuck in between was tough but my friends were happy to accommodate.
Social meet ups proved to be awkward and too much effort at times when I was first starting out. Now, it just feels natural again. A place is suggested. A time is agreed upon. All parties arrive. This party (ie: ME) chooses something on the menu that is most fitting with her dietary requirement. And life goes on. The question of where or what to eat does not even begin to bother me anymore. There are things (like looking at the menu and deciding) that you just do once it is time to make that decision. If there is nothing on the menu, it’s ok, I have a drink and postpone the meal to a little later. Adaptation has become a remarkable thing. Because it is so rehearsed, I also have an automated answer to the question so why have you decided to become a vegetarian?. The jargon just comes out on auto pilot from my mouth. No thinking required. No one that I’ve met so far have had a major issue with having a vegetarian around. And if I’m attending a party at someone’s house, I always try and volunteer to bring something along so as not to trouble the hosts.
6. Physical Changes
I have lost a bit of weight since I started but the weight loss thankfully plateaued at 53 kgs. The change has not been a forceful or expectation filled one as with my previous honest account of vegetarianism. How healthy I actually feel is the reason why I keep going everyday. My digestion has improved so much from what it was. Sluggishness and indigestion are no longer gastrointestinal woes that I seem to have constantly. I feel thirsty less often than I used to and content in a meal much quicker. I would love to say that my skin is much better off, I have much healthier tresses and when I speak my breath smells like flowers too but those would be outright lies. The physical aspect of the change in diet was obvious from the get go but NO it is not the answer to all the physical problems in the world that you might have. The only way to find out if it improves certain physical problems that you think it might be a solution to is to give it a good hard go.
7. Recipes and Experimentation
It started out as an adventure. And then it plateaued. Getting too lazy to experiment with recipes and food is real and something that I battle with to this very day. Cooking my own vegetarian meals also meant rising and falling in the taste test every now and again. Some recipes stuck because they were tried and tested and tasted absolutely amazing. Others were just plain rubbish and had to be trashed as soon as they were produced. Not a minute later. After a while I tended to stay within a safe zone of tried and tested and ventured out occasionally when time permitted. My theory is you only have so few hours in a day and sometimes sticking with what you know does mean that you will save yourself some time and heartache. But in saying that, I also believe that food should not merely be a fuel for your body. It should be a creative pursuit just as much as it is nourishment. I suppose it is about finding that balance between safe and interesting. Something that I will strive to keep working towards. If you have somehow found that balance, let me in on it please!
8. Eating Out while Travelling
It is only natural to want to immerse yourself in both food and culture while travelling to a new country or destination. This is a hundred times harder to do in countries where meat plays a big part of the food culture. My husband and I are travelling to Europe later this year and part of our research involves vegetarian friendly restaurants that will provide us with the experience of the cultural degustation that each country will have to offer. Yes, I find that a lot more research needs to be done while travelling and a lot more restraint needs to be exerted but it is something you will commit to if your dietary requirement is important to you. The last thing I would want is to feel sluggish and experience gastro issues during our trip so for me that overpowers the wonderful meat cuisines (sad face sad face sad face) that I will be missing out on. Perhaps it will even open up a new perspective on food for us. Different destinations also come with their own fresh produce so if cooking is something that you are open to while on your trip, there is a sea of opportunity and experiences that you can create on your own.
My driving force towards sustaining the lifestyle has always been the way I felt. I would have reevaluated my choice a long time ago if it weren’t for the benefits that I felt I was getting. Adaptability came quite naturally as I tried to resettle myself into life around me. As with any habit or choice that you exert, there will always be challenges but the why will be engraved in your head to keep you going.
Perhaps a couple of years down the road my priorities would change again. Perhaps I might start eating meat again or perhaps I might take it a step further and become a vegan?? At the moment I cannot see myself give up on eggs and dairy but a few years back that was exactly what I thought about giving up meat. For now, in this very moment, I am happy to graciously celebrate this milestone.
Main image credit : https://goo.gl/images/o9q8CM