Vegetarianism Update (Jan. 2017)

Reading back over my journals from the past year, I came across the phrase “Thinking about becoming vegetarian?”

Who knew that this little tiny thought at the end of a journal entry would turn into such a life decision for me. It’s been nine full months since I stopped regular consumption of meat products. I very rarely eat meat anymore– only at Christmas and if my parents serve me a bite– and I haven’t purchased an ounce of meat for my own consumption.

That, my friends, is called success.

For a beef-loving Texan to completely cut meat from her grocery lists for almost a year… that’s quite a feat of willpower. The goal was to stop eating meat in protest of the animal agriculture industry in the United States (not for health reasons). I didn’t want any of my dollars to go to the cruel, inhumane, and money-hungry decision makers of this nation, and I have nine full months of successful silent protest under my belt.

In writing this post, I attempt to get my thoughts in order as I move forward in my life. Here are my evaluations of how the vegetarian process has gone.

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Discovering a new daily diet was difficult– but I have discovered some new favorites that I really enjoy (like smoothie bowls).

How a New Daily Diet Evolved

I definitely don’t do things by halves, and becoming vegetarian was one of those things.

In the beginning, I made a big ol’ huge mistake. I’m a foodie who loves to cook complex, multi-layered meals with tons of flavor– but when becoming vegetarian, I immediately went to eating sauteed vegetables and not much else. I did my best to prepare veggies in every known manner, but always as independent side dishes– a carrot recipe next to roasted sweet potatoes next to spinach. Because this wasn’t the way I was used to eating, I felt bored and truly angry at the food in front of me.

Since realizing that I can make full recipes again (shocker), my eating enjoyment significantly improved. I’m not nearly back to where I was or enjoying every single meal I prepare with the same old relish, but I’m definitely far more satisfied at the end of each meal than I was nine months ago.

I spent a lot of time mourning for (and craving) my standby cookbook recipes. Just because they contained meat, I removed all hope of ever eating those things again. I learned my lesson late in the game. In a mind-blowing epiphany, I realized that I can still make my favorites with vegetarian substitutions! Instead of hunting fruitlessly for new vegan bloggers with better recipes, I reverted back to my tried and true Martha recipes with a few cruelty-free adjustments. BINGO.

Today I’m learning to prepare healthful meals at home that are entirely plant-based. It was hard for me to give up parmesan cheese, and it took months of trying before I could eat spaghetti without it. I fought a long and hard battle with protein-packed greek yogurt, and that one eventually went away too. I try to buy entirely plant-based foods, and the past few trips to the grocery store have been successful in that effort.

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I really enjoy skipping the meat section at the grocery store now that I’m a vegetarian.

Eating Out Became a Challenge

Eating out in Austin is ridiculously easy for a vegetarian. With a little more work, you could even eat vegan in restaurants around town. However, I’m usually at the mercy of where my dining companions want to go– so that means I end up eating dairy products. If we go for brunch, I’ll eat a yogurt parfait or an egg dish. At dinner time I order a veggie burger, pasta, or a cheese dish if we’re eating Mexican (which is most of the time).

Ceasing my part in animal cruelty was, of course, another aspect to my decision. However, I know full well that I’m still taking part in the system by consuming dairy products. I can’t get off scot free, because the same system that mulches male chicks alive and electrocutes cattle is the same that produces my eggs and cheese. It’s just the other side of the coin. I don’t feel comfortable saying that my reasoning for becoming vegetarian is because of the animals because, in all truth, I’m still harming them with my dietary choices.

That being said, I’ve really grown disappointed with eating out. It’s not hard to find vegetarian options in Austin– but it is difficult to find good ones. It’s even rarer to find options as delicious as what I would normally have ordered. Restaurants just don’t know how to prepare vegetarian food, which makes for some pretty lame dinners out. I’m in the barbecue capital of Texas, and I’ve never eaten less meat in my life.

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Baked, roasted, sauteed– I ate foods low in oil and high in rich nutrients.

Plant-Based Living Brought Financial Ease

Vegetarianism’s effect on my wallet cannot be understated. I can’t tell you how much money I once spent on meat– even when buying the bargain options. Now I can get a cart full of fresh produce for under $50, and that amount of food lasts me for at least a week and a half. Eating out, I save at least five dollars on every meal by choosing a vegetarian option (even if it’s not fantastic).

I’ve also saved a large amount of money each week by staying away from processed and packaged foods in general. While this was always a goal of mine, it became much easier to accomplish when striving for a plant-based lifestyle. Vegan packaged foods are the most expensive of all, so it’s an easy decision in store to simply put them back on the shelf. My grocery cart is always full of whole, fresh ingredients– and that makes me (and my wallet) very happy.

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Though I carefully balanced a diet rich in varied nutrients, protein, and complex carbs, I still gained weight as a vegetarian.

Unexpected Physical Effects of Vegetarianism

Strangely enough, I have actually gained weight on this vegetarian diet.

I always ate a healthily balanced diet before, even when eating meat, so this change shocked me. I didn’t become vegetarian to lose weight, by any means. But I thought that by eating a more healthy diet would result in weight maintenance at the very least. My weight hasn’t changed more than two pounds in roughly the last decade… so even a small change registers wildly in my book.

I can only assume that the weight gain is due to a raised state of mental and physical health at this point in my life. I’m sleeping better, eating better, exercising more, and experiencing a much happier emotional baseline. Now that I’m generally “better,” maybe I’m actually getting to a new normal weight?

Another effect that I was afraid to face was the stomach upset that comes with eating meat or dairy again. Especially around my family, I’m expected to eat a “healthy” amount of meat and cheese– which sends me to the bathroom with stomach cramps and bloating. I eat a diet low in animal products, fats, and sugars– and when I eat at home, that’s pretty much the makeup of all our celebratory foods. They still taste delicious to me, but I definitely don’t enjoy feeling sick afterward.

As the saga of Mandi hunger continues, I’ve discovered have to eat more often on this diet. I have tried to embrace snacking on fruits throughout the day (because I’ve removed processed snacks from my pantry), but I’m still struggling to incorporate other snacks into my diet. I’ve gotten rather good at eating mindfully and stopping when I feel full, but that means that I need to eat about every 2 or 3 hours. That also means more snacks– and more wracking my brain for what whole foods I can dig into next instead of the goldfish I’d really rather be eating.

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Once I stopped buying processed foods, fruit was the only snack food I felt like eating.

Future Outlook

As far as keeping up this diet into the future, I’m honestly not sure that I’ll continue in this 100% restrictive fashion.

I’m definitely enjoying how it feels to eat plant-based at home. However, when eating out, I’m really not getting to be the foodie I once was. There’s just something about a filet mignon that pumpkin ravioli can’t shake a stick at. If we spy a local Moroccan restaurant, I want to try their lamb specialty and enjoy every bite of it like I used to.

I don’t eat fast food very often at all, maybe once a month, but I would LOVE to eat my regular McDonald’s order and be ok for the rest of the day. If I am craving a Chic Fil A sandwich, I want to eat one. I haven’t allowed myself these pleasures in nine months– not even once– and the cravings haven’t ceased. Getting vegetarian options just isn’t cutting it. Sorry, veggie burgers, but you’re just not nearly as good as the real thing. Don’t even pretend.

In a perfect world, I’d be able to eat a bit of meat at a restaurant as a special treat without giving myself a supreme stomachache… but that’s just not the reality right now.  It’s hard to do without one of life’s greatest pleasures simply because of my stomach’s preferences.

Humans are omnivores, after all… and removing meat from my diet at home (which is where I eat 95% of the time) still makes a huge difference to the environment. I’m still doing a huge service when most households struggle to incorporate even one Meatless Monday a month.

I really just want to love my food again.

Future as a Vegetarian?

I guess you could say that becoming vegetarian has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I dealt with a lot of familial pressure in the beginning which made starting off really difficult. I only found a couple of plant-based recipes that I really drooled over, which hurt my foodie heart every single meal. I still crave my convenience foods and haven’t found adequate alternatives.

I may experiment with ditching the zero tolerance policy in favor of something a little more lenient (and healthy). Instead of feeling restricted, I want to feel grateful for the food I consume. If treating myself once a week or so with a small serving of meat will do that, then maybe that’s the step I need to take.

I do feel proud of myself for undergoing this challenge and succeeding in such a big way. It’s hard to look at this change of mind and not think “I’m just giving up” or “It was a huge failure,” but I’m definitely working on it. I have a lot more willpower than I give myself credit for, and I’m grateful for learning that in a real way.

 

“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” ― Albert Schweitzer

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