By Rachel Langley – Providence, RI
No one was more surprised by the decision to go vegetarian in 2014 than me. Not that it was something I didn’t support or encourage in others, but it certainly wasn’t something I pictured for myself. My daily consumption of brown rice and chicken was a staple in my health and wellness diet. Yet, I started to get curious about going vegetarian and began to wonder how making such a change might, in turn, change my body, my health and my mind.
I started to do some reading and decided in mid-December that after Christmas, I would dive into a “trial” dietary change – making the switch to vegetarian. This would mean kissing my chicken goodbye and learning to love protein alternatives. It would require paying closer attention to what I was eating, how often I was eating and making sure that going vegetarian did not mean just eating pasta every day. (Not that I would mind that at all!)
Some of my early discoveries along the way have been unexpected. Here is a summary of things I’ve experienced and continue to experience as a newbie vegetarian:
Meat looks strange to me. Yes you read that correctly. A couple weeks into this vegetarian lifestyle I was flipping through the supermarket flyers and was struck by how odd and foreign the huge slab of ribs looked to me. And as someone who always loved a good “slab” of ribs covered in barbeque sauce, it was startling. This still ranks as one of my top “well that is strange” newbie vegetarian discoveries.
Cooking for two. Literally. One of the most useful tips I read early on stated the importance of preparing a meal for yourself that provides all the needed nutrients – not simply eliminating the meat portion of a dinner you may have prepared for everyone else. No easy feat. I had grown accustomed to just throwing something together for dinner (usually involving chicken) for me and my main squeeze. These days I am compelled and required to ensure I’m compensating for the meat I’m not ingesting. Fueling my body has always been a struggle long before this lifestyle conversion. Somehow by going vegetarian though, it has actually made it easier because I’m uber aware. I’m still cooking up chicken for the rest of the household, but a Portobello burger is usually what lands on my plate.
Shock & Awe. “You’re what!?!” One of the most amazing and puzzling experiences to date is how startled and genuinely concerned people become when you tell them you’ve gone vegetarian. Something I’ve now started to refer to as the “V word”. The responses range from “Well, that’s fine but I’m still eating steak.” to “you better take protein supplements” and my favorite “please don’t start pushing your agenda on me”. Honestly, I’m not sure why saying I’ve removed meat from my diet equals a campaign of shock and awe, but it does. I did decide to keep fish in my diet, and when I reveal that, most folks take a step back and expel a sigh of relief. It is as if the thought of being able to live healthy without any meat in one’s diet is unattainable. I pleaded with some of my naysayers that legumes, nuts, quinoa and leafy greens like kale are excellent sources of protein…but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears. And that’s OK, I’m not trying to convert anyone. Heck, I am not even sure how I converted myself.
Migraines Be Gone One of the catalysts for this change, truth be told, is that I suffer from paralyzing migraines. I have an emergency prescription that normally stops them in their tracks, but my consumption of this “miracle” pill was becoming too frequent late last year. It is my only health woe, as everything else about me is fit as a fiddle (knock on wood!). But the migraines? Oy! The frequency of taking such a strong medication was beginning to concern me. I decided it may be of benefit to make a drastic alteration to the foods I consumed and see what the result turned out to be. The verdict? Since December 26th I have only experienced two migraines. Two. One of which I’m sure only reared its ugly head due to a large glass of white wine. I cannot say definitively that this is a result of turning vegetarian, but if it has anything to do with it, I won’t be switching back to meat anytime soon.
Lightbulb is Brighter You know the proverbial “light bulb” that goes off in your head when something suddenly makes sense? Well, about 2-3 weeks into vegetarian living, it began to feel like the light bulb in addition to turning on, was STAYING on. I have accomplished more in the first month of January regarding my health and wellness career plans and accomplishments than I had hoped for in all of 2013. Coincidence? Maybe. But not likely. I had read that mental clarity was one of the reported benefits of eliminating meat from one’s diet. And I’ll be honest, I doubted it. But after experiencing it first hand, I can absolutely stand by the “light bulb theory” 100%!
The list is a vast one but these are the most prominent experiences worth noting. These are the ones that compel me to stay on this path. My advice is do your research, and of course, make sure you are addressing any dietary concerns your doctor may have before venturing out into the world of vegetarian living. Personally, I did a ton of research before completely taking on this adventure. I continue to read up every chance I get. A meat free diet is something I’m increasingly fond of, but does require a basic understanding of what it entails. I found the ChooseMyPlate sitehttp://www.choosemyplate.gov/ an excellent initial resource for tips on converting to a vegetarian diet in a smart, healthy way.
As a way of journaling this journey, I’m keeping track of my experiences and I report them weekly on my blog www.bodymadebetter.com. So for any of you interested in seeing what happens when a lifelong meat eater converts and commits to a vegetarian life (beyond the first month)…that is the place to peek into the virtual window of a meat free, veggie lovin’ life!
Rachel Langley is a passionate fitness enthusiast, runner and dedicated blogger. She is actively studying for her Personal Trainer certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is currently certified as a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor through IFA. She recently was selected as a fitness Ambassador for Train Dirty Fitness and Brand Ambassador for SwirlGear. You may follow her health and fitness adventures at www.bodymadebetter.com!