When I first thought of becoming a vegetarian, I wished someone would have told me exactly what to expect. I think a lot of the time people don’t say anything because they don’t want to discourage others from trying, but I found that knowing the second time around gave me the strength to continue fighting. I knew the transition would be hard and didn’t expect it to be easy like flipping a switch.
The first time I became vegetarian, I had a hard time. I was hungry all the time, and I felt that my body was yelling at me because it thought I was insane for not giving it the overabundance of protein it was used to having. This wouldn’t have been that bad, but I had no idea what to eat to alleviate the hunger. Everything I could think of had meat, and I didn’t have any go-to recipes yet. I would avoid social activities because I knew I would have to explain why I couldn’t eat half the things they had. I would stare at restaurant menus forever before finding something I could eat and just pray it would taste good. Frustration was all I felt while perusing Pinterest for meal ideas. Nothing looked appetizing.
Luckily, I was so stubborn that I didn’t let the hard times get to me. After about a month, my body began to accept that I wasn’t going to eat meat. My taste buds changed. All of the sudden every vegetarian recipe on Pinterest looked delicious. I found that foods like nuts, salads, and smoothies would actually fill me up. My body started to register that I was giving it real food, and I didn’t have to eat so much to satisfy its nutritional needs. I enjoyed a lighter feeling that came from eating more plants and less heavy, processed foods. I actually started craving nutritious meals. Meal planning helped my budget, and I went from spending $40-50 a week to $25. I found that vegetables are actually cheaper than I thought because you pay for minimal (if any) packaging. As well, every time you move up the food chain (like from grass to cows) you receive 10% of what you put in. To put that into perspective, to get one pound of meat, you have to put in ten pounds of plants. Plus, I wasn’t eating so much food because my body was satisfied with the nutrients I was giving it.
I found a lot of physical changes for myself as well. I had more energy. I didn’t feel tired all the time anymore. I could focus on homework better, and I was generally more productive. Physical changes are very personal to your body, however. Be mindful that your body will react differently than another’s.
During this change, every day felt unexpected. I didn’t know what to expect from my body that day. My taste buds changed so gradually, but sometimes I was hit by a wave of craving for a salad I had never enjoyed before. Whatever your body is going through, know that it is probably normal. You can expect hunger, cravings, support and encouragement, confused looks, being asked to explain yourself, frustration when you can’t find anything to eat, and your body freaking out a little bit.
When I decided to become vegetarian again, I challenged my mother to do so as well. While she didn’t end up maintaining the lifestyle, she eats less meat than before and is more mindful of the food she puts in her body. I asked her the other day what her experience was. She said that hunger was the main problem. She wasn’t used to plants sustaining her energy levels and began craving unhealthy alternatives. She ended up returning to her previous lifestyle before she was fully through the transition.
While being aware of how your body may react to a plant-based lifestyle will help, here are some more tips to help in the transition.
Write Yourself a Letter
When I decided to try vegetarianism again, I looked back on my experience before. After pondering my journey, I decided to write it down. Doing that has helped me immensely, not just in the moment that I wrote it. I have been able to look back and read my story when I have difficulty maintaining motivation. It gives me encouragement knowing that I changed for myself. I did it to take back my body. Remembering my motivation is usually the only strength I need to continue.
Just because you need strength to make it through doesn’t mean you have to struggle through this and refuse to smile until you are well into the lifestyle. This is the start of an amazing journey! You will have experiences with food, people, and yourself that you have never had before. Take time to enjoy it. In your letter, include your hopes and dreams. How do you imagine yourself being a year from now? Visualize this and write it. Hope is a powerful motivator.
Find Recipes You Love
Finding recipes I loved was one of the most motivational things I could have done when I first started. It is so discouraging to look in the cupboard and draw a blank on what to eat. On the flip side, it is so rewarding to look in my cupboard and think of five recipes I could make right then. This really comes with practice, though.
First, look on Pinterest for as many recipes as you can find that are plant-based. If it looks slightly appetizing, pin it. You may find after the transition that you love it. Pick two or three recipes to experiment with each week. Once you get good at those, you may find that it is easy to make it your own. I have found that after making twenty different soup recipes (I love soup), that I could look at the vegetables in my fridge and come up with five different opportunities. And spices! I love experimenting with different spice combinations. You might even be motivated by buying some potted herbs to use. Take time to experiment. That’s part of the fun.
Continue Working Out
You may be tempted to stop exercising, especially when all you can think about is that burger at the restaurant down the road. Keep moving! Building on healthy habits you already have will continue to boost your motivation with the ones you are starting. At the beginning, I started running more. I found that I still had energy, and I felt amazing afterward. I also always looked for ways to get out in the fresh air and breathe. Instead of driving, I would walk to class or take a stroll to main street for shopping with my friends. This healthy lifestyle increased my motivation and happiness.
You may wonder, can I really be exercising with so little protein? That’s what meat is supposed to give you, right? I wondered this too, but I found that you really don’t need as much as you think. Plants provide enough protein anyway. If you are really worried, find which plants give you the most protein. Legumes, chia seeds, nuts, and spirulina are great places to start.
If you think you can’t be vegetarian and exercise, look again. There are so many plant-based athletes like Ultraman top finished Rich Roll and Ironman champion Hillary Biscay. If they can run, swim, and bike ironmans and Ultraman’s on a plant-based diet, you can take a walk.
Obstacles will come. Your boyfriend may think your insane, and he might tell you that. You may get frustrated by not knowing what to eat and resort to your old ways. The trick to maintaining this lifestyle is anticipating the obstacles you’ll face and planning for them. If you think your boyfriend will think you’re crazy, write out how you will react to his “concerns.” If you worry you won’t know what to eat, come up with five staple recipes you will always be comfortable falling back on. Planning ahead for the situations you worry about will give you more strength than you think. Fear is usually over the unexpected. Expect and plan for these situations, and you won’t fear.
Prepare the best you can for the transition, but remember what you are doing this for. You might be doing this for your health, for the environment, or for your own peace of mind. Whatever your motivation is, remember it. The difficulties will let up. Hope is on the horizon. Really, the transition is just that; a transition. It’s short, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Make it past the first month, and all of the sudden you will find that the things you found so difficult at the beginning are easy for you now. You’ll begin to feel the benefits full-force, and you’ll be so glad you stuck through.
Take ten minutes right now to write a letter to yourself. Why are you adopting this lifestyle? What will your life be like in a year or two if you keep this up? What challenges do you think you’ll face? How will you respond to critics?
Please, don’t skip any of these questions. Each one will benefit you so much in the future and needs to be answered. If you don’t like writing, record a video or yourself. Each week, look back to this video or letter and remember where you have come from.
Things will get better. I always want to say, “tough it through the first month, and you’ll find it much easier,” but really, this should be a time to enjoy. You are taking a big step toward your ideal life. Find joy in the new experiences you will gain. Find new recipes you love, find new energy you never knew you had, and find joy in the journey.