23 varieties of fruits and vegetables. 12 pounds of spinach. 42 avocados. 1 unintended bacon lapse.
For one month I gave myself a break from the meat sweats to find out what it's like to be a vegetarian. As a life-long carnivore, this was new territory for me and I had a ton of questions about this crazy lifestyle: How long until my hair formed sweet dreadlocks? How many pairs of Tom's and linen pants did I need to own? At what point in every conversation was I required to bring up my vegetarian lifestyle?
There was obviously a lot to explore. The consumption of meat (and diet in general) is a big topic that I think a lot about so I plan on breaking this out into a couple posts. Below is an account of my experience - the good, the bad, and the broccoli.
So in a nutshell, here's how it went down:
I felt pretty good. Not like a life-shattering, "Oh-my-god-I've-been-living-a-lie-all-these-years" kind of good...more like a subtle, "Ah-I-just-ate-but-I-don't-feel-the-need-to-go-lay-on-the-couch-for-3-hours" kind of good. That was a nice change.
The temptation wasn't as bad as I expected either. There was definitely some envy when I was out and had to order a modest salad while everyone else enjoyed a fat burger or a colorful plate of sushi. However, I realized that if I could just muster enough willpower to fill up on something else, the ravenous lust for flesh would usually subside pretty quickly. At home it was pretty simple...if there's no meat in the fridge, there's really no temptation for it. I honestly got to the point where I wasn't even thinking about it.
Contrary to popular belief, I didn't completely wither away. My goal was to see if I could actually gain some weight (the good kind) without meat, though I have no doubt that this type of diet would easily help people shed pounds if that's what they're after. It took some effort but I managed to put on 3 pounds over the course of the month. I was definitely getting much less protein than in my normal meat-based diet, which makes me think I was probably getting an excessive amount. Granted it was only a month, but I was encouraged to see no signs of decreased strength or energy (as this was my biggest concern going in).
So what did I eat? I honestly didn't know how I was going to make this work. It didn't seem possible to get full on what I had always considered side dishes and snacks. It's true that it is harder to get/stay full eating mostly vegetables, and thus I found myself consuming some very large meals in terms of overall food volume. Here were the staples:
- Some combination of peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potato, zucchini, squash, onion, tomato, snap peas, eggplant, and beets
- A ton of leafy greens and a ton of avocados (those numbers at the top are real)
- Natural protein sources - eggs, nuts, legumes, mushrooms, greek yogurt, goat cheese, and quinoa (There are a few common varieties of vegetarianism and I went "Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian", meaning I could eat dairy and eggs...in contrast, "Vegan" means no animal products of any kind)
- Protein/calorie supplementation - massive green smoothies after workouts with a Vega Sport/hemp protein blend (30 g), coconut milk, spinach/kale mix, a banana, blueberries, chia seeds, some avocado, and a beet if I was feeling crazy
- A lot of coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter
- Some sweet stuff - almond butter, peanut butter, and KiZE Raw Energy Bars (now that they're finally available in Dallas!)
Most of my meals consisted of throwing a bunch of stuff in a big bowl with some type of sauce, salsa, or seasoning to mix up the flavor. Sometimes I would add in a frozen veggie burger patty for some extra protein. It was actually a really easy way to eat and I kind of enjoyed the process of trying new things and getting creative with flavors and combinations.
It's definitely easy to get stuck in a rut of eating the same foods over and over. The great thing about drastically changing your diet (even for just a short period of time) is that it exposes you to a lot of new things. I think it's a similar concept to when you're traveling and fall in love with completely new flavors or types of cuisine. Some of the biggest staples in my diet are things that I wouldn't even touch during the first 25 years of my life - things like eggs, spinach, avocados, onions, and mushrooms. It's pretty amazing how quickly your tastes can change when you start experimenting. I think that's an encouraging thing if you're looking to make some healthier changes.
Not gonna lie, this sucks. Most restaurants just don't cater to the vegetarian with a voracious appetite. I found myself mostly ordering large salads (sometimes 2) and then adding some sort of side or soup. You really just have to get creative and ask for substitutions (you can add a veggie burger to pretty much anything).
The Bacon Lapse
Scene: Brunch with friends, about 1 week in; I'm starving as usual
Menu: Chock-full of delicious sounding items, none of which are meatless
My Order: The waffle w/ eggs, sub out bacon for avocado (sigh)
Our food arrives and my plate appears to be as advertised. I begin inhaling the waffle like I hadn't eaten in weeks. Suddenly, a familiar flavor stops me dead in my tracks. I realize this is no ordinary waffle - infused inside, like little meat-gems, are hunks of chopped-up jalapeno bacon.
I discreetly put down my fork and look around cautiously, as if I just discovered a suitcase full of money that I don't want anyone to notice. I take a long sip of my Bloody Mary and consider my options:
- I can send it back (a risky move in any restaurant, and again, I'm starving)
- I can pretend to be oblivious and eat it (after all, no one knows about this but me)
- I can attempt to pick out the bacon (to be fair, there isn't actually all that much)
Not wanting to be that annoying vegetarian guy yet knowing I'd feel a little guilty if I willfully ate it, I go with option #3. Like a paleontologist painstakingly digging out dinosaur bones, I give it a good effort. Yet every few bites I feel the sensational burst of salty/savory deliciousness. I'm definitely taking in a fair amount of the good stuff…I basically feel like Bill Clinton when he said he tried marijuana once but didn't inhale. I don't tell anyone about my situation and spend the next few days agonizing over whether this month is already a failure (or maybe the next 10 minutes but who's counting).
I think one of the big problems with vegetarian/veganism is that it becomes like a religion - there's a mindset that seems to develop that if you're not 100% anti-meat all the time, you're a shameful POS and your life is a giant lie. In my opinion, this doesn't need to be the case. Whatever the reason is for someone not eating meat (there are A LOT of good ones), it is actually okay and sometimes necessary to eat meat on occasion. It's simply not the same thing as falling off the wagon or committing a sin against a dogmatic church.
Yes, it did bother me a little that I didn't go 100% meatless during my Veggie February, but the uncompromising adherence to an arbitrary rule I made up for myself wasn't really the point. The real goal was to just become a little more cognizant about the food I eat.
I'm not talking about having food guilt after an indulgent meal, nor am I talking about letting dietary concerns run my life. I'm just talking about conscious eating - being slightly more aware of what, why, and how much food I'm consuming on a regular basis. It's not an easy thing to do but I think it's the solution to a variety of problems related to health, and on a bigger scale, society as a whole.
We live in a weird and amazing world. With a few taps on a screen, you can get a 10-topping pizza with cheese-filled, garlic knot crust delivered directly to your face in a matter of minutes. The variety and convenience of eats that we have access to is incredible. And on top of that, we have gotten really, really good at making very cheap food taste delicious. The problem however, is that we are all blissfully ignoring the costs that go into making these awesome things happen.
Simply put, the more we become disconnected from our food sources, the more issues we're creating - both for ourselves and our planet.
Basically our collective relationship with food is a bigger mess than a burger from Carl's Jr.
To Be Continued...