Meat, glorious meat.
Pretty much all of my life, I deeply held a few beliefs about food.
- Meat is flavor. Most non-meat food is pretty flavorless.
- Meat is satisfying. Without meat, you will be hungry.
- Meat is protein. Unless you want to be scrawny, eat meat, and the more the better.
- Meat is easier. Vegetables involve painful preparation, expensive appliances, and extensive seasoning in order to be edible.
At the start of 2018 I met a wonderful woman who introduced me to vegetarian eating. She's Vietnamese, so for her this wasn't especially new... but it was an entirely new experience for me.
In Vietnamese tradition, when good things come into your life, you show gratitude to the universe. We had an amazing connection, and she'd just been hired into her dream job by Google - so going fully vegetarian for 1-month was her way of expressing appreciation for all the good things in her life.
I decided to join in.
Partly I just wanted to share in her gratitude for all the good things we were experiencing together, and partly I like the idea of a challenge. But also... I'd been curious about vegetarian eating since trimming my waistline was beginning to prove difficult.
Excited? Absolutely - but honestly, I was a bit worried about how I'd cope with zero meat.
The first steps for me in even considering more-vegetables, less-meat was to debunk those limiting beliefs.
I needed to know that...
- I wouldn't feel hungry without meat,
- I would be able to deal with the flavor changes, and
- That this was something I could figure out how to make decently at home, with acceptable effort.
Protein, I knew I could get through supplmements if I needed. It turns out, I didn't.
Help from Friends
The one month challenge with my girlfriend was a great place to start.
It gave me a point at which the challenge ended, and I could return to familiar foods. And, I had someone to encourage and support me.
It also meant I didn't have to figure out the cooking all by myself, or even struggle ordering at restaurants. We'd just order two Vegetarian mains, and share them, so we could each try new things.
What I Learned
I am still shocked at how good the food was- dishes I never even glanced at before, or even glared at with disgust.
Who wants eggplant? Blergh.
But OMG it was good, everywhere I went, everything I tried, helped me shatter my limiting beliefs.
My mind opened to a whole different reality.
Flavour myth shattered. The food I was enjoying was so far different than kale and steamed broccoli I imagined. Fully, rich, hearty dishes absolutely packed with flavor.
And pretty much simultaneously...
Hunger myth shattered. Since starting vegetable-centered eating, I've not gone to bed hungry once. Never woken up with a rumbling stomach. Never felt unsatisfied, not a single time. For a 100kg / 220lb pound dude, that just defied all my expectations.
Within two weeks, I was starting to notice that I felt better, lighter. Less full, far less lethargic after meals.
Gym recovery was much quicker ( turns out, you do need carbs ).
My morning bathroom experience was a treat, compared to the way mornings used to feel after a meat-heavy dinner.
Now I needed to know, am I getting what I need?
Protein myth shattered. I spent some time exploring protein sources, and found that black beans, lentils, etc. are quite easy to make, taste great, and have heaps of protein. I gym regularly, so seeing muscular gain is important to me, and it has not slowed one bit.
And I needed to make this something I can do myself, at home.
Ease of cooking... I am still learning. Currently I use a slow cooker for beans & miso. I use a steamer for broccoli and caulifower. I have a cheap convection oven for roasting sweet potato and carrots. And a rice cooker. These make a hearty meals, and very little prep time, and I don't have to stand over them in the kitchen.
To learn new recipes, I've joined Facebook groups like Forks Over Knives (FOK) which are a great community full of plant-based recipes.
I've discovered there are good Vegetarian groups on Meetup.com, where you can do "potluck" shared-dish meals and, frequently, cooking classes.
You can likely find a local Hare Krisha centre that has cooking classes. I've been shattering a lot of personal myths lately - they are great people, not weird at all, and dang they know how to cook.
Other Interesting Changes I've seen
Amazingly, all seem good.
- I now find I don't like going near the meat aisle at the grocery. It just smells... wrong.
- Just 1 or 2 weeks in, my body and digestion felt 10x better.
- I still get a taste for a hamburger, or some sushi, once every few months... but I don't crave these things. My current solution is that I don't completely deny myself, but I don't eat these at home either. If I'm going to have it, I make it a special treat, and go out to have the best possible version of that dish I'm missing. This has the bonus of making vegetarian cooking "the normal way" at home.
- I have way, way more plant-based foodie friends than I ever know. Now, they support me, and going to lunch with them is tons of fun.
- Muscular soreness has basically gone, and was something I suffered from intensely.
- Greater energy levels, and less sleepiness after lunch.
- And even though I didn't do this directly for reasons of conscience, I do appreciate that there are no animals suffering to feed me every day.
If you eat meat at every meal, I encourage you to try this for yourself. After all if there's a better, healthier, happier, ridiculously-tasty way to eat, that your body might like better, wouldn't you want to find out?
Here are some tips on trying this out for yourself...
- Identify your most deeply held "I need meat" beliefs. You will be testing these one at a time, to see if they're actually true for you.
- Find friends to do this with. You get to experience the new things with them, and even share dishes.
- Join communities where you can experience and learn more about plant-based eating. These guys know how to cook.
- Keep it easy on yourself. Keep fruits, nuts, easy snacks to fill in those cravings and help you through any hungry moments.
I'm still not strictly 100% vegetarian - and I might never be. But I'm pretty darn close, and loving it. Once I knew that plant-centered eating was possible, and that I could deeply enjoy it, the realization that I physically felt so much better just clinched the deal.
it's been pretty straightforward from there, so I think I'll stick with this for awhile and see where it takes me.
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