This week is National Vegetarian Week.
As I have been following a (mostly) vegetarian diet for almost 10 years, I thought it would be useful to share some tips for making the transition.
What is a vegetarian?
The Vegetarian Society is the organisation behind National Vegetarian week. They define a vegetarian as follows:
“Someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish* or slaughter by-products”
This is then broken down into 4 different types of vegetarian:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs; this is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarian. Eats eggs but not dairy products.
- do not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals.
I haven’t eaten meat or poultry for approximately 9 years.
I have also avoided eating dairy products and eggs for almost as long.
I do however eat fish from time to time.
I also have a weakness for desserts and have been known to turn a blind eye to desserts containing eggs or dairy… (don’t judge me)
So technically I am not a vegetarian, but I follow a mostly vegetarian diet.
Some people become vegetarian because of concerns about animal welfare and the environment. Other people are vegetarian for religious reasons.
Then there are people like me who move to a vegetarian lifestyle for health reasons.
Transitioning to a vegetarian diet can be challenging so here are 10 tips to support you if you choose to make the change:
Don’t eliminate everything at once
As I said, I don’t eat meat or poultry and avoid eggs and dairy, but I didn’t give them all up at the same time.
First, I cut out meat. I then stopped eating poultry. Finally, I drastically reduced my dairy and egg consumption. (It is normal for me to go months without having any).
If “cold turkey” works better for you, then by all means go for it and cut everything out from the start.
Do your research
You will miss your favourite meals. Fact.
Suddenly even meals you’re not a fan of start to look like they’ve been prepared by Michelin star chefs.
Look for vegetarian alternatives to your favourite meals before you start the transition.
The internet is your friend. There are vegetarian recipes using every ingredient you can think of, and alternatives to almost every meal.
Get friends and family on board
It’s always easier to stick to something when you have the support and motivation from people around you.
Many people don’t get why anyone would want to give up meat or chicken – or even cheese.
I still get asked how I do it. Accompanied by expressions of disbelief and sometimes disgust, disappointment or pity (seriously).
If you don’t live alone, transitioning to a vegetarian diet can be more difficult if you’re the only one making the change.
Even if you do live alone, eating out or having dinner with family and friends can also be a challenge.
Start introducing vegetarian meals a few times a week and invite friends and family to try. I found that they were always pleasantly surprised when I served a tasty vegetarian meal. And the key is it does need to be tasty.
Cook at home
For the first few weeks, or even month depending on how you’re doing, I would recommend eating at home. Especially if you’re friends and family are meat-eaters.
This is because it can be tempting when you’re at a restaurant to slip back into old habits.
We like to think we have strong willpower, but the reality is the smell of delicious meal and an empty stomach can throw willpower out of the window!
Once you’ve made the decision, you need to remove all temptation.
Ensure you no longer have any animal products in the house.
As said previously, find recipe alternatives to your favourite weekly meals.
Try new recipes that use veggies you might not normally choose.
Plan your meals for the week and shop for all your ingredients.
This will help you to avoid reaching for animal products because you’re hungry and don’t have the time or energy to think of a vegetarian option.
Shop with a list based on the recipes and don’t shop on an empty stomach!
Maintain a balanced diet
This is something that even some long-term vegetarians struggle with.
It is possible to get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need on a vegetarian diet, but you need to make conscious choices about what you eat.
Avoid transitioning to a vegetarian diet by consuming mainly meat and dairy substitutes. Most contain soya and have lots of other crap added.
Some people worry about low iron and other deficiencies on a vegetarian diet.
It is worth having a mineral/vitamin deficiency test done by your GP before starting out. This will give you a clear idea of any deficiencies and you can supplement as necessary.
I had low iron before I transitioned to a vegetarian diet. Had I not had a test before transitioning, it would have been easy for me to attribute it to my vegetarian diet.
Watch documentaries about vegetarianism and veganism
I haven’t watched any documentaries.
My health reasons were enough to motivate me to quit consuming animal products for the most part.
But many people have told me how powerful some of the most well know documentaries on the subject are.
When you feel a moment of weakness coming on, watch one of these documentaries to keep you motivated.
It’s worth keeping track of your journey to monitor your progress.
Keeping notes will help you to reflect on how far you’ve come. It will also reveal any unexpected benefits you get from the change of your diet.
Write a journal, Snapchat or Instagram your meals daily. Or start a Youtube channel to document your journey.
Be warned, some people can experience some not very nice symptoms initially, especially when going ‘cold turkey’.
More often than not, these are detox symptoms as your body eliminates toxins and adjusts to your new way of eating.
However, it is important to maintain good health. If the symptoms persist, see a medical professional. Vegetarian diets do not agree with everyone.
Don’t give up
In the beginning, you might slip up. There may be times when temptation is too strong for you to resist. Just don’t quit.
When I first eliminated meat and poultry it was around March/April. I was doing so well until the weather started getting hotter and my dad started having his family famous BBQs.
For that entire first summer, I made an “exception” for my dad’s BBQs.
But I stuck with it, and here I am 9 years later.
If eliminating all animal products is too difficult, start by reducing bit by bit and go from there.
Do it with someone else
Just like with exercising, you are less likely to give up when you’re doing it with someone else or as part of a group.
I spent almost 18 months eating zero sugar and inspired my friend to do the same. He was so impressed by my results and his own that he began telling everyone he knows about it.
He started a Whatsapp group to support friends and colleagues interested in quitting sugar and last I heard there were over 20 people in the group!
So you can start your own Whatsapp or Facebook group with one or more friends or colleagues.
If no-one you know is interested in quitting animal products, join a group that already exists.
Being part of a group adds a level of accountability which can make you feel guilty about “cheating”. It can also provide much-needed support, encouragement and sometimes recipe ideas.
I hope these tips give you a strong foundation for beginning your transition to a vegetarian diet.
You can find out more about National Vegetarian Week here. And there is a wealth of information available elsewhere about all things vegetarian.
You can also find some recipe inspiration under the Food section of this blog.
Are you considering transitioning to a vegetarian diet? What are your biggest concerns?