Vegetarians get a bad rep sometimes I think. I’m really not sure why. I’ve been doing a series of posts where I interview experts on the different styles of eating. Whether they be an expert degree wise, or an expert experience wise. So! Enter today’s post. In my quest to provide you with the most pertinent information in regards to your diet that I can, I am gathering information about all the different healthy styles of eating. No, not fad yo-yo diets- the different lifestyles of eating. What you eat is all about what you are able to maintain in a healthy lifestyle. So, how to be vegetarian? Let’s talk about it.
Recently there have been some questions regarding vegetarianism come my way. While I am not a vegetarian- I eat lean meats- I am completely intrigued by the vegetarian lifestyle and even the vegan lifestyle.
I know some incredible athletes that are completely powered by plant based proteins and foods and I fully believe that it can be done in a healthy way.
Allow me to introduce you to Molly
Molly ran her first race relay this past spring and I had the awesome opportunity to get to coach her. She had some incredible obstacles to overcome, including an injury! During this time of coaching, she mentioned that she was a vegetarian when we were having our general conversation about diet.
I was completely intrigued so I interviewed her. Below is her first hand insight in the world of being a vegetarian. Molly gives us her thoughts in her awesome, straight forward no nonsense Molly way. So let’s go!
Vegetarian Interview with Molly
“How long have you been a vegetarian?
Could you go into detail on what being a vegetarian means and how you maintain this lifestyle?
For me, it’s a combination of ethical and health choices. Ethical is primary, I’ve always been an animal lover, involved in the animal community (I worked at a vet clinic for 6 years and volunteer with a no-kill shelter), and had a small feeling in the back of my mind that maybe eating animals isn’t the best thing….. but it seemed impossible not to. Like what would I even eat? I never liked vegetables. Wouldn’t I miss nutrients or something? And then, like most people, I just never thought too hard about it (life is busy, there’s lots of things to think about).
Now that I’ve taken time to think about it, it makes me feel good not to be contributing to a loss of a sentient life form every time I eat…. not to mention all the enviornmental benefits that come from being vegetarian. Take a moment to think about how much food and water has to be generated to sustain the massive animal agriculture we have going on in this country…. it’s crazy. And I have plenty of things to eat!
It also encourages me to eat better. Now instead of saying “I’m not going to eat fast food” and then 3 days later being rushed and stopping at Wendy’s, fast food just isn’t an option. It’s gone. It encourages me to make better choices and think ahead.
When did you become a vegetarian?
Jan. 2017 (it started as a one month trial New Year’s resolution and just never stopped)
What did your diet look like before?
It was terrible. Staples of my diet were hamburger helper, hot dogs and mac-n-cheese, chicken wings, tacos, fast food, and pizza. I pretty much never ate vegetables. When I was 26, the “know your numbers” health check informed me that my good cholesterol was already too low and my poor diet choices were starting to catch up to me, but I still didn’t make a lot of changes. I did make an effort to cook a steak and maybe a pasta dish like twice a week.
What is the hardest thing about being a vegetarian?
Honestly, I live with a vegan, so being vegetarian seems ridiculously easy. Cooking at home is easy (perhaps even easier than before). There’s always something to eat at restaurants, even if it isn’t that delightful…. with vegans, most restaurants don’t even have options, so it really limits where you can grab food. I’ve had several meals on the road in the parking lot of a grocery store.
Really, the most difficult thing is dealing with old fashioned people who alternative diets somehow confound and offend and just really feel the need to get in your business about what you’re eating. It’s not that common, but it does come up sometimes.
What is the easiest thing?
It really narrows down your eating choice to healthier options (most of the time). I can choose what to eat at a restaurant in under 2 minutes while my friends are flipping through a 5 page novel of food choices.
Did you gradually move into this eating style or did you jump in head first?
Gradual move. So, as discussed, my diet sucked, and I “hated vegetables.”
Then, I met my current partner, who’s been vegan for 4 years now. After we became “exclusive” and were spending tons of time together, he volunteered to cook dinner for me pretty much every night (and what sane person says no to that??!!). For months, food would just appear in front of me. If I didn’t like it, he asked detailed questions why. Was it the texture? taste? heat? consistency? what would have made it better?
I gradually learned that I didn’t actually hate all vegetables, I’d just never had vegetables that were prepared in any other manner than “frozen veggies stuck into microwave” or sad restaurant salads that were 95% iceberg lettuce and 5% sad wilty vegetables. I continued eating healthily at home, bringing leftovers to work, and one day I realized I was eating chicken like once a week and that was pretty much all the meat I was eating.
At that point I felt open to exploring the ethical implications of eating meat, decided I didn’t like it, and wanted to go vegetarian. I felt like I didn’t want to have “rules” and be “restricted,” though, so I did it on a one-month trial basis. I really liked how I felt, so I continued indefinitely.
How has being a vegetarian changed your life? (day to day plus workouts)
I no longer have any cognitive dissonance in my head when I go pet farm animals. There’s a sense of pride in not contributing to what I believe is a huge problem with the mistreatment of animals and the earth in general. I eat tons more vegetables and feel a lot better about my diet and just physically better. I’m more active than I’ve ever been in my life, and the more active I am the better I want to eat. I ran a whole 7.3 miles! I can ride my bike for hours!
Some people say that dairy and meat are necessary in their diets, what is your opinion on this?
It’s really not. There’s no more to say lol, and there’s way too much research and way too many healthy vegans out there to show that it’s not “necessary.” There’s vegan bodybuilders, too. It may be preferred, and that’s fine, I don’t bother anybody about their personal food choices, but it’s not necessary.
What is the main difference(s) between vegetarian and vegan?
Vegans don’t eat any animal products…. no meat, dairy, stuff with animal fat in it (fun fact: toothpaste and sun screen usually contains animal fat). Some vegans won’t eat honey, but that’s pretty extreme. Vegans also usually avoid buying things made from animals (like leather shoes, etc.).
Vegetarians are typically okay with animal bi-products, like dairy or eggs, but not okay with meat. Mileage may vary on vegetarians being okay with products made from animal fat, bones, etc. or products made from animals.
At the end of the day, it’s about your personal ethical and/or health choices. People will go all crazy, especially around veganism, like that YOU CAN’T BE A VEGAN if you …. (eat honey, buy a car with leather seats, have once put your foot into a leather shoe, insert complaint here), but really it’s about deciding to do something that has a better world/animal impact and how you can realistically execute that while being a functioning human in modern society. You just find your limits and set them for yourself, and, like most things, it’s nobody else’s damn business.
What would you say to someone that says vegetarianism is just another fad diet and it will disappear in a few years?
I think it’s the diet of the future, or at least close to it. It’s been around forever, and it’s numbers have grown significantly in the past few years…. enough that the meat industry has noticed and is starting campaigns to get young people to eat more meat.
More and more people are starting to think about all the crap we eat and where it comes from, there’s a huge health movement, and more and more restaurants/stores are carrying vegan options. I think it’s numbers will grow.
What do vegetarians eat for protein?
This is the most common question I get from people, and it’s honestly a complete non-issue. Most American’s ideas about the necessity of protein and the origin of protein come from some well-done marketing campaigns by the meat industry
But, to answer the question…..all things chickpea (hummus, falafel, etc.), beans… to a lesser extent tofu…. and honestly I don’t know anymore because it’s such a non-issue I don’t pay attention.
What I DO pay attention to is B12, because that’s something that’s force fed to slaughter animals in order to give us a way to have it in our diets. I take that and an omega-3 fatty acid (because I’ve never liked fish and I don’t go around eating flax) as a supplement every day.
At the one year mark of vegetarianism, I had my doctor run a panel for levels of nutrients, cholesterol, etc….. and everything was better than ever. I got special marks for making “significant healthy life changes” without the threat of an imminent heart attack from my very excited physician.
What would you say to someone that is considering altering their diet to a vegan? Should they go vegetarian first, then move to vegan?
It’s different for everyone. My vegan boyfriend just jumped straight into veganism head first and quite suddenly, and it worked for him. I never could have jumped straight into even vegetarianism because that’s just not my nature. So….. just try some different things, and do some research.
What is the very first step someone should take in becoming a vegetarian?
Just try not eating meat for a few meals a week…. and avoid making it either sad or difficult. Sad because you don’t know any good meatless meals so you ALWAYS eat pasta or salad, or difficult because you googled “no meat meals” and got the world’s most complicated recipe with ingredients you didn’t even know existed and probably can’t be found in a regular grocery store.
I think once you realize it’s a possibility to live that way, it makes dealing with research easier. Instead of saying “oh god I don’t want to read this article about what goes on in the animal agriculture industry because then I won’t want to eat meat and then I might starve and I love steaks so much how will I ever live,” you can say “I know there’s other food options in the world, and I’d like to know more about this particular food I’m eating and where it comes from to see if I’d like to continue to eat it.”
Is there anything else that you would like to say about vegetarianism? Please feel free.
At first, I had a huge problem with identifying as a vegetarian because I felt like I was imposing strict rules upon myself that some unknown entity would swoop down and take my vegetarian card if I broke, so it helped to do some mental refraining.
I never say “I can’t eat that,” because I’m a grown ass adult with no food allergies, I can eat whatever I want. Instead, I say “I don’t want to eat that,” because that’s the real truth. I’d rather not eat meat, so I practice not eating meat. Like 2 months ago while out with a friend I decided to take a huge bite of mac-n-cheese that I didn’t realize had bacon in it and ate it, that doesn’t mean I’m not a vegetarian anymore, it means I accidentally ate bacon, which, believe it or not, tastes pretty disgusting now that I haven’t eaten it in over a year.
I would also like to make a note about veganism…. like many, many groups of people, vegans get a bad rap because of just a few dirt bags roaming about. Yes, there’s vegans who rub everyone’s nose in it and never shut up about it and tell everyone they’re the worst people in the world and stand on street corners and preach….. but that’s not the majority. The majority call those “militant vegans,” and among vegan circles try to get those people to not be jerkfaces. You don’t know the rest of them as well because they’re not running their mouths about it all the time.”
Lots of good info!
I want to thank Molly for being willing to share her thoughts on this form of lifestyle eating!
The bottom line here is that everyone of us has to make a decision in regards to our over all healthy living. While I am not a vegetarian, I would never shame someone for their eating choices! Just like Molly said, it’s a personal choice that everyone has to make.
She made the decision to go vegetarian, while I eat lean meats such as fish and chicken and the occasional lean red meat. Vegetarianism and healthy eating in general that might include meat isn’t about what you exclude in your diet, it’s about what you include. Because if you are constantly thinking about what you can’t eat, then you’re going to be miserable!
The basis of this entire post is to make the decision that works for you. I know lots of girls that are mainly vegetarian and only eat fish. So,it really is all about what works for you and your lifestyle and what you can maintain!
I agree with Molly that when making a major life change, be careful of just diving head first into something.
Because, small steps lead to big results.
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