How do I STAY a vegetarian?

» Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Environment, Ethics, Health, How Do I Become A Vegetarian, What Can Vegetarians Eat | 1 comment

How do I STAY a vegetarian?

How do I STAY a Vegetarian?

I got a question recently that I thought was particularly poignant and relevant to us veg-types.  I’m planning on doing a video response, but wanted to put out a written one as well.

Here’s the question.  It’s from Sean here in Austin, Texas.

He asks:

I wanted some advice about this.  I’ve encountered several “ex-vegetarians,” or people who claim they used to be a vegetarian for several years.  But I wonder what made them choose to stop?  Is it true that most people who decide to go veg ultimately stop, or go back to their original eating habits?  And if they really don’t like it or feel low on energy, then it is intriguing why they would continue for several years before stopping.  So why am I concerned about this?  Because since I’ve heard the same story from so many people, I worry the same might happen to me.  I’ve been vegan for 3 years, and I have never had any reason to consume another animal product again.  What are some potential reasons I may decide to go back in the future?  Because I might have some potential deficiencies when I get blood work done?  Or because I miss meat or cheese?  If you can tell me your thoughts on what are the most common reasons people can’t stay veg forever, that would help.

That’s such a relevant question, because I talk to a lot of people who go veg and then go back after awhile.  In fact, I actually had this problem personally.  I’ve been officially vegetarian for six years.  But about 2 years before that, I had a six-month veg stint that ended in epic cheeseburger failure and my triumphant, yet temporary return to eating animal flesh.

Why?  Because I failed to plan.  I just said, “I’m going to do this,” and did it.

And it didn’t work.

But later, I tried again, and it DID work.  Why?  Because I DID plan.  I took weeks and figured out what I needed to replace in terms of vitamins and nutrients.  I researched all the different things I could eat besides pasta and salad so that I wouldn’t get bored.  And I found accountability partners — other vegetarians, both in person and online, who I could check in with to be able to get answers when I had questions.  It’s stuck for six years, and I plan on staying veg for life.

However, that doesn’t totally answer your question…What are some potential reasons I may decide to go back in the future?

A lot of people give up on staying vegetarian because they aren’t eating what they should be.  They’re missing some key elements in their diet and probably aren’t getting the right foods in order to have a complete nutritional profile.  In that case, I’d recommend talking to a vegetarian-friendly nutritionist who can give you some recommendations on eating foods that will make up for whatever you’re missing.

You might also have added more foods that are exacerbating an allergy.  For example, let’s say you give up meat and are eating a balanced diet, but have added whole wheat pasta or seitan to your diet and eat them a couple times a week.  If you start feeling like crap, you may have a wheat allergy (see celiac’s disease) or even resistance.   This is one of the most common allergies out there, and sometimes the effects are so subtle you don’t even think about the fact that this one little thing might be bringing you down, big time.

Another big issue is iron levels.  If you’re not getting enough iron, your blood and ultimately your energy levels are affected.  You may not even become full-blown anemic, but you can certainly feel sluggish, fatigued, and draggy.  If this happens, I’d recommend eating foods that have high concentrations of iron, like spinach, beans, egg yolks, etc.  You can also take a supplement.  I recently found one at Whole Foods called Blood Builder that’s derived from plant sources, not minerals, so it’s supposed to absorb better.  I’ll report back after I’ve tried it.

But again, this didn’t answer your underlying question — what if you feel fine…what are some other reasons?

Assuming you feel okay and are getting enough iron, protein, B12, etc., what it comes down to is a couple things.

I see people renouncing their vegetarianism for a few reasons, and those are generally reasons that keep people from going veg in the first place.

1. They get bored.

This is easy.  If you’re eating the same thing all the time, you’re not trying hard enough.  I could name 365 different, great-tasting vegetarian meals, so that you could have a new dish for every day of the year.  All it takes is a little ingenuity, a few simple kitchen skills, and a willingness to try different things.

2. They feel isolated.

It’s true that, in most western cultures, more people eat meat than don’t.  However, you can find PLENTY of people who do.  And more importantly, you can share your meatlessness with people who ARE eating meat and find ways to bond over it — not fight.  Once a week, host a dinner party where everyone brings a veg-friendly dish.  Join a local Vegetarian Meetup group.  Etc.  Find ways to surround yourself with other vegetarians or people who are interested in at least trying it, and you’ll be less likely to give up.

3. They can’t eat what they want.

IMO, this is the hardest part.  You see a plate of ribs, or a great big juicy cheeseburger, or whatever, and you cave.

I fight this obstacle in a couple ways.  First off, I use several meat analogs — fake meats — to replace what I’m not able to eat.  Show me a dish that uses meat in it, and I’ll make you the vegetarian version that comes damn close to the real thing.  Check out some meat analogs.

The other thing I do that works really well is that I remind myself of the truth.  I replay all those horrendous videos I’ve seen on PETA’s website and other films depicting what happens in slaughterhouses and factory farms that made me become a vegetarian in the first place.  If you haven’t seen them, I would start at PETA’s site.  They’re graphic, awful videos, but they will indelibly burn images into your brain of what really goes on every day, causing millions of animals to suffer and die awful deaths.  And that helps me feel, by NOT eating meat, that I’m making a difference.

So, hopefully that answers the question.  Keep your diet diverse and interesting.  Meet other vegetarians and share the experience.  Learn and remember the truth.  And if you still consider going back to meat, don’t be afraid to ask people for help — there are plenty out there who will go to great lengths to help you succeed.

How Do I Become A Vegetarian files: How do I STAY a vegetarian?

1 Comment

  1. I have never considered myself like 100% vegetarian, since I don’t believe in absolutes. But personally I had to make a significant reversion back to a more meat-containing diet when I moved in to work in a foreign culture, where dining (professionally) together was a huge cultural thing and the restaurants often did not even offer vegetarian dishes. (France) I mostly did cook my own meals and went along with that, but more often you simply just did not wish to be an outcast. And not going along with a culture would impact your professional and social profile significantly. To seem like an inconsiderate outsider within other peoples culture or be flexible in your principles? Give or take.

    Other thing is really trying out different diets. For some people, high doses of carbohydrates and sugars (too often used to substitute protein-rich meat in many vegetarian dishes) do not work that well with all bodies. To work around that, one needs to be clever and do research like you have noticed, but personally I think that kind of activity should not be something we need to require from people switching to a more environmentally friendly & humane diet.

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