Becoming a vegetarian is not an easy task. But whatever your reasons for considering a vegetarian lifestyle (to live longer, lose weight, save animals, etc.), rest assured that the benefits far outweigh the struggle, and the struggle doesn’t last forever. Below are 5 tips to help make the transition a lot smoother. But first, let’s define what a vegetarian is and is not.
What is a Vegetarian?
Contrary to popular belief, becoming a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to trade in your sneakers for sandals, your Mercedes for a Prius, or vote Democrat in the next election. A vegetarian, basically, is a person who doesn’t eat meat.
There are subgroups of vegetarians: vegans (no animal products at all), pescatarians (eat fish), ovi-vegetarians (eat eggs), and lacto-vegetarian (drink milk), among others. One of the keys to sticking with a vegetarian diet is to find the one that works best for you. If your vegetarianism (and it is largely yours) feels like an unnecessary struggle, you are not likely to stick with it. Once the initial challenge of eliminating meat from your diet passes, being a vegetarian should feel as natural as any other part of your life.
There are a number of additional things you need to consider before you decide to take the plunge into the vegetarian lifestyle. I have listed what I see as the 5 most important considerations below:
Do it for the right reason. The guy who becomes a vegetarian to impress a girl has become a cliché at this point, but it’s worth bringing up because it’s a reason that many people fail. The reason you decide to become a vegetarian should be personal and meaningful to YOU. Vegetarians are a diverse group with equally diverse reasons for choosing the lifestyle. Some do it to avoid animal cruelty; others do it for health reasons; and yet others for religious or spiritual purposes. Whatever the reason we became vegetarians, one thing is clear: we stick with it because it is meaningful to us.
Take your time. When I became a vegetarian, I did it cold turkey (pun firmly intended). I decide one night that I could no longer handle the contradiction between eating one set of animals while railing against the cruelties perpetrated against another. Save for a couple of minor “relapses” in the first month, I’ve been meat-free for the last 9 years and counting (though you stop counting pretty quickly). I would, however, not recommend this path for most people. A gradual process is more likely to achieve the desired end, as it will be less taxing, both physically and psychologically. Try eliminating some of the fattier meats, like pork and beef first, and then move on to chicken, turkey, and fish (assuming you don’t wish to be a pescatarian). In the long run, this gradual weaning process will be less of a shock, and it will increase your likelihood of success.
Plan, plan, plan. You wouldn’t wake up tomorrow morning and quit your job without some thought as to how you’re going to provide for you and yours, would you? Your diet is no different. Food is where your energy and nutrition come from. Therefore it is very important to know how to prepare delicious meals (so you’ll actually want to eat them) that also contain the nutrients your body needs. This is usually the sticking point with friends of mine who want to try the vegetarian lifestyle. It’s harder to just pop into a restaurant and order whatever you want because your options on the menu will have shrunk significantly. Thus, I recommend preparing most of your meals at home. They won’t necessarily take longer than the meals you’re used to preparing, but they do initially require more legwork (finding new recipes, locating new ingredients like tofu and tempeh in the supermarket, etc.). However, if you stick with it, soon you won’t have to commit as much effort or time to the preparation of your meals.
Find support from someone, anyone. As Bono once sang, “sometimes you can’t make it on your own.” It is definitely possible to become a vegetarian by gritting your teeth and just getting through the tough first few months. But it’s easier and more fun if you can do it with someone else. If you’re in a relationship, see if you can convince your partner to try it with you. Nothing weakens resolve in the early stages like the smell of grilled meat wafting through the apartment. If your significant other doesn’t want to follow you down this particular road, that’s okay. See if your friends or family members will. If still no one will join you, then turn to the Internet. There are a number of very active and engaging vegetarian communities online that help guide new vegetarians through the process.
Just do it! You’re in it for the right reason (you think). You’ve created a schedule for the elimination of various meats from your diet. You’ve planned your meals and rallied up support around you. Now what? Now, do it. Just do it. What are you waiting for? Jump in, the water’s fine and you know how to swim, even if it’s just the doggie paddle for now. That’s it. That’s all folks. You’ve chosen a path and now its time to start walking. Don’t forget to have fun along the way, and try some new and exciting recipes. It’s worth it, and your body and mind will thank you for it.