This August marks three years since I first became a vegetarian. While this topic is somewhat controversial and sometimes leaves people feeling targeted due to their eating habits, I wanted to note that this article is not about reprimanding omnivores or all the reasons why eating meat is bad for you. Instead, I want to talk about all the good things vegetarianism has done for me and the positive impact it has made in my life.
I decided to become a vegetarian (or at least try it out) during the summer of 2015. I came back from my academic summer program in Cambridge, England having watched multiple documentaries and having met several people who chose the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. It didn't seem too challenging and I wanted to see if I could handle it even for a few weeks. A little backstory–– I was a burger connoisseur prior to becoming a vegetarian. I LOVED burgers and would have them on all our family vacations. Obviously, my parents were surprised when I came home wanting to cut that out of my life completely.
However, once I started reducing my meat intake I noticed some huge changes in my life and in how my body felt. In order to address all the benefits I have observed, I wanted to write a list in chronological order (the order in which I started to notice the benefits since first becoming a vegetarian):
1. Lack of a guilty conscience
This benefit was almost immediate. After doing extensive research and educating myself on the meat industry, I was pretty horrified at the way we treat animals and all the chemicals we put in our food. The simplest way to do my part in ending these inhumane practices was to stop supporting the industry. By not buying meat at restaurants or in the grocery store, I stopped supporting the huge corporations who govern our food industry. The relief of my guilty conscience was significant and has made me feel better about the impact my life is making on this earth.
2. Weight loss
After a few months of no meat, I realized I had lost weight. Maybe it was because I was still getting used to preparing hearty high-calorie vegetarian meals but cutting out meat definitely reduced my saturated fats and total calorie intake each day. Now as I have become better at meal-prep my weight is more consistent but I have still kept the weight off that I lost at the beginning. I lost about 5-10 lbs, which helped change my physical body composition and my mindset too. I became much more comfortable in my own skin.
3. Better digestive system
I won't go into too much detail here but becoming a vegetarian has detoxed my digestive system. Every meal I eat feels comfortable in my stomach. I rarely leave a restaurant feeling too full and my risk for food poisoning is much lower.
4. More energy
This benefit took a little longer to appear but my energy levels are much more consistent throughout the day than they used to be. My blood sugar levels are more stable and I feel like I have higher energy levels than I did before. I love being able to keep moving for longer because I get so much more done in one day without feeling sluggish or tired mid-afternoon.
5. Increased happiness
Becoming a vegetarian had a ripple effect on other aspects of my life. I started exercising more and prioritized my mental and spiritual health. After extending compassion to animals by no longer supporting the industry that abuses them, I began to make more conscience decisions to extend compassion in other situations as well. As a result, I am happier and healthier both physically and mentally.
6. A more creative relationship with food
Vegetarianism forced me to be more creative when it comes to putting together a balanced meal. A healthy omnivore typically has a protein source (chicken, beef, fish etc.), a carb source (rice, potatoes, pasta), and a serving of vegetables in one meal. However, once you take out the protein source, a huge amount of filling calories are cut out of the meal. In an effort to keep myself full and my protein levels up, I have to get creative. I have learned so much about what foods complement each other and what combinations keep me full for the longest amount of time.
7. Growing number of friends and family who share my diet
Since going to college last August, I have met so many people who share my diet preferences. Vegetarianism and veganism is not as rare as I thought. Bonding over our shared diet and the reasons we chose it has been a great way to get to know some of my friends.
8. I get to eat so many carbs!
A huge plus! I eat a diet that is high-carb and I don't gain weight like many people would expect. Vegetables are comprised of mainly carbs, vitamins, and a little protein. I consume a lot of vegetables, rice, pasta, and bread. But none of it ever affects me negatively because my body is used to the carb intake in the form of a plant-based diet.
9. A higher level of education about the food industry and nutrition labels
I can tell you exactly how many calories is in a serving of peanut butter and I know what brand of granola bars contains the least amount of sugar. I also know what restaurant chains to avoid and which corporations are the leaders in animal abuse. The knowledge I have gained while transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle has allowed me to make informed decisions when spending money on food and choosing what items to consume.
10. My long-term exercise goals have been more successful
I have only noticed this benefit more recently after three years without meat. My exercise goals that I set a long time ago are beginning to be successful. While this is not all down to my diet (the work I do in the gym is hugely important too), I feel faster, stronger, and in general, fitter, than ever before. The energy increase combined with healthy, informed eating has made my workouts way more effective.
Of course, there is always more that I could do to support the causes vegetarianism aids. However, as with most change, I believe the best way to make an effective difference is by starting small and then gradually building on that foundation. While I have thought about veganism, I decided to start slowly. I make an effort to reduce my dairy consumption as much as possible while not being strict about it yet.
I will not pretend to support the meat industry but I am not going to put others down who do choose that diet. While I advocate reducing your meat consumption, I would never force my beliefs on another person. However, I encourage you to look into making changes in your life that can bring about unexpected benefits similar to the ones vegetarianism has brought me.