Over a year ago I made the decision to become a vegetarian. After reading dozens of articles and several books, I decided to try it out for myself. Today I can assert the benefits of the switch. Immediately after switching I noticed a boost in my energy levels and mental clarity. These short-term effects along with the knowledge that my health and the environment would continue to benefit from my decision allowed me to stick with it.
In all I would consider my conversion to be very successful. I never get cravings to eat meat and I enjoy a diet with a lot of variety and flavor. Of all the habits I’ve consciously changed, this is probably one of the biggest and one of the most successful. Considering eliminating an entire food group from your diet can be a bit daunting to a prospective herbivore, I’ll detail some of the things I did to make it a success.
If you are committed to making a change, the people who are around you should be aware of it. Your family and those you eat with regularly should know about your decision not to eat meat. Many of the habits I changed I did without informing others, becoming a vegetarian is large enough that you should probably mention it to people who might end up cooking with you.
But don’t expect people around you who aren’t vegetarians to be particularly supportive. My family figured I would give up pretty soon and couldn’t really understand why I would make a switch. The purpose of informing the people around you is so that they are aware of your decision, not to form a cheerleading section.
I made my switch for health and environmental reasons, but many people switch for ethical reasons as well. If this is the case, you aren’t going to win supporters by being intrusive or demanding for your personal decisions. It may be your choice, but not everyone’s, so politely inform the people around you but don’t expect to convert them. Even if you are hoping other people will make a switch, your actions will speak louder than words.
Try Out New Foods
A vegetarian diet has the potential to be incredibly varied and satisfying, but if your solution is simply to cut out all meat and not expand your diet it will probably be pretty dull. When I made the switch I went out to the grocery store and tried out tons of different meatless food choices. With many different ethnic and new meatless options available, you will probably have a lot more choice than you can handle.
Be patient when trying out new foods. About a third of the foods I tried to make turned out to be awful and another third took a few attempts at cooking before they tasted any good. Creating a new dietary base takes time and patience, but once you have filled your cooking repertoire with plant options you likely won’t even notice the difference.
Make it a Habit
I set up a 30 Day Trial to test out becoming a vegetarian in which I stuck to the program fully for an entire month. Although the initial trial can be somewhat difficult, the habit becomes conditioned in you until you are at the point where it would be harder not to continue. The principles of conditioning, leverage, replacement and experimentation all apply to making this change as well. I’d suggest reading my Habitual Mastery series if you are interested in making a change.
Keep a Journal
I went into the trial originally with a curious and open mind. I had heard many things about the benefits of becoming a vegetarian and decided to run an experiment. In any personal experiment, you are never being objective, personal biases and subjectivity are going to make your approach rather unscientific, but this form of personal experimentation can let you figure out what does and doesn’t work for you. A good way to conduct an experiment is through a journal.
At the end of each day I wrote down a subjective rating of what I felt my levels of mental clarity, physical and mental energy were before and after starting the trial. Along with this I wrote down about any solutions I had discovered or problems I had overcome during that day. Noticing my levels of clarity and energy go from median levels of 3-5 to 8-10 just from the first week of the trial was enough to keep me committed.
Worry Less About Protein, More About Health
The protein myth has been shouted so loud in our culture that people believe it. Plants have enough protein, especially lentils, nuts and seeds. A lot of new vegetarians become so worried about not getting enough protein that they start drinking a lot of milk and eating a lot of eggs, which from a health standpoint isn’t much better than meat.
I’ve put on close to twenty pounds of muscle and greatly increased my strength since becoming a vegetarian. In many areas doubling my endurance and strength when applied with exercise and training. Although you may need to concentrate more on protein if you are looking for a bodybuilders physique, you can still do this with a vegetarian diet. If your aim is simply better health or weight loss, then maximizing protein isn’t going to be the biggest issue.
Spend more of your focus ensuring that you have a balanced diet that includes a large variety of vegetable, grain and lentils. So long as your diet includes a large variety of different plants and you are consuming enough calories it is unlikely that protein will be a problem. You may want to pick up a vitamin B12 supplement because it is one of very few nutrients that is difficult to get naturally on a completely vegetarian diet (certain yeast and soy-based meat substitutes also have B12).
Plan for Contingencies
Eating at home where you have full control over your diet makes it relatively easy to sustain a vegetarian diet. But when you start throwing in restaurants, banquets or family events, it can make your dietary choices more restrictive. There have been a few times where I have had very little to eat at a particular event because there wasn’t any vegetarian substitutes available. Especially in the early phases, planning for contingencies is crucial to avoiding make or break moments.
The first step is to commit to yourself that even if a situation makes it difficult to continue, you will persevere. It isn’t the 99.9% of the time that managing your lifestyle is easy that will cause problems. It is the one tenth of one percent of occasions where it creates conflict that you need to prepare for.
Although you can’t plan for all contingencies, informing anyone in advance of your dietary choice is generally enough to ensure that you don’t have any problems. Even most steakhouses have vegetarian options if you ask for them, and most people will try to accommodate your choice if you give them the chance.
Build Up Your Reasons
The difference between lasting with a change long-term and giving up is associating the right set of reasons to your decision in the first place. After I made the change to a vegetarian diet, I backed up my initial whim with more and more concrete evidence supporting my decision. Ethical, environmental, ecological and the multitude of health reasons created the neurological linkages to ensure I would stick with it.
Early on in a habit change you need certainty, not an open-mind. Now that I am very comfortable with my habit, I am more willing to look deeply into viewpoints that contradict my currently held beliefs. But once you have made the initial decision, you need to build up your emotional certainty that you made the correct choice, just to get you through the tumultuous conditioning phase. The China Study and Diet for an New America both present very solid cases for the benefits of vegetarianism.
It’s Your Choice
I dislike the stereotype of vegetarians as being ethically imposing, whiny and anemic hippies. This may be one form of vegetarian, but today and throughout history people have made the decision to switch for a variety of reasons. Men such as Ben Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci and former Mr. Olympia Bill Pearl were vegetarians. Your identity is no more a specific dietary choice than it is what type of shoes you wear or what kind of job you have.
Ultimately it is your choice about what you choose to put in your body and to accept the consequences of doing so. If you choose to eat meat, then that is your choice too. If you are interested in your health and the well-being of the planet you deserve to do the research yourself and make your decision consciously.