Becoming a Vegetarian/Vegan or Eating a more Plant-Based Diet: Whys and How’s

The typical responses when telling people I’m vegetarian are ‘Oh I can’t even imagine not eating meat’ or even worse ‘I have to eat meat’ and even the more ridiculous ‘How do you live without eating meat?’ Now those are pretty extravagant statements, and honestly they sound like those from an addict. If you think that statement is ridiculous, just replace ‘eat and/or meat’ with ‘do crack, meth, or even heroine’ when you read those responses again. It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Those examples and that exercise of word replacement are one’s that express the thought process of most people; they locate the common belief that being healthy while living a plant based lifestyle is impossible and that our desires for eating flesh is so ingrained in us everything outside that perception seems unrealistic. However the necessity for everyone to live a more plant-based diet is more important now than it ever has been before and is getting proven to be the healthiest for not just us but the planet. We’ve never witnessed such mass production and consumption of food, especially meat, than now in the history of the human species.

Society has witnessed a drastic decay in the quality of produce, meats, and a shift of nearly 80% of products in grocery stores being processed food. Agriculture has shifted from small farm to factory farms with stressed interest in profit versus quality from food manufacturers; and it shows with an increase of ethical resistance with how those animals are treated. Processed foods and animal products consist of 90% of the American diet nowadays; as the food companies continue to only care about profits, not our health. Our nation is plagued with heart diseases, cancers, obesity, diabetes, and other weight related diseases. The consumption of meats, meat products, and processed foods is directly proportional to your increased chance of developing one of those health issues; meaning the more processed foods and poor quality meat you eat, the more likely you will suffer from those above listed ailments. A way to mitigate, and in many cases cure the above listed ailments are to change your diet to a vegetarian and/or vegan diet with a focus on whole foods and a balanced nutritional intake. There are numerous studies that show the benefits of ending meat and animal product consumption of foods by switching to a vegetarian/vegan diet.

There are a lot of things that happen to you when you become a vegetarian and are eating right. One of the biggest things you’ll notice is weight loss, and that’s without having to count calories or increasing the amount of exercise you’re already doing if any at all. This is largely due to your increased metabolism, because a vegetarian diet takes more energy to process, i.e. plant based phytochemicals that take longer to digest and break down. That process is amplified even further when based around whole foods and grains that contain a lot of fiber and are packed with other vitamins and minerals. The result is an increased and consistent flow of energy because of the consistent metabolism; which also results in having a better night’s sleep. There is also a boost of immune response, resulting in getting sick less or worse than most omnivores. As many know, our bodies are composed of a lot of bacteria- especially in our guts. When looking at gut bacteria, vegetarians and vegans contain more protective species of bacteria which protect us from inflammation and metabolic issues that result in weight gain, along with other health issues. Incorporating a plant-based diet also drastically cuts down heart related issues. You’ll be able to lower your risk of heart disease related death, lower your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, lowers body fat content, decreases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and also lowers your rate of getting cancer. One documentary, Forks over Knives, also shows the journey of one patient reversing his diabetes and another eating her way to remission. This documentary also dives into the scientific studies which track diseases (like cancer, heart disease, obesity, etc) and their direct correlation between increased meat and animal product consumption, I highly recommend this documentary (currently on Netflix). The personal justifications for a plant-based diet are extremely beneficial and may be suffice to lead someone into changing their dietary habits; however there are also many ethical and environmental reasons to partake in a vegetarian/vegan diet.

There are many ethical reasons why one should avoid factory farm meats and animal products; which vary from their disastrous environmental impact, increased use of hormones and antibiotics in the food itself, and the more popular reasons of animal cruelty and unhealthy livings conditions of the animals. Due to the production of these increased meat markets, we’ve seen an influx of factory farms, which not only put our farmers under the thumb of big corporations, but the quality of the food and environment drastically declines. These massive factory farms are unhealthy for the animals, not to mention cruel. Many animals are beaten or hurt from other animals while others remain in the same spot their entire lives, but most are limited to crowded, dark and stagnate-aired environments. The harsh environments result in the use of ever-changing antibiotics to keep up with sickness and diseases that the animals get, which in turn end up in the final products of our packaged food. Most of the feed given to these animals is manufactured by the owning big food company, which they in turn make more profits feeding the primarily corn-based foods to the factory farms. Not to mention those big companies, such as Monsanto bully our farmers into never-ending legal battles, resulting in their indentured servitude for the rest of their days. Even with our ever-changing climate issues these massive farms use more water and food than most nations to feed animals alone and waste valuable resources; all while destroying the land around them by polluting the surrounding areas with waste and increased green house gas emissions. Overall, the increased consumption of meat and animal products (cheese, dairy, ice creams, yogurt, etc) has created these factory farms; they only operate and exist because of high demand. If we don’t buy these products and/or don’t buy them as much, the model of food will change. We as the people have a say in what we eat, this brings the true words of L.N. Smith into light: “Every dollar you spend…or don’t spend is a vote you cast for the world you want.” My own personal journey is one that began with questioning the ethics and practices of the animal and food industries, which lead me into experimenting with my own dietary choices.

My diet is considered vegetarian, but I’m mostly vegan. The exceptions consist of my use of honey on occasion, eating ice cream every other month or so, the fact I eat cheese (in moderation of course), and eggs (which I stick to no more than 1-2 a week, weekends only if I do eat them). To make note, I don’t drink dairy products or eat yogurt, though I will use yogurt in dough making. I take a daily vitamin (that is vegan) with my dinner every night regardless to what scientific studies show or say, I do is as more of a precaution if I happen to not cover my bases in terms of nutritional intake. As stated above, my journey began by questioning the ethics of the food industry and the motives of big food corporations. I noticed how much sugar and other harmful ingredients were going into the foods I ate and decided I needed a little discipline in the kitchen and a change of approach to what food is. I came to understand that food is nothing but fuel, I was caught up in my own gluttonous ways that I didn’t stop to realize what, where, or why I was eating certain foods. My first test was to cut out diary, though I would limit ice cream to once a month, I completely stopped drinking milk. I lost 10 lbs in about 2-3 weeks; needless to say I was shocked. After that realization I pushed even further and started to limit how much cheese and other animal based products I was eating and again noticed more pounds shedding away. I then began to cook with less meat, slowly weaning myself off eating it, while changing my ratios of ingredients. I was used to eating a meal that was anywhere 60-80% meat and the rest was a mixture of other foods, I realized I would eat meat in order to feel ‘full’ and treat everything else as a sidekick. For example, I would eat 2 stuffed chicken breast with a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and green beans (or some veggie) and call that a meal. So I transitioned down to eating half a stuffed breast and primarily veggies with a small serving of mashed potatoes; somewhere around 30% meat and 70% being veggies and potatoes. This process of incorporating more veggies, fruits, and whole grains progressed until I eliminated meat entirely from my diet.  This journey took a little less than a year, more on the end of 7-8 months. But what I really noticed was how much weight I had lost just through barely eating meat. Becoming a vegetarian was the next logical step in my mind towards being healthier; and the results continue to be far beyond my expectations.

When it comes to fitness and exercise, I have never felt and performed better. My recovery time from lifting, hiking, and any other physical activity has drastically shortened compared to my omnivorous ways when in high school, when I was in my ‘prime.’ I used to feel soreness for 2-3 days after an intense workout, now it’s limited to just a day tops and the soreness is drastically decreased. I’ve also been able to gain strength easier and able to still lift weights comparable, and often higher than during my high school football days. I believe all of these results are due to how fast my body recovers. For example, I had seriously strained my Sartorius muscle twice; once while being on an omnivorous diet and another while being a vegetarian. My second strain (while vegetarian) was worse in terms of physical pain and decreased function than the first one; but I healed twice as fast. It took me around 12 days to gain full movement/strength from the first strain, which I could walk on with limited movement; but only 4-5 days while being a vegetarian when I couldn’t even walk or bend my leg in the first 48 hours. I also noted a few other physical improvements since my transition. In terms of working out, I can physically notice the results quicker due to less body fat. For both me and my significant other, we noticed our skin health has improved, the signs being by less pimples/zits and a quicker healing process on the occasion we do get them or any cut. Personally, my face was never the issue, it was more my back and backs of my arms, but now I don’t have any issues. Ever since becoming a vegetarian I’ve noticed my skin is healthier than it ever has been. My overall health has drastically improved since switching my diet.

In terms of health, I rarely get sick- and I work with kids whom at least 3-5 on average are always sick. And in the cases that I do get sick, it doesn’t last for nearly as long. For example, when I compare myself to coworkers, I notice that the same sickness we all got will stay with them for a week or more but will only affect me for 3 days. Before I started working with kids I literally never got sick despite coworkers around me falling ill; and I usually got sick 2-4 times a year if not more when eating meat/animal based products. My counter point to justify that it is my plant-based diet that helps me is how I feel after eating cheese or ice cream in large amounts. Within 24 hours I noticed more mucus and feeling more stuffed up; the few times I have gotten sick have always fallen after eating a larger amount of animal products. I noticed that my blood work has also drastically improved since being a vegetarian, and in reality it’s never been better than at any other point in my life. The biggest push for me to stick with my vegetarian ways came from my blood results, I have health issues along both sides of my family and in order to nip them in the bud, and the vegetarian diet is my best chance at eliminating my chance of getting those diseases. Even if I get them when I’m older, which I seriously doubt, I know the severity won’t be nearly as bad considering my great health. For my significant other, her low-density cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) where in an unhealthy, i.e. high range prior to becoming a vegetarian with me; and now at around three years being vegetarians her bad cholesterol has dropped significantly. Like my own blood work hers is stellar compared to most consuming a ‘regular’ meat diet. Overall life as a vegetarian isn’t difficult once you learn how to make flavorful and delicious food.

Say what you will, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been since becoming a vegetarian. Though life can be frustrating, I noticed my stress levels and other emotions have been easier to handle the longer I maintain my vegetarian diet. I can’t quantify my happiness in relation to being a vegetarian, but I know that this lifestyle has created more opportunities of satisfaction and joy. It’s changed my outlook on life to more important things. Partaking in more outdoor activities, like hiking, camping, and back packing with friends has opened up new doors of exploration the beauty that nature has to offer. I’ve gained knowledge by educating myself of nutrition and a deeper understanding of my body and what it needs, all which help me learn about myself and find a deeper connection to who I am. I’ve been able to continue gaining satisfaction by creating new meals and discovering new methods. It also brings more peace into my life knowing that I’m limiting my negative contributions to the environment and mistreatment towards animal life by abstaining from meat and processed foods. I fully believe my vegetarian diet has played a pivotal role in that happiness and my life satisfaction is my evidence. Even ‘The Govenator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger came out saying we all need to do our part and become at least part time vegetarians, and he’s not the only celebrity and person of political influence to recommend this style of life to help ourselves and our planet.

Now the key for making these changes is by eating right. You need to fuel your body correctly in order to feel these benefits.  Eating more whole foods and eliminating processed foods are the best method and approach. Ensure you’re drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet. The biggest discipline comes in form of staying consistent in your efforts. Utilizing leftovers, having your meals planned are the best methods for consistency. All of these stem from using your time and money wisely.  If you feel like the transition is going to be hard, start slow. Decrease how many days you eat meat and slowly wean it down till you eat a week as a vegetarian/vegan. Once you do that, try a month. If you can do that, then try a year and see how you feel.  Once you feel comfortable cooking vegetarian meals start your journey as a full-time vegetarian and enjoy the results.

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