By: Paul Heintzman, YPAL’s Director of Entertainment
For Lent this year, I wanted to try and challenge myself. In the past, I’ve given up drinking, sodas, chocolate, ice cream, etc., but this year, I wanted to try something that would actually change my diet and my routine. Therefore, I decided to give up meat. Yes, all meat. And it wasn’t easy. Both my father and grandfather worked as butchers, and are therefore, some of the best meat cooks that have ever lived. I’ve grown up on a strict diet of meats, and I love it all: pork, chicken, steak, burgers, bacon, you name it. Again, what I’m trying to say is, giving up meat was a struggle. Every day.
So obviously I didn’t try anything new. People have been vegetarian for a long time now. Actually, a little over 7 million Americans observe a vegetarian-based diet. And I’m not talking about pescatarians. Nope, I gave up all meat.
The actual pros of going vegetarian aren’t bad either:
And I’m sure I know what you’re thinking: how did you get enough protein? Well, there are actually a lot of vegetarian options that are packed with heart-healthy proteins. Quinoa, tofu, broccoli, nuts, the list goes on and on. The key is making these ingredients work for you.
How I did it.
Most of the time, it actually wasn’t too difficult. I would start every morning off with two eggs and a fruit smoothie with unsweetened almond milk. If I brought my lunch, it would be simple: peanut butter sandwich, an apple, broccoli, and almonds. Dinner is the time where I tried to get creative. Cooking a substantial meal without meat actually proved to be rather difficult for me. I had to start experimenting with cooking vegetarian meals, and I like to think I became rather good at it.
- Vegetarian fried rice
- Vegetarian stir fry
- Vegetarian burritos
- Vegetarian fajitas
- Veggie burgers (that I bought from the store but dressed and cooked myself)
- Black bean chili
I started realizing how easy it was to cook without meat and still feel full. To be fair, I also made meals for friends who can all assure you that I still cooked pretty well without meat. The key is to just experiment. Find the vegetables / beans / grains / spices you like and start throwing them together. Most of the ingredients for these meals also tend to be pretty cheap, so it won’t break the bank if you mess up. Instead, try to have fun and find what you like. A vegetarian diet won’t work if you force yourself to eat grilled kale with quinoa and tofu on day 1 and expect it to taste like a Dizzy Whiz cheeseburger.
The most difficult time to be a vegetarian came when I had to eat out with others. It always seemed that most restaurants where my friends wanted to eat didn’t have a satisfying vegetarian option. I hated being “that guy” that made going out such a struggle, so I even got in the habit of eating before going out with friends for dinner to avoid being a pain.
What I noticed.
I already consider myself a slim person. At 6’1”, I only weigh 170. I wear the same suits to work every day, and they all fit me just fine. UNTIL I WENT VEGETARIAN. All of my pants and shorts no longer fit from last summer, and many of my suits are just a bit big on me now (thank goodness for belts). While I’m glad I was cutting fat, I don’t think I could contribute this weight loss completely to giving up meat. Instead, the main change came from everything I wasn’t ordering with meat. Instead of ordering the cheeseburger and fries or the meat lovers omelet and home fries, I was opting for a veggie burger with kale chips or a Greek omelet with a side of fruit. Most vegetarian meals tend to be holistically healthier at restaurants, and I even started to order on the healthier side because I started enjoying the taste of healthier options. Once you make a drastic change in your diet out of necessity, other habits start to form as well.
The biggest effect, however, I didn’t notice until I started eating meat again. I get up every morning at 5:30 to take care of my dog, and I had absolutely no trouble getting up that early while I was vegetarian. Once I had switched back to meat, I slept past my alarm four times. I would wake up, turn off my alarm, and somehow fall right back asleep. I also started noticing that I felt even more tired after lunch around 2:30. Meat definitely has been slowing me down.
Overall, going vegetarian proved to be an incredibly beneficial experience. Not only did I sleep better, but I could run farther and lift longer as well. I learned new ways of cooking, and started thinking more critically about what I order at restaurants. Now, a few weeks later, I still eat meat, but I’ve still kept with me a few tenants from a vegetarian lifestyle:
- You don’t need meat to have a full meal
- Just because you’re ordering a burger, doesn’t mean you need to order the fries on the side. Instead, get something healthy to compensate
- Cooking vegetarian is cheap. If you’re on a budget, beans, rice, and veggies are cheap and can make a lot of great meals
About the Series
The YPAL Get Healthy Blog Series, sponsored by Norton Healthcare, will focus on the health and well-being of our Louisville Young Professionals. This blog series will feature various young professional bloggers in our community sharing their stories on health, wellness, nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles. Want to write a Get Healthy Blog Post? Email Admin@YPAL.org for details!