I would encourage everybody who is interested in healthy eating to lose weight to first consider vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice.
I believe it’s the best way for eating healthy while losing weight and feeling fresh and full of energy!
It all starts by giving up meat, so let’s start there!
How to Give up Meat in Your Diet
Giving up meat, fish and poultry is something that is best done slowly. I know a lot of people who like the idea of going veggie, but never take the first step, because it seems too much to bite off in one go (excuse the pun!). Or they try it out, but quickly give up because it is too difficult to do in one fell swoop.
They look at me with admiration because they think it is a very self-sacrificing lifestyle, which I assure you it is absolutely not! If it was, I wouldn’t have survived almost all of my adult life as a vegetarian, because I like to enjoy my food!
Secret to Becoming a Vegetarian
Here’s the secret— being vegetarian is easy, when you know how, and when you are not doing it out of a feeling of obligation!
I would like to share with you my approach and ideas about this topic. They come from my own personal experience, not from an ideology. In this way, it is perhaps different to the approach of many veggies, who take a very ideological stance on this issue and an all-or-nothing approach, which many aspiring veggies find off-putting.
I believe that all change has to come from within, including a change diet. Human beings don’t like being lectured to, or being made feel guilty. We don’t like self-guilt trips either, which is why feeling we “should” go vegetarian never works in the longterm. Our hearts and souls have to be convinced as well!
What Doesn’t Work to Become Vegetarian?
Absolutist approaches don’t work. Announcing we are giving up meat and then sneaking some meat when no one is looking, is no way to live. But for some reason, new vegetarians find it difficult to admit that they still have cravings for meat and sometimes eat it. That’s okay. You are on a journey. You may even have relapses. Most people do. But hey, who’s keeping score?
My Approach to Eating Veg
So, my approach is that we really have to leave all this baggage aside. Otherwise, we are taking on too much. Food is a very primal, elemental thing. Food has emotional resonances for us, that remind us of how we were nurtured by our parents and of the tastes of our childhood.
Permanently changing what we eat, is a huge step and it can only be done as much, or as little, as our hearts and souls want us to change. If we try to run ahead of ourselves and let our rational minds, our ideology, or our guilt-feelings direct us, our vegetarian endeavour will fall apart.
I believe that you don’t really have to make a decision to go vegetarian if it seems too much to take on. Just go a little bit of the journey as you feel able, and the chances are, it will eventually lead to you becoming a vegetarian in time. But it will be a gradual, gentle change, that is sustainable for you. That is how it was for me.
My Veggie Journey
I grew up in a very traditional, conventional household. I don’t think I even met a single vegetarian in all my years growing up. In the upper-class, professional circles that my parents mixed in, vegetarianism would have been considered extremely bohemian. Something odd, suited to rebelling students, San Francisco hippies and lesbian feminists!
Lamb chops, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken, Sunday roast beef, turkey at Christmas — these were the staples of our diet. I can honestly say that a lentil never entered our kitchen larder, never mind a slab of tofu!
My earliest memories of not really enjoying all that meat, was when I was a teenager. Like most fully-fledged veggies, red meat was the first thing I stopped eating. I hated the thought of eating meat, and the blood in red meat reminded me what exactly it was. For a few more years, I continued to eat chicken, until educating myself about the conditions in chicken farms put me right off that too.
The next phase of my journey was as an occasional, fish-eating vegetarian. Usually, I ate fish when eating out, as it was often the only option.
And then, over time I stopped eating fish and found I was a fully-fledged vegetarian, without ever having decided to be! But my heart had decided actually—I just didn’t realise it at the time. I had simply followed my heart, which is the best way.
So, it doesn’t have to be instant and it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You can be ‘a little bit vegetarian’! That’s okay too. It’s certainly better for your health and for the health of our planet, if you only have six meat dinners a week, instead of seven. And then six can become five, as you get better at cooking….and five can become four…. and so on….
So here is my advice for would-be veggies, or those of you who are not yet committed, but would like to dabble….you’re welcome to the club, try it out and see how you like it!
- Don’t announce your decision. If you do, you’ll feel people are watching what you eat all the time. You could just say that you are “trying out” cutting down on meat. Then you won’t feel you have to live up to anything before you are ready.
- Try eating one vegetarian dinner a week and increase it when you feel like eating more.
- Learn the practicalities of this style of cooking, so you won’t be left longing for meat or for something really tasty. And make sure you will be properly nourished. The meat you are giving up has to be substituted for with other proteins.
- Think about what you are eating and if you find you have a distaste of the idea of meat, go with that feeling! Instead of repressing it, stop eating whatever you feel uncomfortable about.
- Fastina lente! Hasten slowly!
The Practicalities of Eating a Vegetarian Diet
- Find a really tasty meat substitute. See my tofu recipes on this page, which are as enticing as bacon sizzling in the pan. It’s a question of knowing how to cook tofu!
- Get a good, solid vegetarian cookbook that will teach you how to soak pulses and give you lots of basic recipes that don’t use meat. If you’ve never eaten lentil burgers and chickpea casseroles, you will need to read about them and all the other many possibilities that you can use instead of meat. If meat is all you have known all your life, you need to get a new source of knowledge to replace that. See my veggie recipes here to get started
- Learn how to read food labels and avoid hidden meat ingredients in bought food products. See my section on food labeling here.
- At the beginning, if you can’t cut out meat entirely, you may like to cut down on the amount of meat you eat with each meal. If you can’t give up meat completely, use it as a condiment, rather than as the main ingredient. For example, make a stir-fry with lots of vegetables and cashew nuts, with just a few thin slices of meat.
- Another important step in your journey will be to take responsibility for the meat you are eating. When meat comes in neat chloroform packs on a supermarket shelf, we can forget what it is and where it comes from. For many people, thinking about this and taking responsibility for what happens to an animal before it ends up on your plate, makes vegetarianism a choice that is heartfelt and lasting. (While you are still eating meat, do buy organic, as it is the only method of farming that guarantees that the welfare of the animals is protected.)
- Above all, enjoy going veggie! Puritanism and self-sacrificing don’t work as a permanent lifestyle. So, create dishes that you love and enjoy and feel the happiness of knowing that you are healthier by eating less meat than you used to. You are also helping the planet because meat production is wasteful in energy terms and produces harmful greenhouse gases. You are also helping hungry people in poorer parts of the world. Meat production is an inefficient use of land. There isn’t enough land to produce meat for all the planet’s population. Every vegetarian meal we eat, frees up land for someone else’s dinner.