Before I start, I’d like to just clarify that the title of this post, “How to be vegetarian” is largely misleading, because although I eat a largely plant based diet, I don’t really consider myself a “vegetarian”. I do eat fish on occasion. However, I’ve had quite a few messages and emails from a few different people asking for any tips or tricks they can try to have a more plant-based diet and I thought I would answer them here but writing a title “Tips and tricks for how to eat less meat and a more plant based diet” just seemed a bit too long. But basically this isn’t a post about how to turn vegetarian, this is a post about how to include more freshness into your life. Along with a few little tips and tricks that have worked for me.
When I started my yoga teacher training In January of 2015 (read about it here), we were told that since our training was taking place in a Buddhist Centre, we were to please refrain from bringing in meat and meat products into the training centre. (There was also an amazing cafe in the Buddhist Centre which made the most delicious veggie curries and dishes!). We trained for 3 weekends out of the month, so for those days – I didn’t eat any meat products definitely over breakfast and lunch time and in the evenings, it depended on what my lovely husband was cooking up for us. (Thanks husband).
Before this, as my personal yoga practice had deepened, I began to start thinking differently about meat. I was still eating it, but for the first time in my life (ever), I started really thinking about it. I will be completely honest, 5 years ago I actually remember having conversations with a Canadian Vegetarian friend of mine saying, “I know where meat comes from, I know what it is and how it gets to my plate, and it really doesn’t bother me.”
So for the first time in my life I had really started to question it all.
I actually remember sometime before Christmas 2014, I was tasked with going to collect the Christmas Pork from the butchers for a party of 15 people. Warren had given me his empty back-pack to put this giant Christmas pork in and off I went to the butchers. I remember feeling a bit weird when I walked into the shop, but I handed over the money and the butcher went into the back and brought out half a pig. Literally, half a pig. We made the transaction and I put the giant pork into my backpack. I stepped out the shop into the sunshine and swung the backpack over my shoulder.
As the giant half-pork in the empty backpack swung round and hit me in the back, I had the most overwhelming unnerving feeling. An actual fucking piggy-back. Right outside the butchers shop, in broad daylight, in front of everyone, I suddenly had to get this freaken thing off my back – so, on autopilot, I did a few wild-spider-web-esque-arm-slices combined with some very fancy footwork and a small yelp. Backpack plus pig-load dropped to the floor and I didn’t stick around to wait for the butchers no-doubted amused reaction.
I hurriedly (and with great embarrassment) picked up the backpack at arms length and rushed around the corner to phone Warren and tell him that, “I don’t actually think that I can carry this home!”. The backpack was literally too heavy for me to carry in my hand and I still needed to get some other groceries from the shop. After I had gotten off the phone with Warren (partly him consoling me, and partly me informing him that I have indeed lost my mind), I took off my scarf and made a barrier in the bag between me and the pork. I have no idea why this sticks out so much to me, but it does. I have never experienced such a strange physical/psychological reaction to meat before.
But yes, I did eat pork that Christmas. Sorry piggy.
My teacher training commenced then from January to March of the following year and weekends became relatively meat free. Even the dinners that Warren began cooking in the evenings were less meat based, after I had started expressing how I was feeling about it all. (Just “weird” in general) Sometime after my training finished, I decided on a whim that I would see what it felt like to do three days in a row in the week completely meat free and just observe how I felt.
The answer is, I felt amazing.
I had way more energy, my digestive system was functioning so well, my body felt cleaner and lighter and I just felt like an all-round amazing human* (*results may vary).
The main thing that I got out of those three days was becoming MUCH more observant and aware of the foods and types of foods that I was consuming. Even grabbing a sandwich from the local Pret suddenly involved a bit more than “Ham & Cheese” or “Bacon & Egg”, suddenly I had to explore different things. Menus at restaurants actually (strangely) started opening up for me, because I was suddenly looking in veggie sections that I would never usually have looked in! Food was actually a bit exciting again!
Since then I have adopted a largely plant based lifestyle. I don’t call it a plant-based diet because it’s not. In fact, you would probably be rather surprised (once you become really observant about what you eat) at how many more calories are in a tiny piece of meat than there are in several hundred other vegetables and grains. Again, this is not a diet and it’s not about calorie counting – it’s about the work the body needs to do in order to break it all down and the type of food that fits well with the body.
So for those interested in making some changes to your lifestyle eating patterns – here are some of my tips:
- Start with small manageable changes. For most people, eating a meat-heavy diet one day and then waking up and deciding to be a raw vegan the next, I’d say is pretty unsustainable. Make small manageable changes and monitor how your body responds. Adopt a meat-free day once a week, or meat free dinner times.
- Change your mindset. I think one of the hardest things to change can be because we have become so conditioned to thinking of meat as the ‘main attraction’ to a meal and the vegetables as a side dish. To take a line from Masterchef, “start hero-ing the vegetables”
- In line with the point above, experiment with meat-free recipes that mimic meat recipes. For example, this zucchini and pea burger is one of the first meals I made from Deliciously Ella and it really felt great because it “felt” like I was eating a hamburger (a traditionally ‘meat’ meal). There are loads of these from lentil bolognaise and lasagnes to nut-based “meat balls” and veggie rolls.
- Up the quinoa, lentil, legume intake. Protein: it’s a tricky one – the more you delve into it, the more you may see that we actually need way less “protein” than we have been conditioned to believe. Yes we need protein and amino acids for cellular repair but the amount we need is largely inflated. (Did somebody say, meat industry?!) And protein in some form or other exists in all foods. (As a rough idea: 26g of protein in 100g of black beans and 14g of protein in 100g lean beef). If you are interested in maintaining good nutrition especially if you are an athlete, this is a great site! (Thanks Rhianne)
- Bulk up your breakfast smoothies – I used to be a raging cereal-holic (I still am in theory, I mean, I would never turn down a good granola. But after seeing how much sugar goes into so many of them, I should probably rather just eat an ice-cream for breakfast. Anyway, I digress.) I have changed to include more smoothies in the morning and I love to bulk them up with protein powders (this is a great vegan one) and nuts and avocado to get all the feel good fats in there! Definitely whack in some spinach to your smoothies to get some good ol’ fashioned Popeye-iron. Simple Green Smoothies is a great resource for smoothies!
- Do your own research. Nobody knows your own body better than you. Do your research and figure out what works best for you and your needs. And if your choices help out a few animals and the environment along the way, added bonus. This is a really interesting TEDtalk (non-gory) on how the way in which we consume food has changed over the years – staking a more environmental and social angle.
- Get your partner on board. This can be EXTREMELY tricky to navigate with people who live (and cook) together who share different food/lifestyle goals. Have an honest and open conversation. Ask if there are areas where they would be interested in testing out with you or what they would be open to (one veggie supper a week?). If the partner won’t budge at all and you’d like to give it a go, then yes cooking will be slightly more tricky than before. But for example, making non-meat patties to freeze, makes burger night relatively easy; this patty for you, this patty for me. If you think about it, I’d say it’s usually only dinners that partners eat together, so maybe adopt a less meat approach to lunch and breakfast! A great way of convincing them though is point 3 above.
- Don’t beat yourself up. For anyone who is making these changes for health or dietary reasons, I think that it can be pretty difficult at first to navigate it all. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up or eat something that your mind is telling you, you shouldn’t. We all have those days where we fall off the band-wagon. Just jump back on. For anyone who is making the changes for health reasons – (creating an anti-inflammatory diet – Kris Carr is a great resource for recipes and inspiration)
- GET EXCITED! Feeling excited about the changes you are making is, I think is the best way to stay motivated. In London, there are loads of really great vegetarian, vegan and whole foods restaurants – so browse around your home town for the same. There are also great websites with amazing recipes that you can make at home – like Thug Kitchen or The Vegan Stoner – (love the doodles in this one!). I do think though, that once you see and feel the difference that these changes can make to your body – it will also be very motivating!
Warren and I eat meat free dinners together during the week. Often now, if say, we buy separate soups from Tescos, he will opt for a meat free one of his own accord. I eat plant based during the day, and Warren eats whatever he wants whilst at work. This works for us. At the moment, I have been trying to cut back on caffeine and dairy milk – (I still have coffee with milk over the weekends so it’s not out completely!), but I have been substituting it with rooibos tea and coconut + almond milk during the week. Although… just typing that last sentence thinking about that cup of coffee….
ok guys, coffee break.
NB: Please note, I am not a nutritional expert or dietician, the thoughts shared above are solely my own experience and a bit of the (tons of) research I’ve done online. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them! Either drop me a comment below or leave a comment on the Che Dyer Yoga Facebook Page. I’m interested in those who have clicked over to this post, do you already eat a largely plant based diet? Are you toying with the idea of making the change? What are your reasons?