Becoming a vegetarian is something I've contemplated for a long time. I've always wanted to try, but when push comes to shove, I end up falling back into my regular meat-centric routine due to the sheer convenience of it. Growing up in a meat-loving household, red meat, seafood, and poultry were always on the menu. But as I've become more aware of some of the very harmful effects eating animals can have on the environment, adopting a more plant-based diet has been weighing on my mind more than ever. While I still haven't pulled the trigger on giving up meat entirely, I decided that committing to a three-week trial period would be an excellent (and motivating) learning experience. Sure enough, as soon as I started, I found that being a vegetarian was much easier than I had anticipated.
Over the course of three weeks, I quit eating meat cold turkey and documented my findings as I went through the journey.
I started saving a lot of money on groceries
I was shocked at how much more affordable my weekly grocery bills became upon omitting meat from my cart. Buying budget-friendly beans and legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables brought down my costs exponentially. At Whole Foods, a one-pound bag of lentils costs $5.99 and yielded enough cooked legumes for about four meals. I also found that Trader Joe’s had tons of already-prepared meals and vegetarian options that made lazy weeknight meals a breeze when I didn’t feel like cooking something from scratch.
I discovered that there are many different types of vegetarians
Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one type of vegetarian. Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat but consume both eggs and dairy. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but exclude eggs, while ovo-vegetarians do the exact opposite of those above. Pescatarians, on the other hand, primarily eat a plant-based diet but include seafood and fish. Vegans exclude all animal products, including dairy and eggs, entirely. Lastly, there are flexitarians that mostly eat plant-based but consume meat and other animal products in moderation.
I ended up mainly eating vegan options
Though I opted for the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs, I did find that most of the products available at the supermarket were mostly targeted at vegans as opposed to vegetarians. Most of the time, I ended up eating more vegan options than not, which was a bonus. After all, milk and other dairy products have been shown to be the top sources of saturated fat in the American diet (and contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease) in addition to contributing to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
My digestive system was beyond thankful
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: number two. Yes, eating vegetarian helped my digestive system tremendously. One of the best outcomes of going vegetarian has been my much-happier digestive system that feels more regular than usual. Thanks to the addition of many fresh, fiber-rich foods, I feel much less bloated and have significantly fewer issues with acid reflux.
I discovered that some of the ingredients I loved were actually not vegetarian
Made with rennet (an enzyme from a calf’s stomach), Parmesan does not fall into the category of vegetarian-friendly foods. Unfortunately, other fan-favorite cheeses like Pecorino Romano, Manchego, Gruyère, and Gorgonzola don’t make the cut, as they also use rennet in the cheese-making process. Though collagen has skin and bone-health benefits, it’s made from animal products and isn’t vegetarian approved either. Additionally, candies like gummy bears and marshmallows contain gelatin, made using collagen. Lastly, some tortillas are made with lard (rendered animal fat), which also is a no-go. Who knew?
I realized I wasn’t eating enough protein
A few days in, I found myself feeling hungrier than usual and slightly jittery. Upon reviewing what I was eating in a day, I discovered that I wasn’t getting enough protein. Vegetarians typically rely on protein-rich foods like seitan, tofu, lentils, nuts, and beans as their primary nutrition sources. Though I integrated these ingredients into my diet, I found that I wasn’t eating enough of them. To put things into perspective, a cup of cooked beans has about 15 grams of protein; meanwhile, seitan contains about 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. As a rule of thumb, women should consume 52 grams of protein per day and men, 63 grams of protein per day. Fortunately, all this meant was that I got to eat more!
My subconscience started keeping me away from meat
My pre-vegetarian self would welcome a double-double animal-style burger from In-N-Out any day of the week. After a few days of my experiment, I found myself not as enticed by meat. This grew as the days went on—as my body began to feel energized and nourished by my new eating habits, I craved meat less and plant-based protein more.
I found myself craving more sweets than usual
Though I craved meat less, right around day three of my vegetarian journey, I found myself craving more sweets than usual. Typically, I gravitate towards savory snacks; suddenly, all I wanted was cookies and cake in the initial days of my vegetarian diet. This likely occurred due to my body—and its satiety response—acclimating to my new routine.
To counteract my newfound yearning for sugar, I found it helpful to look at how well-balanced my new meal regime was. I assessed whether I was getting the right nutrients or eating more refined carbohydrates instead of healthy whole grains or fruits and vegetables. I found that the easiest way to stave off these sugar cravings was to indulge in a bowl of healthy fruits like apples, bananas, and berries. Afterwards, I was perfectly satisfied.
It was surprisingly easier than I expected to find take-out options
Almost every restaurant that I ordered from had plenty of vegetarian options. If a dish that sounded appetizing wasn’t totally vegetarian, all I had to do was ask for a simple modification which they were more than willing to do. However, I realized that some seemingly vegetarian dishes like soups and stews were actually made with beef or chicken stock. And contrary to my more affordable grocery bills, I found that restaurants dedicated to healthy, vegetarian-forward food were pricier than other places (likely due to the quality of ingredients used). This led me to cook more at home instead of buying out.
I had to be more mindful of not overeating junk food just because it’s "plant-based"
Many delicious foods like french fries, bagels, chips, even some doughnuts are technically plant-based. How convenient! I went to town—and quickly realized I needed to be more mindful not to overindulge in them, despite how easy they are to track down (and live off of). I found that these less nutrient-dense items not only contradicted my health goals, but they left me foggy, sluggish, and hungry. I decided it was best to tackle junk food in moderation.
I was highly motivated by the positive impact I was making on the planet
Sure, I had cravings from my old eating habits, but I was quickly comforted by the positive impact eating less or no meat has on the environment, which led me to continue on my journey. An Oxford University study, published in the journal Climatic Change, shows that meat-eaters are responsible for almost twice as many dietary greenhouse-gas emissions per day as vegetarians and about two and a half times as many as vegans.
Committing to a vegetarian diet was much easier than I had anticipated. Moving forward, I’ll likely continue on a flexitarian diet, focused on eating less meat and more plant-based products.