In day 3 of my week long fitness/health-centric blogs, I’m taking on vegetarianism. Vegetarians often get a bad rep. In movies they’re portrayed as granola munching, uber-sensitive, environmental activists that march with PETA and make scenes around those who dare to even dream of consuming a crumb of bacon. Well, that’s not entirely true! What you don’t hear is that there are as many different personality types in the vegetarian community as there are in any other subgroup or niche in our society. Don’t be afraid to go vegetarian. As I said with veganism, you’re going to get a lot of flack for choosing this healthy lifestyle. Prepare for your ‘coming out’ and denial of meat to garner unwanted attention, stares and lectures from family and friends.

There are many myths and tall tales associated with switching to a vegetarian diet. The main argument you’ll hear is that you’ll never get all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy. Not the case if you’re doing things right! There’s a big difference between being vegetarian and anorexic. One group eats, and they eat all day without the worry of consuming harmful chemicals or getting fat; the other, well, worries that eating will lead to weight gain and they purge or starve themselves. If you’re eating a wide range of vegetables and fruits, which are the closest thing you can get to true whole foods, you’ll get more vitamins and nutrients than the average person. It’s a bit of a game; can you eat a fruit or vegetable of every color each day? I call it ‘stoplight’ eating: you aim for something red, yellow and green and all of the colors in between.

Another myth is that you can’t build muscle without the protein you get from meat. Another tall tale, people. There are tons of healthy, fit, ripped and tone athletes who are vegetarian and vegan. Again, the key to muscle growth is good nutrition and that comes from whole foods. Personally, I’ve tried it all. I went vegetarian in 2008 when I was 5’3 and 170 lbs with a 36/37 inch waist. It didn’t take even a year before going vegetarian (and exercising, of course) had dramatically improved my health. I lost nearly 60 lbs, waist size went down to a 27/28. Not only that but my skin cleared up to give me an impressive glow, I didn’t need depression medication to keep my mood in check and I had an increase of energy, all by not consuming the hormones and harmful byproducts contained in meat. Point is, you will not waste away by going vegetarian. I’m no Hollywood star with rippling abs and all but I went from looking like the State Puff Marshmallow Man to looking lean with a noticeable V-shaped torso and the hint of emerging muscles and abs.

If you’re concerned about the environment, going vegetarian is an easy way to help cut your carbon footprint. The amount of carbon emissions coming from cows and the whole meat industry is ridiculous and yes, though you are one person not purchasing meat, you’ll still be making a great contribution to improving the planet’s eco system. Here’s another note about vegetarians and meat: you’ll probably be spending about the same in the grocery store. While you’ll be cutting out expensive meats, you’ll be increasing your uptake of fresh produce. Produce, of course, either needs to be frozen or the freshness of it will decrease and it could spoil quickly. So be prepared to have in mind what you want to cook for the week, buy just that produce and consider cooking those dishes all in one day and freezing what you don’t use.

If you’re starting out in your vegetarian journey, don’t rush the process. It is a process; you’ll be weening yourself off of meat (and hopefully sugar and other processed foods) and if you go at it too quickly, you’ll end up having a craving that’ll lead to you shoving other things you don’t need down your throat. If you like burgers, then stock up on veggie burgers. There are tons of options out there including the standard Boca and even some that are portabella mushroom base and taste rather meaty. If you’re a big fan of breakfast meats, there are vegetarian ‘meatless’ versions of sausage patties and links and bacon. They’ll take some getting used to but they’re a much healthier option than caving and eating the real thing. I suggest a gradual easing into vegetarianism. Don’t throw away the food you have in your freezer or fridge; that’s wasteful and stupid. Take a week or two and use it but as it’s used and eaten, don’t replace it with more meat, replace it with vegetarian options. Or, throw a party for your friends or family and let THEM feast on the meat while you quietly slip in your veggies. Another option that I chose: give your food away to someone who’ll use it. In this economy, we all need help. You giving someone some meat or the foods you no longer want (that are still good, mind you) will be a great act of kindness and charity.

Again, there’s no one set type or definition of vegetarian. If you want to be a casual vegetarian and only eat chicken or turkey, go for it. If you only want to eat meat when you’re out with your friends and family, go for it. Perhaps you choose to only eat meat on Fridays to celebrate the end of the work week, that’s okay! That means you’re still increasing your vegetable intake 6 other days of the week. If you want a bigger challenge, think about being a vegetarian and a vegan (I posted about going vegan on Monday). It’s the easiest way (I’ve found) to lose weight while not starving yourself. You’ll have a very clear and defined set of foods you can eat and what you can’t eat and so you’ll know if you over indulge, it’s more likely to cause you to spend more time on the toilet than it is crying over an added pound or two on the scale.

Follow me on Twitter @decaptain

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