Over the past few days I’ve dedicated a few blog posts to the world of vegetarianism. I dealt with what being a vegetarian is and isn’t with my post “A Crash Course for Skeptics and Beginners” and then tackled the trickiest meal of the day with “Rethinking Breakfast”. At first, the next logical piece in the puzzle seemed to be a post about how to lunch (which is still in the works) but then it came to me: there’s another hurdle other than meal planning that keeps people out of the vegetarian and vegan world: staying committed.
People always ask me, when I choose to openly share that I’m vegetarian, if it’s hard. It’s the number one question other than “why?” and is usually followed with a stern declaration, “Well, I could never do it. Oh no, no way, I could never give up meat!” So when discussing or dealing with being or remaining a vegetarian, the biggest issue many people run into is fighting their cravings and temptations for “bad” food. Let’s say you’ve never tried being a vegetarian before. You don’t even know a vegetarian and you’re a bit afraid to ask around your circle of connections and friends because of what people will think. You believe they’ll think you’re on a diet, you think you’re fat, you want to starve yourself, you’re going to turn into a granola popping, hemp milk chugging hippie. Let’s face it: being an “out” vegetarian just isn’t what it’s made out to be. So what’s a girl or guy to do?
Well, here’s the first problem: you try to go vegetarian on the down low, in secret. This is a major misstep on your part. Who is going to hold you accountable? Who is going to help you stay on track and remind you of your commitment to a healthier eating style? Becoming a vegetarian in secret without informing anyone is like trying to move to a different state without letting your co-workers, friends and family know – they’ll notice you’re a bit ‘off’ and that something is going on with you and by the end you’ll realize you needed their help, and or them to be in the know, to help you make that move. So the first step in avoiding jumping ship is simply “outing” yourself as a vegetarian. Do it. It’s not easy, it’s a bit hard but if you want to have others supporting you, they need to know what you’re doing.
Here are other ways to avoid “bad” cravings and temptations:
1. Get real. I really despise books and experts that preach extremism. They want you to eat healthy by encouraging unhealthy habits! You need to accept that few people declare they are vegetarian and stay that way for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s possible and perhaps to some it’s even ideal, but is it necessary? No. Understand, and accept, that there are going to be days when you simply have a little meat in one meal or so. If you’re invited to dinner at your parents or a birthday party, are you seriously going to be “that” person who makes everyone else uncomfortable by lecturing them on why you’re eating nothing because there’s meat involved or you’re afraid the meat contaminated the vegetables?
Deal with it: Try to go most of the weak being vegetarian eating “whole” foods. Eat fresh produce, frozen vegetables, fruit. Allow yourself a cheat meal during the weekend or if that’s too restricting or too little, allow yourself an entire cheat day to eat what you want, within reason. If you avoid some of the food you crave like say a burger, or steak, then the moment you “accidentally” go off course, you’ll never go back on. You’ll be such in a state of bliss and bathed in euphoria from caving into your craving that you’ll always seek that feeling and going back to the “extreme” will never be appealing. Allow yourself to cheat, within reason, occasionally and it’ll be easier to upkeep your healthy eating lifestyle.
2. Fight fire with a little flame. So, you crave a burger. You want a whopper, or a Big Mac. You want fries, you crave pizza. All of these things seem very unhealthy and not so vegetarian. Or … are they? One way to fight temptation is to satisfy it with something healthy and a bit less damaging to your waistline. So, you crave pizza, huh? Fine, get a slice of pizza. Find a place that sells it by the slice and instead of getting one topped with tons of greasy meats, get one loaded with vegetables. Want a Big Mac? Google a recipe for one, serve yourself a veggie burger and simply find a way to make the Big Mac sauce using healthy ingredients.
Deal with it: In other words, take your temptation and satisfy them with imitation. I think that being vegetarian can make you a better cook. Why? Because to stick to your healthy eating lifestyle, you’ll need to do your research and experimenting in the kitchen to find healthy alternatives to the “bad” food that’s been dragging you down. The more cooking you do, the more money you’ll save by not having to satisfy cravings with fast food. The more money you save, the more calories you save because most of the food you buy prepared for you is loaded with unnecessary calories and fat. You shouldn’t ignore your cravings – satisfy them! Just satisfy them within reason with a healthy alternative. If you don’t, believe me, you’ll cave to temptations and will find it harder and harder to get back on track.
3. The Sweet Escape. For many people, it’ll take 2 or 3 weeks of eating in a vegetarian way for your taste buds to change and click with your decision to give up meat. Meat will surprisingly not be as satisfying and will, in many ways, leave you feeling a bit sick. The one set of cravings that aren’t as easy to change however is your cravings for sweets. You want your cake, ice cream, sugar and everything in between, too. And guess what – you can have it. Just go vegan. Some of you may have done a double take. Understand that what makes cakes and cookies mostly unhealthy is the ingredients – eggs, tons of sugar, globs of vegetable oil. You could be a great vegetarian with a wide waist due just to what you’re treating yourself to during dessert.
Deal with it: Anything you want dessert-wise can be made over in a vegan way. Why would you want to go vegan in your deserts? Well, because that means you wont be consuming dairy and dairy is really where all the fat and calories comes from. Vegan desserts are far more easier to make and healthier for you than their counterparts. Do you know you can, in some recipes, substitute applesauce or flaxseed for eggs? Or substitute wheat flour for half of the white flour in recipes without much of a difference? How about using fresh fruit in your recipes rather than whatever the heck is contained in some boxed mixes? Believe me, whatever you crave, there’s a vegan way to make it with far fewer calories and fat. Do you like ice cream? Ever tried a non-dairy ice cream? So’ Delicious makes some and you honestly can’t tell the difference.
4. Do you see what I see? The overall missing link in sticking to a vegetarian lifestyle as opposed to joining the masses of non-believers is simply perception. Do you want to conquer your cravings? Then you need 20/20 vision when it comes to your food. Look at pizza. To a non-vegan or vegetarian, it’s a delicious, drool-inducing smelling, tasty treat. To a vegetarian however a pizza can be a slab of solidified fat known as “cheese” caked onto a processed sheet of baked white flour topped with morsels of fattening meats. In other words, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Deal with it: Educate yourself about what you’re eating. People are afraid of reading the nutritional labels because of what it often reveals: you aren’t really eating food, you’re eating a collection of chemicals and science experiments molded into looking like, and imitating foods. If what you’re consuming has an ingredients list that reads like a high school science fair project, you should be wary of what it’s doing to your body. Seek and eat foods with as few ingredients as possible. Why? Because those are whole and they probably have more nutrients for you than boxed or “easy to prepare” kits sold in grocery stores. Need convincing not to eat meat? Just read books like “Skinny Bitch” and “Skinny Bastard” or Google “how are hot dogs made” and you’ll be scared vegetarian in no time.
5. Don’t listen to haters. Remember the ’80s drug commercials where the bully would try to convince the little kid to smoke dope and the little kid would channel his inner Nancy Reagan and say no? Well, you need to get tough. Being a vegetarian means you’re constantly going to be faced and confronted by people telling you that you’re wrong, that being vegetarian is unhealthy, that “give it a few days … you’ll quit”. Often times, being vegetarian means you’ll be going at something alone. It’s okay, you’re tough, you’ll manage. Read any magazine, book, commercial cooking show – they’ll do their best to convince you that eating meat is necessary “or else”. Not the case at all. Most of these media outlets, and even government studies, tooting the necessity to eat meat are funded by the meat or dairy industries! No surprise there. There are definitely healthy people from all walks of life, young and old, athletes and blue collar types, who are vegetarian and just as healthy (but usually healthier) than those who have a meat-heavy diet.
Deal with it: Be courteous, listen, but ignore haters. I suggest you read up on being a vegetarian. Learn what foods you need since you aren’t eating meat or dairy, what different vegetables will offer you in terms of health benefits, what exercises you can do to stay healthy and what’s wrong with some of your favorite foods and how you can possible make them healthier. Part of being unhealthy, or a bad vegetarian, comes from a lack of personal knowledge and investment. Learn about being a vegetarian! If you go at it blindly with no idea what you’re doing or why you’re eating what you’re eating, you’ll make foolish decisions based on what’s tempting you rather than what’s good for you.
Is being a vegetarian easy? Yes and no. At the start, you’ll have to withdraw yourself from your temptations and cravings for fat, sugar and calorie-loaded foods. After a month or two of eating in a vegetarian manner, it’ll be easy. You’ll even be able to eat out with a group of friends or family without being tossed into a nervous fit over sticking to your eating plan. Educate yourself; don’t give in to peer pressure; learn how to cook for yourself and every so often, indulge – this is how you’ll go from experimenting with vegetarian ways to being a card carrying lifetime member.
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