Ever wonder what it’s like to be vegetarian? I do. I know my body would feel great, my digestive system would work as it’s supposed to, and my energy levels would skyrocket. But I wonder how it would affect my daily decisions, my social life, and my relationships.
In order to gain some insight on the changes associated with “turning vegetarian,” I turned to one of my best friends who made the switch herself earlier this year.
I’ve known my friend Kristen since we were in second grade. I’ll never forget the first time Kristen came over to play at my house when we were but 7 or 8 years old. Kristen’s mom wanted to meet my mom before leaving her at my house. When my mom and I answered the door, our mothers instantly recognized each other from high school. As they began to reminisce about conversations they had at West Tech, Kristen and I went inside and started working on some make-believe game or coloring books.
Flashing forward almost 20 years, Kristen now works as a nurse and is getting ready to marry her fiancé, Matt. Kristen and Matt live together and made a joint decision in January to develop a vegetarian lifestyle.
Their timing was challenging, however, as they had plans to tear up and renovate their kitchen before their wedding. They knew they would be cooking at home a lot more, and not having a kitchen would make their lifestyle change more…interesting. It worked out, though, and today they couldn’t be happier with their decision.
Kristen is a very down-to-earth person and has great insight on her life. She is very disciplined and adept at handling social pressures. I am so grateful that Kristen took the time to answer some questions about being vegetarian so that we can all learn from her knowledge and experience.
Here is Kristen’s story:
Rachael: When did you decide to go the vegan/vegetarian route?
Kristen: I decided to become vegan/vegetarian at the end of January this year, so I’m going on 7 months of it. Yikes, I didn’t realize that!
R: Why did you decide to become vegetarian?
K: I hadn’t really considered it until watching this documentary called, Forks Over Knives. It was winter in Cleveland. I was bored and love documentaries, so I watched it. [The movie] didn’t have much to do with the mistreatment of animals as it did with the correlation between cancer and heart disease and eating animal products.
Being a nurse, I found this extremely interesting. I have to give so many meds at work, and most of them could be completely eliminated if people would change their diet. For Americans though, it’s so much easier to just pop a few pills everyday than it is to change your diet and lifestyle – pretty sad.
R: How did becoming vegetarian initially impact your social life?
K: Initially, my social life was not impacted. [Matt and I] hadn’t been going out to eat much, and I was cooking at home a lot. Since vegans/vegetarians can still drink beer, I knew I would be just fine.
I do remember that a friend invited us over for dinner when we had just started doing it. We felt weird letting her know that we had gone vegan. We ended up telling her, and she made the potatoes with olive oil instead of butter and a big salad to go along with the chicken. That was super nice of her, but we still felt like losers.
R: How did becoming vegetarian impact your home life and relationships?
K: As far as home life, Matt and I are both doing it and we don’t have to worry about anyone else, so it’s super easy! It makes such a huge difference when you have a partner in crime.
R: How do you feel about the phrase “becoming vegetarian” or how do you feel about being called “a vegetarian”? Do the labels impact you at all?
K: When I hear the term “becoming vegetarian” it honestly makes me feel weird. I think I will feel weird until I’ve done it for years. It’s like being sober or something. People assume if you’ve only done it for a short period of time, you’ll “slip back into your old ways” or something.
The label makes me feel funny for sure. I’m not one to run around telling everyone. And if we go to a restaurant, I’m not going to request special preparations to avoid butter or things like that. If I have [butter] once in a while, it won’t kill me.
It’s hard with family too. Matt and I both come from old school “meat and potato” families who think it’s insane to not eat meat. They make comments sometimes that make me feel uncomfortable especially when we are out to eat. My mom will immediately tell the server that I’m a vegan, and I can’t stand that. I don’t want to be that annoying pain in the ass at a restaurant – mostly because I don’t want my food to be spat upon!
R: What new foods or recipes have you discovered?
K: I have discovered a million new foods, recipes, and ways to prepare things. For example, if you want a low fat dish with mushrooms, cook them first and use the mushroom juices instead of oils and butter. It’s been very hard without a proper kitchen!
If I have to work or can’t cook for Matt, I have to make sure he has something easy to eat so he doesn’t waste away. Amy’s brand is awesome. They make frozen wraps, burritos, and cheese-free pizzas. I also find myself going to the grocery store 2-3 times a week because most of the stuff we eat goes bad quickly. That is annoying for sure. We started a garden but that will only help for a short time.
R: Do you feel different than before you committed to being a vegetarian? Are there notable changes in your body or in your thinking?
K: Another reason I wanted to go vegan is to lose a couple pounds. Although that has not happened (mostly because you eat a lot more carbs when meat is not an option), I feel much better. After eating a large vegan meal, you don’t have that lethargic bloated feeling that you would after eating meats and cheeses. Probably because there is so much fiber in a vegan diet that it all just goes right through. Meat is super hard for our bodies to digest. I’m much more “regular” these days. It’s the bees knees.
R: Do you think you’ll ever “go back” or eat meat again?
K: I don’t think I will. We have been eating fish more frequently because we decided we love it and don’t want to give it up entirely, mostly for just special occasions or random weekends here and there. Matt has been more lax with dairy – he’ll have a regular piece of pizza with cheese occasionally. He needs it though, he’s lost so much weight from this diet and working on the kitchen like a mad man. I have allowed myself free passes for vacation, like a nice bowl of clam chowder or lobster bisque (clearly filled with milk or cream). I definitely pay for it afterwards though.
My sweet tooth is getting better. I was only allowing myself the allotted “>72%” dark chocolate, and I hate dark chocolate, so I just stopped eating sweets for the most part. Snacking is hard, though. I love popcorn and pretzels with hummus. Tommy (my little bro) will bring me eggs from his farm that he works at in exchange for a haircut every once in a while. We will eat those, but I only eat the whites. I don’t miss meat in the least.
R: Has being vegetarian led you to embark on other lifestyle changes?
K: Other lifestyle changes haven’t really happened, except the extra trips to the grocery store. I still work out and do everything else I did before.
R: What advice do you have for an aspiring or struggling vegetarian?
K: For aspiring vegetation/vegans, I definitely recommend watching Forks Over Knives and The Gerson Miracle. They explain the benefits of a plant based diet in a way that makes you feel like you’re doing it for yourself and your health, and not because you’re an animal loving hippy (which I totally am at heart). It’s just the way to go! And like I said before, it’s much easier if everyone in your house is on board.
A big thank you to Kristen for sharing her story! I learned that switching to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can be challenging sometimes at restaurants and around friends, but if you work toward that lifestyle with someone else, it’s much easier. Great advice!
Do you have any other tips for aspiring vegetarians? Please share your insights and lessons-learned using the comment box below.