OPINION: What I Learned from Being Vegetarian for a Week

Crystal Jackson

Photo byFarhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash

My foray into a vegetarian lifestyle wasn’t a whim. I was attending a yoga teacher training retreat, and I was well-aware that the menu for the retreat was entirely vegetarian. As a lifelong omnivore, I had concerns.

I was sure that I would, at some point, go rogue and sneak off to the nearest town to satisfy my appetite for my normal fare. I already knew exactly where I could find the nearest steakhouse, and I was prepared to ditch the vegetarian lifestyle quickly if I found it didn’t work for me. Instead, I learned a few valuable lessons — and didn’t go rogue even one time.

Protein: A Major Dietary Concern

Speak to a vegetarian or vegan and they can tell you just how often they get asked about their protein consumption. Most people seem to have a surprising preoccupation with protein whether or not they take particular care with their nutrition. In fact, protein was one of my primary concerns about the diet, but my concern was specifically related to a medical condition I have that necessitates a diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates.

I found that I was able to get adequate protein throughout the week I was a vegetarian. Some of the highest sources of protein include lentils, beans, yogurt, tofu, cheese, nuts, eggs, and seeds. The meals during the week included protein — just not in meat form.

To Eat — Or Not to Eat — Meat

I honestly thought I was going to have massive craving for bacon or steak or some other meat-based entree. Yet, I found that the meals at the retreat were more filling. I didn’t get hungry between meals, and I didn’t actually miss eating meat. Most of the time, I didn’t really notice that it was missing from my diet because there were other foods available to try.

When I came home, I found that I missed the vegetarian meals. They were healthy, delicious, and — best of all — cooked by someone else. As a single mother raising two picky eaters, it isn’t practical for me to serve exclusively vegetarian meals. While some might say that children will eat what they’re served, these people clearly haven’t met my children or raised children on the spectrum. I didn’t remain vegetarian, but I do prefer to include more meat-free nights throughout my week because I enjoy eating that way and know it’s better for the environment to cut back my average meat consumption.

The Surprising Benefit of Vegetarianism

This retreat served a single meal for the group and didn’t offer a selection of options. Because I knew that I could eat what the group was eating or figure out something myself, it made me bold in my food choices. I have sometimes been guilty of being far too picky myself. When presented with new foods I hadn’t tried before, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few new favorites.

Sometimes, we have an idea that we won’t like something, and we don’t try it because we’re adults and don’t have to do it. During the retreat, Indian and Thai recipes were primarily featured. To be honest, I didn’t think I could eat either one because I had it fixed in my mind that these foods were far too spicy for my palate. I have a sensitivity to hot spices, and I have a tendency to avoid food that I’m not sure I can eat with a “better safe than sorry” mentality. Yet, I found the recipes to be delicious and perfectly spiced without being hot or peppery.

Trying to eat more vegetarian meals just might push me out of my dietary comfort zone and challenge me to try new things. It also helps me think about how to feature vegetables as the main course of the meal and to look at meat as more of a side item with smaller servings. It’s certainly challenged me to think more creatively, and I came home from the retreat with several new recipes.

Tofu isn’t Terrible, Really

I have had one prior experience with tofu, and I was sure that it was best not to be repeated. Yet, tofu — like anything else — depends entirely on how it’s cooked. I’ve known people who could ruin a perfectly good steak by cooking it wrong, and tofu is no different. While I can’t say I’ll crave it, I actually enjoyed it in the recipe I tried and would consider making it myself in the future.

I fully expected to hate tofu and only eat a small amount to be polite, but I was wrong. I found I was wrong about a lot of things. I didn’t get a terrible craving for bacon midway through the week and eating a vegetarian diet didn’t make me feel like I was starving to death. Instead, I enjoyed trying new things, and I missed it when I got back to the hustle and bustle of my daily life.

Closing Thoughts on My Vegetarian Adventure

My adventure as a temporary vegetarian taught me to try new things, eat more creatively, and consider a way to eat differently to contribute to a better environment. I learned to eat more intuitively. I didn’t find myself snacking when I felt bored. I also didn’t get that hungry feeling that sometimes happens after I’ve eaten an insufficient meal.

So often, we develop attitudes around particular diets simply because of the way they are presented to us. In truth, most of my experiences with vegetarians and vegans has been negative, harsh, and judgmental. I’m not a fan of food shaming in any context, and I don’t need another adult to tell me how they think I should nourish my own body.

Alternative diets are rarely presented in a positive light and so often come across as both judgment and unsolicited advice. These experiences influenced my attitude at the thought of having to be meat-free for a week. Yet, it didn’t kill me, and I even found myself enjoying it. I wasn’t shamed into it. I was simply presented with an option to try it, and I did.

My week on a vegetarian diet didn’t miraculously turn me into a vegetarian whose job is to go convert other people to the lifestyle. It did, however, give me a few new recipes that I can make at home. These recipes taste good, are healthy, and could contribute to a healthier planet, too.

At the end of the day, I know that minding my own business is just as important as eating more mindfully, so this isn’t a sales pitch for you to change the way you eat. I merely offer my insights into a different way of dining — and invite you to eat in whatever way works best for you.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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