Most of them weren’t even about my physical health.
Anyone who’s known me very long — whether that’s personally or only through my writing — also knows I’m not really into restricting myself just for the sake of it. This is especially the case when it comes to eating. I love food. My husband loves food. Watching my weight and taking care of myself from a health standpoint are very important to me, but food and cooking remain big parts of how I bond with others and celebrate life.
In other words, super strict diets aren’t really my jam, but healthy limits are totally doable — a great way to stay on top of my health without making myself miserable. That said, you’ll probably never see me become a full-on vegetarian, but I’ve come to love the meatless/pescatarian Fridays we do every week for the different ways they’ve improved my life. The following are just a few examples.
1. I finally broke out of my menu rut.
You’d think someone who actually enjoys cooking would never wind up stuck in a rut as far as what to serve, but I assure you it happens to the best of us. I earn my full-time living as a writer working strictly out of my home, so making sure there’s a decent meal on the table for my family every night is easier for me than most.
Life still gets in the way sometimes though. I often get prohibitively busy with work. I also have days when I’m just plain not at my most energetic or enthusiastic. At times like those, I just don’t feel particularly creative when it comes to cooking, so I fall back on the same old staples — dishes that are easy to make and that I know everyone will be happy to eat, even if we “just” had it not that long ago. If that goes on for very long though, ruts are inevitable. I hate ruts.
Adding a meatless/pescatarian day to our rotation every week actually forced me to start thinking outside the box more often whether I was feeling it or not. Planning for that one day a week that can’t revolve around beef, or chicken, or pork for a change turned regular trips to the seafood counter or the vegetarian aisle into a necessity. It encouraged me to seek out and learn about new ways to prepare the things I bought as well.
It wasn’t long before I’d fully rediscovered how much I love salmon, and shrimp, and hummus, and veggie burgers. I fell in love with eggs and learned how to make frittatas, as well as the world’s best omelets. I discovered incredible new pasta dishes that likely never would have been on my radar if I wasn’t looking for a way to take the meat out of the equation (e.g. pasta puttanesca and cacio e pepe). I have my meatless Fridays to thank for all of that.
2. I actually made friends with discipline.
You may have noticed that I said we do Meatless Friday instead of Meatless Monday like the rest of the free world. That wasn’t a mistake or one of my brain farts (or at least not this time). Our meatless days are actually something that started about seven or eight years ago when I suddenly found myself exploring Catholicism. I was really at a low point in life for a lot of reasons, and getting back in touch with my spiritual side played a large role in helping me find some meaning in life again.
Now… I’m a relatively progressive person, so I didn’t vibe well with everything about Catholicism. In fact, my progressiveness eventually meant I never made it all the way to officially joining the church as I’d originally planned, but a lot of the practices I picked up back then remain part of my spiritual life because they continue to be helpful to me. Among other things, I do observe Lent each year. I also abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and I do still do it largely for spiritual reasons. I just do it every Friday, as opposed to only during Lent.
Prior to actually giving this more structured approach to my personal spirituality a chance, I saw zero merit in any sort of self-discipline. I did what I wanted, when I wanted if I wanted, so it wasn’t surprising that my life became a complete shambles after a while. However, choosing to add some structure to my years, months, and days in a way that worked for me showed me that discipline didn’t have to be a dirty word.
In fact, it made me better, and it made my life better. Giving up something for Lent every year— especially if it was something bad for me — often made me realize I was actually happier without whatever it was. Not eating meat even one day a week did remind me to stop and think about what I was putting in my body on a regular basis. I eventually learned how to develop healthy routines and how to actually finish things that I start as a result. My life hasn’t been the same since, and that’s definitely a good thing.
3. I started eating better in general.
Much like temporarily abstaining from certain things for spiritual reasons taught me I didn’t need those things to the extent I thought I did, having regular meatless days reframed the way I viewed meat itself. Like a lot of die-hard meat-eaters, I used to see meat as the essential component that made a meal complete. If I ever sat down and only ate a salad or something meatless, it was usually because I was dieting or something.
I may have started doing meatless days as a way to become healthier spiritually, but it wasn’t long before I noticed I actually felt better physically and mentally as well. The great majority of the things I served on Fridays were lighter fare — fish or healthy meat alternatives actually marketed toward vegetarians/vegans. Lighter main courses naturally go better with lighter side dishes and plenty of fresh produce, so it wasn’t long before I was eating significantly more healthfully on Fridays than I was any other day of the week.
The healthier you eat, the healthier you want to eat. After a while, I realized I often craved things like salads, tuna wraps, sourdough toast with hummus, and a lot of the other things I started eating because of my Fridays instead of just chips and junk all the time. I noticed I felt significantly better on and immediately following Fridays — less bloated, more alert, more energetic, and better rested.
I wanted to feel that way more of the time, so I gradually started making better decisions about how I fed myself and my family every other day of the week. I started buying better quality meat that was grass-fed, hormone-free, and humanely raised — especially once I realized it tastes significantly better. I signed us up for a local CSA program and made fresh vegetables a much bigger part of our diets.
At this point, I’ve been doing Meatless Fridays (as well as making healthier lifestyle decisions in general) for several years running, and it’s made an amazing difference in my quality of life. I definitely feel better. Chronic issues I’ve struggled with my whole life — like clinical depression, early-onset arthritis, and allergies — are significantly easier to manage now.
I have more energy and my focus is better too. I used to think people who actually cared about their health were uptight sticks-in-the-mud, but now I realize… nah. They’re just into not feeling like hot, fresh garbage all the time. I can dig it.
4. It made me a lot more mindful of my choices.
Experiencing the personal benefits that came with adding a meatless day to my menu rotation eventually made me want to learn more about why everyone else does it, so I started doing my homework.
I realized I was feeling better because I was consuming a lot more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as a lot less fat, sugar, and preservatives. (Apparently, bodies are pretty into that.) I also became more fully aware that my better choices were benefiting the rest of the planet in some pretty cool ways too.
The person I was in my youth didn’t even care about herself, so expecting her to care about the planet or the rest of humanity was a pretty tall order. I still wouldn’t describe myself as a humanitarian by any stretch of the imagination, but I would say I try to have an impact that’s far more positive than negative.
When I can’t help, I at least try to avoid making matters worse, so I actually think about the choices I make these days. That’s something I’m proud of, and it makes me feel good about myself.
Like a lot of the better decisions I’ve made about how I live in recent years, going meatless once a week started out as something to try “just because”, but it eventually became so much more. No one was more surprised by that than I was, but I’ve learned by now to just accept such things and be grateful. They’re part of what makes life beautiful.