Discussion: How to stay vegetarian once you’ve started

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There are probably more than a few people out there whose New Year’s Resolution was to go vegetarian or vegan. Well, that was ten days ago now and if you’re anything like me, the resolution is dissolving in the face of habit inertia and the difficulty of changing a lifestyle. So I thought I’d put together a few tips that helped me when I came over to the veggie side (we have cookies!)

1) Mouthfeel. I’ve seen many books on becoming a vegetarian and they have been full of sound nutritional advice but I don’t think I’ve seen any of them explain that how a food feels in your mouth is as important as how it tastes. If you’re used to chewing on meat, eating vegetables and pulses is not going to feel as satisfying. A veggie bean chilli is fine for one meal, but when that’s what you’re eating day in day out you need to find a way to add more chewiness to your meals. Step forward mushrooms, nuts, smoked and pressed tofus and tempeh. Keep adding these to your meals and you’ll find you won’t miss meat as much as you did. Which leads on to…

2) Meat substitutes. Veggie sausages. Quorn chicken pieces. Soy mince. These get looked down on by the foodies, veggie and otherwise. Somehow you’re not doing it properly if you’re eating something that resembles meat, you should be embracing the totality and purity of vegetables. Listening to various cooking and food programmes, I have come to the conclusion that there is no more fervent advocate of a puritan approach to vegetarianism than a meat eater. This is the phenomenon of meatsplaining, where a meat eater explains to the veggie just what they should be eating. Not everybody likes or wants meat substitutes and not everybody likes all of them, but no one should feel ashamed for eating them. The only standard for being a vegetarian is ‘Are you eating a bit of a dead animal?’ if the answer to that is ‘No’ then you’re a vegetarian. You set your own standards after that and you are answerable to no one except yourself. Which reminds me…

3) Everyone makes mistakes. Bits of dead animal get into all sorts of food you wouldn’t expect – cheese, sweets, desserts. Sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes you forget. Sometimes you don’t check. I went vegan for November. On the first workday in December it was someone’s birthday in the office and they bought some sweets and cakes in. I had eaten several rocky road bites (they were small) before I remembered that they contain marshmallow which contains gelatine. So not only had I stopped being vegan I’d stopped being vegetarian. Ooops. So what do you do in that situation? Stop eating them and remember not to do it again. Something I learned at a Slimming World class – Don’t let a bad meal become a bad day. Don’t let a bad day become a bad week. Don’t let a bad week make you give up altogether. Of course if someone deliberately gives you meat and doesn’t tell you that’s their guilt not yours. And if it gives you an upset stomach you are fully entitled to fart next to them. And that’s another thing…

4) Farting. It happens. If you’ve gone vegetarian the chances are you’re adding more fibre to your diet and your digestive system has to get used to not having meat to work on. This can produce gas and you may notice that you’re moving to some of the higher numbers on the Bristol Stool Scale. If you think things are moving too quickly as it were, try white bread, rice, potato and pasta as the carb content of meals to calm things down. Generally people are advised to drink more water. Mint and fennel teas can also help as they’re well-known herbal digestive remedies. In extreme cases try something like Colpermin or other over-the-counter remedies for irritable bowel syndrome. As your gut adjusts to your new diet you should find the symptoms decrease. Of course, if you get worried, go see your GP about it.

5) Feeling hungry. This is pretty normal. Your body is used to you eating in one way and now you’re presenting it with another. The eating patterns that used to work may not satisfy you any more. You might have to switch from three big meals a day to four or five smaller ones. I have found that I generally need a snack about 4pm most days. There is also some evidence that eating olive oil can help you feel full. Also, keep an eye on your nutrition. You don’t need to turn into a qualified dietitian, but try and make sure you’re covering the bases over the course of a week. In my opinion, it’s impossible to eat too many green leafy vegetables. Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t suddenly feel more alive and bursting with energy after going vegetarian. I’ve seen that promise made several times on various vegetarian forums. It never happened to me. It doesn’t happen to everyone and you’re not doing it wrong if it doesn’t happen to you.

6) Being the only vegetarian in the village. Some studies have put the number of vegetarians in the UK as about 10% of the population. That’s a sizeable minority, but it is a minority and it’s easy sometimes to feel alone in this new venture in your life. There are vegetarian and vegan groups that meet up regularly. The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society and Viva! all have groups listed on their webpages. If, like me, you’re not that into groups then there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan communities and forums on the internet where you can find advise and contact. Also, look out for vegetarian/vegan festivals -the biggest are Veg Fest but you can also find local ones out there as well.

That’s it for the advice. Good luck. Being vegetarian/vegan is a good thing to be for yourself, for animals and for the planet. It’s well worth persevering with and if you need advice or general pompom waving please ask in the comments. And enjoy it! It shouldn’t be a penance. It’s OK to laugh and have fun along the way.

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5 responses »

  1. The ‘what I actually do’ reminds me of a trip around sainsburys with a gluten/lactose/seafood intolerant since birth friend – obviously in his case, it’s less of a matter of choice – but I also remember being horrified the next day when a vegetarian friend harangued him about his diet, (bizarrely given veg and meat is about the only thing he can eat with impunity), telling him that was the reason he was allergic and he just wasn’t trying hard enough and she could fix him if he just ate what she told him and put up with feeling ill… I sometimes think diet has fallen into the same kind of category as religion and politics – much safer not to talk about it at all because there are loons on all sides, giving their side terrible press…

    Returning to the point, it’s 1 and 5 I think that causes me the most problems and I’ve rarely seen them addressed – not that I’m vegetarian, or attempting to be, just trying to reduce the amount of meat I eat and generally be a bit more nutritionally conscious. I need to look into some of the meat subsitutes I think.

    • Mouthfeel is vital. There were a few times before I went veggie that I’d make a batch of adzuki bean chilli (feeling virtuous) and put a few portions in the freezer for later. And never use them again because they just weren’t satisfying enough. Meat substitutes are a matter of personal taste, Quorn is ubiquitous and not everyone likes it (although it is very variable across the range), but there are other types out there that might be more suitable. I can recommend the Taifun brand Smoked Tofu – its nice and solid and chewy.

  2. *Titters at the farting*. It was really interesting reading this. It’s so long since I went veggie, and I didn’t like meat anyway, that I can’t remember what the issues were – apart from my grandmother annoying the hell out of me by going on and on and on about it and trying to get me to eat meat.

  3. I’m Australian & I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 + years. In those days it was very much a meat culture so I was the odd one . My friends tried, but they made me feel like an outsider by making it more of an issue than I did. If I went to a Barbeque they would buy horrible vegie sausages when I told them I’d be fine just eating bread & salad. When we would go to a restaurant ( usually Indian or Asian ) they would fuss about what I was going to eat & I’d be thinking stop making me the exception .. I can feed myself ! chill… Luckily things have changed & it’s not so “weird” to be a vego now

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