The Complete Guide to Going Vegetarian

Happy Wednesday from your resident veg! If you didn’t already know – I’m a proud vegetarian inching my way to complete veganism. (Insert joke about how do you know if someone is a vegetarian – they’ll tell you – here.)

I started phasing out animal products for health reasons – endometriosis to be exact, but knowing what I do now I would 100% stay vegetarian even if I knew that my endometriosis was completely healed and I wouldn’t be negatively impacted in any way.

Going vegetarian wasn’t easy for me, I was “mostly” vegetarian for nearly four months before I finally committed, and even after that I cheated maybe once a month. Now I’ve only had one unintentional slip up since the new year (that I know of) and I’ve even helped a few of my friends cut meat out of their diets, too.

When I was looking for resources on how to go vegetarian I had a lot of trouble finding blogs or videos that didn’t shame me for not being vegetarian already or feel preachy. In the year since I started my research I’ve since found a few favorite vloggers and bloggers that are sweet and never preachy – but I didn’t think it’d hurt to add one more positive resource on making the switch to the interwebs.

vegetaria

Know why you’re going vegetarian

Because people are going to ask. A lot. You might be choosing to make the switch for health reasons, or maybe you’re an animal lover and want to stop contributing to their suffering. No matter your reason, keep it in mind when you’re craving meat or considering cheating and especially when people are demanding and explanation. (Not that you owe them one, but they’ll all want one.)

If you just want to make the switch and don’t have a solid reason, here are some great benefits of switching to consider:

Health benefits of going vegetarian

  • Meat isn’t good for you.  That’s right, the food pyramid we all learned about in elementary school was wrong. Studies have shown that you’re four times more likely to die of cancer if you eat an animal-protien rich diet in your middle age than if you avoid animal products. Meat is also high in hormones, and consuming hormones produced by any other body than your own can have terrible consequences such as endometriosis, cancers, and other illnesses.
  • Your skin will improve. A lot of people switch to vegetarianism to clear up acne and redness. Compared to methods such as birth control (which pumps your body full of hormones and messes with your natural balance) switching to vegetarianism is a far less extreme option and many people get flawless results.  *I couldn’t find an .edu or .org source on this, but do have personal experience of myself and my veg friends!*
  • You decrease the likelihood of heart disease. Vegetarian diets are naturally a lot lower in fat than that of a meat-eaters, and that lack of fat will keep your heart healthy and significantly decrease the likelihood of getting heart disease. In fact, you’re 24% less likely to die of heart disease if you’re a vegetarian.

Ethical benefits of going vegetarian

  • You’ll no longer be contributing to the abuse and slaughter of innocent animals. There is a huge disconnect where most people don’t see their hunk of meat and think of it as once being a living and breathing thing, much less a living and breathing thing that desperately wanted to live. Unfortunately, to eat meat that means an animal had to die and if you bought that meat at a grocery store it’s likely than animal was brutally murdered after a life of torture.
  • You’ll help conserve water. It takes a lot of water to produce even a single steak, and on average vegans use 600 less gallons every single day than meat eaters do to sustain their diet. Plant based protein sources are much more water friendly – so next time you’re in a drought instead of cutting a minute off your shower, try a Meatless Monday instead.
  • You’ll be helping the ozone. Fun fact: cow farts are to blame for a lot of the methane that is klling our ozone layer and humans are to blame for artificially inflating the cow population to fuel the meat and dairy industry.

How to stop eating meat

There are going to be people who say things like, “Well if you really cared about helping the animals you would quit cold turkey.” or If you slip up you must not be a ~*ReAl*~ vegetarian, anyway.”

What I say is: Everyone’s journey is different and some people find giving up meat easier than others.

For me, it took a few months and that was OK.

Should you quit all at once or little by little?

This one is totally up to you. I tried to quit all at once more than once and it just didn’t work out for me. I’d do good for a week and then I’d smell a roommate cooking turkey or a friend would ask if I wanted to get sushi and I’d slip.

Other people make the decision to quit and never touch a piece of meat again.

I do think everyone should try to go cold turkey because the worst that can happen is that you’ll slip up.

If you find that, like me, you can’t just quit then you can start phasing things out little by little. This is what it looked like for me:

  1. Adios, red meat! No more steak, burgers, or tacos for this girl.
  2. Sayanara, chicken! Ligaments and chicken skin always grossed me out, so this one wasn’t hard.
  3. Peace, piggies!really thought that cutting bacon out was going to be hard. Imagine my shock when I didn’t miss it even once.
  4. Just keep swimming, fish! Fish was the last meat I cut out, and I honestly only held onto fish to appease my dad who thought that vegtarianism was crazy.

Now I know there are other types of meats I didn’t officially cut out ceremoniously like the other types, but I rarely if ever ate meats like turkey or lamb so I didn’t need to cut them out anyhow.

I quit meat, what now?

If you’re used to eating a traditional western diet, your dinner plate probably was anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 full with meat, and it’s hard to figure out what to replace those staples with. When coming up with veg friendly meals, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Meat is calorically dense. Six ounces of hamburgers has a lot more calories than six ounces of veggie burger, so you’re going to need to eat larger portions than you might be used to so you’re not calorie deficient.
  • Your digestion is going to go on an adventure. There’s no ladylike way to say this, so I’ll just say it: You’re going to be gassy, and you’re going to poop more. Don’t worry, your body will even out. But with that said, you might want to consider food combining while you transition. I see no reason to follow it once you’ve adjusted, but it might make your more comfortable for your first few weeks.
  • You’re going to get hungry faster. Chances are even though you’re coming in equipped knowing you should eat larger portions your body will resist. When you’re not used to eating larger quantities it’s hard to do so, so you’ll probably have to eat more often throughout the day while you’re making the switch.

A few of my favorite dinners

  • Veggie burgers. You can buy these premade in the freezer section, but they’re also really easy to make, too. If you mash together equal parts black beans, lentils, oats, and rice with your choice of seasoning and make patties they cook up just like burgers, just a little more fragile.
  • Falafel. I’m no good at making authentic tasting falafel (though I’ve tried) but my lazy version is pretty good, too. You’ll just want to pulse together a can of drained chickpeas, two cloves of garlic, half an onion, a pinch of baking soda, and the seasonings of your choice then roll them into balls and bake them.
  • Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are a mix of greens, grains, and veggies. I like mine with brown rice, spinach, sweet potatoes, corn, black beans, and lots of sriracha.
  • Sweet potato chilli. I always follow different recipes for this depending on what I’ve got on hand, but here is the next one I’m going to try.

What if I have a craving for meat?

People always ask me if I ever crave meat and I honestly can say that I don’t. Whenever someone mentions hot wings I think I want them, but then quickly realize I just want hot wing sauce. Preferably on popcorn. #Yum.

But in the early days I definitely had cravings and I combatted them mostly by imagining myself biting into whatever it was I was craving. Even just a week or two after quitting meat, the idea of biting into flesh disgusted me, even if I was craving the flavor.

Veg friends have given me mixed verdicts on whether this is true for them or not, so if that doesn’t work there are other options.

Think about why you’re going vegetarian. If it’s to clear your skin take a peak at your progress. You don’t want to lose that, right? Or if you’re doing it for ethical reasons think about what a poor animal has to go through to get to your plate. (If you don’t know, documentaries like Cowspiracy and Food Inc. will open your eyes and break your heart.)

People are judging me

Believe it or not, I used to be embarassed by being a vegetarian and I’d avoid bringing it up unless I absolutely had to. Now, I’m happy to talk about it, but I still have people who act like I just told them that I like to eat dirt and daisy petals and nothing else when I tell them I’m vegetarian.

A lot of people will think that because you’re a vegetarian you’re judging them for not being a vegetarian and they’ll get defensive or even hostile. These people will hurl reasons why you’re wrong for being a vegetarian or why you’re not really helping.

The best thing you can do is just disengage with these people or sarcastically agree and move on, but if they can’t drop it, here are a few of the most common arguments that I hear and how I refute them if I must argue:

  • Humans are at the top of the food chain and are supposed to eat meat. Humans weren’t actually designed to eat meat. If we were, our canines would look more like a tigers rather than the smaller version of our gorilla friends’ teeth. Humans don’t need meat to survive, so the circle of life argument shouldn’t apply to us.
  • But protein? Everyone seems to think that the only place to get protein is meat, and that’s just silly. There is protein in virtually everything you consume from apples to beans to oats, and short of starving yourself it is near impossible to be protein deficient.
  • But plants are alive, t0o. Laughing? Don’t be. People seriously say this and think it’s a valid argument. These people will never come around, so disengage and move on.
  • If animals were really being abused, the government would step in. These are the naive and innocent souls, please don’t tear them apart. (Coming from a naive and innocent soul who was torn apart.) Advise them to watch cowspiracy, or tell them about the fate of male chicks or milk cows. Gently.
  • If you love animals then why do you eat their food? No, seriously. People say this.
  • Vegetarianism is a privilege, not everyone can afford that. Plant based protiens are significantly cheaper per gram than animal based proteins.

Any questions?

Feel free to leave them in the comments in case anyone has the same question you do, too! I’ll do my best to answer as quickly as possible.

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  • Doreen MacLean

    Hi Morgan! I’ve been a reader for a long time, but I’ve never commented before. I had to today, because I was disappointed that you would say that meat is not good for you, and link to an article about a study that was very flawed and was analyzed in many places as such. Before I say anything more, I’m not vegetarian, but I do incorporate meatless meals into my diet on a regular basis because I do believe there are tons of benefits.

    There’s a few reasons for this: 1) they used mouse data–not human data(!), and they relied on the NHANES study which is based on a 24-hour recall–and self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate. Also, if they used NHANES (a seriously robust sample size there), why would they need to throw in mouse data? 2) They also found no association between protein intake and all-cause mortality in cancer in all participants over 50–they only found it in the 50-65 age group who were consuming high protein (over 20% of calories). So what if I’m in that age group and consuming moderate protein? No relationship there.

    Basically what I’m saying is: there’s no evidence that protein is bad for you in moderate amounts. As for meat causing you to overproduce hormones–that’s just unscientific to say that.

    I’m not trying to convince you to eat meat, or to say even that everyone should eat meat. I’m just asking you to please not throw out blanket statements like “meat is bad for you” when that’s not even close to scientifically accurate. That’s scaremongering.

    • Hi Doreen!

      I appreciate you commenting and respect your differing opinion, but I stand by what I said about meat being bad for you. After taking college level nutrition classes, speaking to doctors, and doing my own outside research I could never with a good conscious say that meat wasn’t bad for people.

      Whenever anyone gets gravely ill, one of the first things their doctors will suggest is cutting out meat. For example, after my dad’s heart surgery his doctor begged him to go vegan (he’s too stubborn though, haha.) But that’s because of the negative impact that meat has on the body.

      When you say that animal protein is fine in moderation, I suppose I slightly agree, but the western diet doesn’t eat animal protein in moderation, most people have meat several times a day which is detrimental to their health. If people were eating meat once or twice a month rather than once or twice a day, that’d be a level where your body could handle the excess toxin and mitigate most of the damage, but unfortunately that’s not the reality for most people.

      Testing on mice is the norm for most products and studies on humans because they have similar genetic and biological makeups to humans. So when they observed that meat was correlated with cancer in humans because of the Neu5Gc sugars present in meat, the bred mice without that sugar already present (as mice are supposed to eat meat, therefore had Neu5Gc in their blood already) and then introduced the Neu5Gc sugars to those mice and observed that, like humans, they were developing tumors.

      And you’re correct – my overzealous fingers did mistype when I said that meat causes you to overproduce hormones, I edited that now to say that meat causes excessive hormones in your body and that is 100% accurate because when you’re eating the flesh of a once living thing, you’re consuming their genetic makeup which includes foreign hormones that can cause terrible things. In my case, the hormones that were in in the meat I was consuming triggered terrible endometriosis that resulted in me vomiting, fainting, and feeling terrible for 3 days a month. That no longer happens now that I don’t eat meat.

      I use my blog as a platform to help my audience and share my knowledge and experiences, and I wouldn’t be being just if I didn’t share my honest (and fact-based) opinion that meat is bad for human consumption. When you’re doing your research make sure you’re looking at educational resources and look into how the study in funded (you’ll be surprised how many pro-animal consumption studies are funded by the meat and dairy industry.)

      • Doreen MacLean

        Hi again Morgan 🙂

        Thanks for your respectful reply, I do appreciate it. As a Registered Dietitian, I’m often frustrated with blanket statements.

        I certainly don’t disagree with you that the SAD includes too much meat, but I disagree with you saying that the body can’t handle meat once a day. There CAN be ways for animal products to be included healthfully. Not for everybody, but it is possible. It’s the blanket statements that get to me.

        I absolutely 100% respect your opinion and your experiences, and that a vegetarian/vegan diet is best for you and your body, and certainly don’t want to discourage you from sharing that. But I just wanted to make you aware that saying something can not ever be good for someone can be very shaming for some people, maybe who don’t have the education or who don’t have the means (time, money, access) to eat exactly the way you do. I just don’t like the idea of scaring people into eating the way one person thinks people should eat.

        I’m sorry you felt attacked with my earlier comment, I didn’t mean to attack. I just wanted to make you think about maybe phrasing your research in a positive way (look at how great this can be!) instead of a negative one (if you don’t eat like this you’ll get cancer and die!).

        I still love your blog and will definitely keep reading, but I’ll probably just skip anything food-related from now on 🙂

  • Liza

    thanks for being thorugh. i want to be a vegetarian because i like animals and my doctor said my cholestorol was too high for my age and i should eat less animal products because they make your cholestorol too high. thats why i was googling vegetarian and so i was happy that you did this post i’ll show my mom and dad for dinner.

    • Good luck, Liza!

      Remember – the first few weeks will be the hardest, but you’re going to feel so great once you make the switch. It’s also great your parents are supporting you!

      Cheers!

  • Thank you for this detailed post! While I am not personally vegetarian, I read this post and found it really interesting. I try to limit the amount of meat I eat and have considered going vegetarian for a very long time!

    • Thank you so much, Shannon! I thought about it for forever before I made the switch, too! I didn’t seriously consider it until college though and I wish I would have made the decision sooner – if I would have known how much it’d help my endometriosis I definitely would have!

  • I’ve been vegetarian for a month now and I feel so great! Just a few short months ago I never thought I would even consider doing such a thing! Now even just the smell of meat can make me feel sick. This is such a great resource for people considering the change!

    Caitlyn | http://www.collegewithcaitlyn.com

    • I am so glad to hear that you feel great! It’s crazy what a difference it makes! And I feel you on feeling sick when you smell meat – for me it’s only pork products, but dang it doesn’t feel good at all.

  • Sylvie

    I’ve been itching to become vegetarian for the last two years,but I am under 18 and my mom won’t let me – she says she doesn’t want to have to cook special meals for me and that I am too young, and will miss important minerals. I told her that I would be happy to cook for myself, but she is extremely concerned about me missing out on variety. Do you know of any stats I could show her to convince her? (Finally??!!) 🙂 Thanks so much, and I should tell you that I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and love it!

  • Kelsea

    Love this! You should post some of your favorite recipes; I’m always looking for more!

  • kendrascruggs

    This post is actually really helpful and inspiring without being preachy, which is a problem I come across OFTEN. I’m trying to phase out meat for environmental reasons, I’ve started with red meat but I’m more hesitant about chicken and fish. Thanks for not making me feel bad with taking my time easing into vegetarianism! 🙂

    http://www.kendrascruggs.com

  • Gigi

    This was an interesting read. I’ve thought about becoming vegetarian and eventually vegan before but I basically gave up because of the thought of giving up meat. But I’m thinking about giving it a try again soon and I’ll try your tip about letting go of meat in stages and maybe it’ll be easier this time.

    TheIslandgurl.com

  • Megan Fyfe

    I’ve been in the process of starting to cut meat out of my diet for the past few weeks, and this read was really helpful. It’s a difficult transition for me – I’m a pretty picky eater to begin with, so cutting out basic staples of my diet that I rely on, like chicken, is a challenge.

    One thing that has really helped me in cutting down is not eating meat until dinner time. I make sure I chose meat free alternatives for breakfast and lunch, and then usually have some chicken or fish with dinner. But making those choices throughout the day has actually made it a little easier to make meatless choices at dinner as well. I’ve had several completely meat free days in a row the past month or so. I just need to work on getting myself away from using chicken, etc. as a crutch when I’m in a rush or just want something quick to eat at the end of the day.