The Most Surprising Lessons I Learned from Going Vegetarian for a Month
I committed begrudgingly, but I ultimately loved it so much I stuck with it for two months.
It all started with a proposition from a college friend. She suggested that we, along with our two closest friends, challenge ourselves to go vegetarian for a month. We all lived in different states and had stayed connected through fitness programs and book clubs, so it felt like a reasonable new adventure to take together, but I was NOT convinced. It was not an idea that I readily embraced. In fact, I believe my initial response was “hell no.”
Look, I love vegetables: sautéed spinach, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts — they are mainstays on my plate. But I really love meat and seafood. Heck, thinking about a little surf and turf has my mouth watering right now. That’s why going plant-based, even for just 30 days, seemed like an impossible task.
But here’s the thing: I also think there is nothing in this world (food, Earthly possessions, a relationship, and even a job) that you shouldn’t be able to walk away from — at least for a little while. It’s an exercise in self-discipline. One that I practice yearly during Lent by giving up sweets (my Achilles’ heel!) and alcohol. Since I was so adamant about not being a temporary vegetarian, I knew it was actually something I had to do. We put so many limitations on ourselves in terms of what we can or can't do. So my only goal was to see if I could do it.
After convincing my friends that we ease into this endeavor by doing a month of pescatarian eating first, I finally got in tune with my inner herbivore. Here are a few of the most important, surprising, and revolutionary things I learned.
It wasn't as difficult as I thought.
I feel silly now for thinking that going vegetarian was going to be such an ordeal because it really wasn’t. I admit, I let preconceived notions keep me from giving this a try much sooner. I was worried I would get bored. I thought there wouldn’t be enough variety in my meals. I was wrong. I also think that bidding adieu to pork, beef, and poultry the month prior and eating only seafood helped soften the blow, making my transition into the vegetarian diet the following month more manageable and less like such a great “sacrifice” all at once.
The funny thing is that after the month of being pescatarian my friends were kind of over it and didn't really want to try the vegetarian thing, so I was the one now convincing them to stick with our plan and follow through.
It pushed me to get creative in the kitchen.
I’ve always loved to cook. Whipping up something in the kitchen is a form of expression for me, so I knew that to fully embrace the plant-based eating style, I was going to have to experiment with my food and not just throw together a salad every day out of laziness. (FYI: I probably only made one or two salads the entire time! Shocking, right?)
Finding and testing out new vegetarian recipes was one of the keys to my success, and it’s where I really hit my stride. Some of my faves included: buffalo cauliflower, mushroom and cheese empanadas, eggplant parmesan, shakshuka, ramen, and zucchini chips. I have a whole file of recipes that I still want to try! I also found myself easily putting together meals on the fly, which yielded a spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onion pizza with a balsamic vinegar drizzle and literally the best veggie sandwich ever filled with sautéed peppers, eggplant, onions, mushrooms, and herb tahini on focaccia. I was impressed with my newfound vegetarian cooking repertoire.
I had to change my frame of reference.
Many people see going vegetarian as giving something up. I was one of those people. A better lens would be finding amazing substitutions. Better yet, finding vegetarian alternatives for the things you really like to eat. As a sushi lover — I order it weekly — rather than nixing it all together, I found a Japanese restaurant that served vegetarian/vegan sushi. I’m a big fan.
I have also taken a liking to faux beef burgers, such as the Impossible burger. I’m not sure what magic is in that stuff, but after trying to satisfy my burger cravings with alternative mushroom and black bean burgers the beef-wannabe was the only thing that did the trick. I literally use faux meat products for everything now — burgers, tacos, and spaghetti sauce, which I served with zoodles.
My grocery bill did go up.
This, unfortunately, was a big downfall, but one I kind of anticipated. I find it also quite sad: Doctors and food pros encourage us to eat whole, fresh foods and more plants, but oftentimes that comes with a hefty price tag — one I’m lucky I could afford. Though the increase in money being debited from my account was noticeable, I looked at it as an investment in my health, so I tried not to be too annoyed.
I did notice some changes in my body.
I didn’t go into the month looking for drastic changes, so the little improvements in my wellbeing were a nice perk. I felt less lethargic and “heavy" or weighed down from rich foods. I stayed full longer, so mindless snacking got the boot. I dropped a couple of pounds. I didn’t have a problem with my digestion prior to my vegetarian challenge, but (TMI) all the roughage made my digestion even more regular. Another bonus: All the veggies helped bring back the glow in my complexion that poor pandemic habits seemed to have stolen.
Eating more plants reinforced better habits.
Perhaps what shocked me the most after begrudgingly agreeing to this challenge 30 days prior, is that this vegetarian kick I was on stayed around well after the month was up. Not only did I not rip open a bag of jerky when the clock struck midnight on the last day like I thought I would, but I kept following a vegetarian diet for a total of two months. In fact, it only came to a semis-close when Thanksgiving rolled around. Still, after the holidays came and went, I found myself at the grocery store purposefully opting for a cart full of veggies with no meat in sight. This time, it wasn’t because I had to but because I wanted to. And while I’m not entirely vegetarian, these days the majority of my meals are plant-based, which has really helped my eating become more balanced and nutritious. Craving more veggies is a lifestyle change I never saw coming, but one I'm so glad to have found.