The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not. – Mark Twain
I don’t think I’ve written about it any of my prior posts, but I’ll come out clean now. I’m a vegetarian. There, I said it. I’m a vegetarian and have been for a long time. I’m actually a vegan at times, but when I’m travelling or hanging out with friends, I prefer to relax the rules a little. I don’t talk about it much either – I guess that makes me a closet vegetarian.
So why am I a vegetarian?
I never felt that I had a good reason to be vegetarian. As with most aspects of my life, it always felt like a lifestyle experiment, but when I think deeper about it, I do have a good reason. Many years back, I made a strong commitment to enhance every aspect of my life – career, wealth, relationships, spirituality, adventure, and health.
Our bodies are the only things we really have in our physical lives – everything else is mental ownership – but we often take our health for granted until we start deteriorating. Good health is a result of the the well-known combination of exercise and a proper diet (I would also add that good mental health is key too). Exercise was never really a problem for me, but I never really experimented with my diet.
My vegetarian timeline.
Since I made it a priority to have world-class health, I had to give vegetarianism and veganism a try. In doing so, I hoped that one of the positive benefits would be to have some of the energy levels I had when I was 6 years old.
Some people can go cold turkey on meat (no pun intended), especially after watching a pro-vegan film like Earthlings (warning: it’s graphic!). For me, I timed a series of trips that gradually brought me closer to becoming a vegetarian.
My first stop was Turkey, a Muslim country where pork isn’t consumed. I didn’t eat pork for a month, and on top of that, I went during Ramadan, so I didn’t eat much during the day either. When I came back, I figured that pork products weren’t all that healthy, so I stopped eating pork altogether.
Next, I made my way over to Nepal, where the population is mostly vegetarian. I quickly and happily adapted to the diet, but here’s the shocker: I exerted my body heavily trekking at high altitudes in the Himalayas on a vegetarian diet, and my body didn’t fall apart like I thought it would. To be honest, my head was full of vegetarian myths that I never questioned since childhood.
Since then, I’ve dispelled a slew of myths I used to believe in. Here are some of the bigger ones:
- Milk is good for your body. Milk may have calcium, but I’ve decided the side effects outweighs the pros. I’m not sure why I never realized this before, since most of my Asian relatives don’t drink milk either, and many are lactose intolerant.
- Vegetarians have a weak, anemic look. To be honest, since going vegetarian, I lost about 8 pounds and wasn’t able to get it back for years. This might sound good for some, but for a period of time, I was unjustly self-conscious. I even made the mistake of trying weight gainer to no avail. I was overly-concerned about my ideal weight, when really, I was physically fit all along. I’ve since gained back a few pounds of muscle in the past half year because my new rock climbing gym is heavily overhung, but should I go back to my old, skinnier self, it’s fine.
- No protein. ”Where do you get your protein?” is a question I get asked a lot. I’m one of the strongest climbers in my gym, and as you’ve probably seen, I can dance up a storm anywhere, anytime. I don’t think it’s a problem. Maybe I’m not packing on as much muscle as I can on a meat-based diet, but I’m happy not packing on much fat either.
As long as my vegetarian diet doesn’t consist of french fries, onion rings, and donuts, I think I’m fine.
- Kids need meat. This one’s a toughie, because when it comes to children, most parents don’t want to take any chances. Even though we know the facts, and that there a nations of vegetarians out there, the 4 basic food groups chart we learned in grade school still sits clearly in our heads and dictates our thinking. At the least, kids don’t need as much meat as we think they do. Our meat consumption is much higher than in previous generations, and heart disease is on the rise with it. Try considering how your children’s adult lives are affected when you form their dietary habits while they’re young.
Why am I a CLOSET vegetarian?
I’ve always felt that diet was a personal choice to everyone. I’ve never felt right criticizing or telling people what to do, and I didn’t want friends feeling self-conscious eating around me either. I’ve also traveled to many places, and I at some point, I wanted to freely write about some of the oddities I’ve eaten along the way. Unfortunately, oddities usually aren’t vegetables.
However, now that I’m a writer offering advice, I can at least share my personal experiences. As for my energy levels, they’re not 6-year-old great, but they’re decent. I can’t say there’s a huge improvement, but I definitely don’t get those meal-induced comas from say, a steak and potatoes dinner.
If you’re considering going vegetarian or bringing down your meat consumption, here are a few good reasons:
- It’s pretty good for the environment, in more ways than most people probably know. A thousand pounds of organic broccoli is less taxing on the environment than it’s equivalent in steak, in terms of waste, transport, and processing. I’ve also seen large swaths of the Amazon rainforest grazed for cattle fields. It doesn’t grow back.
- It’s good for your health.
- Obviously, it’s good for animals.
- It’s good for the farmers and their workers, especially if we create a higher demand for organic products.
Where can you go from here?
A great starting point is the Meatless Mondays habit. It’s a fun and creative change too. If you choose to try it, I highly recommend telling your circle of friends to put some fire into the burner. And, as a word of encouragement to you, I will say that over time you will lose the meat cravings, and your body will actually seek fresh food. And yes, it might take a while, but you’ll eventually find your friends’ Facebook photos of gourmet burgers not so salivating to look at anymore.