It’s National Vegetarian week, so I’m sharing my journey to becoming a vegetarian. As you’ll see, for me the choice to eat a plant based vegetarian diet has been about health and wellbeing as well as ethics. But choosing a vegetarian diet isn’t the healthiest choice for everyone.
My personal vegetarian journey
I grew up in a meat/fish eating household with a father who thought a meal wasn’t complete without meat! From the age of about 5 until my early 20s I refused to eat fish after an unfortunate episode when I got a fish bone stuck in my throat! In my early 20s, while travelling in South America I started to question eating meat. We would often be served unidentifiable pieces of ‘meat’ and the thought of what might be on my plate started to put me off.
But when I got home I went back to eating meat because that was what I was used to and I thought I knew what I was getting. That was until an episode with a chicken sandwich on a train.
The sandwich gave me a horrific case of food poisoning which I needed antibiotics to recover from. From then on, my digestion was never the same. The experience made me very picky about the meat I ate. I would only to eat meat at home when I or someone I knew and trusted had cooked it.
As my knowledge and interest in nutrition grew in my late 20s I started becoming more conscious of how the food I ate made me feel. I noticed that meat made me feel bloated and heavy and I struggled to digest it. So, I limited my intake further, having it only on occasion and mostly to ‘make life easier’ because my partner was a meat eater. About this time, I also started to increase my intake of fish – especially oily fish as it was easier to digest and contained beneficial omega-3s.
In my early 30s I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The Nutritional Therapists I worked with during my recovery encouraged me to eat animal protein (meat, fish, eggs, cheese) to increase my protein intake and aid my recovery. I knew their words came from a place of experience, knowledge and wanting the best for my wellbeing so I continued to eat some meat. But now my awareness and understanding of the meat industry was increasing. So, I moved to only eating organic meat and fish.
Recovering from my illness was my main focus at this time and I would have done almost anything to help me win that battle. And when you have limited energy and someone is cooking for you, you can’t be that picky!
Going all the way
It wasn’t until this year, nearly 4 years after my diagnosis that I felt strong enough to eliminate meat and fish from my diet entirely. It’s been a huge help that my partner has also decided to come on this vegetarian journey with me because it means we can embrace vegetarian cooking together and we’re loving the world of lentils and beans! Check out my April Favourites blog for a link to our current favourite vegetarian recipe.
Would I become a vegan?
The question people always ask me now is whether I’m going to become a vegan. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about as I’m already dairy-free so other than the occasional piece of goat’s cheese, buffalo mozzarella or paneer now and then the only animal protein I regularly eat is eggs. Maybe one day I will take that next step but for now I’m focused on how my diet makes me feel. For me, eating 90% gluten and dairy free and 100% vegetarian is helping me feel my best. I believe how you feel should always be the barometer for whether your diet choices are right for you.
Obviously with the vegetarian and vegan diet ethical choices will often play a role. If you choose to eat a plant based diet for that reason then absolutely embrace it.
Plant based v vegetarian
Just because you’re not eating animal protein doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthy. I describe myself as a plant-based vegetarian because I focus on eating a healthy balanced diet packed with vegetables, plant proteins like lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds and healthy fats from coconuts, avocados and olive oil. I do eat carbohydrates but only whole grain and gluten free because gluten, for me can be a trigger for my CFS symptoms. Focus your diet on eating real whole foods which make you feel your best. Don’t think that because you’re not eating meat you’re healthy!
If you’re a vegan consider speak to your GP about checking your B12 levels – especially if you’re struggling with your energy as you may need to add a supplement to reach your requirements.
Healthy balanced diet
Whatever diet you choose to follow it must be one which makes you feel your best. There is no one-size fits all answer to what is the healthies diet. If you’re happy eating meat and it makes you feel good do that. Just always – if you can afford to, choose to buy organic animal protein to avoid hidden nasties in your food. Read more about why to choose organic.
Follow me on Instagram @eatbreathebelieve for healthy plant-based vegetarian recipe ideas!
Vest top in picture by Jade Green Vegan