We like to challenge ourselves from time to time by incorporating different exercise- and dietary habits into our lifestyles in order to better understand how our bodies react to these changes. This May we decided to leave out the meat, and adhere to a vegetarian diet instead. There were a few reasons behind our motivation for what eventually became “Meat-less May”.
From an ethical standpoint, I found myself questioning whether, and to what extent, do I really need to eat meat every day, knowing full well that we raise way too many animals in poor conditions that are neither sustainable for our environment, nor the animal. In a world of abundance, it’s all too easy to mistake convenience for necessity. In addition, our ability to gauge our own comfort with the consumption of animal products is increasingly blurred and sanitized due to our distance from the source. I feel like there is a huge disconnect happening between raising animals and eating meat. Since most of us no longer raise and slaughter our own animals, we have become detached from the reality of taking another life. We see meat in the store as just that rather than being aware of the fact that this was a living creature once.
The question of why we decided to go a whole month has more to do with logistics and consistency following many previously failed attempts of dedicating certain days a week to vegetarian dishes. I found it involved way too much planning to only have meat on certain days. What do you do with leftovers? What if you forget to take the meat out of the freezer the night before? What if there is a special event/occasion, etc. I ended up spending more time thinking about food which almost made it stressful. Don’t get me wrong, 'Meatless Mondays' are a great idea if you can plan ahead.
Now that we’re at the end of May, I have to say, I am glad we did dedicated a full month to this experiment, and I am pleasantly surprised by the results. Here’s how each week went:
Throughout the first week, it was most challenging to break out of the habit of making our usual dishes for dinner. At the same time, I was excited to try out new recipes and just eating different foods. A good tip would be to plan ahead and introduce a few vegetarian meals into your standard diet before attempting to shift completely. However, overall, my energy level was great and I did not miss meat at all.
The second week was tougher. For some reason, I had an intestinal flair-up which I sometimes get from eating foods that my body doesn’t tolerate well, e.g. too much wheat, dairy, sugar or deep-fried oil. I am not sure what exactly caused it, but the downside is, that my body will not absorb as many nutrients as usual due to inflammation. Long story short, after the flair-up, I felt absolutely depleted and given my history of low iron and my menstrual cycle, I started taking iron-supplements just to make sure, I don’t deplete my body further. Of course, out of all the months, I also decided to start training for a half- marathon again. Couldn’t have picked a better month, right?
Once the third week came around, my body was feeling better but the aftermath of the inflammation in my intestines was still lingering. I did my best to leave out common irritants (particularly wheat, which were eating more of than usual) and continued with my training. Much to my surprise, I was tired but I could manage. I still did not miss or crave meat. I feel like we had developed a solid list of go-to foods that are easy to make, supply us with the necessary nutrients and taste amazing like home-made pizza, burrito bowls and instant-pot dishes. Indian cuisine is particularly useful and diverse when it comes to vegetarian dishes, including chickpea (channa masala), paneer and vegetable stir-fries. Overall, my energy levels were slowly getting better.
During the last week, I only had a few moments where I was slightly bored of the foods we had introduced. But, to be fair, that also happened when we were eating meat every now and then. Today is our last day and I have mixed feelings about introducing meat again.
For me, from the beginning, I knew that due to my allergies and food sensitivities it may be very hard to train my body to use fruit and vegetables efficiently. Especially since my biggest issue was raw fruits and vegetables for a long time due to cross-reactions with my allergens. Overall, I feel like I have more energy in the sense of endurance, whereas I still feel like I need a longer time to recover from short, intense exercise. I have realized that I miss the idea of meat more than the actual thing and we definitely do not miss handling meat (especially after I gave myself food poisoning a year ago due to undercooked chicken). The reduction in packaging materials is an added environmental bonus - most vegetables come in their own organic biodegradable wrapper.
One month was probably not long enough to feel all of the benefits as everything takes time to adjust and work more efficiently and I still like the idea of being more responsible when it comes to taking lives.
Will we re-introduce meat into our diet?
Yes, the question is to what capacity. And when we do, we want to make sure it comes from a good source. I will gladly pay more for a piece of meat where I know the animal has lived in good conditions without antibiotics, has lived for a minimum amount of time and has been treated ethically.
As with many things in life, I believe in balance, there is no wrong or right, just a ‘right for you and our environment’.
Health and Fitness have always played an important role in my life.