A couple of weeks ago, I set myself a challenge: With National Vegetarian Week 2016 approaching, I decided to take the opportunity to try living as a veggie. No meat, no fish, and no meat-flavoured things. It was something I'd wanted to do for a while but had never put into motion, so what better time to try?
In all honesty? I thought I would find it too easy. For anyone who has lived as a vegetarian for a long time, a week must seem like nothing - and I thought so too. I even thought about committing to an entire meat-free month. But as National Vegetarian Week was coming up, it seemed like the perfect time to finally give it a go.
While many people cheered me on from the pro-veggie camp, several people looked shocked when I told them I was going meat- and fish-free for a week. They asked how I would make it through the week. What would I eat? Had I planned my meals? I had no idea, but really wasn't worried. In fact, I was really looking forward to the challenge.
Why I became a vegetarian for a week
1. To see if it would be a challenge
My main reason for wanting to see what life as a veggie would be like was to see if it would be a challenge at all. I didn't think it would be; I'd always kind of told myself that I could easily become vegetarian at any time and happily live as one. There are loads of meat-free meals that I love, after all, and if I could do it for a week I could quite easily do it for longer.
2. To understand my friends
With several of my close friends turning to vegetarianism and veganism over the last couple of years, I also wanted to understand their new lifestyles. Although there's no chance that I'll give up cheese without a medical reason to do so(!) I wanted to better understand what it's like to live a fairly restricted diet - especially when eating out. It's something I'm great at forgetting when I meet up with my friends, so I guess I wanted to see what it's like to be on the other side. (Spoiler: It kind of sucks.)
3. To open my mind and broaden my tastes
Finally, I thought a week spent giving up the food I rely on (namely tuna, chicken and sausages) would encourage me to try new things that I might otherwise overlook. I'd never normally choose a meat-free salad because I'd worry about the lack of protein, but being a vegetarian would give me no other choice.
What I expected
I honestly thought it would be easy. Too easy, perhaps.
Whenever someone talks about becoming veggie and how hard it would be - which seems to come a lot in my conversations. Is that the same for you?? - I'm that person who always say how much I love vegetarian food and could easily do it for X amount of time. What's not to love about goat's cheese and caramelised onion tart or vegetable lasagne?
So yeah, I didn't think it would be hard at all; as I said just now, I was more worried that it wouldn't be enough of a challenge.
My other main worry was that I wouldn't have as much energy. I know that many people claim to have more energy after giving up meat - which was one of my main motives for wanting to try it - but I did worry about how I would get enough iron and protein into my diet.
What cutting out meat and fish was really like
As is the case with any oncoming challenge, I started the week on a positive note. I was looking forward to embracing the week ahead and challenging myself to try new things.Things didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped...
I relied on carbs too much
That quickly turned to panic, however, when I realised that I was going to struggle not to rely on carbs too much. My first lunchtime was spent trying to find a sandwich that I could eat; disappointment quickly followed excitement as I realised I couldn't eat the tuna mayo I so badly wanted.
My next meal was the lowest point of the week (except for maybe one other time, which I'll get to...). I went out for dinner with my mum and was excited to face a limited menu. It was a challenge I was ready for and - yes! - vegetable lasagne was an option.
Until they told me they'd sold out. Cue massive disappointment and desperation as I quickly tried to find something else I wanted. The waitress recommended the chicken skewers and I had to pretend I didn't really want them (I really did). Then she suggested a burger - something I'd been craving since I opened the menu.
I finally settled on a vegetable burrito with sweet potato fries - which was basically all carbs. Bread wrap + rice filling + potato side. And my worst fears had come true.
I gave in
On day 7. When faced with a hot dog stand at the BBC Good Food show, I just couldn't say no. I was only hours away from the finish line but I had serious food FOMO and didn't want to miss out. I'd already decided after the lasagne incident that the veggie life wasn't going to be for me, anyway.
That said, I did take away some super valuable lessons...
Lessons I learned during Vegetarian Week
- I will never be vegetarian: Okay, so that one was pretty obvious. I'm glad I gave it a try because it's something I'd been thinking about over recent months. I told myself that I could easily give up meat but it turns out I was wrong - and it's really good to know that. Now I can just move on with my omnivorous life and stop thinking about it.
- I will probably cut down on the amount of meat I eat: Although I was crying (not literally!) for a burger on Monday and sulking, by Sunday the cravings subsided. I had to cut wine out of my diet very abruptly last year when an allergy became much more severe, so I know that I can do it if I have to. But the truth is I don't want to.
- I mostly went for healthier options overall: Worrying about getting enough iron and protein had some great consequences: I was more health-conscious overall, wanting to pack as much goodness and wholeness into every meal and snack. My morning toast was replaced by Loving Earth's Buckinis, which is made and my afternoon coffee was replaced with matcha.
- Sometimes I eat for enjoyment - and I'm okay with that: As much as I'd love to be one of those people who eat entirely for function rather than enjoyment, food is one of those things I really do enjoy enjoying (you get me, right?) and I want it to stay that way. I don't have an unhealthy approach to food - in fact, I'm always looking for small ways to make my diet healthier! - so you won't be losing the food posts from me any time soon!
- I find it harder to live without fish: As someone who doesn't really eat enough fish, this one surprised me. I have a whole new appreciation for the tuna I was getting bored of and the salmon I couldn't be bothered with. Even if I do one day give up meat, I can never give up seafood.
- Being vegetarian doesn't have to be time-consuming: I love choosing vegetarian options (ha!) because they're often harder to make and are dishes I'd struggle to make - or make time for - at home. But it turns out vegetarian food isn't as time-consuming to prepare as I thought. I discovered some great speedy mid-week options like Dell'Ugo's mushroom and truffle filled pasta and bread, both of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare.
To some of you reading this, a week might not sound like a long time. You might be thinking that I didn't really set myself a massive challenge - and I would have thought the same thing just a few weeks ago. But I found it surprisingly hard.
I may continue eating meat for now, but my respect for those who manage to stick to a diet that cuts out entire food groups has grown a lot.
Have you ever thought about being a vegetarian or become one? I'd love to hear your own experiences of changing your diet!