How to Go Vegetarian

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from my readers is ‘how did you manage to cut out meat?’ I end up giving everyone the same answer, but as more and more people are considering on making the change to a meat-free lifestyle, I decided to write a blog post to answer everyone’s questions. In this post I cover reasons why I became a vegetarian, how I started and how long it took for me to adjust to this new lifestyle.

When I Became A Vegetarian

My vegetarian journey is non-linear. It took me a few attempts to really fully transition to vegetarianism. My first attempt was in 2009, when I was just a 13-year-old girl trying to save the animals. My environmental activism began two years before I decided to cut out meat. I was still learning about this phenomenon called Global Warming and I tried to figure out what changes I could make in my life to lower my carbon footprint.

After reading two children’s books on Global Warming and watching The 11th Hour documentary at least 10 times, I realised that eating meat was unsustainable. The methane produced by cattle was adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the more people ate meat, the warmer the planet got. So I, a young and ambitious teenage girl, decided to become a vegetarian.

It was no surprise that my parents were unhappy about my decision. They thought that I was too young to make such a decision and that I needed all the nutrients from meat because I was still a growing girl. Nevertheless, I explained my reason and eventually my Mom agreed to only cook vegetarian meals for me. I was excited and hopeful about my new journey as a vegetarian. Unfortunately, my journey only lasted for about three months. After collapsing in my physics class due to heat exhaustion and an iron deficiency, my parents and the family doctor insisted that I start eating meat again. I was devastated but I did what they told me.

I continued to eat meat, fish and dairy and took magnesium supplements until I turned 18. I attempted to slowly transition by first becoming a pescatarian (only eating white meat). My second attempt was as short as my first as I struggled to control my cravings. I felt discouraged, as I was just beginning to learn more about veganism.

I hadn’t heard about veganism before until my older brother visited me in 2015 and told me about his life-changing journey as a vegan trainer in Thailand. I was fascinated. I could not believe that there was a whole community of people who had completely cut out meat, eggs and milk from their diet. He told me about the health benefits and how vegans live longer than most people. I simply had to go vegan but I did not know when I would until 2017.

In April 2017 I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I didn’t go vegan immediately but I did start doing more extensive research on the vegan and vegetarian diets. How does this tie in with endometriosis? Many nutritionists and doctors suggest that red meat and dairy are the worst foods to eat as it can cause further bloating (hello, endo belly) and could lead to the growth of more ovarian cysts. This life-changing experience motivated me to transition properly. I wanted to make my life a little easier by changing my diet. So, I did my research. I read up on veganism and vegetarianism and the health and environmental effects of each diet.

What I Learnt About The Meat Industry

It came as no surprise to me that the vegan and vegetarian diets have little to zero negative impacts on the planet. With the increase of meat and dairy consumption in the world, more land is being used for animal agriculture. This leads to an increase in greenhouse gases, a surge in deforestation (leading to disasters such as the Amazon fires), overconsumption of water and grains by livestock and water pollution.

Then there is the ethical side to it. I was criticised by a few vegans before for advocating for cruelty-free beauty and sustainability, yet still eating meat. It was frustrating as they did not consider whether or not I had access or the financial means to live as a vegan. But, I do now understand their concerns. While torturing animals in the beauty industry is unethical, so is the mistreatment of animals in the meat and dairy industry. It is a cruel process to force feed animals with grains and antibiotics, inject them with hormones to procreate, create milk, and separate the young from their mothers after birth – all so that I can enjoy a crispy chicken burger with a chocolate milkshake for one night.

How I Started

After doing more research I was more confident that my third attempt to cut meat out of my diet would work. This time I made sure I did it slowly.

My plan was to slowly phase out meat and dairy over three months. From October 2018 to December 2018 I had two meat days or what I called “meat-cheat days” a week. I basically ate vegetarian and vegan food five days a week. I did not stick to the same days every single week. It really depended on where I was and what I was doing. I often planned to eat meat on the days that I went out with friends or family, or if there was a special occasion. I did this because it was much easier to eat meat at a restaurant because of the limited vegetarian and vegan options.

I then decided on what meat and dairy products I wanted to phase out first. I had already switched to plant-based milks by 2018 because I was lactose intolerant, but I couldn’t resist having a pizza or chocolate mousse now and then. I did not enjoy dealing with the consequences of my impulsive actions…

Cutting out red meat was my next step. I was never really a red meat lover to begin with, so I didn’t really struggle. I always hated the taste of beef. No one could get me to eat a steak or beef burger. The only time I ate beef was once a year for Christmas when my Mom made her legendary beef lasagne. I ate quite a lot of lamb and mutton as a child but as I grew up I developed an aversion to it. Pork was scarcely available as I did live with Muslim relatives. I would only eat pork when I went out for breakfast or had the occasional pork chops at braai’s.

If there were animal products that I struggled to cut out the most it was chicken and seafood. I ate chicken almost every single day for lunch and dinner. I loved chicken burgers, chicken and mayo sandwiches, chicken curry, breast fillets and spicy strips. As for seafood, I was a sucker for sushi, prawns and good old fish and chips. I mostly ate these meals on my “meat cheat days”, but overtime my cravings decreased. By December, I was nauseated by the smell of seafood and developed an aversion to chicken. From January 2019, I was completely vegetarian. It was the one 2019 New Year’s resolution that I actually stuck to!

What Do I Eat As A Vegetarian?

My vegetarian diet is mostly consisted of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits and eggs. I seldom eat eggs these days as my goal is to be completely vegan.

I eat a variety of vegan and vegetarian meals. In order to get all of the nutrition my body needs I try to eat balanced and healthy meals and snacks. And yes, I do get enough protein… and iron and magnesium. These are all found in plant-based foods such as beetroot, beans and any dark green leafy vegetables. Let’s not forget nuts, avocados and bananas. There is a variety of nutritious vegan meals out there!

I sometimes crave junk food and indulge in vegan junk food like vegan pizza, beetroot or mushroom burgers, vegan chocolate cake and vegan cookies.

Do I Take Supplements?

I do take the B12 supplement every day, as almost every single vegan does. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products which helps regulates the nervous system and blood cells. Every vegan is required to take a B12 supplement although a few simply eat more fortified foods that contain B12, like cereal and tofu. Another supplement I take on the daily is a flaxseed oil supplement, which is a vegetable source of omega 3, 6 and 9. This is not an essential supplement. I just decided to take it to maintain my blood circulation.

And in case you were wondering, I don’t take any iron or magnesium supplements as I no longer have an iron deficiency.

The Disadvantages of Being Vegetarian

I always try to be honest to my readers, which is why I will share the negative experiences I have had as a vegetarian. The first negative experience I had was hair loss. My hair began to fall out more than usual three months into my vegetarian journey. It fell out in clumps on wash days and I eventually had a bald spot on my head!

I was so worried about my hair loss and I feared that my hair would thin out. However, I eventually found two solutions to my problem. The first was to incorporate more legumes and healthy fats into my diet. This included beans, lentils, avocados and olives. The second solution was applying Jamaican Black Castor Oil to my hair once a week. Within a month, my hair grew 10cm longer and stopped falling out.

The other problem I encountered was weight-loss. I understand that some people may not mind the loss, but I was worried since I worked so hard to gain weight. I struggled with being underweight most of my life and worked hard to gain weight. This problem was not too difficult to solve. I simply ate twice as much as I normally did and continued with strength training (which stopped when quarantine started).

I may have experienced hair and weight loss but I gained more benefits since I switched to a vegetarian diet. These include:

The Advantages of Being Vegetarian
  • Less hormonal acne
  • Less bloating
  • Lighter, shorter periods
  • Increased energy levels
  • Faster metabolism
  • No iron deficiency (ironic, right?)

Believe it or not, I have also spent less money on groceries and eating out as a vegetarian. I hadn’t realised how expensive meat was until I stopped buying it. Now I spend my money on a variety of foods for less.

How You Can Transition

There are many ways people can transition to veganism and vegetarianism. Some can do it overnight whilst others (like me) need time. It is important to do your research first. Find out more about plant-based nutrition and of course, consider if it is the best thing to do for your health.

You can follow vegan bloggers, influencers and YouTubers for recipes and advice on going vegan. My favourites are Avant-Garde Vegan on YouTube for delicious vegan meals, PlantYou on Instagram for quick, easy and healthy vegan snacks and meals, and Pick Up Limes on YouTube for meal plans and more easy recipes. You can also watch a few documentaries on the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry on Netflix. There are so many resources to choose from!

The Journey Continues…

Changing my diet has changed my life. I hope that one day I can fully transition to veganism and enjoy a completely cruelty-free, eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle. I would never force anyone to go vegan, but if you are considering it, I suggest you do it slowly and just have fun. And if all you can do for now is have meat-free Mondays you are making an impact on the planet and possibly sparing the life of one animal.

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You can find out more about cruelty-free beauty and living on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

-Kayla Shivana

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