Three months ago I published a piece on vegetarianism. I was already three months in at the time, and had hoped to make my way to veganism within a year. I wrote about the negative impacts of factory farming on the environment, about how being vegetarian had made me feel less sluggish, and about the ways to construct a varied and exciting diet without the inclusion of meat.
There was something I didn’t include, though. A dirty little secret that had plagued me for those three months, and continued to plague me for the three months since.
I was always hungry.
I noticed it right away. After giving up meat, and cutting back significantly on my intake of animal products, I never felt full for more than a couple hours. Due to my nut allergy, I was also having trouble finding surrogate sources of protein. I was eating beans almost every day, and I would have to force eat huge portions to get what I needed.
The most significant impact was in the mornings. I would wake up, and the first thing I would think about was food. My stomach actually hurt — plant-based dinners would be completely digested by midnight, and by the time the alarm clock went off I was running on empty.
I thought it would go away as time went on. I had read a few articles saying it could take up to five months for the body to adjust to a drastic dietary shift, and told myself that soon my hunger would abate. That the cauliflower ragùs and eggplant steaks would start making me feel just as stuffed as their meaty counterparts once had.
It never happened.
Instead, I started losing weight. Though many people see weight loss as a goal, I have always had the opposite experience. A fast metabolism has always left me playing catchup on the calorie count, especially when accounting for lifting weights and playing basketball. According to my Fitbit, I need to be eating over 2,500 calories a day just to break even.
The little switches to plant-based products, such as swapping out Philadelphia cream cheese (100cal per serving) for Tofutti (60cal), were adding up. My body simply wasn’t getting enough nourishment to sustain my lifestyle.
So, after six months of hunger and weight loss, I allowed meat back into my life.
At first I felt incredibly guilty, and not without reason — everything I wrote about three months ago is still true. The planet is dying, and we are the cause. Factory farms are still responsible for 51 percent of green house emissions. They are still using way too much water and still raise numerous animal cruelty concerns. If you look at the data, the most eco-friendly choice is still going vegan.
Things are rarely that black and white, though. We have a tendency to draw lines in the sand where none need exist. Nutrition is one of those cases.
Since returning from my foray into vegetarianism, I have been eating far less meat than I used to. On average I probably enjoy two carnivorous meals every three days, a far cry from the twice-a-day schedule I on in before.
I’ve begun to view meat as more of a special treat, a reward for a tough workout or a long day. Because meat in the morning makes me feel lethargic throughout the day, I’ve stopped eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, instead opting to start the day with a smoothies or a bagels. I try to avoid animal products wherever possible, but also try not to punish myself for craving the occasional Chipotle burrito.
There is a balance to be struck between thinking about the future and living in the moment. There are ways to eat with a clean conscience that don’t entail utter abstinence from animal products.
As with anything, the most important thing is finding a diet that works for you. Rather than letting others dictate what you eat, you should listen to your body. If you’re always hungry, it’s your body sending you signals that it’s time for a change. You’re not doing yourself any favors by ignoring it. By feeling healthy and happy, you might be giving yourself the energy you need to have a positive effect on the world in other ways.
When it comes to the environment, make a difference in the ways you can. Make switches to plant based products where you won’t notice the difference. Try to sort your recycling. Bike or walk to work if you can. If you want to go vegan, go for it. If not, it doesn’t make you a bad person.
If we all ate only as much meat as we need, the planet would be just fine.
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