Stop Lying: Being Vegetarian is Not Easy…and what to do about it!

When I first became vegetarian I did not feel too great. To tell you the truth I had no idea what I was doing. I was already anemic and started to feel even more tired. Then I vowed never again.

Approx 8 years later I tried again with better success. I was looking at videos and recipes of people telling me how easy it was, how cheap it was and how good it was…

Eventually yes, you will get to that point but starting out and possibly for months to come it can be difficult. I was just annoyed at how easy everyone made it seem. Tell the truth now! I think more people will be encouraged that way instead of making it seem like an easy road. I’ll go into some of the barriers I personally experienced.

Junk Food Vegetarian– I stopped eating meat, and started eating processed ‘veggie’ meat, pizza fries and a few vegetables here and there. The problem with that is…it’s not healthier. You need to increase your intake of greens and fruits and decrease or eliminate the amount of processed foods, sweets and dairy to feel the effects. Essentially people like to bash meat eaters, but if they are eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables with limited processed foods then they will be healthier than a junk food vegetarian or vegan.

No time to Eat Healthy– I had to make most of my food now, not that I didn’t do this before but it was much easier. I had to unlearn old habits and learn new ones, with different ways of cooking  . I now had to meal prep which took up copious amounts of time. I would come home from work  exhausted then have to try to figure out what to eat. Through trail and error over the years I’m now able to make things very fast that are filling, but if you have no guidance or mentorship it can be very overwhelming not knowing where to start. I was making complex vegetarian dishes, when I needed to simplify my methods.

What I did

Pintrest–  I looked up simple vegetarian dishes containing only a few ingredients. I would make the same thing over and over again…which yes, got monotonous but I would slowly add other simple dishes until I got a variety.

Buddha Bowls– I started making ‘Buddha Bowls’. They consisted of basic ingredients but they were very filling. An example of one of my favorites was the Bowl 2 from Chopped Leaf,
which consisted of spinach, roasted pecans, sun dried cranberries, carrots, cucumbers, chick peas, rice & their goddess dressing.  Then I just got the ingredients and made it at home…which basically consists of throwing everything in a bowl. This is very filling and keeps me going for hours.

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Cookbooks– I found that it was difficult to find simple recipes. There were lots of great recipes but they required complex ingredients and prep time. I just didn’t have the time or energy to do that when I was hungry. I found this cookbook Deliciously Ella, very easy and simple. The Minimalist Baker is also excellent. Dana creates recipes that are “10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or less than 30 minutes” to prepare. Love it!

Keep snacks in the car– I found that I could eat a meal when I was at work or at home but in between I would get hungry. I started keeping apples and granola bars randomly in my car or locker to tie me over.

Weight Gain– This was due in part to the junk food I’m guessing, and I also started eating a lot of carbs. Bread and pasta at every meal. I din’t know what else to eat so this became my staple. Again I would stress eating a variety of whole foods. Lots of fruits and lots of vegetables. I was then able to substitute noodles with zucchini and other vegetable noodles using a spiralizer and substitute rice and potatoes with cauliflower rice. I’m not saying carbs are bad, we definitely need them, but this adds variety.

Being hungry- I was Hangry a lot of the time. I just wasn’t able to feel full or satiated. It was one extreme or the other, carbs or a salad. Ok and don’t let anyone fool you. You will not feel full just eating a salad. I had to figure out the food combinations that would make me feel most full. Here’s what I discovered…

Apples and peanut butter– If you don’t have nut allergies this is great. I ate this as a snack during the day and I would feel full for hours until my next meal. I also made green smoothies with spinach, almond milk, banana, dates and peanut butter, tastes great!

Beans and greens– Butter beans and spinach, or any beans and spinach would make me feel satiated and full.

Oats and milk with fruit– I would have this as a snack or breakfast, any type of oat or grain i.e bulgur, barley, cornmeal ect. with milk and blueberries for example would make me feel pretty full.

Basically you need carbs, protein, fat, and fibre to make you feel full. The reason pizza FEELS so good? Cheese! Which is the fat. It gives us the satiated feeling. Try avocado, coconut, flax & chia seeds instead!

Drinking water– Don’t drink your water with meals but either a minimum of  half an hour before or after your meal. Sometimes you feel hungry and you are just thirsty, so try this first.

Eating enough calories vs getting enough nutrients– If we don’t get enough nutrients you won’t feel good. Pizza, chips and junk food will give you the calories, but your body will be lacking the nutrients it needs to feel good. What I found is that once I started eating more plant based I needed to eat a lot more food to become full and get my nutrients. Cronometer is a MUST have app! I hate counting calories so I really only use it as a reference. You can put in the food you eat in a day and it will calculate how much nutrients you are getting based on your body weight. What I did was track what I ate in a day on the app then I would know if I was lacking anything and getting enough calories. What I found was I often wasn’t eating enough food. Remember, your body might be used to eating junk food and be in a toxic state, so you may feel worse before you start to feel better. Which brings me to my next point.

Scheduling time to eat.  I know it sounds crazy, but with busy schedules we don’t take time to eat. You get the most nutrients when you thoroughly  chew your food. It’s always better to eat solids as opposed to mush like porridge or smoothies when possible. I found that chewing vegetables took up time and as I began to eating healthier I needed to eat more. It was difficult to eat all my food on my breaks at work. You need to make time so you can eat everything you need.

Eating out– Eating out was different. However I never had a problem finding something to eat on a menu. It just wasn’t necessarily what I wanted. If I was going out with friends and I knew where we were going I would google what was on the menu before hand . Another tip that’s great is to eat BEFORE you leave. Before I would go to the restaurant hungry and get Hangry. But when you eat beforehand you are able to make better choices, feel better, more full, and save money!

It’s expensive – I always read blogs stating how much cheaper it is to be vegetarian but I did not find so. Now I’m able to balance it out better but generally I found it expensive. Here’s why. Fruits are expensive. Nuts are expensive. Grains are expensive. I bought some blueberries yesterday for approx $5 each, which I ate in one day.  I could eat about 2 cases of blueberries, 4 oranges and 2-3 bananas in a sitting or day.  If you do that everyday it adds up, and you will need to eat more to maintain your calories. I accept the expense and factor it in as an investment because it’s my health!

What I do now is buy my staples beans, tubers, and grains in bulk, then I make meals with any combination of the three. The fruits, greens, almond milk and other things are added in on an as needed basis.  At first it will be expensive but will level out in the end once you figure out what you like eating and need.

If you are buying organic it gets even more expensive. If you can’t afford to buy organic then don’t! It’s better to have some fruits and vegetable period then not having any because you can’t afford to buy organic. There are some fruits, like apples, that are best organic but more on that later. Also buy local! It’s cheaper.

You will need some appliances to make your life easier. I.e food processor, blender, spiralizer or mandolin. These come in very handy when you start making a lot of your own stuff. If you can’t get all of these appliances starting off I would recommend  buying first a Nutribullet. I’m able to use my Nutribullet as a blender and mini food processor and it works well for it’s value. of approx $100. That’s all I had for years, no problems.

Storage/ Food Waste– I found food wastage was another problem. I couldn’t eat fast enough or I would forget things in the fridge. I had to research food storage ideas and it took me a few months to get right. Here’s what I did.

I used a layer of my fridge to lay vegetables out flat.I wouldn’t really stack them on each other but instead put them in a line so I could see them.

Store some nuts in the fridge. Nuts like walnuts and flax should be in the fridge or they will get rancid and have a funny taste.

Don’t buy what you don’t like to eat. Some people when they become vegetarian force themselves to eat fruits or vegetable they don’t like. Eat what you like then you can go from there. I don’t like pears or mushrooms so I don’t buy them. Now I can tolerate the taste, but  don’t force yourself.

Put paper towel over lettuce . Put these in a mason jar with a paper towel on top, then turn the jar upside down so it catches any moisture. Your lettuce will stay crisp.

Put fresh herbs in a small mason jar of water in the fridge. They will stay fresh. Although some leaves may dry or fall off the middle will grow fresh.

Freeze. I buy beans in bulk. Then I take a day to boil then and put them in bags, date them and put them in the freezer. Although this initial prep takes time it’s worth it. Then you have beans  you can cook quickly. Freeze extra spinach as well!

Last but not least… haters. When I am asked ‘what do I call myself’ I always say I’m vegetarian; even though I eat vegan plant based  most of the time. I found that people are watching you more and are quick to jump on you if you fail or have something that looks like meat in your bowl. If you just want to eat more fruit and vegetables but still eat meat then that’s fine there is no need to label it. Also don’t stop trying. I would try to not eat or dink a certain thing and fail and give up. For example. There’s a coffee shop at my work. I’ve been trying to cut out caffeine but really like this one drink. I would go weeks… even months without drinking it, then one day, usually when I’m stressed I cave in. After I caved in I said, “well at least I tried” and would want to just give up. But no! What I found is that you can’t beat yourself up…keep trying! As long as it takes, months, years! You may have gone a week without eating meat then in the second week have a piece… instead of having a piece the next day start over. This is what I did and eventually the craving goes away. Then you move on and conquer the next thing. It took me over 4 years to get where I am and I’m still not where I want to be. It’s a process keep working on it.

Now those are my vegetarian struggle tips.  Hope it helped!

Cheers,

A