Some may wonder how the lifestyle choice of becoming a vegetarian has anything to do with mental health wellbeing however for me they are intertwined. Knowing that I am not causing harm to other living creatures has massively increased my positivity and decreased my sense of guilt around food. I was reared to save insects from the bath, ponds and sinks. Anytime I saw an insect drowning I’d scoop it out, and monitor it to see if it survived. I have always had an appreciation for life no matter how small the size of the creature. However, as I grew up I became disconnected from the food that was on my plate. Simply viewing it as something to wolf down to provide energy, without a seconds thought that what I was eating was once a living creature. That was until I went to India and was surrounded by people who were living a vegan lifestyle. I am always intrigued by people who are passionate about a topic. As a result, I began enquiring about their vegan lifestyle. It opened my eyes to so much.
For as long as I can remember my taste preferences have always been more herbivorous than carnivorous. One of my earliest memories is hiding hamburgers in my pocket at the dinner table and giving it to the dog later to cover up the evidence. Vegetarian options on menus have always appealed the most to me. Two years ago, I made the decision to stop eating red meat as it doesn’t suit my constitution. During my stay in India while training to be a yoga teacher the diet was vegetarian. I therefore didn’t consume meat for the duration of my stay and simply decided to continue this. A few things changed for me while in India which solidified this decision:
- Meat is no longer appealing:
It is like anything, when you give something up, after a few weeks you no longer crave it. Since returning from India, while dining out I began to notice that instead of longing for meat around me which is what I suspected would happen, it instead made me feel queasy. The aroma, texture and carcasses on the plate continue to make me nauseous which is something I never experienced before. I can’t help but think to whose body did that belong? How much did that animal suffer? I think of the fear that was in the animal’s eyes before being killed. When these thoughts occur it is obviously really easy for me to choose not to eat meat
- I realise how tasty and fulfilling food can be without meat:
Indian food is really flavorsome with the wide array of spices available. I genuinely didn’t notice that the dishes were meat free. Prior to this experience, I always thought that I wouldn’t feel satisfied without meat as a component of my dinner however this misconception changed in India. Despite the fact that I was engaging in four to five hours of yoga a day and my energy expenditure was significantly high, I always felt full and nourished after every meal.
- My energy levels rocketed:
While doing the YTT in India we were up at 6.00 Am every morning and engaged in really physical days. Not once did I feel sleepy or exhausted despite the intensity of the course. I notice now that I no longer have that lethargic feeling after meals as my body doesn’t have to overwork in its attempts to digest meat. People are often concerned about lack of meat having a negative impact on their energy levels and I was too. However, when you think about it, many animals such as horses that eat plant based diets are able to compete in high energy sports such as horse racing. So if an animal of that size can survive without eating meat I figure we can too.
Ahimsa is one of the eight limbs of yoga’s social code of conduct. Ahimsa means ‘non violence’. It encourages non violence towards oneself but also to others and the environment. It made me very aware of my inner self talk and its impact on my overall well-being. On average, we speak up to 300 words a minute to ourselves. I realised that the way in which I speak to myself is not always very positive. This realisation ignited a spark for change and highlighted that one of my core values is to move away from ego related concerns of me and mine towards a lifestyle of service where motivations are less ego driven and more selfless. The attempt to approach things in a spirit of kindness, compassion and harmlessness to fellow beings is important to me which ties in with my decision to not eat meat. It comes down to individual choice. We as humans in this society have the choice to healthily live happily without needing to eat animals or cause harm to other living creatures.
Vegetarian diets are lower in saturated fats and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some forms of cancer. (Safefood, EU2018)
Our bodily make up is not designed to eat meat. Human’s intestines are 20 feet long and carnivore’s Eg. tiger, lions are much shorter in comparison being only 4 feet in length. This is intentional so that carnivores’ consumption of meat can swiftly pass through their intestines. For us humans the meat sits in our intestines for significant periods of time given their length and essentially rots as we digest it. This process is similar to that of meat being left in a fridge that is switched off. Our bodies can endure a lot and obviously succeeds in digesting meat but the long term impact of this on our systems is worrying to me. Another aspect of our biological make up which is not conducive to eating meat is that we don’t have sharp canine teeth in the way that carnivores do. This again indicates that we are not naturally supposed to chew something as robust as flesh. Animals release toxins as a reaction to fear before they are slaughtered in the same way that we produce cortisol when stressed. We subsequently consume these toxins as a result of eating them. I also learnt that farmers began feeding cows meat for the purpose of bulking them up to increase their value. As a result, mad cow disease occurred. This makes me question the impact it is having on our individual organ systems and their susceptibility to diseases. It is these five reasons which impacted my decision to cease the consumption of meat and I continue to enjoy and benefit from this lifestyle choice.
If you are considering a vegetarian lifestyle there are a few things which are important to know. People choose to live a vegetarian lifestyle for many reasons, health, animal welfare, religious beliefs and concerns about the environment. As highlighted, for me it happened quite organically which made the transition very easy. I have received a lot of opinions on my lifestyle change some positive and some negative but the main appropriate comments and questions I get asked are:
Where do you get your protein?:
There are many delicious plant based options which include; lentils tofu, hummus, beans almonds quineoa sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, chickpeas and avocado. We are also under an illusion that we need a massive amount of protein at the moment as it is a current fad. The world health organisation recommends that we actually only need two portions a day.
What do you eat?
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- Consuming starchy foods such as bread, cereals and potatoes.
- Eating moderate amounts of alternatives to meat and fish (e.g. quorn, kidney beans).
- The incorporation of some dairy foods or alternatives (e.g. fortified soya milk and yogurts).
- The intake of sweets and fatty foods should be kept to a minimum. E.g. chocolate, biscuits, etc as these foods are low in nutrients and high in calories.
Are there specific nutrients that need to be considered?
Protein The recommended daily intake is two servings per day. Protein can be found in non meat sources such as eggs, dairy, lentils chickpeas tofu quorn, soya and nuts.
Iron It is important to eat vitamin C rich foods at the same time for absorption. Non animal sources of Iron can be found in dried beans, peas, lentils and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vit B12 can be found in dairy products, soya milk, soya yogurts and yeast extract. I take a supplement for this to insure that I am getting adequate sources.
Calcium It is recommended that you consume three servings per day which can be found in milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium, enriched soya based dairy alternatives, dark green vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, tofu and dried fruit.
Omega Three Can be found in canola oil, walnuts, soya oil, ground flax seeds and soya beans.
Do I struggle to refrain from eating meat?
Absolutely not and If I did I would reconsider this decision. As highlighted it happened organically for me and it was a slow transition over two years. I don’t miss it at all. The contrary actually because the thought of eating meat now makes me feel unwell. If I did struggle with it however, knowing the pain animals go through would enable me to overcome these cravings because any difficulty I might experience in not eating meat is nothing in comparison to the pain they endure in being slaughtered.
Last but not least, isn’t soya bad for you because it has estrogen in it?
There is widespread skepticism regarding this. As it is quite a new form of nutrition, like all foods time will tell. However what I do know is that it doesn’t have estrogen but phytoestrogen which is a plant version of estrogen. Phytoestrogen is on thousand times weaker than the human version and it also doesn’t have the same effect on the body. Research suggests that you are one hundred percent more likely to get affected by the sex hormones in dairy than that in soy and it is one of the contributing factors that girls are commencing puberty earlier. Soy has many benefits as it has 10 grams of protein per 100 grams. It is also the best plant source of leucine (essential amino acid) which is important for muscle repair and growth.
I strongly believe that our planet doesn’t need more successful people; it desperately needs more peacemakers, healers and lovers of all kinds. I am fully aware that there is a lot more that I can be doing. For me it’s not about perfectionism it is a way of living which reduces ahimsa. I am fully in support of reducetarians, flexitarians and adopters of meat free Mondays. Intense extremists can do more to hinder the progression than improve it. However, if you struggle to understand why someone would prefer to not eat meat perhaps ask yourself why you do choose to eat it. For me personally, aligning my choices with my values is the most effective way to move forward. I am reluctant to label myself because I am aware that the integration of these principles may not be lifelong. For now, they are right for me. I would encourage you to engage in discussions you don’t understand not just the ones you do and always be open to changing your mind. I’ll be arriving at my own conclusions with a wholehearted respect for yours.
I hope this was useful if anyone has any questions or comments feel free to add them below. Thanks for reading and Happy Sunday! I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.
If anyone wants more information the documentaries and websites listed below are really informative:
- ‘What the health’ is available on Netflix. It examines the link between diet and disease.
- Earthlings (Available on YouTube). Warning I cried watching it and almost got sick but it is life changing.
Healthy-Eating/Food,-Diet-and- Health/Eating- In/Vegetarian-diets.aspx