Becoming a Denver Veg Head – Vegetarian experiment

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“every individual needs to look at their diet more critically whether it be for health, environmental, political, or moral reasons”


Week 1 | January 25, 2015 – January 31, 2015

My first week being vegetarian has been a mixed bag of experiences. Even though my normal diet consists of only about 4 “meat” meals per week I’ve had cravings and headaches since giving it up. Funny enough, the experience has been very similar to giving up smoking, which I did in 2011 after 6 years. Knowing how similar my body has responded to both definitely raises concerns for me about the type of hormones and chemicals in meat.

Up to this point I would say that the most difficult part of giving up meat has been eating out with other people. When going out I almost always eat some kind of meat dish (hamburger, bison burger, buffalo wings, etc) and now I am forced to look for options that fit being vegetarian. Similarly when going to other peoples’ houses for dinner I’ve had to either let them know about my dietary restrictions or bring along my own options.

Over the course of the week I’ve discussed my newfound dietary restriction with several people and had mostly positive reactions. On Wednesday, I had dinner with some of my family and we discussed the difficulties involved with vegetarianism. All three of them were convinced that it would be difficult, but in the end they all helped me search the menu for options that would fit into my diet. Later on that week I had dinner with the same family members. They went out of their way to prepare a vegetarian version of the meal they had made. Overall, I would say that these responses were positive for me personally, but I am starting to realize that vegetarianism is perceived by society as difficult, problematic, and “hippyish” as one of my uncles described it.

 

Week 2 | February 1, 2015 – February 7, 2015

The second week of vegetarianism has been a marked improvement over the first. My body is starting to adjust to a meatless diet and my headaches and cravings have mostly stopped. The biggest struggle this week was the Super Bowl, an event that would normally require consuming copious amounts of meat. The difficulty of this event was compounded by drinking and having non-vegetarian friends eat like I normally would. Despite the difficulty of watching the game in a bar and having my judgments slightly impaired, I was able to make it through the game without having meat.

Overall this week has been promising; It seems like my body is beginning to acclimate to being vegetarian and my cravings for meat have dropped. One of the biggest issues I’ve had is working in alternative sources of protein into my diet. Normally I average 10 miles of biking every day and snowboarding/hiking on the weekends so having protein is crucial for me to have energy in these activities.

This week presented a wide range of social responses. The most notable were from the group of people I was watching the Super Bowl with. One individual in the group voiced how absurd he thought vegetarianism was and how difficult he thought the assignment would be for me. A couple others in the group agreed, albeit less vocally. Despite their initial reactions, all of the people I talked with all agreed that making the switch to vegetarianism was an impressive feat and that if i made it all 13 weeks it would be an impressive accomplishment.

 

Week 3 | February 8, 2015 – February 14, 2015

In my experience, if you can make it past the third week of any challenge it tends to get easier from that point on. I really hope that holds true in this case because this week has been incredibly difficult. The routine of school is setting in and with it came the stress of starting to plan out various projects and papers. Over the weekend I was able to head up to the mountains for a couple days of snowboarding with some friends. While up in Breckenridge I encountered several situations that really challenged me to stay vegetarian. Overall I made it through and I’m hoping that the challenges of this week will help me make it through the rest of the experiment.

I definitely experienced more cravings during this week than in week 2. I think spending two days snowboarding really brought out my craving for meat. Luckily my body seems to be adjusting to substitutes like cheese, peanut butter, and trail mix. I found that over the course of the days I’m hungrier more often for small meals to keep me going. However, I’ve also noticed that I’m eating much less and still getting full during those meals.

The biggest challenge this week was after snowboarding on Sunday. As usual, me and my group went out to a local bar and grill in Keystone after our long day snowboarding. After looking the menu over we decided to split a couple of pizzas, but when deciding what toppings to add I had to let them know I couldn’t have the buffalo chicken, pepperoni, or meat lovers options that everyone seemed so excited about. I instantly felt the guilt of forcing my diet on them and offered to get something separate. Being the good friends they are, they reassured me that it was fine to get one pizza vegetarian and one regular. Despite their words I couldn’t help but feel guilty especially when the food was brought out and I kept noticing how delicious the meat pizza looked. Heres hoping for an easier week 4.

 

Week 4 | February 15, 2015 – February 21, 2015

The theme of week 4 has been surprises. My cravings for meat dropped dramatically, and I learned that a long time friend has been vegetarian for over a year. I think I’m finally starting to get used to my new diet and I’m hoping the rest of the weeks continue on like this. Eating out has also gotten much easier. I’m learning to look past some of items I would have previously ordered and simply look at what I can have.

I think the biggest thing for me this week is that my body is adapting to this new diet. I’ve learned that I need to eat smaller meals more frequently because my body starts to feel weak about three hours after each meal. I also expanded my horizons in terms of my sources of protein. Up to this point I’ve really only used peanut butter, cheeses, and nuts and legumes for protein sources but after doing some research I learned that foods like tofu, quinoa, chickpeas, green peas, chia seeds, etc. could act as alternative sources of protein. In future weeks I’m hoping to experiment with some different recipes to make my meals at home slightly more interesting than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The biggest surprise of the week came during a phone conversation with Mark, one of my long time friends who now lives in Philadelphia. After telling him about my vegetarian experiment he revealed to me that he had been vegetarian for over a year which shocked me since we talk once every one or two weeks. He told me that a little over a year ago he had had some medical issues concerning his digestive system. His doctor immediately advised him to switch to a vegetarian diet and soon after the switch his issues went away. He hadn’t told me or any other of our close friends because he was embarrassed and didn’t want us to “give him shit about it” which in all fairness we probably would have. He was so excited to have someone else involved in the vegetarian lifestyle that he gave me a ton of great advice and resources on how to make the transition easier. I’m hoping that with this newfound support the diet will continue to get easier in the upcoming weeks.

 

Week 5 | February 22, 2015 – February 28, 2015

Week five has been another step forward in my progress towards fully acclimating to the vegetarian lifestyle. Having the support of Mark has really helped me face some of the more challenging aspects of the diet. Similarly, after hearing about our conversation, my girlfriend has decided to complete the rest of the challenge with me. It seems like the farther along i get in the experiment there is more and more unexpected support which is making it much easier.

My body has adjusted to the new routine of the vegetarian diet. I’m planning out my daily meals more effectively and making sure that they all have some source of protein. Similarly my daily bike rides and workouts have become significantly easier since the start of the experiment. During the first few weeks I was exhausted after the 6 mile bike ride to school but now I’m arriving with much more energy and have a lot left for the return trip.

Having my girlfriend Jamie start the diet with me this week has been really helpful. Preparing two different meals each day has been one of the most annoying aspects of the experiment but since she started we’ve been able to find a lot of meals that work for the diet. Similarly, It’s been really fun to help her get into the diet. She’s now going through many of the same issues I had when I first started. Hearing someone else complain about those challenges has been comforting and also pretty comical. Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like a horrible person!

 

Week 6 | March 1, 2015 – March 7, 2015

Week six has been another good week for the vegetarian experiment. More and more of my family and friends have shifted their attitude on the topic from disbelief to supportive. Having Jamie on the same diet as me has continued to make the experience more and more positive. I’m finding that combined, we’re really able to dive into the vegetarian lifestyle more fully and get way more out of it than when I was doing it solo.

One of the biggest physical challenges of the week was a backcountry snowboarding adventure up at Berthoud Pass. No matter what the diet, hiking at 11,000 feet in below freezing temperatures with avy gear, snowshoes, layers, and a snowboard is never easy. However, the diet added another variable to the scenario. After making one trip up the mountain and back down Jamie and I were completely exhausted. We had to go back to the car just to eat and get some energy for the next trip up. Eventually we were forced to head back to Denver after only a few runs because we didn’t bring enough food. This is by far the most physically taxing activity that I do during the year and I can see now that we will have to plan around the diet better next time.

This week I was also able to add some variety to the vegetarian diet. On Monday and Thursday I had the chance to experiment with some really awesome recipes. The first was a vegan quinoa soup which Jamie made for myself and some friends. To my surprise everyone loved it despite Jamie and myself being the only vegetarians. The second were spicy black bean burgers, which went over just as well.  It definitely seems like the more my friends and family are around the vegetarian experiment, the more they are willing to try and embrace it.

 

Week 7 | March 8, 2015 – March 14, 2015

With two weeks of good progress under my belt week 7 was a little more of a challenge. This week I had my younger cousin fly out from Michigan, where most of my extended family lives, and visit for a week. I knew this would be interesting since none of that side of my family knows about this vegetarian business and to put it over the top most of them are on an eat-what-you-kill policy with a significant portion of their food. Still I came into the week excited to see what challenges it was going to bring.

Since the first thing we did when she landed was go to the market, it came out pretty quickly that I was a vegetarian. The term shocked doesn’t begin to describe her reaction but pretty quickly she adjusted to the news. In fact, over the course of her trip she ended up eating a lot of the things Jamie and I were making and to all of our surprise she really liked all of it. I don’t think she had ever tried vegetarian options before and was impressed at how filling and delicious they were. By the end of the trip I think her attitude regarding vegetarianism had shifted dramatically!

I also noticed this week that since starting the vegetarian diet I’ve lost almost ten pounds. I wasn’t expecting this at all because it seems like I’m eating more than ever since I have more meals per day. I think the weight loss has to do with the decreased portions i’m having with each meal and the level of activity that I’m keeping. I feel that at this point my body is starting to work much more effectively with the vegetarian diet than in previous weeks.

 

Week 8 | March 15, 2015 – March 21, 2015

If you’re looking for the achilles tendon of any recent diet or lifestyle change midterms could be it. Over the course of the week I’ve had two coffee fueled all night study sessions, three mid terms and two papers due, not to mention the regular homework for the week. It’s been stressful to say the least and my body is definitely craving non-vegetarian junk food as a result. I’m really hoping this week doesn’t set me back too much.

At several points during the week I really needed an extra boost and I think my body felt like that needed to come from meat. I had several instances where I was craving meat so badly that I thought I might give in. To make matters worse my job working in a kitchen at a busy restaurant gives me really easy access to food that would break the experiment. Will power ended up becoming this weeks seemingly endless theme.

Having Jamie and Mark this week was invaluable. They both were really supportive and talked me off the meat craving ledge multiple times. Making the move to vegetarianism definitely requires a certain level of support from those around you. Without it I’m not sure I would have made it past this week. Despite the challenges of this week I think I’m past the worst and hopefully spring break will help reign in the stress and cravings from this week.

 

Week 9 | March 22, 2015 – March 28, 2015

Spring break couldn’t have come at a better time. This week really helped me get back on track with the experiment. Over the break I had the chance to try some really amazing vegetarian options while traveling to Salt Lake City to do some snowboarding. I was also faced with some interesting confrontations on vegetarianism and its relationship to environmental concerns from Jamie’s family whom we stayed with in SLC.

On our way out to SLC we stopped in Breckenridge and Glenwood Springs. At both stops we had the chance to eat some amazing vegetarian options at Breckenridge Brewery and Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co. Both of these stops really helped me gain some traction with the experiment and reinforced the positive aspects of being vegetarian. My body is starting to get readjusted after the stress from last week and hopefully the experiment will go smoothly from here on out.

Prior to our trip to SLC Jamie informed her aunt that we were vegetarian. Knowing her aunt and uncle’s political beliefs I knew that they would be fired up to talk to us about why we were vegetarians and what we thought the benefits were. Both are avid climate change deniers and firmly grounded in the belief that a meatless diet is impractical and “hippyish”. Knowing this, I did my best to research as much hard proof as possible before the trip. After many hours debating the benefits and downfalls of being a vegetarian I think it’s safe to say that we all walked away holding our viewpoints in tact, but having learned something about eachothers opinions. After encountering such opposing viewpoints I’m finding that my resolve to complete the experiment and gain more knowledge on the subject has been greatly strengthened.

 

Week 10 | March 29, 2015 – April 4, 2015

Back to the grind and onto the homestretch of the vegetarian experiment. This week started off quickly. On our way back from SLC we had an interesting experience at a small pizza joint in Wyoming and during the week the stress of finals is already starting to creep up. I’m also starting to think about post experiment plans and whether or not I will keep being vegetarian. At this point it seems to have fully integrated into my life and i can see where it would be interesting to see how long I can keep it going.

Driving back from SLC, Jamie and I stopped on a lonely stretch of Highway 80 to get a bite to eat. We walked into the local pizza establishment and were greeted by possibly the friendliest waiter in the history of friendly waiters. While we waited for our vegetarian pizza to be made when our waiter came out with a personal sized pizza, sat it down on our table, and told us it was on the house. Amazed, we looked at the pizza only to find to our horror that it was covered in pepperoni, sausage, and bacon. We immediately looked at each other and knew there was no way we could send it back since this waiter just went out of his way to bring us free food. After talking it over for a moment we began to remove the toppings from the pizza, collected them in a napkin, and Jamie quietly disposed of them in the restroom. Honestly, when i started this experiment there is no way I would have seen this awkward scene coming to life, but i guess its just one of the strange things that can happen being a vegetarian.

Overall this week has been much better than midterms week and I’m hopeful that things will keep going smoothly. I’m physically feeling really good being on the diet right now and I’ve continued to lose weight. I’m interested to see how the next couple of weeks will unfold especially with the epic stress of finals looming in the distance.

 

Week 11 | April 5, 2015 – April 11, 2015

Week 11 went relatively smoothly. It’s been pretty easy keeping up with the vegetarian experiment and at this point it seems not to be an issue whatsoever. Mark has continued offering great advice about various food options to keep a wide variety in my diet and Jamie has been incredibly supportive in the last few weeks.

Healthwise, I think my body has really made a total transformation to vegetarianism and i’m really considering keeping the experiment going after its official end date. I’ve continued to lose weight this week and it seems like that trend will keep going.

One issue I encountered this week was Easter brunch at a friends house. I haven’t had cravings for meat in a few weeks and didn’t think it would be an issue in the near future. Shortly after arriving we all began preparing brunch and I immediately starting craving meat after smelling the bacon cooking on the stove top. After talking to Jamie and Mark about it they both agreed that there something about bacon that seems to drive meat cravings. I’m not sure if any other vegetarians experience the same thing or if it will ever go away but i found it interesting that bacon is the only food up to this point that I’ve found that completely drives my food cravings to kick in.

 

Week 12 | April 12, 2015 – April 18, 2015

Its the second to last week and I have no idea where the time went. This week presented a couple of different challenges. First of all it’s starting to get nice out which means buisness at work picks up. Second, finals are coming and it looks like it’s only getting worse from here on out. Luckily there’s only one week left after this so optimistic that I can complete the 13 weeks with no slip ups at all.

Starting a new diet and working in a restaurant seem to be two very incompatible things. Theres the constant temptation to grab a quick bite to eat and everything always seems to have meat in it somehow. Making things more difficult, as the weather gets nice, more and more people are eating out and making the work environment more tense. Despite these challenges I was able to make it through without eating meat.

This week was also my first Rockies game of the season and despite the outrageous prices and poor quality, I’ve always indulged in a hot dog at ball games. For some reason the two just seem to go together. Moving away from these types of traditions has been one of the hardest aspects of becoming a vegetarian. Buffalo wings after snowboarding, hot dogs at baseball games, burgers at BBQs; all of these things just seem intrinsically linked in my brain, but as i’ve moved through this experiment it has become easier to separate events and food and simply focus on the event.

Finally, this week I was able to take a look at several articles, papers, and videos about vegetarianism. Many of them had statistics and figures which absolutely astounded me. For instance I had no idea that raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gasses than all cars and trucks on the planet combined. Figures like that absolutely make me believe that changing to a vegetarian diet is crucial to creating a sustainable future for the planet.

 

Week 13 | April 19, 2015 – April 25, 2015

I can’t believe its been 13  weeks. It feels like I just started planning out this experiment yesterday and in all honesty I’m in disbelief that I was able to accomplish this. At this point there’s been a lot of highs and lows throughout the process, but I think i’ve taken away a really valuable experience. Learning about vegetarianism has made me appreciate some of the social nuances that vegetarians have to go through and sacrifices they have to make. Its also made me significantly more aware of the environment and how human consumption can affect it so severely. I think for anyone considering going vegetarian I would tell them that there is honestly no downside. A couple weeks of minor headaches and being hungry quickly pass by and eventually you learn to handle the cravings that arise from time to time.

Previously I had mentioned that I was considering continuing the experiment. Since that time I was invited to go on a trip with some friends to Miami and have decided that to truly go and appreciate the culture that I should be open to eating meat while I’m there. So my record of staunch vegetarianism will be broken this upcoming weekend. However, I do plan to get back into the diet when I return. I think the main takeaway from this experiment for me has been that our consumption of specific foods is far less biological necessity and far more socially constructed norms. Just because society as a whole eats meat and incredibly high rates doesn’t mean thats the way it should be. I think every individual needs to look at their diet more critically whether it be for health, environmental, political, or moral reasons and decide if their current diet is keeping up with their overall goals and concerns.

Research Articles

  • https://www.downtoearth.org/go-veggie/environment/top-10-reasons
  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/vegetarian-or-omnivore-the-environmental-implications-of-diet/2014/03/10/648fdbe8-a495-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html
  • http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment
  • http://www.chooseveg.com/environment
  • http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/facts-on-animal-farming-and-the-environment/
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKSDmBe-mvE
  • http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat?language=en
  • http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_weekday_vegetarian?language=en