If you asked me a year ago if I’d ever give up meat, I’d have had a crazed look in my eyes and given you a solid “nah.” Meat and I have been in a loving, tight-knit relationship since I came out the womb. Our true love started with my mother’s buttermilk fried chicken, and it’s been flourishing ever since. I have fond memories sketched in my head of my family’s colorful dinner table filled with various iterations of delicious meats—we did not discriminate. My mother passed down our generational family recipes, so I’ve learned how to skillfully whip up meat-filled comfort meals, which I’ve relied on my whole life.
However, this past year has been the most health-conscious year of my life, hands down. I decided to confront my long-term body insecurities last January. I came to terms with the fact that I did not like the way my body looked and that I had every single right to change it. For me, fully loving myself, meant taking care of myself. This realization sparked a serious lifestyle change that has transformed my way of thinking about health.
I’ve fallen in love with working out—it’s my idea of self-care and the ultimate stress reliever. Working out has made me even more in tune with my body and its responses to what I put inside of it. After an invigorating workout, I started to feel sick after eating something unhealthy. Since then, it’s like my entire food palate has transformed along with my taste buds. My fridge is stocked with fruits and vegetables galore, and I don’t even allow myself to buy sweets and treats anymore, let alone cook anything unhealthy.
I’ve always been fascinated by vegetarianism since many people who do entirely cut out meat rave about the health and skin benefits. So I started off slowly to make the switch. First, I ditched dairy completely. Then, I cut out the chicken and stuck to salmon. I've always loved chicken, but eating fish gave me my fix. My plant-based eating habits allowed me to build my meals around vegetables instead of meat (a habit I’d been doing my whole life). Even when I did eat fish, it was roughly 25% of my plate, keeping the rest of my plate vegetable-heavy with whole grains and protein.
My eating habits paired with a regular exercise routine made me feel so good. I woke up with way more energy and started to see physical changes in my body. I decided to go all the way. After a bunch of research and a trip to Trader Joe’s, I stocked my fridge with things like quinoa, eggs, beans, spinach, kale, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, and more. I gave my friends all my meat and meal-prepped my life away on Sunday. The key is to put time and effort into what you’re feeding yourself.
I started by prepping my breakfast: two hard-boiled eggs and fruit. For lunch, I made different variations of vegetable medley paired with quinoa and beans for extra protein. I kept it light for dinner since my unpredictable schedule resulted in late nights most of the time, so I ate things like deliciously seasoned stir-fry, zucchini noodles, and meatless tacos.
My main concern was that I'd feel famished without any meat or fish. The first few days, I was hungrier than usual. To combat my meat cravings, I stocked my lunch bag with fruit. I'd reach for strawberries, mangos, and a handful of almonds whenever I felt like I needed it. After the first four days, my body was in a vegetable-loving routine and I was shook at how easy the transition was for me.
After cutting out meat, I woke up feeling energized and so ready to take on the day. My skin was noticeably brighter and looked way less dull from sleep deprivation. I also think it affected my stamina, because I found myself in the top spot on the racing TorqBoard in my favorite Flywheel classes.
The hardest part: eating out at restaurants. When I go to dinner, I’m a treat-myself type of gal, and not getting to indulge in meat was a struggle. I tried lasting a month, but when I recently went to Mexico for my birthday, life got in the way. I was greeted with a gorgeous, all-inclusive resort decked out with six different restaurants for me to eat whenever I wanted. I didn’t even feel bad for cheating, to be honest. I deserved those tacos.
However, I did last 21 days, which is how long it takes to form a habit. During those 21 days, I questioned why I’d been side-eyeing vegetarians my whole life like it was some otherworldly thing. Since my experiment, I’ve actually decided to cut out meat during the week, with an occasional salmon indulgence for lunch every now and then. I like the way I feel without eating meat, and it has definitely had a positive impact on my mind, body, and spirit. It’s a lifestyle change, and I’m thankful I was up for the challenge.
Up next, find out what happened when a Byrdie editor went vegan for a week.