*This post was written by a Start Healthy contributor.
From the title alone, you may be thinking this isn’t exactly the hardest health challenge to try out. There’s the keto diet, paleo diet, veganism, and dozens of other trending meal plans out there that are a lot more restrictive than simply giving up meat, fish, and poultry. Yet for me, this was a daunting challenge.
I’ve never once tried any sort of diet (whether the ones listed above or other fad diets that have come and gone) or drastically changed my eating habits before this. I credit this to growing up in a family where celebrations of any sort revolved around food. And truthfully, it remains that way; we just love to eat. So maybe that’s why I was so hesitant to try out vegetarianism, but in the name of journalism, I decided to join the eight million other Americans in giving up meat.
Breakfast on this Monday morning started out the same as any other: scrambled eggs with Sriracha (more Sriracha than eggs if we’re being honest). The day continued on in a similar fashion, where virtually nothing was out of the ordinary as far as food was concerned. I had Greek yogurt for a mid-morning snack, crackers before lunch, and a sad, sad cheese sandwich for lunch. This also isn’t out of the ordinary—I normally don’t include lunch meat in my sandwiches because I once read that lunch meat causes headaches, which I’m prone to, so cheese and mustard it is. Later I had a granola bar pre-spin class to give me energy for the calorie-burning workout. After working out, I’m typically never too hungry, so I went to Whole Foods and got an acai smoothie. Day one was complete, and I felt totally normal, and not at all like I was missing out on a usual part of my diet.
Tuesday was off to a rough start—I was out of Sriracha. I don’t remember when this chili hot sauce became such a staple in my diet (namely my breakfast) but it’s rare for me to go too long without a glob of it on the side of my plate. So I opted for a fried egg with a piece of toast, which is a much more manageable egg-based breakfast sans Sriracha than when they’re prepared scrambled, if you ask me. The rest of the morning at work went on as it normally does, with a Greek yogurt and cracker break sometime before lunch. Lunch rolled around and I headed to the grocery store, where I got red lentil soup (yay, protein!) and vegetable fried rice (it was just calling my name, okay?). I got lazy for dinner and made avocado toast topped with a fried egg; I really do love eggs, but even this was overkill.
The third day of going vegetarian was more of the same: eggs, yogurt, cheese sandwich, and lentil soup (yes, the same kind from the same place). It was then that I realized, maybe removing meat from my diet was causing me to be healthier in general. I noticed I was snacking less too, specifically on Cheez-Its, which have become my snack weakness, and evne drinking less caffeine throughout the day. Dinner included pasta fagioli—one of my favorite soups that happens to be chockfull of beans, and cheese and crackers, because why not.
Three days down, two to go. You know the deal by now: scrambled eggs (finally got my hands on Sriracha, three grocery stores later), Greek yogurt, a banana, and a granola bar before lunch. I took a late lunch this day, but all of those mini meals held me over. It turned out to be a Sweetgreen salad kind of day. Even pre-vegetarian challenge, Sweetgreen is my go-to for lunch because it’s filling and healthy, but obviously I had to forgo the chicken on this particular outing. This was the first meal of the week where I really started to miss meat. A kale salad without chicken is just … not as fulfilling. I later went out to dinner with a friend and thought, Wow, my first time at a sit-down restaurant with a dietary restriction. Let me tell you, the odds were not in my favor. The restaurant we picked happened to be changing hands, AKA a restricted “sorry for the inconvenience”-menu, AKA everything. had. meat. There were a few salad options that didn’t, but having just had a late lunch that included a salad, I truly didn’t even want to look at lettuce. I felt panicky for a minute before just opting for a chicken fajita wrap sans chicken. It’s 2019, and yet asking for black beans instead of chicken is apparently frowned upon, but I felt content in my choice anyway. Sadly, the quality was a solid 3/10, chicken or no chicken.
My last day as a vegetarian and let me tell you, I was ready to be done. Maybe it’s the fact that, as previously mentioned, I had never restricted my diet before, or maybe my body was all ??? at me, but I was ready for a protein that wasn’t eggs or beans or yogurt. For this reason, I had myself a day: pizza, donuts, and snacks galore. I took another late lunch with a friend, and one cheeseboard later, I had my first slip up of the week. Mind you, I truly didn’t have a thought in the world as I picked up and ate that slice of prosciutto, before realizing, Wait, prosciutto is meat. It was nearly 5 p.m. on my last day of being a vegetarian, and of course, this moment just had to occur. I chastised myself for a few minutes before realizing that I’m a carnivorous human being, and this was bound to happen.
Was going vegetarian for five days the hardest thing I’ve ever done, food-wise? Honestly, yes. I give a lot of credit to people who not only follow this lifestyle continually, but also to those who take it one step further with veganism and other major health lifestyles. There are many temptations out there, and all it takes is one look at an average menu to realize that a lot of items when you’re out have meat in them. But as someone who has always followed the rule of “eat what you want, just in moderation,” I probably wouldn’t do this—or any type of diet—long-term.