Thursday, 8 January 2015

Going Vegetarian

People choose to become vegetarian or vegan for many reasons, the main ones being Firstly, the love of animals & Animal Welfare and secondly, the Health Benefits.

But once you have decided to make the lifestyle change, whats the best way to go about it? Cutting out Meat, poultry, fish, or other animal products / byproducts can seem like a daunting task... especially for an athlete! When I travelled with the Bobsleigh Team, I don't think a single meal went by without a discussion about my food... usually centered on whether I could get enough protein, put on muscle or even whether it was healthy. It could get annoying being told constanly that I really should eat meat, but it was a great chance to talk about why I ate how I did and its good that people are interested and curious!

In my experience, people pick up and stick to new habits better when its done gradually - too much of a shock by cutting everything at once, can just seem to hard and people easily give up. So I thought id put up my top tips for switching and sticking to it!
If you are just starting out or thinking about it... good luck and please comment if you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered.

1 Make a Gradual transition.
Theres a couple of ways to do this
- vegetarian day. Pick one day a week to go meat free, one day can seem more do-able than trying to plan a whole week! after a few weeks pick two days... gradually increase and in no time you will find yourself eating meat free all week
- gradually cutting out animal products. Maybe cut meat first and when that's become easy then poultry, then fish, if you want to go further and cut out other animal products, tackle one at a time. this gives you chance to research alternatives, find recipes and build new habits etc, The gradual approach gives you time to work things out so you are more likely to make good healthy choices and stick to them.

2 Do some research.
If you decide to go veggie or vegan, to ensure you are getting a balanced diet and do it in a healthy way, you need to look up recipes, find the meat free section of your supermarket, visit some health food shops, read some books, magazines or find blogs with advice and recipes, information is power!

3 Be prepared.
Before you switch, armed with some information from your research, go shopping, stock up on supplies, make sure you have all the ingredients for a few recipes so you don't get bored eating the same all the time.

4 Try the meat alternatives.
The easiest way to transition is to straight swap meat for tvp /soy / quorn fillets, burgers for garden burgers, sausages for veggie bangers, roast meat for nut roasts. You can get tvp / quorn / soya alternatives for most food that you are used to eating. This helps if you want your meals to look similar to other family members, especially if they are not so supportive of your decision, as your meal will look similar to theirs!

5 Start reading food labels.
Its suprising how many foods contain animal products that you might not want to eat. Yoghurts, and many chilled deserts and even some chewing gum have beef or pork gelatine in them, so if you want to cut animal by products, you need to get familiar with label reading!

6 Supplements.
While you are getting to grips with your new lifestyle, it might be good to supplement to ensure you are getting all the nutrition you need. For athletes and anyone participating in a lot of exercise especially, we need more nutrients than the average person, as we use more nutrients to workout and for recovery from exercise. The main nutrients id recommend vegetarians and vegans need to be mindful of as we are commonly found to be insufficient on are B12, Iron, Protein and Creatine.

7 Finding Alternatives
Rather than thinking I have to cut out all these things... find alternatives to replace it with. There are so many alternatives, i'll be posting a list of suggestions in another post, to help you find alternatives to make the transition easier!

8 Small changes add up.
If you are finding it hard to give up certain foods, try making more ethical choices. For example, Switch from factory farmed eggs for Free Range. If you cant totally give up meat totally but are cutting down but want to make a better choice Visit a local famers market, talk to the farmers, maybe see if you can visit the farm. Theres a farm in Devon that are organic, the animals are free range, they are not transported live, if you can find a farm that helps you make choices you are happier with and limits any animal suffering, that's better than doing nothing!

9 Don't beat yourself up!
So you have been living the veggie lifestyle for a while.. and crack and eat a bacon buttie... does that mean you are not vegetarian any more and should just give in because its too difficult? NO WAY!!!!
Just because you crack once or twice, doesn't mean you should give up... but maybe your diet is lacking in something that's making you have a craving, or maybe you need to find an alternative food  for when you feel like cracking.... Just do your best, everything you do counts towards your health and limits the impact on animals, so just get back on the veggie waggon and do your best!

10 Who makes the rules????
People feel the need to have a label
vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, Ovo lacto, lacto, rawfood, fruitarian .. the list goes on...and then seem to argue over who can call themselves what. At the end of the day, you choose what you want to do, how far you want to go... based on your reasons for deciding to 'go veggie' . At one end of the scale someone gives up meat and fish at the other end, a person gives up meat fish, eggs, dairy, animal by products and products that animals may have been mistreated in producing a product. Its your choice but my advice, is to go straight to the more extreme end, can be daunting and hard to stick to, so tackling one item at a time might help! Be proud of what you achieve!

Ive been vegetarian since I was 18, from 15 to 18 I still ate fish.
Since I was 15 ive also avoided animal by products such as gelatine and rennet. I eat eggs but only free range, I am currently transitioning away from dairy- limiting it as much as possible even if I cant eliminate it completely. I see it as a long term journey and im gradually transitioning towards vegan at a rate that I can manage!

At the end of the day, you decide what you are happy with, what you can manage to stick to and whatever you do, whether its reducing your intake or cutting it out completely, it all makes a difference!
Did this post help you? Please comment with your thoughts, suggestions and questions!

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