I have tried to become a vegetarian five times in my life. Four times were complete failures.
I never liked eating meat, and I always loved animals. Vegetarianism was always something I aspired toward, but it felt like an unachievable goal. As a younger person who didn’t know how to cook nutritious food and wasn’t yet able to buy my own food, finding protein replacements felt impossible. As a result, I lost out on a lot of nutrients, ate badly, and compromised my (already poor) health.
Every time I attempted vegetarianism, it turned into a disaster and I became incredibly sick. Begrudgingly, I returned to eating meat as per the advice of my doctor.
This year, I finally managed to become a vegetarian without becoming sick. Success!
There were a few reasons why I eventually managed to quit meat without becoming ill. Firstly, I finally had enough time, money, and skills to buy and prepare my own food. The first four times I tried vegetarianism didn’t work because I was a child in a meat-eating family; I couldn’t do my own grocery shopping or cook my own dinner. Many people don’t have the time or money to become vegetarian. My privileges enabled me to make a decision that felt ethical to me.
Secondly, I changed my mindset. Vegetarians and vegans hope to change the world by changing their own diets and encouraging others to do the same. By not supporting the meat industry, we hope to affect a small change. I believed just one person changing their diet could help. I believed that every little bit helps. I applied that same logic to my diet and myself: every little bit helps. Each time I ordered a vegetarian meal, cooked a plant-based dinner, or avoided meat, I helped. It was a tiny victory.
I decided to slowly reduce my meat consumption before going cold turkey (ha!). This was better for my health, and as my diet gradually became more plant-based, I realized vegetarianism could be easier than I thought.
I wish that, as a child, I’d been told that I could reduce my meat intake slowly if I wanted to become a vegetarian.
Of course, changing your diet can be incredibly difficult when you have limited time and money. It can be even more difficult if you have certain health concerns and allergies. I’m not here to judge people about meat-eating, but I am here to help people reduce their meat intake if they want to do so.
Here are a few of the methods I used to reduce my meat intake:
1Use a habit tracker
You’ve probably heard of “meat-free Mondays,” an initiative that encourages people to have one meat-free day a week. This is an excellent start and an excellent way to reduce your meat intake. Once you’re used to one meat-free day a week, add another, and another.
If you’re the kind of person who likes planning and lists, try monitoring your meat intake on a habit tracker. I use a habit tracker in my bullet journal, and I use it to keep track of a number of things: my water intake, my sugar intake, and my exercise habits. For each day that I fulfill my goal, I color in a block. Eventually, I added vegetarianism to the list, coloring in a block whenever I had a meat-free day. It surprisingly provided that extra bit of motivation to cook veggies instead of fry bacon.
Not into bullet journals? You can track your habits in other ways: a sticker on your monthly calendar, a checklist on your fridge, etc. The point is to reward yourself for every day you say no to meat, reducing your meat intake as slowly as you want to.
2Get really excited about vegetarian food.
Even when I ate meat, I pitied people who genuinely didn’t believe that vegetarian food could taste good. Technically, a vegetarian meal is simply a meal without meat. If you don’t like vegetarian food, I thought, does that mean the only food you actually like is meat? Does it mean that everything else you eat is unappetizing? For some people, it is. Maybe they have childhood memories of bland, steamed, unseasoned veggies.
Start getting yourself psyched for vegetarianism by reading recipes online and following vegetarian Instagram accounts. Soon, you’ll realize that vegetarian meals can be incredibly delicious.
3Don’t make your meals about the meat.
Descriptions of popular meals tend to focus on the meat – which means those meals become hard to imagine without meat. Chicken noodle soup becomes noodle soup, BLTs become tomato and lettuce on bland white bread.
Stop making the meal about the meat. Shift your mindset to focus on the vegetables, legumes, and grains. Stop making the meal about the meat. Add the meat in last so that the meal isn’t dependent on it. Think about a delicious salad with lettuce, peppers, tomato, cucumber, avocado, and roasted almonds, topped off with some crunchy bacon. Leave out the bacon, and it’s still a great, full salad. Instead of a beef curry with some vegetables, make a lentil curry with a little beef. Instead of roast chicken with vegetables on the side, make roast vegetables with cous cous and a few chicken strips.
Stop thinking about veggies as a side dish: think of them as the main meal. The meat can be the side dish.
4Stop buying meat in the grocery store.
Once I had fallen in love with vegetables – which wasn’t that hard, honestly – I barely cooked meat at all. But I still wasn’t ready to give it up entirely. I was afraid I’d get sick and all those weeks of lessening my meat consumption would go down the drain. So I decided only to eat meat if it was given to me. My boyfriend offering me a slice of pepperoni pizza? Okay. Meals given to me on planes? Okay. My roommate’s cooking? Okay.
I would not, however, spend any money on meat directly. I wouldn’t visit the meat section of the grocery store, and I wouldn’t cook any meat. Once I got used to not buying and cooking meat, refusing a free plate of lasagna became a lot easier.
The above suggestions are super useful, but the best “hack” to reducing your meat intake is to remember why you want to reduce your meat intake.
For me, I believe that becoming vegetarian (or vegan) is beneficial for the environment, animals, and humans — which is why I wanted to become a vegetarian. It wasn’t always easy, but it is super rewarding. And if you can’t become vegetarian? That’s okay. Try simply reducing your meat consumption. As I said before, every bit helps.