The last toastmasters meeting of 2009, the group is asked to introduce themselves and give their new years resolution. When my turn comes round I stand up, introduce myself and thank the toastmaster for allowing me this opportunity to state what I want to achieve. When I say this publicly in front of others, I know that I make myself liable to everyone in the room to keep true to my word and I also ask that everyone keeps encouraging me to stay on track. For 2010 I will become a vegetarian!

It was the first time I voiced my opinion on the subject of diet, and as soon as I said it I began to wonder what I had let myself in for. My diet up until then consisted of meat being the main dish. The Scottish traditional meal is Haggis, neeps and tatties. I love Big Macs, big juicy steaks and donner kebabs! How would I be able to eat if I didn’t eat meat? Indeed, the last night of toastmasters had a buffet with lots of lovely nibbles, including chicken skewers, wings and sausage rolls. I was wondering how I would be able to stop myself. Luckily the room was full of people who just listened to my new years resolution. They made sure I never got within reaching distance of the forbidden food.

I failed my New Years Resolution on the very first day. In the evening I went to a friend’s house for a dinner party. The kind host had home-made steak pie waiting for us in the oven. Far from wanting to be polite and eat what was made, I just plain forgot that I had wanted to stop eating meat. The first mouth-full was tasty, but I couldn’t help but think something was wrong.. It wasn’t till the next morning I realised that I just broke my New Years resolution!

However I wasn’t deterred. It made me realise that real dedication would be required to keep up this challenge. The thought of never eating meat again was still overwhelming for me, but I decided to make it a 1 month challenge. At the end of the month I could treat myself. That made the challenge much more palatable. Since that day, I have had a couple of weak moments, but by and large I have managed to keep it up.

Why are you becoming vegetarian?

Here’s a question I get asked by almost every person I talk to. Some ask in a positive way, illiciting a response of general enlightenment, towards society or health. Usually these are the people who already know vegetarians or are ones themselves. Others appear to be more aggressive in their questioning as if I just challenged their own eating habits. They ask why I would want to give up on the tastiest part about food or make statements about how eating meat is not only healthy but necessary for a wholesome diet.

The reasons for me are to find out more about the benefits of vegetarianism. Over the last few years whilst travelling and at university I have met a few people who were vegetarian and claimed various health benefits. In the last year I have discovered a more extreme diet known as Raw Food diet and met a couple of people who practise this. One in fact had a TV interview talking about just that The arguments made in this video were compelling enough for me to consider more fully what I ate.

The strongest reason in my mind wasn’t for health reasons directly but rather more for the opportunities of more up-time during the day that eating more healthily could offer. Over the last year I have been looking at ways of increasing productivity throughout the day. Approaches such as waking up early, organising my day and keeping to schedules have helped me.

Differences so far:

I have experienced some unexpected differences. Instead of craving meat as I thought would happen, I have turned to dairy and sweets, The urges to add some grated cheese to a meal or eat chocolate are greater than ever. As a result I have gained a little extra weight from the start of the year.

I can feel that my up-time has improved slightly, While the day-to-day awakeness and alertness dont feel any different, the times when I thought I would be tired (when going to bed later than usual, or getting up much earlier) I don’t feel quite as bad as I would normally.

None of my long-term friends are vegetarian so its a big surprise to them that I have chosen to become one. They occasionally challenge my decision and argue that unless I have moral or religious objections, there is no reason to not eat meat. The main arguments are that humans are designed to eat meat (why else would we have the incisors?) and that our bodies require the nutritional value offered by meat to live.

There is enough resources online to show that all the nutrients a body needs can be found elsewhere. Most people in fact tend to eat too much meat which overloads the digestive system, making them more lethargic and need to sleep more to work off the toxins.

Social occasions can be difficult when one cooks a meal for everyone. For justnow I have decided that I wont be awkward in these situations and just eat whatever is made. Usually at meals with friends and family, meat is the main dish. It wouldn’t be fair to ask them to prepare an extra dish just for me so I am happy to eat meat once in a while.

I’ve found restaurants to be more challenging than they should be. Whilst the majority of restaurants do have vegetarian options, they are usually a very limited subset of their standard menu. Not nearly as tasty looking as the steaks and burgers I’d have usually gone for. I usually find myself scouring for the ‘V’ signs and choose the least unappealing dish, or go for a fish dish. I know fish is meat, but the health benefits I have seen are better than that of red meat.

One major benefit I can boast is I haven’t had a single food-hangover this year! This is a concept I discovered at university. Much like a hangover caused by drinking, a food-hang over is caused by consuming too much of whats bad for you. After eating a kebab or pizza on a night out, the next morning felt worse than had I not eaten. For a time I was in a phase of not drinking when going out to pubs and clubs, I would only drink water but still eat a kebab at the end of the night. Yet I still suffered the same hangover as 3 large glasses of red wine and shots. By cutting out the worst offender foods, I have really noticed a big change for the better.

I have really noticed a change in myself and others’ for having taken on this challenge. In a sense I can feel my diet has become less healthy because I am gaining a little weight and eating too much diary and chocolate. The next stage for me is to become more disciplined with food. I want to keep a food diary in which I record everything I eat for a few weeks. This will show to me what exactly I take in and ways to improve my diet.

My aims justnow are to increase my up-time to be available to do more things with my time. At this point, health issues or making the world a more environmentally friendly place aren’t the main focus.

I’ll look at my diet again soon and review what can be done to refine my diet further. Who knows, I may start back on the big-macs, or I may become vegan!

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