Cinco de Mayo, or as every non-American calls it May 5th, marked one year since I became a vegetarian.  It’s a milestone that I wasn’t necessarily sure I’d accomplish, but one that I’m quite proud of.  It is also a lifestyle I now know I can commit to and plan to stick with for a long time.

When I first made the switch to a meat-free diet, I started off as a vegan for a month and a half: no meat, no dairy and no eggs.  I made it a challenge, because if I could handle a vegan diet, then I knew I could survive as a vegetarian.  After those first six weeks, I felt phenomenal and I knew I made the right decision to take on a plant-based diet.  To this day, I firmly believe that a plant-based lifestyle is one that is most beneficial for one to adopt.  While I understand that going vegan or vegetarian is not plausible for everyone, I do think that more people should consider removing (more) meat from their daily routine.  Whether it’s taking on #MeatlessMondays or only consuming meat for one meal a day, it is still a promising first step.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since becoming a vegetarian was that our relationship with food is one of the most important relationships we will ever have in life.  It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Schedules revolve around food, it can often dictate our mood or social life, and it provides the energy and nutrients we need to function.  It is safe to say that food is something we don’t give enough credit to or take seriously enough.  It is often the root of several health issues that both the UK and the US (and other countries) are currently struggling with; issues like obesity and diabetes.

To be clear, I went vegetarian for health reasons, not for ethical reasons or animal rights.  It just so happens that the latter was still conveniently covered in the process.  However, I will admit that I have consumed meat in the last year, but only on a few occasions.  There were three times, to be exact (five, if you include a couple of cheeky visits to the fish and chips stand!).  I have not been a perfect vegetarian, but a happy vegetarian nonetheless, and I don’t feel guilty.  After all, it doesn’t hurt to have a treat every once in a while.  Treats are not habitual and they are truly what motivate us to continue doing what we’re doing.  I also didn’t have the heart to tell my aunt I no longer ate meat when she already prepared a proper English fry-up for me upon arrival in the UK.

Do I miss meat? YES! I won’t lie and say that I want nothing to do with a giant burger or a meat-lover’s pizza from Domino’s.  However, I love being healthy and feeling confident about my overall well being more than the 20-minute satisfaction of eating a greasy cheeseburger.  When meat was a regular part of my diet, I often felt weighed down, guilty or even sick after heavy meals.  A vegetarian diet has not only given me a sense of inner lightness, but it has also rippled into other health-conscious decisions. I drink more water, eat fewer processed foods, snack on junk food less often and work out more often.  Although admittedly, the last one may not be as frequent as I’d like during the uni days.  It is also comforting to know that a plant-based diet prevents the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and weight issues.

If I had to go back and talk to my pre-veggie self, I can think of a couple things I would say.  The first of which, is that you’re going to love it!  I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to stick it out on a vegetarian diet, but I quickly learned that this is something I can commit to.  Second, be prepared for any and all veggie jokes to come your way.  I can’t count the number of times I was sarcastically offered a burger or a chicken sandwich, or asked if I was going out to “graze the field” for my next meal.  You will pick up on some good comebacks or just laugh along with them; either way, it can be slightly entertaining.  And lastly, becoming a vegetarian is going to be a big deal… for you and you only.  This is your personal relationship with food, and no one can make you feel bad about your decisions.  After all, you’re the one who’s eating the food on your plate, no one else.  You can’t really mess up, even if you do have meat every once in a while.

My only regret is that I didn’t go veggie sooner than I did.  Looking into the future, my goal is to move back towards a vegan diet again.  By that, I mean cook as a vegan at home and enjoy vegetarian/dairy options whenever I’m eating out.  The more I cut out animal products, the better I feel, and that’s something to be happy about.

A look back on my year being a not-so-perfect vegetarian