Whether you have decided to go vegetarian for the animals, the environment, to achieve weight loss, to improve your overall health, or for all of the above reasons—congratulations!
No matter how you slice it, you made the right choice. Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables greatly affects every aspect of existence as we know it.
The unfortunate news is that the transition to vegetarianism isn't always stress-free. The good news is that this article will prevent you from sabotaging your own good intentions. You will learn how to avoid making the three most common mistakes that are rampant among those new to the plant-based lifestyle.
Many new vegetarians feel like fish out of water. The early days are all about figuring out how to live life again. What to order at restaurants, what to prepare for lunch during the workweek, what to eat while on the road, relearning how to shop for groceries, etc. When eliminating meat from your diet, everything must be considered from a new perspective.
Going vegetarian has a unique way of making you realize just how much of your life is actually affected by food.
Personally, I found the transition to be a fun and exciting challenge. I loved experimenting in the kitchen with my new vegetarian cookbook. And scouring the aisles for a slew of “healthy” pre-made veggie meal alternatives. Although I had my fun, I hit many roadblocks on my journey toward health and wellness.
When I first embarked upon my plant-based journey over seven years ago, I was 85 pounds overweight. This was due to many factors, including my love of binge drinking, pizza, and late-night cheese fries.
During my first two years while masquerading around as a “vegetarian yogi,” I remember feeling baffled about why I was not losing weight. Instead, I continued to gain each month.
Unknown to me at the time, I was making several monumental mistakes that completely sabotaged my weight loss efforts. The "mysterious" reason for my continual weight gain remained hidden in the shadows of my ego. But that story would require its own article (or 10), so we won’t go there today.
Two years later, after the light bulb finally came on and I learned how to consume a vegetarian diet the right way; I lost 75 pounds in a mere six months.
A few years later, I went vegan and lost an additional 10-plus pounds. Not surprisingly, the number on the scale still continues to drop a tiny bit each month as I remain committed to this healthy lifestyle.
Below are three monumental mistakes that I was guilty of committing as a new vegetarian. Throughout the years, I have witnessed other vegetarians all over the world making these same mistakes. To save you a ton of time, energy, and frustration, this article will serve as the facilitator of your vegetarian enlightenment.
1. Put down the cheese.
Replacing meat with cheese is the biggest mistake that new vegetarians make. It has rightfully earned its place at the top of this list.
I fell into the cheese trap immediately after abandoning meat. I was like most people who are falsely convinced that humans require massive amounts of protein to achieve good health or weight loss (the next item on this list will provide an explanation as to why this protein myth is just not true).
During the time, I truly believed that since I was no longer obtaining protein from meat, I had no choice but to increase my intake of cheese.
Needless to say, during the first two years of living as a vegetarian, I consumed nothing but veggie pizza, cheese fries, veggie Stromboli, quesadillas, salad topped with shredded cheddar cheese, etc. If a meal contained cheese and vegetables, I was on it like white on rice.
As time dragged on, I foolishly wondered why I was gaining weight instead of losing it.
Cheese (and most animal products) is extremely high in fat. Cheese is a processed “food” that offers very few health benefits. The human body was never designed to ingest another animal’s bodily fluids. Our bodies were intended to efficiently process pure, natural foods that are derived from the earth.
That being said, when you consume cheese on a regular basis, you are rebelling against the body’s natural process. As a result, you will undoubtedly find yourself confronted with myriad health problems.
I know that cheese tastes amazing, but do yourself a favor and resist the urge to go crazy with it.
2. Bring on the carbs.
Allow me to take a moment to debunk the widely believed myth that humans require massive amounts of protein to shed weight. This is not true.
Yes, the body requires some protein to remain balanced, but what the body really craves are carbohydrates. Yes, the dreaded "C" word that the Atkins Diet had us all believing was the food group from hell.
When I use the word carbohydrates, I'm not referring to bread, pasta, bagels, doughnuts, wraps, cereal, etc. I'm referring to actual fruits and vegetables, rice, beans, and nuts—natural carbohydrates that are derived from the earth, not created out of processed man-made flour.
In the case of white flour, it's processed, stripped of nutrients, and bleached. Even though flour is technically vegetarian (and vegan), it's not a natural substance.
Sure, it's inexpensive and versatile, but there are much healthier (and natural) alternatives that will allow you to satisfy your craving without increasing the risk of illness and weight gain.
If you're anything like me, you crave bread. Rest assured, you do not have to give it up! Instead, experiment with almond flour, rice flour, and/or chickpea flour. These natural alternatives are packed with nutrients the body thrives on.
If your goal is optimal health and wellness, you must make an actual effort to consume a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods. Do not replace meat with flour. Do not replace meat with cheese. Replace meat with the mineral- and vitamin-packed carbohydrates that your body craves.
3. Step away from the freezer section.
I cannot tell you how many frozen veggie burgers and “chicken” patties I consumed during my first two years as a vegetarian. Needless to say, I topped both varieties with cheese. And, of course, I believed that I was one bite away from total health.
Even without the added cheese, these “healthy” meat alternatives should never be a staple in your diet. Sure, they are convenient and taste great, but like cheese and flour, they aren't natural. They are usually modified and processed products that new vegetarians tend to gravitate toward because they are easy to heat up and do not require hours of experimenting in the kitchen.
The whole idea behind consuming a plant-based diet is to increase the levels of vitamins and nutrients in the body. This means that we must eat whole food directly from the garden—not from the freezer section.Overcome the fear of experimenting in the kitchen. Purchase a vegetarian or vegan cookbook and commit to making your own natural plant-based meals. Your health and waistline will thank you.