Clean eating; my New Year experiment

At the start of a new year, we all feel obliged to clean up our acts. From dry January to fad diets and rigorous exercise regimes, a post-Christmas health and wellbeing reformation is a high priority.

I too felt the urge to purge, and determined to find my own sacrificial January lamb decided vegetarianism might help to moderately improve myself.  Radically changing your eating habits can be difficult, so I challenged myself to one week with no meat.

Going veggie has become popular in recent years as both a weight loss and self-improvement tool and looking at the health benefits it is easy to see why; a low fat diet, lots of fruit and vegetables and reduced risk of disease.

The Vegetarian Times says:  “A vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung and esophageal cancer.”

There are many types of vegetarian – vegans, lacto-vegetarians…and those with looser morals who eat chicken or fish. I decided a lacto-ovo-vegetarian – who eats both dairy products and eggs – was the best version for me to test the waters.

So armed with the facts, a new title “Hi I’m Michelle and I’m a lacto-ovo-vegetarian” and a husband also agreeing to go green, it was time to start the week long, meat free challenge.

Seven days might seem paltry to some, but remembering all that God and Craig David achieved in the same period and knowing I have little will power, it seemed like an adequate timeframe for the experiment.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t eat meat every day and have a decent range of vegetarian meals in my repertoire, yet coming up with a week’s worth of lunch and dinner options was not the easiest task.

Luckily my husband was equally invested in the experiment and between us we managed to create some tasty dinners including chow mien, spicy fajitas, loaded potato skins and ratatouille with couscous.

Lunches mostly consisted of soup or sandwiches and getting my head around what to put in a vegetarian sandwich was a mental challenge – ham or chicken just seems like a weightier filling.

My veggie sandwich was filled with lettuce, scallion, mixed peppers, cheese and a little salad cream – I am an old-fashioned girl at heart. The sandwich was actually quite tasty and a nice change, in hindsight though a protein packed egg would have helped bulk it out as a good alternative to a slice of ham.

In the midst of veggie week I also had a lunch outing with some friends at The Gallery in Belfast. I would rarely order a vegetarian dish when dining out, but I found the inner strength to resist the steak sandwich and instead choose the falafel burger.

While I had no idea what falafel was – it is made from ground chickpeas or fava beans – I wanted to be daring and try something new and the burger served with sweet potato fries and salsa did not disappoint.

The texture was soft and light and the patty was perfectly spiced with a refreshing coriander tang; it actually tasted quite similar to vegetable pakora and I would definitely order a falafel burger again.

I always had the notion vegetarianism was all carrot sticks and fruit salad and was pleasantly surprised that the falafel burger was so filling.

In fact throughout vegetarian week I didn’t feel starved or unsatisfied at all. Mind you I also didn’t feel any lighter seven days later, as each meal was heavily subsidised with carbohydrates like rice, pasta or potatoes.

There were however many positive effects to cutting meat from my diet. My skin was clearer and less irritated, my insides felt happier and with a little more thought, I could have substituted heavy carbohydrates in some meals.

Statistics also show there are more health benefits to following a plant based diet and our bodies find it harder to process meat than vegetables.

Yet there are a couple of supposed benefits I would challenge; going veggie is easier on the pocket and it gives you more energy.

While good quality meat can be expensive, I am not convinced that a vegetarian diet is any cheaper – unless you grow your own produce – as it takes quite a large volume of fruit and vegetables to get seven days’ worth of meals from your weekly shop.

Personally I also didn’t feel that cutting meat gave me more energy and stamina, I still felt tired and lethargic; in hindsight perhaps January isn’t the fairest month to run such experiments.

Having completed the experiment I am definitely thinking outside the ‘meat and two veg’ box and have continued to incorporate vegetarian days into my eating habits, but I haven’t fully converted to vegetarianism.

I am still eating small amounts of meat – it is a rich source of iron and this shouldn’t be overlooked – and sometimes when you are bereft of culinary inspiration, fish and chips from the freezer is much less taxing to prep than a vegetable stir fry.

My big learning from this experiment is that everything in moderation is the key to a healthy diet, I am eating more vegetables and fruit than ever before, but I am not going to say no to steak if I really want it… is there an official title for a semi practicing vegetarian who sometimes eats meat?






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