A Radical Change In Diet – Or How I Stopped Eating Meat & Became A Vegetarian

Six weeks ago I stopped eating meat.  Much to the chagrin of my Wife, bacon-obsessed cycling group and Mother (who firmly believes that fish and chicken don’t count as ‘real’ meat.).

There are several pros and cons to this change which I didn’t gradually lead into; I basically considered it privately for a few weeks, announced my intention to my Wife and then overnight proclaimed I wouldn’t eat meat anymore.

Why Stop Eating Meat?
The most logical and hardest question to answer.

First off, I’m not one of the ‘meat is murder’ crowd.  I have slaughtered and butchered some of God’s cute little creatures with my own hands, have visited an abattoir and have partaken in countless meat-filled BBQ’s over the years.  My choice to cut out meat is not one based on ethical concerns and I’m certainly not going to be ‘that’ person at a BBQ that asks for the plate to be cleaned before my veggie patties get cooked; oh and I despise tofu!

My decision to stop eating meat comes down to three major reasons:

#1: Mental Health
I live with a depressive and anxiety disorder that makes me prone to rapid mood swings, violent outbursts and irrational behaviour.  Couple this with a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you get a person that can swing from jovial and on top of the world to a person that is best kept in a dark room away from other people and sharp objects.

A healthy diet plays a large part in maintaining mental wellbeing.  Consuming food is what keeps the body functioning and ultimately keeps you alive.  Prior to changing my diet I would consume a large amount of red meat and chicken.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to eat an entire roast chicken in one sitting and order a steak with a side of steak at Hog’s Breath. 

Diet plays a very large and understated part in balancing mental health.  Certain foods can evoke different mental and physiological reactions.  Chocolate and ice cream are well-known for being the comfort food of choice for emotional men and women.  I am lactose intolerant and love ice cream; ergo the pleasure I derive from consuming it is quickly overtaken as my body promptly reacts to the enzymes it cannot process.

In the way that eating certain types of food makes people happy, the digestive processes after eating red and white meat made me lethargic and as a result unhappy that I didn’t feel like doing anything afterwards.  Something as simple as not feeling like getting off the couch to go for a ride or a walk around the lake would compound itself into feelings of guilt, a distorted self body image and ultimately trigger a mental reaction that would lead to a depressive episode.

Basically, that wonderful meat hangover feeling most people get after eating a meat-heavy meal is absent for me; instead I feel sick, depressed and my body will rapidly purge the offending meal in a most violent way.

#2: Metabolism and Body Weight
I have a fast metabolism and it’s very difficult for me to maintain my body weight when exercising.  Ideally I sit between 75-80kg when riding to a training program.  This may seem like a large fluctuation, but in reality, it is mostly fluid retention and fluid loss during and after rides.

On average I will lose 3-5kg on a 50km mountain bike ride whilst my fluid intake will be upwards of 2-3 litres and calorie intake at close to 2000 calories via energy gels and muesli bars.  My recovery period after a medium to high intensity ride over 50km is close to 48 hours and I will constantly eat and drink to rebuild my energy reserves and gain the weight I lost.

As stated before, I feel sick after eating meat, I also feel full and won’t continue eating which in turn slows my recovery period and has an adverse effect on getting back on the bike and returning to optimal training ability in the shortest time possible.

#3: An (Not-So-Slowly) Aging Body
Everyone gets older and joints and muscles start to ache and some days it’s harder to get out of bed, right?  Wrong!  I’m 32 years old and I have constant pain in my left knee, discomfort in my hands and wrists; and restricted movement in my left shoulder.

I can credit my days in the Australian Army for most of my knee problems and my shoulder to a bike crash which tore my left pectoral muscle last year.  But the fingers, wrists and constant patella issues in my knee; well that is thanks to early onset of osteoarthritis.

There is a link between eating a meat rich diet and an increase in adverse arthritic symptoms.  This is due to the high fat content in non-lean meats and the obsession with meat-heavy meals in Western culture.  Can’t I just switch to lean meat?  I could but it doesn’t negate the two previous reasons I’ve stated and the fact that in just six weeks I’ve noticed improvement with my knee and joint pain and dexterity.

Looking Towards The Future
Will I continue my vegetarian diet indefinitely?

To be honest, probably not.  As I stated at the beginning this isn’t because of an animal ethics issue; this is because I wanted to feel healthy both in body and mind.

So far the basic goal of feeling better is definitely working for me.  I have more energy, I’m eating all the right foods to ensure I get the nutrients my body needs and ultimately I’m enjoying eating more diverse and natural foods.

On a side note if I was trapped on a deserted island and cannibalism was my only avenue of survival I wouldn’t hesitate to eat some human sirloin!

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