That’s how long I lasted as a vegetarian before it completely went to hell.
You might be sitting there thinking “went to hell” is a dramatic choice of words for deciding a particular food diet wasn’t right for me. But hell is what it felt like. I’ll start from the beginning:
A few days before I decided to take the leap into veggie life, I noticed that I randomly began to find meat… unappealing. Nothing triggered it. I didn’t watch any sad slaughterhouse documentaries or visit a local farm and fall in love with a piglet. While I do consider myself an animal lover, my change in diet preference was completely unprecedented and unplanned for. So in an effort to feel good about my food choices again, I decided to try and make the change.
The first two weeks were pretty good. I went out and bought all the frozen veggie items on the market: meatless meatballs, chicken-less chicken patties. I was counting my daily iron and protein intake to make sure I avoided anemia. I began researching animal rights and cringed at the thought of ever eating a Whopper again.
It was just prior to the 18-day mark that I started to feel… off. It started with a normal headache at work. Annoying, but nothing to be too alarmed about. I took some Excedrin and went back to business. But the headache didn’t go away. I’m not one to get migraines, so I was a little concerned. I’m also prone to anxiety and might be a low-key hypochondriac. So I took some aspirin. That will do it, I thought.
The hours went by and my headache would not subside. In fact – it had gotten significantly worse. And on top of that, I completely lost my appetite. I got home from work that day feeling like hell. I took a hot shower and went straight to bed, hoping I would wake up feeling like myself again.
But that night, I couldn’t manage to sleep for more than two hours. I resorted to using an ice pack on my head to numb the pain – which had progressed to an all-over feeling of tension. Anyone who has ever been in relentless pain for an extended period of time knows how physically and mentally exhausting it can be. I was completely spent.
The next morning I desperately drove to my doctor, appointment-less, and they were able to squeeze me in. After some basic tests, the doctor asked me if anything in my daily routine had changed over the past few weeks. Of course, I mentioned my diet, but that I had been keeping an eye on my iron and protein intake. The doctor asked if I had been counting calories.
The truth is, I hadn’t even thought of calories. But the scale showed that I had lost four pounds. While I had been imagining the worst of possible scenarios, my doctor was fairly certain about the cause of my painful, complicated headache: a caloric deficiency.
I was dumbfounded. I had been eating… well, prior to me losing my appetite. But what I failed to take into consideration was that meat substitutes and vegetables have significantly less calories than meat. I had also kept my carb intake relatively low, because every website I looked on said that many first-time vegetarians suffer from unhealthy diets due to a higher-then-normal carb intake.
So to sum it up, I had effectively starved my body of its needed calories and put it into a shock, hence the massive headache. Also ironic: when your body goes into starvation move, you become nauseous and completely lose your appetite. Of course, the doctor’s orders were to eat. A lot. And to follow up in a week to see if the headache had subsided.
That evening, I was able to put down some very bland grilled chicken and rice. And then next day, I continued with the bland food. After about a week of feeling like there were 20 rubber bands wrapped around my head, the pain finally subsided.
Now, while I am not super thrilled about eating meat, I have ditched the vegetarian diet due to my health needs. While I am sure there is a way to do it right and not suffer health consequences, I have yet to figure it out. So to all the vegetarians and vegans out there: I give you mad props. And to all the meat lovers: do what makes you happy.
I think the lesson learned is that any diet change should be done in steps rather than all at once. From my experience, your body and mind will thank you.