At age 14, my mom finally let me stop eating meat. It was something I wanted to do since I was little because I hated the concept of eating animals that were once alive. As I grew up, I learned more about other benefits of vegetarianism, such as the positive impact it has on the planet and the health benefits it can have. At age 17, I thought I would follow that diet forever, but it all changed when I got to college.
Everything changes when you go to college: the people you’re surrounded with, the place you live, not being with your parents anymore, and your diet. As a freshman, I was on a meal plan, which meant I had to eat the food a limited amount of restaurants could offer, and the options were very limited. If you’ve ever had a meal plan at VCU, you know what I mean. Trying to maintain a healthy diet while not eating meat and going to places like Shafer, Einsteins, Bleeker and ShakeSmart is very hard. In the first couple of months, I managed not to eat meat, but I started to realize that I felt weak and tired all of the time, and I barely had the energy to get up in the morning.
I kept following my vegetarian diet for the first four months of my freshman year and felt exhausted the entire time, until one day I put two and two together and realized that the reason I felt that was was that I wasn’t getting enough protein into my body. I would occasionally eat a bagel with egg, and that would be the only protein I consumed for two days, it was horrible for my body and well being. After that, I started to eat chicken as a form of protein too which made me feel better and helped balance my energy levels.
At age 18, the only animal protein I ate was chicken and eggs, but I limited my chicken consumption. As timed passed, I realized that I had started craving other animal proteins like fish and turkey, so I decided to eat it and not restrict myself and eat what my body was craving. The only problem I had was I didn’t want to start being unhealthy, so I created some restrictions that ensure that I can eat meat while still being conscious about my health and the environment.
The restrictions I have created for myself are simple and easy to follow. First, I do not purchase red meat to cook at home, the only meat I get from the store is chicken and turkey, and I make sure that I get the ones that are certified humane raised and handled. The same goes for eggs. My second rule is that when I eat out and want to eat red meat, I try to eat humane raised and handled, which is better for the environment as well as my health. Lastly, with fish, I tend not to have many problems because I don’t enjoy it, so I usually don’t eat it, but when I do, my restrictions are the same as the ones I have for red meat.
It’s not easy these days to decide what to and what not to eat, as everyone has a different opinion on what is healthy and what isn’t. The way I think about it is that you should eat what makes you feel good and energized.