As Hannah's husband, I'm front-and-center when it comes to testing out her latest nutrition ideas. And I'm more than happy to do that as it means I'm probably going to live a longer, healthier life as a result.
But when her latest research meant we would try going meatless, it required going beyond a simple diet tweak. It involved a major shift in my mindset in regards to eating (or rather, not eating) meat.
I want to share how, particularly as a man, I have found transitioning from a typical meat-heavy diet to a plant-based one. Since eating meat is often viewed as 'masculine' in culture, I hope my story can serve as inspiration for other men on how to break the "meat spell" and why it is important.
Overcoming the Fear
It's funny how when you make a life change you realise how many "invisible scripts" you tell yourself. These are stories in your head that explain why you do or don't do something.
For my entire life I had an invisible script that went like this:
If a meal doesn't have meat (outside of perhaps breakfast) it isn't a real meal
Every meal required meat for me to feel like it was a complete meal. Even if I was going to have a "salad" as a main it definitely required chicken or steak (or at a bare minimum bacon!).
There's this fear that without meat a meal will, frankly, "suck". There's no way you could be satisfied by a meatless meal! Right...?
And for men, there is the cultural stigma. Being vegetarian or vegan is either for women or feminine men - not for real men. Weren't we suppose to be the "hunters" in hunter-gathers? Meat is synonymous with strength! Tofu... not so much.
Before I explain how I got over these 'fears' let me explain some of the health reasons that helped me switch.
Your Meat or Your Life
As a nutritionist, Hannah was often asked, "what is the best diet?". She would give the standard answers around eating less processed foods, limiting sugar and alcohol, etc. etc. But when pressed she would almost reluctantly say "well actually it seems that a vegetarian diet produces the best overall health outcomes."
She was just as big a meat eater as I was, so I could tell, whilst she knew the evidence, she didn't feel it warranted giving up the fleshy stuff entirely. But like any good health expert, she continued to explore the evidence. That's where things got interesting.
The turning point came when she got deep into the research on gut bacteria. You see our 'gut' contains billions of bacteria essential to us surviving. They break down our food, they release nutrients, they help regulate hunger signals. They even help release hormones such as serotonin - also known as the "happy" hormone for its role in our feelings of well-being.
Now, as you can imagine, our diet plays a major role in what the balance of this gut bacteria looks like. Eat the right stuff and you help the "good" bacteria. Eat the wrong stuff and you help the "bad" bacteria - leading to problems with digestion, weight, inflammation, heart disease, mental health, and on and on.
Have you figured out the punchline yet? Yep. Meat feeds the bad bacteria. Plants feed the good bacteria.
As someone who had been dealing with major digestion issues and also mild anxiety and depressive episodes, I was very interested. This seemed to offer solutions to these problems as well as provide other benefits such as:
- Decreased risk of heart attack (my grandfather died of one)
- Fat loss (you don't really see many fat vegetarians do you?)
- Increased energy
- Less anxiety
- Reduced bloating (my pants fit!)
- And much more
Having now seen the overwhelming evidence I was ready to make the switch. I was ready to give up meat.
Surviving (and Thriving)
So how has it gone? Well, outside of a couple nibbles here and there, I have been meat free for the last 3 months.
The results have been pretty good too:
- I've lost ~5kgs (with no change in exercise - I go for a stroll twice a day)
- I feel 'lighter' as I no longer get bloated after meals. Clothes fit so much better now.
- I've never been more 'regular' in my life. Having always struggled on the porcelain throne this has been amazing for me. It's like clockwork now!
But really, the biggest breakthrough for me has been breaking this 'meat spell'. I no longer feel this compulsion to need meat for every meal. I know I can eat a plant-based meal and not only be satisfied but really enjoy it.
It is really quite liberating. The fact that what I'm eating now is making me healthier feels like a bonus.
As a father to two young kids, I realised I want to be around for a long time to see them grow up. Not only that I want to be active in their lives. Making these changes early in life means I don't have to pay the price later.
But I'm not sacrificing anything to do this. Much like those who start exercising realise that it is actually enjoyable, eating plant-based is incredibly rich and fulfilling. I feel better, I look better, and there are amazing meals that don't involve using any meat.
There is literally nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Tips for Changing
I want to leave you with some tips I have found useful in making the transition. This will help you in your journey to stop eating meat and enjoy it along the way.
Don't Do It Alone
Doing this with Hannah was a major reason I kept at it. We ate the same meals and held each other accountable. Doing it with someone means you have someone to support you if you feel like giving up.
Go Cold Turkey (and Chicken, and Beef, and Lamb....)
Don't try to to do just one meal a week vegetarian. Go all in. You have to understand that you can survive without meat. You are literally breaking an addiction.
Once you've gone a few weeks you look at meat differently. It no longer has this hold on you, compelling you to eat it. And guess what? You're not only being more ethical to animals but you're helping to fight climate change. A pretty good deal to me.
Find Good Vegetarian Recipes and Restaurants
When you enjoy the food you're eating, it doesn't feel like a 'diet'. The key is finding good recipes. We'll be posting more on our Recipe page soon.
Also, go out to some highly rated Vegan/Vegetarian restaurants nearby. You will be amazed at how rich, flavourful, and delicious the meals can be. There really is more than just "salad" and you will probably discover favourite dishes you never knew existed before.
As a final word, I would like to say this. You can do it. You will enjoy it. You even get to keep your man card.
You will live better, longer, and feel great. Commit to doing it at least a month and see how you go. If you have any questions or concerns Hannah and I are more than happy to help. Leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org