30 Days a Vegetarian

For the month of January, my husband and I decided that we would stop eating meat. COLD TURKEY. The only animal products that we would consume would be eggs, cheese, and butter. In essence…we were lacto ovo (lacto: milk and ovo: egg) vegetarians. 
We embarked on this “30 Days A Vegetarian” journey with a few thoughts in mind.
 Primarily, we wanted to see if we had the discipline to actually carry out the month long fast. Both of us have spent our days being carnivores. Two years ago, we stopped eating beef and pork, so it has been just turkey, chicken, lamb, and fish. Going from a heavy animal protein diet to a mostly plant based protein diet in 24 hours is crazy to some, but in order to get the maximum amount of results, that is what we had to do. 
Secondly, we wanted to do it for health reasons. My husband and I are in the gym most of the week. Our diet is 80% healthy, but we wanted that extra 20% of healthy eating to be added to our daily food intake. There have been studies that say that a plant based diet is proven to be better for the way the body functions, so we wanted to see what the hype was about. 
Lastly, my sole reason for doing this vegetarian fast was for research. I have several friends that take part in the vegetarian, vegan, and even raw vegan lifestyles. I wanted to eat the way they eat and see if it was truly beneficial. Also as a chef, I needed a new challenge. I pride myself on being able to create awesomeness in the kitchen; having the “Midas Touch” when it comes to food. With this fast I would have to really think and dig deep, stepping out of my culinary realm and come up with some GOOD FOOD with LOTS OF FLAVOR. 
So on January 1st, 2016 at 12:00am…we were vegetarians. 
We immediately did a complete 360.
 Our first shopping trip as vegetarians was interesting. I remember pushing a buggy full of organic fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, mushroom protein crumbles (Quorn is the brand…amazing), seeds, and sea weed and feeling a little out of our element. When you are first starting a fast such as as this, you probably will have to start from scratch with items that you will need. We had absolutely NOTHING vegetarian friendly on hand. That made this shopping trip pretty expensive. The total came up to a little under $130 for about a week and a half of food. We bought a lot of the plant based staple items to start, so that we will only have to replenish the organic produce weekly. One good thing about being a vegetarian for a month, our grocery bill per week ended up being only about $40!! Cutting out the animal based proteins made food shopping much cheaper.
Using what we purchased at the store, I took to my brain, Pinterest, and an old culinary school text book for vegetarian recipe inspiration. Contrary to popular belief, vegetarian food can have flavor. Just because you aren’t eating meat does not mean that the vegetarian meal has to taste like air. Plants are predominantly composed of water, so you have to add flavor to whatever you cook. Using fresh herbs, garlic, flavored oils, and other aromatics to add flavor. Maggi seasoning and amino liquids are also great and add a decent amount of meaty flavor to dishes. Also, cooking vegetarian dishes are the same as cooking with meat. Mostly, you will treat the dish as one that has meat and cook it the same way. For example, I cooked fried rice and pad Thai a few times during the monthly fast and used tofu (which is a sponge when it comes to flavors and using extra firm is best because it holds shape) as the protein. I diced the tofu into medium sizes pieces. Since I usually add chicken to the fried rice and pad Thai, I sautéed the tofu in a wok with Montreal Chicken Seasoning and Maggi seasoning ( if you wanted a beef flavor you could use Montreal Steak Seasoning). If you would have closed your eyes while you tasted it, you would not even know that it was tofu. 
  
Buckwheat Lo Mein w/tofu Chef Dominique ’16
  
Fried Rice w/ sautéed kale Chef Dominique ’15
I also made a vegan portabella black bean burger that was delicious! I found a recipe on Pinterest via http://www.thekitchenwhisperer.net that I used as a base and added my own twist to it. If you follow me on Instagram you will see all of the goodness that was created. From Asian, to Mexican, and Italian, we ate REALLY good food. Each meal was delicious and filling; to the point that during the month, we started to not even think about eating meat. 
Now the elephant in room wants to ask, “Did they make it?”
The answer is YES!
We successfully completed the fast without cheating. The closest I came to meat was basking in the ambience of it cooking while at work. I missed eating it, but after the 10th day and eventually toward the end, our bodies adjusted to not having animal products. Do not get the game twisted, I had my teeth into some chicken wings at the stroke of midnight on February 1st. 
So what did we learn?
1: Being a vegetarian is not difficult. It is a change yes, but not a difficult one. Now that we have dabbled in it a little, we know what to buy and what to eat. It definitely could be something that we could possibly revert back to in the future. I missed my fish mostly, so being a pescatarian would be my choice of lifestyle. My husband is actually thinking about doing the fast again in a few months. One word of advice: do not jump all the way back into eating meat. Give your body time to adjust to having animal protein again. Your stomach will get confused. I learned the hard way. We are back to our carnivorous diets with more plant based proteins included.
2: A plant based diet is a healthier alternative to a diet with animal protein. When we eliminated meat from our diet, we gained more energy and our skin became clearer. My husband lost a little weight, and I lost a few, but gained it back in muscle. It was some concern that the lack of animal protein will lead to a loss in muscle. This turned out to be false. We replaced our animal protein wth tofu, mushrooms, legumes, and grains. Also, we started juicing and using calcium and protein rich greens and seeds to keep us full and energized before/ after the gym. Protein supplements were also used such as Isopure, and protein cookies. 
3. I have a newfound level of respect for those that take on the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle full time. It definitely takes discipline, a lot of meal planning and prep. We had fun with cooking different meals and trying different combinations of flavors that we might have stayed away from before when eating meat. For the average beginner vegetarian it could be a little boring. During the beginning we were stuck on eating the same thing because we enjoyed it so much, not knowing that a few days later we would get tired of it. 
I challenge any of you reading this to make 2016 your year to be healthier. You do not have to go as far as we did with eliminating meat from your diet, but if you start by removing one unhealthy food from your everyday food intake once a week (soda, bread, sweets) you will soon be on your way to eating healthier. 
My goal now is to spread awareness about healthier eating. I will be starting a course this week to learn more about nutritional science and fitness nutrition. Soon I will have a certification to be a nutritional coach and will start counseling and helping others overcome their struggles with making the right decisions when it comes to food. 
If you would like more recipes or insight on our “30 Days A Vegetarian” fast, feel free to contact me with questions and/or comments!

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