So far, four weeks into my vegetarian adventure, I have noticed no differences in how I feel. But I do notice how my belt feels — I have lost 5 pounds, without any extra effort. (I had lost 7, a couple came back.)
A vegetarian friend was surprised. He said he gained weight when he became vegetarian. We compared notes and I think the reason was that he is more of a carb-hound than I am. He replaced meat with more carbs. My diet was meat on top of a wide mix of carbs, vegetables, and fruit, so when the meat was replaced mostly by more vegetables, a pretty substantial calorie load was displaced. He replaced meat with carbs and saw less advantage.
Not that I am a nutritional angel. I believe in the Dr. Dean diet: "Eat anything you want, just not as much." Not long into the adventure, I noticed that with meat out of my diet, I had room for some indulgences. I have been having more treats like chips, pastries, and ice cream. And chocolate, of course. Not a lot, but definitely more often.
The other day, I roasted some vegetables and used way more butter than usual. Wow, were those good! The butter was no big deal, as it was a small percentage of the dish, compared to the bulky root vegetables. That's a lesson I will retain after the adventure is over.
In my normal diet, and probably yours, the key calorie player is fat. The best tasting meat is the fattiest — bacon, pulled pork, chicken skin, well-marbled beef. The math is inescapable. Protein and carbs contain about 4 calories per gram. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. Replace fat with a judicious mix of fiber, carbs, and protein and you lose weight, even if you sneak in some fatty treats.
Other than the weight loss, I am seeing no physical effects except one — it's been a gassier month. A little less now, as my system has adjusted, but still gassier than normal.
As an ovo-lacto-vegetarian for a month, I am still eating dairy and eggs, and as usual, I am eating a widely varied diet, so I have no worries about nutrition. Vegans need to be more careful, of course.
The key to good nutrition, more than anything else, is variety. Do you know about the "French paradox?" It's the question of why the French seem to suffer few ill effects from their heavy use of saturated fats. The red wine and walking don't seem to be the answer. A prominent theory is that it's variety that saves them. The French, along with the Japanese, have among the most varied diets in the world. Americans, on the other hand, have among the least varied diets. (Are you listening, you meat and potatoes types?)
Our bodies seem to take what they need when presented with a range of raw materials. It makes sense and is pretty great news because a varied diet is more fun (to me, at least) than daily factory-stamped burgers and spuds.
Variety, as it turns out, really is the spice of life!