My name is Catherine and I’m a recovering vegetarian.
I stopped eating meat when I was 12 years old. That wasn’t yesterday so it’s been a good while since any meat passed my lips. Mind you, by the time I stopped eating it and officially assumed vegetarian status; I had restricted my diet to only a few meat items and absolutely no chicken or fish – so it wasn’t a hardship to give up entirely. Ethical reasons were never the main factor in the decision.
I never missed it, never looked at anyone’s plate and thought I was missing out on anything. Never thought a steak looked appetising or that chicken smelled enticing. Never ate fake meat products that were designed to look and taste like meat items. Didn’t see the point. In fact, chicken to me actually smelled off, like there was something wrong with it. For a long while I couldn’t sit beside someone eating it, or be in the same room as a raw chicken.
Becoming vegetarian all those years ago, then finding out I was allergic to pretty much the whole world, did have some benefits. I had to learn to cook, I had to learn to experiment. It wasn’t easy, eating out was never fun. Scotland was never at the forefront of vegetarian cooking and going on holiday and finding places I could get something to eat was a task. I could end up eating one or two meals for the duration of the holiday and restaurant menus that include the items ‘mushroom risotto’ and ‘vegetarian stroganoff’ are still likely to enrage me. (Oh and macaroni or lasagne with chips. Rage, honestly!)
But still I persisted, and didn’t have any inclination to change my diet and include animal flesh. (Even typing that phrase still freaks me out.)
Then a few years ago, I started to notice a change. I started to notice when people around me ate fish that it looked appetising. I remember a good few years ago being out for dinner with a boyfriend and he ordered salmon. It arrived and I remember thinking ‘that looks really good’. But still I didn’t ask to try it, or attempt to cook it.
The desire to eat fish crept up on me, I started to notice it more and more, it was like it was suddenly everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by it. But still I couldn’t actually go ahead with it. Even though I really wanted to do it, there was a mental block, something just stopped me. It was almost as if I was being given signs from the universe everywhere I went to expand my diet, but I couldn’t figure out how. I had the desire, I knew what the benefits to doing it would be, but I just couldn’t figure out the how….
Eventually I found someone to help me. I was training in clinical hypnosis and NLP and all of the students had to practise on one another. One of my fellow students used an NLP tool and after that I had my first taste of fish in all those years. Out for lunch with my mum and aunt, my aunt ordered the fish of the day and I felt myself drawn irresistably towards it, much to the surprise of my lunch companions.
Since then it hasn’t been plain sailing, I’ve continued to eat white fish but nothing more. It has given me more choice when I eat out, which has been a bonus. Then last week I was out for dinner and decided to try salmon. And halibut. Might as well go for 2 new experiences in one shot! I didn’t stress over it, didn’t give myself the chance to think about what I would do if I didn’t like it. I just made the decision and went for it. Now, to most people that wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. But to me it was huge. It was like I’d crossed an imaginary line and now that I had done that, other things seemed much more possible, other food items like prawns or lamb or whatever seemed like they may happen one day. Not promising it will happen straight away but they weren’t ruled out forever. And that gave me more choice, which is always a good thing.
When I speak to people about changing their diet and ask them to give up certain foods a lot of the time they dismiss it and say ‘that’s too hard’, or ‘what will I eat’. Or ‘it’s ok for you, you eat that weird stuff anyway, you don’t know how hard it is’. Well I do. I know how difficult it is to change your diet, to start eating things that you have no idea how to cook, or what to do with. To try things you’re not sure if you’ll like. It’s not easy, it requires a leap of faith. But I do it anyway because I want to increase my choice. To increase my health. And I can see and feel the benefits. I know I’m not going to like everything, and after so many years of not eating any meat, fish etc it’s going to take a bit of getting used to and it’s going to require a mental adjustment that’s not as easy as just deciding to eat meat. Not only that, I need to figure out who I am again. After self identifying as a vegetarian for so many years – what am I now? A recovering vegetarian? A pescatarian? Or just someone who is choosy about what she decides to put in her body and values health over anything else?
So next time you’re thinking about making changes, whether changing your diet or something else entirely. Don’t think about huge big goals, about making sweeping changes. Take it one step at a time. Maybe increase your water intake or cut down your soda consumption. Or start moving for 15 minutes a day. Whatever you feel you can start with, then do it. After all, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.