How a die-hard meat addict went vegetarian by accident … and ended up loving it.
“Just six more days until that giant steak” I kept saying to myself.
The thought of it made my mouth salivate. I was imagining cutting into a thick, rare steak with juices flowing out of it and steam rising from the soft, fibrous flesh.
I loved steak. I sometimes had it for breakfast with eggs if I had the time to prepare it, lunch in a toasted sandwich with copious amounts of french mustard and onion and quite often for dinner, usually with chips, peas and a sauce of some sort. It’s not to say I didn’t eat other things — I did — but steak was the ‘default’ setting.
And it did make life very easy in some respects. Choosing a meal at any restaurant was painless as I never needed to waste time looking at a menu, and I’d also learned to keep a jar of my favorite french mustard in the car in case the establishment we’d chosen didn't have any. Which was surprisingly often.
If I wasn’t actually addicted to steak, I was certainly on the watch list, if there ever was such a thing.
But on this particular day, things were different. I wasn’t having steak. I wasn’t even having any lamb (my second favorite) or in fact any meat at all. This, for me, was unprecedented. I was in completely uncharted territory.
Rewind a few days and you’ll find me at a Tony Robbins event called ‘Unleash the Power Within,’ a four-day motivational event held at Excel House in London. I had been lucky enough to secure Platinum tickets which meant my partner, Clare, and I were sat in the VIP section in the very front row, literally six feet from the man himself. Yes, we’d got hyped up. Yes, we completed the Fire Walk over hot ashes. And yes we attended the optional fourth day all about health.
I was a 38-year-old man at the time, admittedly a bit overweight, but generally in good shape. And although the weekend had been utterly fantastic, I really wasn’t keen on this part of the course.
I didn’t need preaching to about eating. I knew how to eat. I liked eating, I’d done it all my life and most of the time I could even do it without making a mess. I didn’t like people telling me I couldn’t eat something if I want to. I liked dead animal flesh and I felt I was going to be lectured on it.
Such was my initial disinterest in this, I’d actually walked into the session with a bacon baguette and a large coffee. It might have been a mini protest at some subconscious level, but I rather suspect it was mostly because I also liked bacon. And none of the steak places were open yet.
The course was a full day and, to my great irritation it not only wasn’t preachy, but it also made complete sense. Worse, they’d answered all the technical questions as I thought of them throughout the day such as how the body breaks certain foods down, why vegetables and certain fish create so much more energy and are so much more efficient than meat, and why certain diseases, such as cancers, are so often linked to excessive meat-eating.
I remember wondering to myself if three slabs of meat a day counts as ‘excessive’ meat-eating? Surely not. Surely I’d be fine.
There was no more than a passing reference to animal rights which both surprised and impressed me — I had been expecting the full holier-than-thou guilt trip.
I don’t know if there was one factor that tipped me over the edge, or a number of them, but peaked by the whole thing and persuaded by the logic, Clare (who was six months pregnant at the time with our second child) and I agreed to do the ‘Seven Day challenge’, which, as the title suggests, was a week on a carefully balanced, low alkaline, vegetarian and fish diet.
For the first time in my adult life I was going to have seven days without meat, and — even more terrifying — without alcohol. I’d never done either before and wasn’t even sure if this was possible, but I managed to reassure myself by saying that on the eighth day I would have a steak as a reward. A huge steak. And wine. Lots of wine. Oh God, SO much wine.
My partner and I sorted our meals according to the food combining chart we had been given and made a shopping list of all sorts of things we didn't normally eat, such as certain fish, veg and pulses. She already ate better than me anyway, rarely ate meats and didn’t drink because of the pregnancy so she was less nervous and even quite excited. After the shop, and the clear out of things we would not be using, the regime began.
Just one day in, and I was already dreaming about that steak. And the chips. And the chunky onion and red pepper filled Steak-Au-Poivre sauce that I often made to go with it in such quantities it could be eaten by itself and considered a full meal. Coffee was also on my mind a lot, being no good for the regime, replaced instead with green tea. Which was quite nice.
But it wasn’t coffee.
After another 24 hours, the craving increased and the fact I’d consumed no beer or wine was also grating on me. The food was actually tasty, but it lacked … texture. Meaty texture to be precise. There just isn’t a vegetarian alternative to that.
However, within 72 hours, there were already noticeable changes. I’d lost weight and had noticed that I wasn’t feeling so stuffed after each meal. All very nice of course, but the reality was that I was still counting down the days to Steak-o-clock. Sometimes literally working out how many hours remained on a calculator.
Five days in and I hated to admit I felt pretty good. I’d now lost several pounds and my energy level was noticeably higher. I was sleeping better with no alcohol and I really, really hated admitting that too. Still, in just 48 short hours, I was home and dry and had given my body a little spring clean in the process. Everybody wins, right?
But then something unexpected happened.
On the eighth day, I was free to find that steak I had promised myself, but somehow my desire to do this had waned a little.
Seven days was a serious achievement for me. I’d never had the discipline to do this, or even anything remotely like this, before. It suddenly seemed a shame to stop now, but at the same time, I wasn’t prepared to stop eating meat for good. Just for a bit longer, maybe.
I decided to compromise and do the ten-day version of the challenge. On the eleventh day, I’d have that steak. Two actually. Stacked on top of each other, surrounded by chips and covered with that sauce.
The trouble was after ten more days, I felt fantastic. I’d lost even more weight, my skin had improved, my energy levels had continued to rise and several people had actually said: “Wow, you’re looking well!” To me. That never happened.
I was a bit unsure about what to do next. In a moment of madness and buoyed by our success so far, Clare and I decided to carry on and do another 13 days to complete the 30-day version of the challenge. She was loving it, especially now being in the third trimester of pregnancy and appreciating the energy boost.
And it was all fine, because on day 31 I was going to find, buy and cook the biggest steak known to man and drink an entire bottle of wine as a starter. With whiskey and brandy. And I can’t even stand brandy.
There was one added complication of my own doing which, so far, hadn’t been an issue, but was no doubt soon to become one if I carried on this ‘dangerous’ flirtation with healthy eating.
You see, I’d kept the fact that I wasn't eating any meat a secret from everyone to start with because, well, let's just say I hadn’t exactly been positive about that lifestyle choice or even chosen to be quiet about my views. Why would anyone choose — willingly — not to eat meat?
I should point out that I was caricaturing my position and playing up to it for comedic effect. It wasn’t actually a condemnation of anyone being a vegetarian, I just thought it gave me license for endless ribbing (pun intended), especially of my poor sister who had been vegetarian since she was thirteen and provided me with a perfect sibling based teasing that had now spanned well over two decades.
This, however, is a problem if you’re now embracing the lifestyle for any period and having to admit to the benefits. You reap what you sew. And I didn’t want to do any reaping at the moment, thank you.
So, my plan was to stay silent and make excuses until ‘steak day’ where I could make sure everyone saw me eating it.
But, annoyingly, and probably inevitably, the benefits were becoming impossible to ignore. Being vegetarian and non-alkaline (or technically pescatarian as some fish types were actively encouraged on this regime) had done incredible things to my body.
I’d now lost close to two stone in weight, but my skin had tightened and looked years younger. I needed less sleep, never felt tired in the day and had the energy of a man much younger.
One day as I took my top off, I caught a brief glimpse of my six-pack when I breathed in and looked at the right angle. I hadn’t seen those guys for over 20 years, but I hadn’t done any working out at all. The fat levels had just decreased to the point where the muscle was *just* visible again. That was simply incredible.
In my heart of hearts, I was strangely dismayed. Because I knew what was coming next.
Day 31 arrived but I knew I couldn’t go back. However, Clare had implied more than once that she wasn’t sure I should lose any more weight, so it seemed OK to soften the diet a bit. Alcohol came back in (yay!), as did bread and potatoes and a few other bits and pieces, but the meat stayed away.
But this also meant going public … and I was genuinely nervous. What would the payback of years of hardcore teasing going to be like?
As it turned out, my consistent brutal and ‘hilarious’ (in my mind) anti-vegetarian quips actually protected me. Since I had been such a dedicated meat addict, nobody believed a word I was saying. Literally not one person considered it a real possibility. By the time they realized I was actually serious, months later, the time for ribbing had passed. I’d won by default.
And that was it. My meat-eating days were over. That bacon baguette I’d walked in with on the day of the course had been the last meat I was ever going to eat and I hadn’t even known it. Frankly, it was just as well because if you’d tried to convince me at the time, I would have been very upset about it.
No, this was the only way it was ever going to happen for me, effectively by accident, whilst subscribing to a false promise of a reward ahead.
Trickery, in other words.
As the years went by, twelve now, it became the norm and I no longer miss my morning, afternoon or evening steaks. However, there's a been a few times after a few beers out with the lads that the kebab van has been very tempting.
In my drunken state, I’ve sometimes had that rebellious thought cross my mind:
“Hell, I’m a grown man, I can do what I want, if I want a large doner with extra chili, then I’ll damn well have it.”
Then, whilst waiting in the queue, talking general beer-induced rubbish with the friends I’ve known all my life, I’d be dreaming of it. When, finally, my turn came and the inevitable question of all kebab vans owners was posted in it’s a universal form (“What do you want, mate?”) there would always be a slight pause before I’d respond, equally inevitably,
“Fried onion rings please mate”.