Five years ago, I moved to California from New York City. I knew if I wanted to enjoy the activities my new environment offered, I had to change. I was quite lethargic. Going on a short hike took the wind out of me. I loved gorging on hamburgers, but my primary love was salami. I would buy packs of cured meats and eat the whole thing right after grocery shopping. Brunches full of steak and afternoon barbecues with sausages were among my favorite meals.

However, my sister was a vegan. The idea seemed appealing, though I figured it just wasn't for me. Now I know that was a story I told myself, which wasn't true at all. Anyone can cut out any amount of meat, as long as it feels like the right decision for them. I read a few books on the subject, including The China Study, a groundbreaking study of how reducing intake of animal products can lower risks of cancer and heart disease. Soon after reading that, I visited a county fair, where I pet a cute pig on display in a pen. When I walked away, the pig started squealing with a terrible sound. It reminded me of a cross between a baby crying and a grown man screaming. The pig's eyes, which looked similar to human eyes, were wild with distress. At that moment, I decided to cut out animal products from my diet — starting with red meat, which is classified as meat from any mammal.

The Beginning

When I first started this process, I didn't know how to balance my diet with the loss of those calories from meat. I was in a fog and started craving gummy bears all the time. After a few months, I discovered how to eat a more balanced diet that included non-animal protein sources and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I started to have more energy. This change could be because I lost a couple of pounds, which is common for people switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegetable-based one, as shown in a study from George Washington School of Medicine and Health. Or it could merely be because I was making healthier choices overall.

My sugar cravings went away, and I was able to take up hobbies like weightlifting, hiking, backpacking, and camping. For those seeking to make the same change, I would advise having on hand some tofu, tempeh, a nutty-tasting, fermented soybean product, or seitan, a high-protein meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten to help ease the transition.

Cheating

I never think of "cheating" as such. I don't beat myself up when I slip up. In the first few years, I would eat some meat if I was visiting someone who had made a delicious meal, as I didn't want to be rude or wasteful. Now, I would not.

However, recently I was volunteering, and I was hungry. The only thing the organizers provided was a pepperoni and hamburger pizza. I could have just picked the meat off, but I knew it wouldn't be enough sustenance for the heavy lifting required by this gig, so I had to give in! I felt fine afterward but vowed to be better prepared the next time.

Socializing

My friends and family are very understanding of this diet. Many of them have special diets, too. Potlucks in my circle usually have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options for everyone to enjoy.

I live in an area with many exclusively vegan and vegetarian restaurants where I don't have to worry about meat finding its way into the food. When I travel, it's a different story. I went to Austria, where it's still a novel idea to cut out meat from your diet, and ended up eating a lot of something called käseknödel, a type of cheese dumpling. Even in the rural areas of the United States, I end up eating a lot of salads. At home, I'm able to get what I want whenever I am craving it.

If you live in a place where the term vegetarian raises eyebrows, it's not hopeless. Most grocery stores do carry at least a small selection of vegetarian proteins and meat substitutes, like veggie dogs or tofu. It also wouldn't hurt to talk to a store manager and see if they can special order something for you. Most restaurants have at least one vegetarian option, and many dishes can easily be made without the meat ingredients. I like to substitute something like beans or avocado depending on the meal and availability.

Cutting out red meat has allowed me to live a healthier lifestyle. I was already pretty healthy, but now I have more energy for the things I love to do: exercising and getting out into nature!

Thinking about eating less red meat or removing it from your diet? Check out our article on whether or not red meat is bad for you.