A Cautionary Tale from a Vegetarian

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

Vegetarianism isn’t easy. Most people would say they wouldn’t be able to go without meat for more than a couple days, and that’s understandable. However, as someone who has negative reactions to red meat, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Since I was a child, I dealt with stomach pain, cramps, bloating and various other symptoms any time I ate red meat; it took a while before I found out what was causing it. I eventually stopped eating meat altogether, and the symptoms went away.

I wasn’t happy for a long time afterward.

It was extremely difficult adjusting. At age 15, I struggled to get enough protein in my system. My family had no clue what a vegetarian diet was, so I was left to my own devices. I dealt with fatigue the first few weeks, and the lack of iron and protein left me weak and sickly. Headaches were common and they made it hard for me to concentrate in school.

I placed all my time and energy on researching what foods I can eat in order to receive my daily protein. At this point, I was living off of cafeteria cheese pizza, noodles, and potatoes – not the ideal diet for a growing girl. I knew I needed to change that.

As the months flew by, I got smarter in my food choices and protein intake. My staple foods became rice, beans, soy and dark green veggies. I started learning to cook vegetarian and vegan plates – and no, I don’t mean salads – stuff like pesto soup with gnocchi, beans and greens and avocado carbonara was quickly becoming my favorite dishes.

Now my scare became whether I was losing too much weight. At 15, I weighed about 118 pounds. During my vegetarian diet, I quickly dropped to 107. I wasn’t eating enough.

The realization would hit me every time I stepped on a bathroom scale. What am I supposed to do now? I thought I was doing everything right, I no longer felt dizzy or sick, but I didn’t want to be skin and bones. My wardrobe changed, pant sizes dropped to size zero, shirts had to be extra small. Medium-sized clothes were just too baggy and had to be donated.

During those teen-angst years, I regretted going vegetarian, and I started to despise everything and everyone around me. No matter what I did, it seemed like there was always going to be a setback. Whether it was my health or my appearance, I constantly struggled to try to keep up with both.

But I didn’t want to give up and look like Jack Skellington, the character that was ironically stitched on my book bag and grinned at me every day.

I pushed myself to read more labels on food cans and made sure I was getting enough calories for the day. Even if I had only a smidget of time between classes, I ate my sandwich and walnuts. I made fruit and veggie smoothies extra early in the morning. I had as many balanced meals as I could every single day.

My weight finally went back to normal. I was in a happier place, more than I was several months ago. I found my own balance, and I couldn’t be gladder.

My first warning to those looking to be vegetarians and vegans is to be prepared. It’s going to be hard, you will lose weight, you will get a horrible dizziness and you’ll suffer. Yet, when you find the balance, you will be much happier. You won’t regret it.

I haven’t eaten meat for eight years now, and I’m not planning to go back anytime soon.