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As a college student, preparing healthy, fulfilling, and affordable meals is difficult.
It’s even more difficult as a vegetarian college student. Campus dining usually has few vegetarian options, and most of the available options don’t provide the essential nutrients vegetarians need.
We are better off preparing our own meals, but cooking vegetarian meals can be time-consuming and expensive. Some days, I know I don’t consume enough essential nutrients, which leads to a lack of energy.
After experiencing a year of exhaustion from attempting to balance my vegetarian diet with my overbearing load of school work, I decided the vegetarian diet was not working for me. I needed to find a way to get enough iron, protein, and vitamin B12 without breaking the bank or burning out.
My solution: I became a weekday vegetarian.
What is a weekday vegetarian?
Weekday vegetarians only eat meat on the weekends. This diet isn’t strict, but includes guidelines that allow us to define our own rules for our situation. For example, our “weekend” can be any few days of the week, as long as they’re consistent. My personal weekend used to be Mondays and Wednesdays, but I switched to Fridays and Saturdays when classes started. Your weekend could be one day or two days, or it could be three if you aren’t too keen on giving up meat just yet. The goal of the weekday vegetarian diet is to reduce the amount of meat consumed without giving it up cold-turkey.
It’s not necessary to eat meat on weekends either. This diet provides us the opportunity to indulge on weekends, but we can remain vegetarian that week if we choose. What I like is that it’s a helpful transition for beginner vegetarians to get used to the vegetarian lifestyle. It’s also helpful for people like me who can’t find the time or money to maintain a fully vegetarian diet.
Why did I decide to switch to a weekday vegetarian diet?
I decided to make the switch a year after I became vegetarian, which was my New Year’s resolution. Starting out was a struggle because I missed some of my comfort foods and found it difficult to recreate a dish without meat. After a few months though, I was so used to not eating meat that it didn’t appeal to me at all. All was going well until about halfway through the year when I started to notice my overall health decline.
My energy level was the first thing to become affected by my diet. I was not exerting myself more than usual, but even completing simple tasks drained me. The days started to feel longer, and I couldn’t make myself be productive. I spent most of my day sitting or laying down because even walking tired me out more than usual. I began taking iron supplements, but my energy level remained low.
Next, I noticed my skin started to break out more easily and develop extremely dry patches. The worst areas for my dry skin were on my eyelids, neck, and the inside of my elbow crease. My itchy, red skin would peel off in flakes leaving the area even more irritated. The irritation was so bad around my eyes that someone once told me I looked like a raccoon.
My final push toward adjusting my diet came from my eating disorder, which I had developed before becoming vegetarian. I restricted my eating, which caused me to rarely have an appetite. I was not eating enough food while I was vegetarian, and the food I did eat was not healthy or nutritious enough. Being a vegetarian made it easier to skip family meals because I finally had a reason that was better than “I’m not hungry.”
I made a commitment to be healthier for my body and started my weekday vegetarian diet on New Year’s Day.
What are the benefits of the weekday vegetarian diet?
There’s a variety of reasons the weekday vegetarian diet is beneficial. I like to think of it as the best of both worlds: we limit our consumption of meat while still getting the essential nutrients we need and comfort food we want.
Benefits of a vegetarian diet
1. Reduces your risk for chronic diseases.
A plant-based diet reduces our risk of chronic diseases such as:
>> Heart disease
Meat and the processing of meat are linked to higher rates of these illnesses. A balanced diet of a variety of plant proteins provides us with healthier nutrition than meat.
2. Lowers your carbon footprint.
Plant-based diets are better for the environment than conventional meat diets. The process of meat farming contributes large carbon emissions and requires immense amounts of land, water, and food. Vegetarian diets don’t require as many resources to grow and distribute food.
3. Contains a high amount of energy.
Plants are on the lowest trophic level because they synthesize their energy directly from the sun. Lower trophic levels contain higher amounts of energy. Energy is lost as trophic levels increase. It is more efficient to eat plants because they are on a lower trophic level and provide more energy.
And while there are numerous benefits to being (mostly) vegetarian, there are some benefits to including a minimal amount of meat in your diet.
Benefits of consuming meat
1. Provides the nine essential amino acids.
For a healthy diet, we need nine amino acids, which can only be obtained from food. Foods that are rich in protein, like meat, contain these amino acids. Plant-based diets contain these amino acids as well, but some of the proteins are considered incomplete because they lack adequate amounts of these amino acids, so it’s important to make sure you’re eating a variety of plant-based food.
2. Provides nutrients that help reduce mood problems.
Lacking certain vitamins and minerals can make us moody and even lead to mood disorders, like depression and anxiety. Most meats contain a plethora of nutrients we need. Nutritional deficiencies, caused either by a poorly balanced vegetarian diet or a diet too high in processed red meats, high-fat dairy, and sweets, can lead to mood disorders. The key here is a balanced diet.
3. Provides a quick and easy source of nutrients.
Rather than struggling to create a meal with enough plant-based foods that provide the nutrients we need, we can find a fraction of these nutrients in meat, which can make meal preparation simpler and quicker. Just remember to educate yourself on where your meat is coming from and avoid factory farming.
A strictly vegetarian diet may not provide all the nutrients we need, especially if we’re just starting out or don’t have the time or energy to be all in. On the other hand, a meat-heavy diet negatively impacts the environment and our long-term health.
A weekday vegetarian diet allows us to conveniently get all our essential nutrients while providing more long-term health and environmental benefits. Incorporating a bit of meat in a plant-based diet still reduces our carbon footprint and our risk of disease while also providing us with the nutrition and balance our bodies crave.