With a push towards healthier diets many people are turning to vegetarianism, but some find it difficult to overcome meat cravings. One of the key factors is to avoid setting up a situation that creates them. To this end, the switch to a vegetarian diet is best done gradually over a period of several months, a year, or even more. The amount of time it takes to overcome meat cravings and drop meat from the diet will vary from person to person, but there are a few things everyone can do to ease the way.
The body gets used to a specific diet and changing it drastically by eliminating all meat overnight is setting yourself up for a fall. Instead, wean yourself off meat by taking one meal a week in which you’d normally eat meat, and substitute a vegetarian meal instead. If you like to cook you might want to pick a weekend night so you have more time to prepare. Try a different meal each week to build a repertoire of vegetarian dishes you enjoy. In 4-6 weeks, add another vegetarian meal to the diet, gradually reducing meat and finally eliminating it. Becoming a vegetarian slowly should help to reduce or eliminate meat cravings.
In order to overcome meat cravings it is also important to understand them. According to some experts there are two types of cravings: psychological and physiological.
Psychological cravings are temporary, and if ignored, will usually pass in 15-20 minutes. Triggers for psychological cravings can include smells, such as driving by a fast-food restaurant, work-related stress, turmoil in a personal relationship, excitement or boredom. These triggers can create cravings for our favorite fast foods or treats like ice cream or sweets. The best way to avoid giving in to a psychological craving is to distract yourself with a task, chore, hobby, exercise or sugarless chewing gum. The craving will pass if given a chance.
Physiological cravings are very often triggered by a drop in blood sugar and can create light-headedness, shakiness, and a tired feeling. These cravings do not pass and should be satiated as this is the body’s way of telling us we’re lacking something we require. To overcome meat cravings, try eating something high in protein such as a soy-based food, legumes, or cottage cheese. If the craving is for fat try a palmful of peanuts, a few almonds or a shake.
Avoid “nurturing” meat cravings. Try the methods above but if nothing works eat a small amount of meat to satiate the craving. If this does not stop the craving it is more likely a psychological craving. Many people are raised eating meat and associate mealtime (and eating meat) with family and good feelings. Cultural influences can also affect the way we feel about food. Give yourself and your body time to make those same positive associations with your new vegetarian diet.
Finally, it is easier to go from a meat diet to a vegetarian diet, than to go from a meat diet to a vegan diet. Vegetarian diets can include dairy products and eggs. Although calcium and other nutrients can also be gotten in a vegan diet, you will likely overcome meat cravings easier by taking “baby steps.” If the ultimate goal is to go vegan, consider letting the intermediate goal be vegetarianism.
Another important factor is to stay hydrated. Often food cravings are triggered by a lack of fluids. Drink a glass of water every couple of hours and your stomach will stay fuller.
It is also important to incorporate new foods into the diet and not just eliminate meat while keeping everything else the same. There are many prepared vegetarian meals in the freezer section of most grocery stores. These include everything from soy burgers to “buffalo wings” and “chicken” patties. In the luncheon meat section you can also find meatless bologna, “ham,” “turkey” and hot dogs – all made from high-protein, low-fat soy. Buy fresh veggies and fruits, and pick up a vegetarian cookbook. Italian and Mexican foods make great vegetarian meals, and when you enjoy what you're eating it is much easier to overcome meat cravings.
As you make the switch to a vegetarian diet, meat cravings will lessen with time. Don’t beat yourself up as you go through the dietary change, but allow it to occur naturally. Your body will start to feel better on a vegetarian diet and you’ll soon be craving those foods instead. Eventually there will come a day when you’ll realize you haven’t eaten or craved meat in weeks or months. The thought of eating meat will be unappealing and a vegetarian diet will be your new, healthier way of living.