I have been a vegetarian since I was a little kid. Meat just seems to turn my stomach, even the thought of it. The problem is that I married a man who loves meat and wants our children to eat meat.
I have been very frustrated trying to please everyone at mealtimes, so I just make a meal for my family and eat veggies and potatoes.
It is very, very boring so I find myself craving sweets a lot to make up for it. It seems like all that I eat are carbohydrates and I am concerned that I am not getting the proper vegetarian nutrition that my body needs. I have been told that if your body doesn't get enough protein it starts to consume itself. Is this true?
I have lost a lot of muscle and gained fat in its place and I feel very low on energy. I want very much to get back into shape but feel like I'm stuck in a rut. Do you have any suggestions for vegetarian menus and re-building muscle? Thanks.- A. S.
Dear A. S.,
When I read your letter, I felt like climbing up on my feminist soapbox. I had to go away and think about it for a while. I realized that you're probably a tired busy wife and mom who maybe has a day job. And you're caught up with caring for your family, and putting their needs ahead of your own like lots of women do.
But it doesn't work if one person does all the giving and sacrificing. That doesn't mean that you should force your family into anything, but it may be that your husband isn't even aware that you're suffering. And kids often are oblivious. So you have to tell them what you need, and give it to yourself. Family counselling might be good if there's a lot of resistance.
The sweet cravings are a sign of nutritional imbalance and deficiency. You're right that veggies and potatoes aren't enough. You need whole grains, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds. So along with your side of veg - easy on the potatoes - have a whole grain tortilla with hummus or almond butter. Or a wrap with refried beans. Or cook some whole grains and freeze them in individual servings. Same with bean dishes.
Keep some vegetarian protein on hand to add to meals: cottage cheese or tempeh or baked tofu or nuts or canned beans. For breakfast, eat a fortified whole grain bread or cereal, maybe an egg. Make sure there are green veggies in your life. And fresh fruit. Take a supplement - make sure it has folic acid, B12, calcium, Vit D, magnesium, zinc.
Once your husband is willing to give your diet equal time, then make some grain/veggie dishes for you all to share a few times a week. And green salads, with extras like chick peas, olives, feta, avocado, sunflower seeds, walnuts etc thrown in. There is absolutely no reason why your meat loving husband or your children shouldn't eat some vegetarian dishes too.
It's generally up to Mom to make sure the family eats right! That's unfair, and it's no surprise if you're feeling underappreciated. Let your family know that you're not a short order cook.
This is pure speculation, but it could be a combination of too many calories and not enough nutrients, along with inactivity that has caused you to lose muscle and gain fat. And don't worry - the body only consumes itself with outright starvation - it'll convert fat to energy before muscle mass.
Start taking a supplement right away to perk you up, then you'll have some energy to start working on your diet and your family's diet. Try to get out in the fresh air and walk, or do some yoga, maybe garden, or swim - those activities improve your fitness and your state of mind at the same time. Maybe hang out with adult friends once a week, and make some time for you and your husband away from the kids.
A Happy Mom is a Good Mom. Always take time to nurture yourself. You deserve it and your family does too.
I've attached the report Veg-NonVeg Eat Together - there's a section on cohabiting. I also recommend The New Becoming Vegetarian,, by Melina & Davis, as an excellent vegetarian nutrition reference. And the Quick Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson as a source of easy, quick delicious family friendly vegetarian recipes.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian
Thank you so much for responding to my questions. You have given me some good ideas. I realized through your email that my thinking has been skewed. I am one of those who think to be a vegetarian you have to just replace the meat with a slab of tofu.
It's going to take some major adjusting to start thinking differently about my sources of vegetarian protein coming from grains and beans and vegetables but I think this is what I have been misunderstanding. It goes against everything I've been told all my life.
I get so many concerned looks and comments from people when they find out I'm a vegetarian but your email has given me some peace. This is who I am and I'm not going to fight against it anymore. It's going to take a lot of effort and time but I have to make me more of a priority. Thank you so much. - A. S.