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No more meat (during the week): why I'm going flexitarian for Lent

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The popularity of documentaries like Cowspiracy and Veducated, along with the Veganuary New Year’s pledge being taken by increasing numbers of people, has led us to increasingly reconsider our level of meat consumption.

The question of giving up meat entirely in order to make a difference doesn't appeal to everyone, though.  Stylist’s Katie O’Malley is a self-confessed burger lover, but she’s decided to become a ‘flexitarian’ for Lent, dipping her toe into the vegetarian pool to test the waters. We follow her as she embarks on her new lifestyle. 

I’ll be the first one to hold my hands up and say “I love meat”.

I’ll unashamedly splurge on a juicy meat-filled bun from Honest Burgers, devour a Sunday pub roast and — more frequently than I like to admit — make the quick dash to Sainsbury's on a Sunday morning to grab two packets of bacon for hungover brunches. Nothing quite beats a delicious cut of steak sizzling in a red wine sauce; a bowl of pasta Bolognese coated in cheese or an oozing pulled pork sandwich with apple sauce.

From as early as I can remember, meat has been the norm, synonymous with pure and utter joy — until now.

For the next 40 days, I’m challenging myself to become a flexitarian.

Avocado on toast at the ready

Avocado on toast at the ready

Flexitarians: “flexible vegetarians” or “vegivores”, are defined as people who adopt a predominantly meat-free diet, but occasionally inject some meat or fish into the mix. It might sound like I’m half-heartedly attempting vegetarianism with all the benefits and, in some ways, you’d be right, but a little change can go a long way.

In recent months, I’ve realised that despite my carnivorous tendencies, I buy, prepare and eat vegetarian food 80% of the time, only resorting to meat and fish when eating out or from a place of pure laziness. In some ways I'm already a flexitarian, but I want to make it official. 

And I'm not alone in my quest to go green. This year, sales of vegetarian foods in the UK are predicted to increase by 10%, with 35% of Brits choosing to call themselves flexitarians.

Whether it be for ethical or environmental reasons - everyone has their own logic to why they're keen to reduce their meat intake. 

But for me, one of the main factors in becoming a vegivore is to see if it improves my overall health. As an avid gym-goer and runner, I like to keep fit and healthy. However, I frequently find myself battling fluctuating acne, bouts of insomnia and feeling lethargic — a problem that frequently leaves me ditching the running shoes in favour of a hoodie and slippers in front of the TV.  

Katie tucks into a hot dog in Amsterdam

Katie tucks into a hot dog in Amsterdam

Given that red meat is rich in saturated fats, cholesterol and high in calories, it’s interesting to learn that even just going flexiatrian can reduce the likelihood of diabetes and cancer and increase life expectancy. This, coupled with health food goddesses like Deliciously Ella, Hemsley + Hemsley and Madeleine Shaw raving about the health benefits of plant-based diets, I want to see if abandoning meat during the week will make any difference to my general well-being.

Another reason for becoming a part-time veggie is financial. Following a dangerously expensive start to 2016 (curse you, January sales) and the fact that vegetarian meals are, on average, 60% cheaper than meaty dishes I want to test whether my bank account will also reap the benefits of these more sustainable food products.

“So, if you’re so pro-plant, why not become a full-time vegetarian then”, I hear you cry?

Well, perhaps at the end of this 40-day challenge I will, but by becoming a flexitarian, I’m hoping to push the boundaries of my go-to meat favourite recipes without shocking my body/weak willpower into immediately going cold turkey. It's all about baby steps.

Katie and friends channeling their inner Joey Tribbianis on the set of Friends

Katie and friends channeling their inner Joey Tribbianis on the set of Friends

By consciously opting for a more veggie-filled diet with the occasional meaty treat, I get the best of both worlds. At the same time, I get to cut back on my meat consumption which I hope to be better for my health, bank account and the environment. It sounds like a win-win situation, right? 

Over the next 40 days, I commit to a 5:2 eating plan — cooking and buying vegetarian food Monday to Friday but allowing myself to eat meat and fish on the weekends. This means no cheat days during the week, no matter how enticing a burger/steak/meatball/roast chicken looks *sobs*. 

To encourage myself to experiment with vegetarian ingredients, I’m hoping to find at least two new vegetarian recipes each week to cook at home and will post my verdicts on their price, taste and level of difficulty. I will also keep a log of my weekly shops to see whether a flexi diet saves my depleting bank account.    

Far from restricting myself from what I enjoy, I’m viewing my flexitarian challenge as an achievable way of seeing whether, after almost 24 years, I could imagine a life without meat.

Here goes...

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