As Told To Steffi O.

In May 2022, I decided to check my weight for the first time since 2020. Yes, I’d been running away from the consequences of eating like a thief. And the numbers were the most gut-wrenching reality. I was too embarrassed to admit how much I currently weighed to anyone. 

While I worked through those unresolved feelings, I decided to find a solution. I went through a labyrinth of blogs. Keto talked a lot about healthy fat options like avocado, and they remind me of semo because they both look squishy, like baby food. Intermittent fasting seemed like deliberate torture, so I was down for the vegetarian lifestyle. Little did I know that in a bid to find a fit-fam mentor, I’d connect with someone who gained weight on a vegetarian diet. 

Illustration credit: gmast3r, stock

Quite a shocking revelation for me because I’d already envisioned fitting into my old jeans by October. Well, here’s how Paul* went back to the meat life.

Eating animals always irked me out. A moment that stuck with me was when my mum took me to a fish market for the first time. I was 12, and I can’t forget how irritated I felt walking in. I knew we had to kill animals for food but seeing it in real-time seemed incredibly brutal. They smashed stones on the poor fish heads and cut them up. I hated the sight. It looked unethical and void of consideration for the animals. I couldn’t eat the pepper soup my mum made afterwards.

When I talked to her about hating the idea of killing animals for food, she wasn’t bothered. She also didn’t mind me not eating meat or fish at the time. So I paused for a while. That didn’t last long because, at some point, she roped me back into forcing myself to eat meat again. But I got tired. 

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When I was 18, I decided to read some books on the vegetarian lifestyle. One book that struck me was Deep Vegetarianism by Michael Allen Fox. He reaffirmed my position on the cruelty of killing animals, and I decided to push back on eating meat again in 2016.  Of course, my family didn’t take me seriously. My mother still bought suya for the house, and my grandmother never acknowledged the fact I no longer ate meat. Everything at home was still cooked with either meat or fish. 

Since no one was adjusting to my diet, I had to learn how to prepare my own food. The only good thing was having my parents cover the cost of groceries. And since I was eating the typical rice and spaghetti, I didn’t have to stress with anything too extra. The first thing I learnt to cook was definitely some kind of pasta. It was the easiest thing to handle on my own. I lived in Bayelsa and eating out was a chore. You’d think there’s absolutely no meat in the food, and boom, they used crayfish to garnish the whole thing. 

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The most annoying part was always ending up with the worst options on any menu. I couldn’t even casually hang out with friends. The worst time was when we were having a barbeque party in 2017. Of course, the options for me were very slim. The only thing I could eat was chips, and I came in too late to get some. I practically left that party licking sauce off a plate and eating a slice of cake. My friends had a good laugh out of it. After all, I chose the vegetarian lifestyle. 

I think my biggest misconception was how healthy I’d probably be by staying away from meat. And that’s what a lot of Nigerians think when they hear “I’m a vegetarian”. But I was loading up on more carbs like rice, bread and pasta every day. I began to notice the weight gain in early 2018. Also, when I started taking anti-psychotic medication that year, one of the side effects was weight gain. But eating 90% carbs wasn’t helping.

I considered buying replacement meat options like tofu, but they didn’t fit in my budget. I also saw the price of protein powder and knew there was no way I could afford it. So I stuck to my carb diet until 2020.

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My breaking point on being vegetarian was in November. I wanted to apply to culinary school because I wanted to understand food better. But I’d have to work with ingredients like meat as a chef, at least before working my way to becoming more specialised with alternative meat options. Plus this is Nigeria and as a chef, versatility is important. I can’t be picking and choosing so early in a career. It was difficult to think that I’d have to deal with meat again, but my health had also been on a steady decline since 2018. So I decided to try working on my distaste for meat. I made sure I prepared everything myself because it was easier for me to eat. 

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Looking out for the macros and weighing how much carbs I paired with meat really transformed my health in a year. I didn’t hate trying meat again but it was weird. I tried eating sausages recently, and I was genuinely surprised by the taste and texture. Some part of me had forgotten how certain types of meat tasted. Half the time, it’s been me going “huh” in my head. I’d missed out on all those flavours for four years, so don’t blame me.

I guess if I had to sum up the experience of eating meat again, I’d call it a nostalgic time travel because of the memories each bite brings back.

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