Before adopting a vegetarian diet a year ago I had a number of concerns. Would I be getting the right vitamins? Would I get bored of eating the same things? Would I always be hungry? Would I be judged by others?
The journey has been interesting and rewarding. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.
1. It's been surprisingly easy! My biggest surprise was how easy the transition to a meat-free diet was. There is so much help out there. The BBC Good food website has been a great source of culinary inspiration, and there lots of excellent vegetarian cookbooks. My favourite is The Happy Pear - which is packed with recipes, health advice and inspirational stories.
The Vegetarian Society is also great. Its website provides loads of accessible nutritional information which is especially useful if you are looking for alternative sources of iron, protein and other key nutrients. As a member I receive lots of useful tips and stories in their emails and magazines.
Eating out has also been easy. Pub menus are often limited - I once had to settle for chips and onion rings for my main course - but most places cater for everyone. Italian and Indian restaurants are a banker and I recommend an app called Happy Cow which tells you the nearest veggie-friendly restaurants wherever you are in the world.
(Beetroot burgers with carrot humus topping courtesy of The Happy Pear)
2. Most people don't judge (or care!). Positively, my worry about how it would affect relationships was completely unfounded. Most people have been curious rather than judgemental. And the few that questioned me have done so out of concern for my health.
In reality, people don't really care what you eat - they have their own lives to get on with! And vegetarianism is not such a rare thing anymore.
3. It's worthwhile doing some research. Some people have challenged me with difficult questions. And when I haven't had the answers it has shaken my self-belief. I've had people tell me that a veggie diet lacks vital nutrients, that crop farming kills more animals than animal farming and that our evolution means we have to eat meat. Each can be easily countered, but not without doing some research first.
There are lots of easily accessible sources out there. PETA's website is particularly good and if you are looking for extra ammunition to convince others (or yourself!) The Food Revolution by John Robbins is a brilliant read. I also recommend the documentaries Vegucated and Cowspiracy on Netflix.
(A pic of my well-thumbed Food Revolution!)
4. Avoid the moral high ground (it can be a rocky place!). I'm sure I don't need to say that taking the moral high ground isn't a great idea. Unless you are whiter than white, it's easy to get exposed in another part of your life. And there may be an even holier than thou vegan nearby.
If you truly want less animals to be killed, then I personally think that going on the attack will not change anyone's views. Getting on with your choice privately may well do though.
5. It feels great! Last but not least, going meat-free feels absolutely great. I no longer have to smother feelings of guilt when walking past farm animals and no longer feel hypocritical when tweeting about animal cruelty or fox-hunting. It's definitely a weight off my conscience, which is worth the change alone (apologies if that sounds like the moral high ground!)
Also, chocolate and croissants aside - I feel a lot healthier in my mind and body. That goes for general wellbeing and my efforts in the gym or doing a 10k. I'm sure that anyone who makes a similar decision will feel the same.
If you are in a similar position to me this time last year, I hope these thoughts will help! If you have any questions, do jot them down below.