Question: Hi Monique, Considering you seem to be an expert on vegetarianism, I have some questions to ask. Is it bad for my health to be a vegetarian at age 13, almost 14? And I'm trying to lose weight for the most part, and have been a vegetarian for 3 weeks. My meal plan as it goes is not very strict, but it is: Breakfast: a bit less than a serving size of raisin brand, and vanilla soy milk... Lunch: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the PB&J have reduced fat and sugar, an apple, and a half a power protein bar. And dinner: will vary. I haven't been losing much weight, despite the fact that I've completely changed my eating habits. Do you have any tips for me? At the time, I weigh 170 pounds, I'm 5'8, and I wish to get rid of my breasts (*embarrassed*) and gut...I think I want to get down to about 145 pounds or so... So my weight won't stop me to do anything, and I won't look fat... Do you have any good tips? Can you recommend some eating, and exercise plans, to increase my weight loss, but not have a protein deficiency? Thanks a lot, Steven
Answer: Congratulations on your decision to become a vegetarian! No, being a vegetarian at 13 to 14 years old is not bad for your health. In fact, experts with the American Dietetics Association have stated that "Research shows a carefully planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate and healthful for children from infants to teenagers." They believe that children's growing bodies can have their nutritional and caloric needs meet without meat or dairy products. That healthy eating early in life establishes a foundation for a healthful diet as an adult.
People become vegetarians for various reasons: ethical, environmental, health, compassion, etc. However, I must advise you that a vegetarian diet is not necessarily a weight loss diet, but it can be if done properly. Without a complete understanding of vegetarian nutrition it is easy to become imbalanced. For instance, you cannot just take meat out of your diet without replacing it with a comparable vegetable protein source. Also, if you still consume dairy products, they are loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol.
People lose weight, whether they are vegetarian or not, when they use more calories than they take in. The best weight-loss program involves two things: eating less and moving more. However, don't excessively restrict your calories because it will only cause your metabolism to slow down.
Modify your diet gradually by cutting out high-fat snacks and desserts, and eating more fruits and vegetables. Also, try taking smaller portions at each meal but make sure you eat foods with a lot of color and variety. Remember that you are still growing and therefore, you need to ensure proper nutrition. You need to maintain your intake of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber while reducing your intake of sugars and saturated fats.
You would be best off to increasing your physical activity by weight lifting and strength training to increase muscle mass which will burn more calories. Some excellent activities include bicycling; walking; hiking; dancing to your favorite music; gardening, raking leaves or shoveling snow; ice skating, in-line skating or roller skating; jump roping; skateboarding; weight training and circuit training. Try to identify opportunities for exercise in all areas of life. For instance, walk to do errands, take stairs instead of escalators or elevators; clean your room or house; wash and wax the car; walk the dog (if you have one); ride your bike to go to your friend's house or to the store instead of getting a ride in a car. Try to watch less TV, move more to burn calories, and do things that are enjoyable and productive.
For more information on vegetarian diets, read:
(1). The Vegetarian Starter Kit at http://www.pcrm.org/health/veginfo/vsk/index.html
(2). Healthy Snacks for Kids at
(3). Vegetarianism at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism
(4). The ADA's position on Vegetarian Diets at
(5). Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook
by Monique N. Gilbert
(6). Plant Based Nutrition and Health
by Stephen Walsh
(7). The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
by Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis
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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.