09/15/2011 11:26 am ET Updated Nov 15, 2011

Simplify: What Happened When I Removed Meat and Alcohol From My Life

I have an anniversary fast approaching: the anniversary of my switch to a vegetarian lifestyle. I say "lifestyle" because it truly is a lifestyle change that can effect every aspect of your life -- including your personality, your health, and even your relationship with yourself and others. Soon after the switch, I removed alcohol from my life too.

What happens when you remove both meat and alcohol from your life? Some people would consider living this type of existence the exact definition of the word "hell." I myself once felt that completely removing alcohol from my life would never happen. I liked my frozen drinks and micro-brews. Somehow social drinking was a part of me that I didn't feel the need to give up, drinking once a month or twice tops. In fact, when I became vegetarian, I remember being excited that I could still drink beer.

When I cut out drinking for dieting purposes, after a month my motivation levels increased drastically. I believe that I became a more persistent person, much less apt to give up.

Taking meat out of my life changed my personality as well. I had no idea that when I stopped eating meat my moods would no longer swing, and that my personality would become as mellow as the stereotypical hippie Hollywood portrays.

One observation I find interesting is the fact that many people consider alcohol and various meats to be rewards and luxuries. I once considered them this as well. I treated myself to a filet mignon every once in a while and had as much of whatever I wanted to drink when on vacation.

Now that I am a vegetarian who rarely drinks, the things I used to look forward to both on vacation and in general -- such as trying the local cuisine and brews -- no longer have a place in my life. At first when I cut these things out, it felt like I was killing an important part of myself. I used to identify these things as part of me in the same way a person defines his or her personality by a favorite sports team or hobby. Now I realize that I have simply evolved into a healthier and happier version of who I once was.

I no longer partake in eating meat or drinking frozen drinks. Doing this reminds me of an important Buddhist virtue -- removing attachments to material things. Without meat and alcohol, things are simplified and less complicated (except when I'm surrounded by omnivores that like to drink, a.k.a. any backyard BBQ). Without these foods and drinks to look forward to, everything becomes simplified. Like a raw vegetable before it is salted, diced and cooked, I am encouraged to derive my joy from what is pure: the moment, the beauty of where I am and the company I am with.

Food and drinks are often the focal point of our gatherings with friends and family. This is tradition for most of us regardless of our race or cultural background. I do miss eating turkey on Thanksgiving while the rest of my family gobbles it down. Removing meat from my life continues to be an ongoing challenge. However, it is something I am committed to. Removing alcohol wasn't as difficult and improved my quality of life. No more feeling yucky in the morning because I had a few drinks the night before. Okay, so I still drink now and then, but barely.

They say when you lose one of your five senses your other senses become heightened. When the focus is taken off of food and drinks, we become more aware of the moments we are actually living in.