Perhaps you’re considering becoming a vegetarian yourself, or you know one (or more). It’s more than a fad or way to seem “cool” or ethical; vegetarianism has been adopted by many people as a lifestyle and way of thinking, rather than a simple diet.

Yet like anything that isn’t a “traditional” way of living, those following vegetarian diets are often bombarded with questions – their own and others’. It can be a little overwhelming if you weren’t raised in a vegetarian family.

1. Are there health benefits to vegetarian diets?

There are quite a number of benefits, both proven by scientific studies and commonly purported by supporters of vegetarian eating. Everything from heart disease to obesity is linked with carnivorism, or at the very least, excessive consumption of meats. As humans, we aren’t built to consume meat as often as it is available these days, and we are often most tempted to consume that which is worst for us in large quantities, as a result of the environment we evolved in.

Going vegetarian brings us closer to that “ideal diet” that our bodies want to be fed, even if our minds tell us that sweets and meat are much tastier. As a result, vegetarians are at lower risk for ailments from cancer to heart disease, strokes to diabetes. Blood pressure is lower, asthma is less severe, and many more conditions are prevented, risk factors are lessened, and impacts of existing conditions are frequently lower.

Children benefit from vegetarian diets, with higher IQs and lower risks for other diseases, and seniors find that chronic conditions are reversed or helped. Athletes report breaking through that “plateau” of maximum top performance, and even weight-lifters can build muscle and consume enough protein on a vegetarian diet.

2. Is a vegetarian diet unsafe?

It’s no more unsafe than any other diet that is pursued blindly, including a “normal” eating plan where you don’t monitor your intake at all.

You do have to take care to balance your nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but if you want to be healthy, you should already be doing this. Most people have a learning curve as they realize just how much unhealthy and unsafe food they’re currently consuming, and learn what to replace it with for maximum effectiveness and health.

As long as you undertake any diet, including a vegetarian diet, under the supervision and care of a physician, you should be fine.

3. How should I begin making my diet more vegetarian?

You can either go cold turkey or ease into a vegetarian lifestyle slowly; the latter is recommended if you’re not the type to make sudden and long-lasting life changes (and very few people can do that well).

Keep in mind that you will experience an initial withdrawal from meats as you phase them out of your life; the additives and the effects they have on you aren’t so easy to quit. Allow yourself at least a month meat-free to overcome the initial effects before judging how well it is working for you.

This is why easing into a vegetarian diet can be helpful, as your body grows accustomed to not being fed meats as often and the withdrawal after completely quitting meat will be less sudden and hard to handle.

Some people choose to incorporate it by days or servings. For instance, you might decide to eat meat no more than three times per week, then cut down to twice a week, then once a week, and then cut out meat entirely.

In some ways, it’s easier to do it by days, because you don’t have to keep a mental tally of how many servings you’ve had this week. “Meatless Mondays” (or any day of the week that best suits you) are popular with some new vegetarians, because it’s not too frequent or overwhelming and gives you a chance to experiment with new recipes and make an event of it. This also means you’re less tempted to cheat and eat meat on one of these Mondays, because others are often more intrigued and will question you about it, or you’ll always feel guilty that you ate meat one Monday.

4. Is it easy to keep being a vegetarian after time?

The longer you’re a vegetarian, after a few months’ time and after the initial cravings for meats and unhealthy foods pass, the easier it will become.

The first few months are the hardest in many ways, as you have to adjust to not only the physical and mental effects of cutting out a food group, but also the practical side of things: cooking new recipes, adjusting what snacks you eat, etc. You also have to learn how to eat out and maintain your vegetarian diet while attending potlucks and so on, discuss your diet with friends in many cases, and possibly overcome the initial resistance from those who aren’t well-informed about vegetarian diets.

5. How should I discuss my diet with others?

This depends completely on you. Some people choose to keep it as quiet as possible, only telling people on a need-to-know basis until they’re used to the diet and no longer mind being criticized or argued with by the rabid anti-vegetarian crowd. Others choose to plunge in and make a big deal of starting to eat vegetarian as their way of coping.

You may want to inform any friends or family members who cook for or with you, since this will obviously affect what they can cook and eat. Try watching an informative film or sharing a good book on the ethics of vegetarianism, depending on which style would better inform that person of why you are quitting.

Vegetarian diets certainly have a number of proven and purported benefits and a healthy following of people who swear by them. It’s possible to be a vegetarian not simply in diet, but also to make an entire lifestyle out of it, if you so choose. You can take your vegetarianism as far as you please and continue it for as long as you like.

If you’re curious, try adjusting your diet to become a little more vegetarian at a time and see how you like it.