You're seated with an old friend you haven't seen in years, at your favorite old haunt. It's a steak house, and you can almost taste that rich, juicy cut of sirloin you both always loved.
The server approaches to take your order when your friend breaks the news: "I've given up meat. I'll have the veggie stir-fry.''
So now you're wondering if you'll be judged for ordering the steak and if your friend will leave the dinner still hungry.
I'm a vegetarian, so let me help clear up a few myths. First, we don't eat salad all the time. We are well nourished. Most of us don't judge you for your choices, though I have to say that veal does make me cringe mightily.
Most of us won't preach to you about the dangers or moral implications of eating animals, but we'll give our opinion if asked. We are aware, as you should be as well, that the choice is individual.
I went vegetarian nearly two years ago. Before that, I indulged in the occasional steak, ate my share of ribs and enjoyed the holiday ham.
Meat tastes good. Sometimes a thick hamburger sounds better than sleeping in on Sunday.
But I content myself with a delicious soy burger, and I still get to sleep in on Sunday.
Since going vegetarian I feel better, my skin is clearer and I've lost weight. Seasonal colds? I've had two in the past two years, and they lasted about a day. Plus, I sleep better knowing I've made a choice that doesn't harm another living being.
With the holidays approaching, dietary excess is everywhere. Even if you're not ready to take the plunge completely, being a part-time vegetarian can help keep pounds at bay while lowering your risk of conditions like heart disease.
Why not get a jump on the calendar and adopt a new relationship with food? Here are some options to consider:
Vegetarian: Eat plant-based foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains and nuts. Some vegetarians eat eggs (lacto-ovo), dairy (lacto-ovo, lactovegetarian) or even fish.
vegan: Same plant-based foods as above, but no animal products, including dairy.
Raw: Uncooked (never heated above 118 degrees), unprocessed fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and sprouts.
Macrobiotic: Incorporates an Eastern philosophy of balancing foods to attain a balance of yin and yang.
Consult your physician or natural health practitioner for diets that are right for you. What about getting started? As with anything, it's easier to start simple and work your way up.
• Go through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and look at labels. Line up all the boxes or cans that contain more than 5 or 6 ingredients. Look them over carefully. Which ones can you live without? Just for today?
• Take a look at what you have left. How much is fresh produce? How much is frozen? Get an idea of your ratio of meat, dairy, produce, etc.
• Ideally, fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen) make up at least 40 percent of your diet. Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy and eggs are in the next 40 percent and the last 20 percent is sugar, oils and meats.
• Now tackle that 20 percent. Friday night pork chops can be replaced with a tofu stir-fry. (Tofu is amazing; don't let it scare you. Indulge in tempeh. It's cheaper than meat.) Limit sugar, whether white sugar or even honey or agave nectar. Replace every other sugared beverage or cocktail with fresh clean water. If reducing dairy, consider soy, almond or coconut milk.
Try not to give up too much at once. Give yourself time. Before you know it, you and your friend will be finding a new favorite restaurant.
Diana Reed is a yoga teacher, writer and co-owner of Gaya Jyoti Yoga in Hernando County. She can be reached at gayajyotiyoga.com or (352) 610-1083.