Present and accounted for!
I was veg from age, oh, 11 or 12 until my mid-20s. Then I was "flexitarian" for several years.
I can't rightly say whether or not I felt better or worse when I became veg. I was too young, I didn't know any other vegetarians to guide me, my parents were willing to put up with my decision, but didn't really go out of their way to learn how to provide for me (and it's not like vegetarianism was so common then that such information was easy to find.) I was never a serious junk food veggie. Despite my enduring sweet tooth
as long as I can remember, I was very health-foodie minded. My grandfather gardened extensively, so until he died we had no shortage of vegetables in our diet. We were dirt poor at that time, so we used some awful things like powdered milk
: but I was on feingold so by and large our diet was better than average. That all made a big impression on me, so I was always trying to eat healthy food. Granted, my idea of healthy food has changed drastically since then! But I've always recognized vegetables and other whole foods, lower sugar, whole grains as goals, even when I was a young teen.
As I came through high school and met more vegetarians, found more cookbooks, etc. my diet began to be more balanced - I learned how to use beans more, etc. By the time I got to college, I'd say my diet was Pretty Darned Good. Not as perfect as I'd do vegetarian now if I still were (i.e. today I wouldn't use TVP, and instead of vaguely avoiding PHOs, I would avoid them like the plague), but definitely not a junk food diet. Through that time I thought I felt good - but I was constantly exhausted. I remember that being a recurring theme all through school - constantly falling asleep at my desk, not even hearing the alarm clock in the morning. I was an exercise junkie, but I could never lose weight and I always felt like my muscles were too weak/tired to do what I was asking of them despite my very reasonable exercise regime. I got bronchitis every single winter. I constantly had zits.
The first change I noticed when I added meat into my diet was the energy thing. I still don't like to wake up in the morning
but, I actually hear the alarm and can get up early if I need to. I am not falling asleep all freakin' day. The muscle thing when exercising was big, too. I can work out so much harder - even when I slack off my workouts for a while, I can get back into the swing of it without feeling like I'm falling apart. My skin has cleared up. I rarely get sick anymore, and when I do it's usually a simple stuffy nose, not bronchitis.
I've played around with meat in my diet to see how much and how often I need it. I ate almost no meat in the month I did a raw food challenge. I've found that I do best with meat frequently, but it doesn't have to be large amounts. My energy levels stay best all day if I have some at breakfast and lunch; I could take it or leave it at dinner time (though that conflicts with the whole dinner-as-social-slow-food-occasion goal.)
You know the funny thing is, I ate vegetarian/flexitarian for *so* many of the years in which I've been responsible for feeding myself (I don't want to say adult years, as I'm including all through my teens) that when I get lazy, meat is usually the first thing to go. When I'm feeling lazy, I'm likely to steam or roast some veggies and boil some rice for a meal. A lazy breakfast will be grain (homemade granola with milk and fruit, sourdough spelt bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter.)