Step 1: Setting Yourself Up for Change.
Changing your habits isn’t about deprivation or will power or punishing yourself. It’s about having a plan. The first step to a plant-based diet is to figure out your “why”. What are your reasons for wanting to eat a plant-based diet? Health reasons? Environmental reasons? Ethical reasons? A combination? Whatever your reasons are, they will help shape your journey. Having an idea of your end-goal can also help. Your goals could change along the journey but knowing if you intend to go fully plant-based or just reduce the amount of animal products you consume each week can help you plan.
Your first step is to answer these questions for yourself. Write down your answers if that helps but give them some serious thought.
1. Why have you decided to adopt a plant based diet? What do you hope you will gain from it?
2. Is everyone in your household on board? It’s ok if they’re not but it will make a difference in how you approach your journey. (I’m the only vegetarian in my house of 5 but we make it work!)
3. What is your end-goal? To be fully plant-based, meaning you plan to eliminate all animal products including eggs and dairy? To eliminate red meat only? To incorporate more plant-based foods into your existing diet? Some combination of these?
This step may be easy for you or require a lot of thought but don’t skip it.
Step 2. Pay Attention.
Be mindful of what you put in your mouth. Don’t worry about changing anything at this point. Just be aware. Keeping a food journal can be helpful but is not necessary. When we eat mindlessly, we tend to eat whatever is easy, quick and right in front of us. Often, we’re not even aware of how many animal products we consume in a day and how little fruits and vegetables we get. For this step, practice being purposefully mindful of everything you eat for the next two weeks. This behavior will likely result in changes to your diet naturally and that’s ok. Just paying attention often results in positive change.
Step 3. Your Surroundings.
Create the right environment. While I don’t advocate being wasteful and throwing out food, getting rid of stuff in your kitchen that doesn’t align with your new plan can be helpful. Donate it or make a plan to use it up and start fresh with your next shopping trip.
Being prepared when you’re out and about is key to supporting your plant-based diet. Everybody is busy and on the go. I get it. Eating out or grabbing food on the run can’t be helped sometimes, but isn’t a problem if you’re prepared. More and more, restaurants are offering vegetarian and vegan options. For this step, investigate places in your area that offer plant-based options you might be interested in. If you have a usual lunch spot or favorite take-out place then check the menu for options that fit your needs BEFORE your next trip. When you’re in a hurry and starving is not the time to try to find new menu choices. Vegdining.com is a great resource to find plant-based-friendly restaurants.
Step 4. Make The Switch.
You might be the type of person that can jump in with both feet and make a total and complete switch all at once. But for most of us, tackling it in stages works better. For example, phase out red meat over a period of weeks, then pork and poultry, then seafood. Or instead of focusing on eliminating, focus on adding. Bring in one new vegetable a week. Take your time, this isn’t a sprint and going slowly allows you time to adjust. Use this opportunity to be creative. Enjoy your time exploring the produce department! Find new recipes to try. Forks Over Knives and Tasty Vegetarian are good sources for meal ideas and recipes. And Pinterest can be your new best friend!
Step 5. Adding and Subtracting.
When making your food choices, think fresh, whole food. Keep it simple and focus on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Rethink what a “meal” can look like. We’re so used to a meal centered around a piece of meat that we often think its not a real meal if we don’t have meat. If you choose to use fake “meats” and “cheeses” try to phase them out over time. They’re fine for transitioning but you’re simply swapping animal products for processed foods.
For Step 5, choose one item to add/eliminate and work on that for 2 weeks. For example, if you want to reduce or eliminate red meat, work on finding alternative recipes or meal ideas for red meat. Don’t worry about chicken, fish or dairy for now.
If you prefer to focus on adding rather than taking away, find 2 ways to add a plant-based food to your week. Perhaps oatmeal for breakfast instead of sugared cereal. Or your favorite fruit with lunch. Practice a new way to prepare a vegetable for dinner.
Continue slowly adding and eliminating foods over weeks or months. This will be a fun journey so enjoy it and take your time!
Bonus Step: Your Community.
Make connections and find resources. Finding like-minded people can be so helpful on your journey. Being able to ask questions, get advice and share recipes and resources is invaluable. Online groups and vegetarian websites, such as, veggieboards.com and happycow.net are excellent resources.
Happy Exercising! And Eating!!!