“I decided to become vegetarian at a young age, however, living in a saturated meat-world (pardon the pun) makes it slightly more difficult to know how exactly to get started
There is a ton of confusing information on the web, but I want to give you my tops tips on how to integrate more plants, and less meat into your diet. I know it sounds impossible, but seriously, eating a meat-free diet is easier than people think.
Take it from me.
I grew up in a typical American-based household with lots of meat and taters, along with fried, fast and frozen foods. I loved all the junk and heavy meats just as much as the next guy, but when I started to become educated in how meat consumption affects long-term health, I slowly but surely started veering away from that lifestyle.
I learned that not only would it benefit my health, but going plant-based also has an amazing impact on the environment!
So here are my top 5 tips for taking the plunge into a plant-based lifestyle:
DETERMINE YOUR WHY
This step is crucial because you want to make sure you are making this lifestyle switch FOR YOU. Oftentimes, we hop on the Trend Train with whatever new diet is “in” atm. The problem with this is that because you are doing it with no real meaning or reason behind it, you are going to feel deprived and restricted and are more likely to fall off track or think its “too hard for someone like you”.
You want to sit down with yourself and determine WHY you want to make this switch. Your “why” should be about YOU – your goals, your decisions, your lifestyle – not anyone else’s.
Is it for ethical reasons? Sustainability purposes? Religious/cultural purposes? Do you want to decrease your risk for chronic disease? Is meat too expensive for your budget? Did you watch a documentary that empowered you to want to make a change?
Whatever your reason is, YOU HAVE TO OWN IT.
This ‘why’ comes in handy when you meet the struggle bus (which is inevitable FYI) – i.e. when you start to lose creativity with what to eat, or feel frustrated when traveling and notice the limited options. When you use your “why” as your reference in times of resistance (such as a holiday party), will be able to remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place and, thus, will be more likely to stick with it long-term.
PREP YOUR PROTEINS
The biggest misconception about switching to plant-based eating is “I will not get enough protein”. THIS IS NONSENSE. You just have to do a little research and figure out what plant foods have protein that you like (there are a lot of options FYI).
If you are just eliminating meat, but are planning to keep dairy and eggs in your diet (aka lacto-ovo vegetarian), then you still have many “complete” protein options. Complete protein sources are foods that contain ALL of the essential amino acids the your body needs to function properly. The opposite of a complete protein is an incomplete protein – a food that contains most, but not all, of the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources primarily fall into this category. So if you are looking to go “all-in”, and want to consume more vegan sources (no meat, no dairy, no eggs), then learning how to combine different incomplete proteins to make a complete protein is key to making sure your getting all the essential amino acids! Once you determine your “go-to” protein sources, I recommend prepping your proteins in advance. This will help set you up for success by making sure you have protein readily available to have with every meal!
Beans, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hummus, peanut butter, edamame, soy, tempeh, tofu, lentils and nuts are great sources of plant-based proteins.
FOCUS ON VEGGIES
This probably seems obvious, but based on my experience with clients and patients who try going “vegetarian” with no real guidance, I often find that their diet lacks lots of veggies and is mainly comprised of foods high in carbohydrates like rice, pasta, and potatoes. THIS IS DANGEROUS. Long-term excess consumption of carbohydrate foods, can lead to insulin impairment, which can further lead to diabetes.
When starting out, focus on eating veggies with every meal and as snacks in between meals. If there’s one thing a vegetarian isn’t lacking, it’s the amount of fiber in their diet, lol. You may need to adjust how many times you will be hitting the john on a daily basis, but cleaning the colon is a good thing!
Seriously though, include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet and experiment with different recipes. This adds a fun and colorful element to this lifestyle – it makes each meal an exciting opportunity to be creative and find what combinations you like! One of my favorite foods is spaghetti squash – what a fun way to get your veggies in, all while having the “traditional spaghetti experience”.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
Meal prep can be your friend when initially trying to switch to a plant-based way of eating. By deciding what you are going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ahead of time, you set yourself up for success to avoid temptations that might arise if you didn’t have a structured plan in place.
How you meal plan can truly be up to your own personal preference and lifestyle. Some people prefer to cook fresh daily, others like to cook for 2-3 days at a time, and some use strategies like crock pots to cook a lot of food in advance for the entire week ahead. You can even cook all your meals, but choose to solely meal prep snack foods; it’s totally up to you!
Regardless of how you decide to break it up, it is crucial that you focus on including a protein source (as mentioned above), a complex carb source, healthy fat, and high-fiber veggies with every meal to ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to perform at its best!
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
Switching to a new lifestyle is challenging in itself, but what I’ve found is more challenging is trying to explain to my family and friends why I was doing it. The fact is, people who lack understanding about something, especially something that challenges societal norms, will innately make judgments and prejudices about it. This is natural part of human nature, but regardless, it does make it harder to make the switch into plant-based eating.
We all want to fit in and have support around the decisions we make and if your current friends can’t accept or support your meat-free decision, I would recommend trying to make some new friends who can share the lifestyle with you. For example, here’s an all too common scenario that even I have experienced: You want to try a new vegan restaurant, but your current friends want to go to the hot buffalo wing spot and are not open to trying something new. You feel stuck because you want to hang out with your friends, but also know there isn’t going to anything or you to eat there. This is where having a “plant-based” group of friends would come in handy. You could ask them to go with you, and given their dietary preferences, they would most likely be eager to join.
With social media taking over the forefront, Facebook and Instagram are great ways to find support groups in your local communities. You can join a support group, create your own, search for local foodies and restaurants, or even attend health/wellness events to meet people! Bottom line is: surrounding yourself with people who understand the lifestyle makes it FAR easier to make the switch.