During the time away from my blog, I have become even more passionate about plant-based eating. The longer I've done it, the more comfortable I feel in sharing the benefits (both research based and personal) that following a plant-based diet has. In talking more about the topic with people I encounter, I have found I tend to get one of three different types of responses.
I respond to a lot of friends individually but I figured it would be worthwhile to do a few blog posts about tips for going plant-based. I'm not exactly sure how many posts will be in this series so hang in there with me ;)
Let me start with my story. I'll warn you that it's not very exciting...
I used to pride myself on being a person who would try anything...I'm talking fish eyes, sweet breads...I even ate termites once (some people get peer-pressured into doing drugs, I get peer-pressured into eating termites). About 5 years ago I started a new job and my co-worker was vegan. At that time, I was in the "there is no way I would ever even think about doing that. Ever." category. But, being a person who loved to try new food, I started taking notice of the amazing things she was bringing in for lunch. I started getting recipes from her and incorporating meatless Mondays into the dinner rotation using the recipes she shared with me. That lead to me digging into the internet to find more recipes and trying them out on my hubby. I started incorporating more and more plant-based meals into my diet until I found that the only time I was not eating plant-based was when I'd cook chicken or fish for dinner at home assuming that my husband wouldn't be up for a plant-based dinner every night. When my husband was traveling, I would eat an entirely plant-based diet and loved how I felt. At that time, I knew that eating plant-based was healthy simply based on how it made me feel. Then I started reading more research about it and watched "Forks Over Knives" and my mind was blown. My husband decided to watch the documentary with me and his mind was pretty blown too. From that point on, I started making plant-based meals for dinner every night. While he hasn't decided to transition to a completely plant-based diet, he has definitely incorporated a ton more plants into his diet.
My transition was very gradual and even now, it's not totally perfect. I am not one to forfeit a special dining experience or a social gathering just because there are no plant-based options available. I have done a couple fun tasting menus while on vacation recently that have not had vegan options but have had some pretty darn delicious vegetarian dishes. These are dining experiences I will never forget and I would have hated to miss out on them just because there was a small amount of egg or dairy involved. I also don't expect people to make special accommodations for me so if the veggie pasta dish I am served at a wedding has some parmesan cheese on it, I simply discreetly brush off as much as I can, enjoy the meal and the people at my table and don't worry about it. I am a firm believer that what you do 90% of the time matters more than what you do 10% of the time.
So...back to the original purpose of this post - tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet. Disclaimer: these tips are not based on any form of research. They are simply what I have found works best for me and also what has worked best for patients or friends that I have talked to about making any type of diet change.
1. Lose the "all or nothing" mentality. When have you ever done something with this mentality and succeeded for the long term? If I were to beat myself up for the 5-10% of the time I have something with dairy or egg in it, I would be pretty miserable. Instead, I get to reap the benefits of how I feel from eating a plant-based diet 90-95% of the time.
2. Start small. I recommend starting with either a couple days per week that you are going to commit to eating plant-based, starting with a specific meal that you want to focus on, or starting with specific animal-based food groups to cut out. Here are some examples of what this might look like:
- You could commit to eating a plant-based breakfast for 2 weeks. Once you have that down, focus on having a plant-based lunch for 2 weeks. Next, focus on dinner and then focus on snacks. You might even distinguish between meals eaten at home and meals eaten out.
- Start cutting out one animal-based food group at a time. These groups include red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
Bottom line: Find a realistic transition schedule for yourself. My guess is that you will start feeling so great that, eventually, you won't even have to think about it.
3. Have a plan: As with any successful lifestyle change, having a plan is key. It's hard to come up with meal ideas if you start thinking about them an hour before you plan to eat. When I don't have a plan, I'm usually so hungry that I can't fathom going to the store, prepping ingredients, and cooking the meal before I get to eat. Have a designated day each week that you go to the grocery store and prep your ingredients. My most successful weeks are when I plan how many meals I need for the week, pick recipes I know work or want to try, shop for the ingredients on Friday and make anything I can ahead of time over the weekend. It seems daunting at first to set aside part of your free time to do this but you will wind up with less stress (and probably more free time!) during the week.
4. Find recipes that are easily adaptable. Eating a plant-based diet doesn't have to be overly complicated. Rather than worrying about how to structure your meals without meat around them, pick simple recipes that you can easily leave the meat out of or substitute the meat with beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, or nuts. Here are some examples:
- Veggie Fajitas: This was one of the first recipes I started making for plant-based dinners and my husband loves them! I usually don't make the guacamole or pico for the sake of time and less dirty dishes and serve them with avocado instead. I also leave out the cheese.
- Add cooked lentils to a marinara sauce and serve over whole wheat pasta
- Make stir fry with tofu instead of chicken.
- Veggie Pizza...hold the cheese: Don't knock it till you try it!
- Vegetable Soup: Serve it with a slice of avocado toast.
I hope these tips help you if you've been wondering where to begin with transitioning to a plant-based diet. I'd love to hear where you are at with eating a plant-based diet and also what topics you have questions about in the comments section below.
Stay healthy friends!