A How To Guide For Beginners
I want to switch to a plant-based diet, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be a good fit for me. Can I really not eat animal products long term? Is it sustainable?
These are thoughts and questions that I hear come up a lot. It’s perfectly normal to question a new diet or lifestyle, especially when you’re first starting out. I struggled a lot with switching to a plant-based diet in the beginning, but after almost 2 years now, I have a diet that I completely love.
In the beginning, it can be really frustrating and a lot of people just give up because they feel it’s too difficult. If you want to switch to a plant-based diet or are in the process of transitioning, here are some tips and strategies to help guide you along the way!
What is a Plant-Based Lifestyle?
A plant-based lifestyle can mean many different things to many different people, but in general it’s a way of life in which a person has very limited to zero intake of animal products in their diet. A plant-based diet does allow for the consumption of very small amounts of meat and dairy, but many people including myself do not use any animal products in our cooking.
When it comes to using animal products like meat and cheese, you should think of these items as garnish, rather than as a portion of your meal. For most people, this is a completely foreign concept since meat, fish and often times cheese takes up half the plate.
Cutting out all animal products from my diet helped me create a long-lasting plant-based diet. Especially when it came to cheese, I had a portion control problem. I knew that if I used it as “garnish”, eventually it would creep up that I was using it way too much again and I would fall out of what I would consider plant-based.
Even though it was really hard to remove the temptation of cooking with animal products, it forced me to create a lifestyle using only plant-based items.
Plant-Based vs. Vegan
There’s definitely some confusion out there between plant-based and vegan. In a nutshell, vegan is a diet and lifestyle completely devoid of animal products. That means no animal products are found in food, beauty products, clothing, household items, etc.
A plant-based lifestyle is a little different. The lifestyle essentially revolves around the diet, consuming little to no animal products in food. Other than that, many people still use everyday items with such things as honey or beeswax in them.
The reason that I gravitated so much in the beginning towards a plant-based lifestyle was it was a way to promote my long term health and also express my love for the environment simultaneously. Because I was doing something really great for myself and doing my part to save the environment, it’s made staying on a plant-based diet for so long really easy.
In reality, a plant-based lifestyle can be whatever you make it. There are so many different variations out there to model for those of you just starting out if you want to look at what other people are doing. I would advise creating the plant-based diet and lifestyle based on what you value so you’re more apt to stick with it long-term.
Shift Your Focus Before Your Food
What do you mean don’t eat meat? Where do you get your protein? How can you give up cheese? You don’t know what you’re missing!
Chances are if you’re vegan or plant-based, you’ve heard each of these questions at one point or another. Seasoned vegans and plant-based people tend to laugh it off, but when you’re first starting out, these can feel like momentous questions.
All of these questions have something in common - they all focus on what you’re losing. All of these questions feed your concern that your lifestyle and diet will not be sustainable long-term.
The best way to combat that is to focus on the exact opposite. If you look at everything that you’re going to gain by switching to a plant-based lifestyle, it definitely helps get rid of those lingering feelings of doubt.
When I was first starting out, I got asked these questions all the time when I told people I was not consuming animal products. Most of them looked at me like I had 10 heads. Most people thought this was just a phase that wasn’t going to last. Actually, the longer it went on, the more people tried to tempt me into having “just a little” meat, fish, cheese -what have you.
For a lot of people, it can be a really difficult thing to say no to their family and friends, especially when it comes to food. Before I switched to a plant-based diet, I had to learn this skill the hard way. Over the course of 6 years, I lost 65 lbs, and a big part of that was saying no at family bbqs, no to going out with friends every weekend, and most importantly no to myself.
The biggest thing in helping me say no was having compelling goals that lead to a happy and fulfilling future. I had to convince myself that it would be so much better to fit into a size 4 than to have that piece of pizza, which is really difficult when the scent is wafting into your office at lunch time! It took me 5 years to get there, and I have to say fitting into a size 4 is way more gratifying than a piece of pizza.
When it came to switching to a plant-based diet, I applied this same processes to creating a plant-based lifestyle. Almost 2 years later, I’m living a lifestyle that I’m incredibly passionate about and bring me joy every single day.
My advice to beginners is to actually spend some time thinking about why you want to switch to a plant-based lifestyle before you actually do it! Give yourself some time to think about the life you want to create and how you want a plant-based diet to fit into that. It’s important to hear your hesitations out and make sure that your biggest concerns are addressed in the lifestyle your going to create.
Transition At Your Pace
For some people, it can take months before they stop eating animal products. For others, they can decide to give up everything on the spot and make it work.
When you’re creating a long-lasting lifestyle change, you need to go at your own pace and set goals for yourself. In setting your pace, you want to set yourself up for success.
What can happen is that we are so eager to make this change that we try to do everything all at once and find ourselves completely overwhelmed. At the peak of all our anxiety and stress over the change, we completely give up on it because it’s “not for us.”
The opposite can also happen where we convince ourselves to transition really slowly and how important it is to take our time. As days and weeks go on, we keep putting off things that felt important at the time and begin to feel really indifferent about them. In the end, we find we haven’t really changed anything.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve fell into both of these traps.
The best way that I found is to set goals and milestones to help focus your transition. Especially when making a lifestyle transition, you want to make sure that you give yourself enough time to adjust and make habits. If you’d like to use my framework for goal setting, you can download our Beginner’s Guide to A Vegan Diet: 8 Steps To Switch To A Plant-Based Lifestyle & Love It by submitting your email address in the form below.
In the beginning, it’s easy to focus on one or two things that you’re going to do consistently. When switching to a plant-based diet, start with one or two small items that won’t really phase you switching them out for a plant-based version. The best item that I’ve found is to start with vegetable stock or broth, which is really not noticeable to most people. Other items you can start with are swapping out milk, honey, or breadcrumbs. For a list of easy swap outs, check out 5 Easy Plant-Based Substitutions.
Once you’ve got these one or two items, it becomes easier and easier to expand on that list and transition out of eating animal-based products without overwhelming yourself. However, you do want to make sure that you’re actually holding yourself accountable through meeting your goals and adjusting when you feel you need more time.
When switching to a plant-based lifestyle, most people focus on the stress of making it work or how difficult it’s going to be. If you’re putting in all of this work and it feels like a chore, then what you have is a job. I don’t know about you, but I already work enough.
One of the key factors of leading a sustainable lifestyle is enjoying it! If you’re waking up every day feeling amazing, then it’s really easy to keep that habit going because you’re seeing the results.
In the beginning, it can be a little more challenging. Once you know the plant-based lifestyle that you want to create and the milestones that you need to keep yourself accountable, just trust yourself that you’ll get there and enjoy the journey.
It may not be perfect. You may have set backs or you might change your goals a bit, but in the end it’s much more rewarding to learn from the process and give yourself room to grow!
Don’t forget to pick up our Beginner’s Guide to A Vegan Diet: 8 Steps To Switch To A Plant-Based Lifestyle & Love It, which you can get by submitting your email address in the form above.
More Resources For You:
How To Make A Plant-Based Diet Affordable