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Nutrition and Food

Getting Started on a Plant-Based Diet

Switching your diet to being more plant-based can be overwhelming; there are numerous external factors and personal reasons for making a diet and lifestyle change. The first step is to critically analyze where you are with your current diet and decide what your goal is. Check out this post if you want to read a break down of the various types of plant-based diets. One size does not fit all and can even vary throughout our lifespan. 

Do you currently eat a mostly meat diet? Maybe a good start is becoming a flexitarian or pesco-vegetarian. Are you currently lacto-ovo vegetarian thinking about making the switch to vegan? Try eliminating dairy and eggs one at a time rather than both at once. No matter where you are on the plant-based diet spectrum, it’s important to be realistic with yourself and set achievable goals. Know which foods you’re just not ready to give up or try substitutions for.

How I transitioned to a vegan diet

Using myself as an example, I spent over a decade as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I loved cheese and eggs and the substitutions on the market were not nearly as good as they are now. For many reasons I eventually decided that I wanted to eliminate those products from my diet. Having to choose between eggs and dairy, I decided removing eggs first was the best way for me to be successful in my quest to eating a diet free of all animal products. I mean honestly, eggs aren’t very appetizing if you really think about where they come from. But I’ll keep my personal opinions of foods to myself so that I don’t accidentally ruin one of your favorites. The point is I knew that I liked my dairy products more than eggs and wasn’t ready to use plant-based substitutions. Giving up the eggs first enabled me to continue working toward a vegan diet.

I also found it helpful to continuously remind myself why I was choosing to eliminate all animal products from my diet. Remembering your why for changes you’re making in your life helps to keep you going. There will be a time when someone starts asking you why you’re giving up animal products and you don’t have to explain yourself if you don’t want to. But if you do, please remember to explain your choice in a kind and non-judgmental way. The pretentious attitude, name calling and judgement that has traditionally been paired with veganism can unfortunately turn many people off from all of it’s good points. Be kind, always.

Is there a shortcut?

By simply increasing the amount of fruits/vegetables/legumes on your plate, you can work toward making plant-based eating your new diet choice. Increasing plants in your diet can mean for you that you’re increasing the quality of the plants you choose to eat. At mealtime take a quick inventory of your plate to make sure you have balance (think vegetables/fruit, protein, healthy fat). Cater your goals to where you are. If you’re still insisting that corn is the only vegetable you’ll eat, maybe start by making your first goal be to try having leafy greens or broccoli instead. Be realistic with yourself; you don’t have to change everything all at once to achieve your goal.

Working on your diet quality along with your diet label goals can help you find your optimum eating style without being overwhelmed. Lifestyle changes aren’t one size fits all; do what’s right for you. I strongly believe that if you don’t like a certain vegetable, you probably haven’t yet had it prepared in a way that you find appealing. Broccoli is a perfect example. Steamed broccoli is boring and gross. But roasted broccoli with some spices and a light amount of olive oil brings out a whole new flavor profile! You might have a new favorite food if you’re willing to try it prepared new ways. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your food.

Find substitutions

Another important strategy is to find plant-based substitutions that you enjoy. Because the demand for vegan options has pushed the food industry to create more palatable options it’s a lot easier now to find one that you’ll like. A few years ago, I remember trying to eliminate dairy products from my diet, but the choices for plant-based milks and ice creams left me with mostly only soy to choose from. Now the options are endless! You can have oat milk, almond milk, pea milk (don’t knock it until you try it), and even hemp or hazelnut milk and the texture of many vegan products is just like the dairy equivalent you’re used to! Keeping an open mind to the options available on the market will improve your chances of success.

Create a community

Talk about your plant-based diet goals with your friends and family or others who may be supportive. Share with people why you want to make the switch, what changes you’ve made, and how you plan to keep yourself accountable. Talk about the awesome new products you found at your local store. Making permanent big lifestyle changes is less difficult when you have a solid support system.

My husband is a perfect example of the importance of keeping an open mind to new products. He refused to have vegan dairy products after he once caught me giving him Daiya shredded cheese in a quesadilla. No matter how much I tried to convince him that there might be another brand he would enjoy, he refused to try another vegan cheese. He insisted that all vegan cheeses are “gross”. I continued to buy dairy products for him and vegan dairy options for me. But I wasn’t giving up, and the day came that I decided to try being sneaky again. I made both of us vegan grilled cheese sandwiches and didn’t say anything. He thought it was so delicious that he didn’t believe me when I told him it was vegan cheese. The power of being open and not giving up after one bad experience can make all of the difference. For those curious, the grilled cheese that changed his mind was made with Miyoko’s pepper jack cheese.

Be kind to yourself

Remember that making any change requires patience. It takes time for your new diet and lifestyle changes to become your new habits. Don’t berate yourself if you make a “mistake.” No one is perfect and you’ll learn strategies and words along the way that will minimize plant-based diet blunders. You decide what plant-based diet works best for you and how to best incorporate it into your life.