If you’re curious about experimenting with a plant-based diet but you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. Cutting animal products out of your life can be a challenging and overwhelming journey, especially if meat and dairy are a major staple in your diet.
As a nutritionist and primarily vegan my entire life, I’ve helped a lot of friends and clients either go completely plant-based or significantly reduce their animal product consumption. I’ve learned a few helpful tips and FAQs along the way.
Here are 5 tips to set you up for success on your new adventure into plant-based eating:
1. It’s best not to go cold turkey (no pun intended).
If you have been eating animal products your entire life, it can be a bit shocking to completely cut everything from your diet overnight. It works for some people (the all or nothing types), but for most of us, I highly suggest easing into it. Start by implementing 1–3 meatless days a week. This is something that feels a little more manageable. For example, commit to Monday/Wednesday/Friday being your meatless days, and pick out some fun new recipes or Territory meals you plan to eat ahead of time so you feel excited and prepared. At the end of the week, if that felt manageable, maybe the next week plan to do the same, but eliminate red meat and bacon. See how this makes you feel. These bite-sized steps will help you tune into how these changes are affecting your body, and will make the process a little less abrupt.
2. Start to rethink about where your protein comes from.
The most common question people ask me is where do you get your protein? How are you not protein deficient? If you start reading labels more closely you will find that there is protein in almost all of the whole foods we eat! You can absolutely get complete protein from a plant-based diet, and it’s actually not as hard as you think. For example, broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak, and per calorie, spinach is about equal in protein to chicken and fish! Nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, organic soy, quinoa, and leafy vegetables are all excellent sources of protein and have far less of an impact on our environment than animal products. If you feel like you need to supplement your protein intake to meet certain macro goals, there are plenty of clean plant-based protein supplements on the market (just try to avoid proteins that contain soy protein isolate as it is more processed than the other options).
3. Always be prepared.
Being plant-based requires a bit more planning ahead so you don’t find yourself in a (hangry) pinch. If you are going to a social event, offer to bring a meatless option. That way, you get to eat something you actually want to eat, and you don’t have to worry about inconveniencing your host. Most restaurant menus will have a vegetarian option, but if they don’t, sides are now your new favorite part of the menu. Even at a steak house, you can usually get a variety of delicious sides including fresh vegetables, grains, and plenty of potato options! It’s also always helpful to keep bags of nuts, seeds, or packets of shelf stable protein sources in your bag so you can add them to salads or meals on the fly if there aren’t options that meet your needs.
4. Ditch the Restrictive Mindset: “I can’t” v. “I choose not to”.
A huge part of developing new habits is the mental component. Anytime we remove things we enjoy from our diet, or from our lives we have to make sure we have the right perspective and mindset around the changes we’re making. Instead of having the attitude that this new way of eating is a restriction, take a more empowered perspective and say “I choose not to eat those foods because I care about (the environment, animals, my health, etc.).” This way of thinking helps remind you of the reasons why you have made this shift, and is usually well received by other people in your life who may question your recent lifestyle change.
5. Avoid processed foods.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they go vegan is assuming all vegan food is healthy. There are plenty of processed and unhealthy vegan foods out there, so making sure you eat whole foods and ingredients is still just as important as it was when you were eating animal products. At Territory, we still follow the same rules in all of our vegan meals as we do in all of our meat options. No sugar, additives, isolates, dairy, gluten, or artificial ingredients. But — fear not, new vegan! There are lots of delicious vegan products on the market now including doughnuts and ice cream for the days you want to treat yourself and still stay compliant.