Transitioning to a new lifestyle requires commitment, strategy, and education. While you may want to jump right in, it’s important to have a plan and the right mindset. Here, you'll learn how to transition to a plant-based diet so it sticks.
Write Down Your Motivation
Start by writing your motivation for adopting a plant-based diet. This will help you clarity as to why this lifestyle change is important to you. Consider how it will positively impact your life in the short term and the long term. Ask yourself what will happen if you don't follow through with this change. Will you regret not taking action?
Put your reasons on display, somewhere you frequent daily, like on your fridge or bathroom mirror. Read it daily.
Example: "My motivation for adopting a plant-based diet: losing weight and improving my health is to have more energy to spend with my children"
Some people don't feel great when they quit animal products overnight. This occurrence does not happen because our bodies miss or require animal products; it's more likely that our digestive system requires some time to adjust to both the increased fiber content and the overwhelming amount of nutrition. Instead, start slow. There are many ways to transition to a plant-based diet:
Start by changing the ratio of plant to animal-based foods on your plate. Make room for extra non-starchy vegetables or add a serving of beans.
Make easy plant-based swaps. Instead of a beef burger, have a veggie burger. Replace cow’s milk with a plant-based milk. Instead of candy for snack, consider sweet dates or your favorite frozen fruit.
Commit to eating a plant-based breakfast. This will get your day started on the right foot. You may feel so good that you’d eat plant-based for lunch and dinner also!
Make Health Your Priority
Failing to stick to a diet plan does not mean you lack willpower. It could mean that the diet was too restrictive, which is often the case. It could also mean that health is not your top priority.
I get it, life is hectic, and health is the last thing on our mind when we’re stressed. As a result, we make tons of excuses to avoid committing to change. When we make excuses we make the case for maintaining our current state of poor health. So stop the excuses and take control of your future.
Eat Enough Calories
You may find that plant-based meals leave you feeling hungry. Although you're eating the same amount of food that you did before your transition, you're not feeling satisfied. With whole, plant foods, you consume twice the amount of food but with half the amount of calories. That’s because plant-based foods aren’t as calorie-dense as animal-based foods. Filling your plate with more sweet potatoes, beans and whole grains will keep you satiated.
Find Plant-based Versions of Your Favorite Meals
Craving a burger, tacos, or pizza? There are thousands of plant-based recipes on the internet to choose from. Simply type “plant-based recipe for BLANK” into Google, and you’ll instantly have countless recipes at your fingertips. Many restaurants also carry a plant-based version of your favorite meal. Here are some favorite comfort food meals:
Sweet potato and chickpea veggie burger
Chipotle burrito with spicy sofritas
Whole wheat pizza with cashew cheese
Banana nice cream
BBQ Tempeh Strips
Cashew Mac and Cheese
Try New Foods
The key to sticking to plant foods is to eat simply, but also to have variety. Eating a wide variety of colorful foods will ensure that you meet your nutritional needs. Plus, trying new foods and flavors is a great way to keep your journey exciting and fun.
This is your chance to try that nice smelling fruit from the Chinese market or the purple yams from the health food store. You might fall in love with a new food and add it to your daily routine, who knows?
Keep a Stocked Pantry
Keep a variety of dry, pantry staples, such as lentils, pastas, nuts and seeds in your kitchen cabinet. This way, you’ll always have an assortment of healthy choices on hand.
Straying from a healthy diet is more likely to happen when meals aren’t planned. That's why it's important to take 10 to 15 minutes each week to plan your meals. Begin with a list of three to four lunches and dinners, and make sure that you have enough ingredients and servings for each meal.. To mix it up, you can rotate your meals throughout the week.
Remove Unwanted Foods From Your Kitchen
It’s very difficult to form a healthy relationship with addictive foods. Processed foods are addicting for a reason: they contain concentrated amounts of sugar, salt and fat. When we indulge in processed foods, eating more than planned is almost inevitable. As a result, we feel shame and guilt. These are unproductive and dangerous emotions, especially while you’re on a mission to improve your health. Eliminating the temptation is a smart and necessary decision.
Avoiding an addicting food can be as simple as not keeping it in your kitchen (or even in your household). When food is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Review the foods in your kitchen cabinets, freezer, and fridge. Identify those that could potentially cause episodes of binge eating. Discard or donate them to friends or neighbors.
Recovering from food addiction is a lengthy process and, if you struggle with it, seek out a licensed professional, such as a therapist or registered dietitian that specializes in disordered eating behaviors.
Build a Plant-based Support Group
It can be especially difficult to make lifestyle changes when your family, friends and coworkers are not supportive. They may not understand your reasoning or why it's important to you. If this is your situation, it's time to seek out your own plant-based support group.
Studies show that people with strong support systems are more likely to make successful lifestyle changes. Surround yourself with people who you can depend on, who will provide honest feedback, and encourage you when you’re discouraged.
Tip: find plant-based groups in your area
There could be local, plant-based support groups in your area - Meetup.com is a great place to start your search. You can also find like-minded people at plant-based restaurants, cooking classes, movie screenings, and conferences.
If you live in a remote area, connecting with other plant-based folks on the internet is a fantastic way to receive support. Facebook has countless plant-based support groups like the PlantPure Communities Pod Network, Challenge22.com, and Plant-based Nutrition Support Group. If you use Instagram, following plant-based accounts provides inspiration and encouragement. Plant-based folks are very friendly and always willing to help.
Track Your Food Intake on an App, If You'd Like
A Kaiser Permanente study found that those who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over 6 months compared to those who didn’t. Keeping a food journal reveals more than the number of calories consumed; it also reveals whether you’re eating a balanced diet.
Americans tend to eat diets rich in fat. In fact, it's not uncommon for Americans to acquire 50% of their daily calories from fat! Keeping your percent calories from fat under 15-20% while on a plant-based diet could be essential to reversing heart disease and diabetes. Using the food tracking app, you can determine which foods are high in fat and portion those foods accordingly.
Food tracking apps also provide a breakdown of daily vitamins, minerals, and fiber intake. You’ll likely meet your nutrient needs eating a varied plant-based diet, but seeing is believing!
Stay Motivated By Educating Yourself
Staying motivated to achieve a long-term goal is hard. It’s easy to fall off the wagon after a few weeks or a few months. The best way to maintain momentum is to continually educate yourself. Watch documentaries, read books, and participate in online plant-based communities that reinforce the benefits of this lifestyle for long-term health.
Introduce Supportive Healthy Habits
Changing eating habits that you've probably had your entire life is difficult. This is where introducing supportive, non-diet behavior- related habits come in. These habits support good mental health and will ultimately motivate you to stay on track. For example, meditating helps you become more aware of your thoughts and actions, including those that relate to food. Here are some other supportive healthy habits:
Sufficient sleep (at least 7 hours)
Regular exercise (30 minutes, 3-4 times per week)
Drinking adequate fluids
Taking walks in nature
Set Goals, Meet Them, and Then Create New Ones
Setting goals is important on several accounts. Goals hold us accountable, encourage us to push through discomfort and provide gratification.
Start by creating both short-term and long-term goals. Short-terms goals can be achieved within a couple of weeks to a month. Once you’ve met your first round of goals, create new short-term goals that fit into a bigger, long-term goal, which can be fulfilled within a few months to a year. Being realistic with your goals in a specific time frame is critical to your success.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of making positive changes and set goals that are lofty and unsustainable. Instead, you should be 100% confident that you can achieve your goal in the time you set. The more confident you are, the more likely you’ll comply with the changes.
Are You Ready To Take Action?
Regardless of how many times you've tried to implement change, do not be afraid to try again. Failure is not your enemy; rather, it's an opportunity to learn, make adjustments, and correct your path. Let the excitement of a healthier, disease-free life light your fire. If you need help identifying what went wrong the last time, speak to a registered dietitian or a health professional.
Next: Plant-based Nutrition Guide
Iraina Rosenthal-Tawil, RD
Founder, Your Life on the Veg
Iraina is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She specializes in plant-based diets for the prevention and management of chronic disease. She offers virtual nutrition counseling via a HIPPA-secured online platform.
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