Congratulations! You’ve decided to go vegetarian or become vegan, so now what? Well, just know that you’ve already taken the all-important first step on your health journey. If you're trying to figure out what your next step should be, here are 10 quick tips to help start your new vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
1) Don’t Expect Everyone to Go Veggie
Just because you value the ethics or health benefits of a purely vegetarian diet; doesn’t mean everyone around you will hop aboard. For this reason, learn to make meat-free versions of your favorite family dishes—ones that meat can be added to as a side or a sauce where meat can be used at the end so that everyone is happily satiated. Chances are, many dishes you already eat can easily be made vegetarian.
2) Transition in Stages
Move at your own pace. Don’t let anyone’s expectations and goals define yours. If you eat meat for almost every meal, try starting with Meatless Monday. Gradually increase it to 3, 5, 7 days each week. You can also phase out meat products in this order: 1. pork, 2. red meat, 3. chicken and other “white meats”, 4. fish, 5. dairy. You decide how long it takes to let go of each type of animal product. And, don’t throw in the towel if you can’t resist that burger. Just take a breath and resolve to do better at the next meal. You have chosen an amazing, exciting and profound way to live your life – be sure to enjoy it.
3) Stay Stocked
Being prepared is half the battle. If you stock your cabinets, pantry and refrigerator with healthy staples, you will be less likely to order pizza or eat french fries every time you get hungry. So pack your pantry with items like chickpeas, couscous, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, dried fruits and nuts, spices, and items you can nibble on or create a quick meal when you find yourself in a bind.
4) Don’t be Afraid to Eat!
The fact that you are eating more plant-based foods will do wonders for your weight loss. There’s no need to starve yourself. Have fun and enjoy your wellness journey. Don’t think you have to immediately eat everything steamed or raw, or have only salad for dinner. This is a wonderful experience, not a chore and you should treat it as such.
5) Try New Restaurants or Get Inspired
Check your area for plant-based restaurants. They are popping up everywhere! You will not only be able to dine without scouring the menu for the few acceptable options, you'll be introduced to new dishes. For traditional restaurants that often have vegan or vegetarian dishes, seek out Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai restaurants. Taste the many dishes and foods they have to offer. You can also check out some cooking shows, online videos and cookbooks to get inspired! There are so many great vegetarian recipes out there. The more great meals you can make, the more you’ll love being vegetarian!
6) Make Healthy Choices
This is the #1 pitfall. Be sure to replace meat with healthy foods and eat a balanced diet. If you are eating nothing but french fries and sugary vegan desserts, your health will suffer, and you will easily slip back to your old eating habits. Eat a variety of whole grains and vegetables to stay full and healthy. Beware of sugar. Processed sugar attacks the nervous system and will make your transition to vegetarianism a lot more painful than it needs to be. Since you will be consuming foods that are A LOT easier to digest (plants), your body will be going through a little bit of a stressful time “detoxing”. You won’t want to increase the stress on your nervous system by indulging on vegetarian baked goods and ice cream. If you are used to eating a lot of processed sugar, you don’t have to give it up all at once. However, you will eventually want to opt for an “upgrade” like dates, oranges, raisins, apples and vegetable snacks like almond butter on celery, etc.
7) Be proud of yourself!
Pat yourself on the back along the way. Recognize the benefits of a plant-based diet and celebrate your progress. Changing your eating habits is not easy. Going vegan in a non-vegan world takes courage and strength.
8) Don’t worry about protein!
The “how do you get enough protein?” question is the most common question about going meatless. This question is based on a complete lie that even vegetarians help perpetuate. If you are more interested in this topic, please read The China Study, or Diet for a New America. Actually, the only people who have to “worry about protein” are people who are starving. And people who are starving are starving for food, not protein. If you eat real food, like a variety of delicious leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and oils, your body will put its brilliance into action and do what every animal’s body on this planet knows how to do – turn amino acids into protein. Yes, it’s that simple.
9) Don’t Over-do the Soy!
There are so many great imitation meat products out there meant to keep your carnivorous cravings in check. They aren’t very healthy though. Anything processed should be eaten in moderation. Limit your consumption of mock-meat to a few times a week, and less as you progress, and your body will thank you.
10) Drink Lots of Water
Since your vegetarian diet will be so much easier on your digestive system, your body will get to the work it was “putting off” for a while. It will start releasing a lot of the toxins stored in your body. Drink a lot of water so the filth can leave quickly. You don’t want to be walking around full of lingering toxins.
Learn as much as possible about vegetarian health and foods by reading and talking with other vegetarians. Knowledge is power, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you know any other vegetarians or vegans, ask them for their tips or advice. Everyone will have something different to share about their experience becoming vegetarian, but most people are more than willing to provide a bit of advice and will likely be flattered that you asked for help to become a vegetarian.
Enjoy the journey :)