How To Transition To A Plant-Based Diet Lifestyle With Ease
Shifting from the Standard American Diet to a plant-based diet can be confusing, not to mention overwhelming. You’ve eaten one way your entire life, after all, and any habit you’ve followed for a long time is tough to change, not to mention, of course, that you’re confused about where to start. Sure, it’s easy enough to say eat more plants, but how?
I’ve been eating mostly plant-based for five years now, but consuming meat is still close enough that I remember what it’s like to come from the opposite end of the spectrum. If you’ve been eating a heavily animal-based diet, the transition to a plant-based diet might seem impossible. You might be thinking what could one possibly eat if you don’t eat meat, eggs, and dairy? Well, don’t you worry. I’m here to assure you that not only is there plenty of nourishing, delicious foods to eat but they can be prepared as fun and creative plant-based alternatives to all your favorite foods.
So first, let’s begin by changing your mindset around what being plant-based might mean for you. It’s important to approach this new chapter with an open mind and to keep things positive. Try to think in terms of what you’ll be gaining from eating a plant-based diet instead of what you’ll be missing out on. Maintaining your new diet shouldn’t be about willpower, struggle, or deprivation. In fact, once you learn more about plant-based eating, you’ll see that you don’t really have to give anything up—just substitute for other options.
Once you’re familiar with the ins and outs of plant-based alternatives, you’ll have no problem learning to love the plant-based lifestyle and how it makes you feel.
What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
Eating a plant-based diet means eating whole, unrefined or minimally processed plant foods. It’s based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Being plant-based, it excludes meat, dairy products, eggs and refined grains, sugars and oil.
You Need To Know Your Reason Why
It’s important to get really clear on your reason for embarking on a whole food, plant-based diet. If it’s a big lifestyle change for you, it’s going to get tough at times and having a clear reason why can help you stick to your goals.
Reasons for eating plant-based could include:
managing blood sugar
love for animals
reducing your environmental impact
There are a lot of great reasons to eat a plant-based diet. Which one(s) speaks directly to you?
Find a reason that inspires and excites you and get really clear on it. Write down your why and stick it on your fridge or bathroom mirror. Keep that reason front and center to help you stay focused.
What Is The Difference Between Plant-Based And Being Vegan?
Let’s talk a little bit about the difference between vegan and plant-based. While they’re very similar, you may be vegan but not eat a whole food, plant-based diet—or you may eat a plant-based diet but not necessarily be vegan.
Veganism is the practice of minimizing harm to all animals by abstaining from animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, lanolin, wool, fur, silk, suede, and leather. It is more than a diet, it is a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
To technically be vegan, it would mean no down comforters, no wool socks, no honey, no gelatin-based candy and of course, no eating dairy, eggs, meat, or fish.
A plant-based diet on the other hand, is just about the food. You can pretty much guess what it’s all about from the name. If you eat a plant-based diet you may not necessarily be vegan and you might have other reasons for eating that way than just compassion.
It Can Be Compassion And Health
Animal agriculture takes on a toll on our environment and natural resources. Raising animals for meat and dairy produces about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the entire global transportation sector. Producing meat demands a lot of water too. A 2-ounce serving of pasta requires 36 gallons of water while a 4-ounce hamburger requires 616 gallons. To combat the damage, we need to make some substantial shifts in the way we eat.
For myself, it started with health and the compassion followed suit as soon as I became further educated myself on animal cruelty. As I learned about modern day meat production, it was clear to me that I couldn’t be a part of it. From there, the more I educated myself on health and nutrition, the deeper my love for plant-based eating grew.
I eat a plant-based diet and do my best to reduce harm to animals in all areas of my life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, do the best you can with what you have at any given time and don’t beat yourself up if you stumble.
I personally like the idea of reductionism or doing your best to reduce harm. Becoming a strict vegan isn’t going to work for some people and I think a mostly plant-based diet is better than nothing at all. Listen to your body and trust your gut, you’ll find what’s right for you.
What Is The Difference Between Being A Vegan And A Vegetarian?
Vegetarians do not eat animals such as cows, pigs or fish but still include animal products such as dairy and eggs in their diet. Vegans do not eat or use any animal products. That means no meat, fish, eggs or dairy.
Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate...and appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.
Why Choose A Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet?
By eating unrefined foods we are able to take advantage of all the macro and micronutrients we need but none of the junk we don’t. Reducing refined sugars, grains and oils is important in reducing inflammation.
Plants are healthy for us, and most of us don't eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies, so making the majority of your diet plant-based will up your produce ante, which is a nutritious choice. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that most of us don't get enough of, and it has a ton of healthy perks—it's good for your waistline, your heart, your gut and your blood sugar. If done correctly, we receive better overall nutrition.
Could Becoming Plant-Based Make Me Unhealthy?
A plant-based or vegan diet could technically be made up of processed food, sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats, that’s where whole food, plant-based comes in. A whole food, plant-based diet aims to minimize or eliminate processed foods and stick to foods as close to their natural state as possible.
If you end up becoming a "junk food vegan," then you may end up feeling low-energy and having a protein deficiency. A diet consisting purely of frozen vegan waffles and chips won't supply enough protein (or practically any other nutrient) for your body's energy needs. But if you take full advantage of a plant-based diet and fill your plates with colorful produce, hearty grains and satisfying nuts and beans, then you should have no problem meeting your daily protein goal.
And if you don't plan well and you don't eat a balanced diet, you can be missing out on important nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc and protein—all of which are part of healthy, whole plant foods. Other nutrients to take into consideration are vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
What Constitutes a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is one that centers on whole plant foods:
Legumes (chickpeas, beans, peas and lentils) provide plant protein and essential amino acids.
Mushrooms are a rich, low calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants and help mitigate the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. They're also great sources of Selenium.
Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables for calcium and other nutrients.
Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats.
Whole grains offer essential amino acids, iron and zinc.
A variety of fruits and veggies so you don't eat the same things every meal and every day. This will ensure you're getting a mix of various vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Herbs and spices.
Why is a Plant-Based Diet Good For You?
A plant-based diet is the only diet that has been shown to not only prevent—but to reverse—advanced-stage cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, one study shows that meat eaters have double the risk of diabetes compared to lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans. Another study, this one published in February 2019, shows that people who eat a plant-based diet have higher insulin sensitivity, which is important for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
There’s also excellent scientific evidence that many chronic diseases can be prevented, controlled, or even reversed with a whole-food, plant-based diet. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the diets of more than 300,000 people and found that the more closely they followed a plant-based diet, the lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, regardless of how much they weighed. Other studies have found a link between eating plant-based proteins (like beans and tofu) and overall longevity.
Studies also suggest that plant-based eating is associated with sustainable weight management, reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, and improving your blood sugar control. Eating plant-based can also help quell inflammation, which raises your risk of heart disease by promoting plaque buildup in your arteries.
People who follow a plant-based diet tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared to their omnivore counterparts. And research shows that people who use a vegetarian diet to lose weight are more successful not only at dropping pounds, but also at keeping them off.
You'll also likely reap benefits from cutting down on meat (plant foods have less saturated fat and usually fewer calories), but it goes beyond what you're limiting. Eating more plants means getting more of those good-for-you vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber - many of which are nutrients we typically fall short on.
In addition, it's also linked to the prevention and treatment of hypertension, high cholesterol, and lowered risk of certain cancers. Research consistently shows that regularly eating plenty of fruits, veggies, legumes and grains is associated with a lower cancer risk. Those disease-fighting phytochemicals in plants have also been shown to prevent and thwart cancer. And, don't forget, studies also show an association between eating red and processed meats and increased cancer risk, especially colorectal cancer. So there's benefit not only from just eating more plants, but also from replacing some less-healthy foods with those plant foods.
Here are some simple strategies to help you easily transition to a wholesome, plant-based diet:
Take your own time. Just as Rome wasn’t built overnight, nor do you have to switch to a plant-based diet overnight. Some people have different hurdles to overcome, and it may take time to prepare—mentally and emotionally—for that kind of change. It took me five years to transition to a mostly plant-based diet (occasionally I am still vegetarian at meals).
Instead of removing meat immediately from your diet, start by decreasing the serving of meat you consume, at the same time increasing the amount of plant-based foods on your plate. Gradually work on swapping animal-based ingredients with plant-based alternatives in your favorite recipes, and substitute meat alternatives for animal protein. Substitutions allow you to enjoy the same meals and flavors without changing too much at once.
Next, begin to let go of dairy products you don’t enjoy or consume often. One of the most common causes of gastrointestinal upset is dairy, and when you eliminate it, you get rid of symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Dairy comes with numerous dangers, including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate. Eczema and other skin conditions often clear up after cutting out dairy. Not to mention, of course, that roughly 60 percent of the world’s population is lactose-intolerant.
Commit to a vegetarian meal at least once a day. A wholesome, vegetarian breakfast is a good place to start and potentially is the least intimidating to adapt. Since it's not a meal you'd usually think about as veggie-filled, adding some here makes it easier to hit your daily quota. Then keep lunch and dinner as is. If you're wondering what veggie-heavy breakfasts might look like, try adding spinach to your eggs, blending cauliflower in your smoothie or eating a breakfast salad. Usually we put an animal protein at the center of our plate at meals, so going vegetarian one meal a day is one way to cut back.
Watch your consumption of protein. Most people over consume it by doubling or even tripling the recommendations in the quest to get “enough.” The average adult needs a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kg, would need about 60 grams of protein per day. However, your protein needs may increase if you are very active.
We actually don't need to consume protein per se. What we need is to meet our requirements for the nine essential amino acids which our body cannot synthesize on its own. All plant foods contain amino acids in different proportions and there is plenty of protein in plants to meet all requirements. As long as you are eating enough calories to sustain yourself and are focusing on whole foods instead of refined foods, it would be impossible to become deficient in protein.
Educate yourself on the food you are consuming. After all you can eat Oreos and drink Diet Coke and call yourself a vegan. So really understanding how to make your food taste great while still being healthy and wholesome is extremely important. In general, it's best to stick to whole, intact foods as much as possible.
Visit a farmed animal sanctuary. Animal welfare is certainly one reason people adopt a plant-only diet, but even if you’re not in it for the animals, changing your lens on how you see animals can often strengthen your commitment to making the shift. The more you can connect with farmed animals - connecting with a cow or goat the way you would a cat or dog - the less likely you’re going to be to want to eat them. While the world has been mourning the loss of almost a billion animals in the Australian fires - and rightly so - they often forget about the billions of farmed animals killed daily. These animals value their life as much as the koalas in Australia did, and making that heart connection with them is key.
Stock up on healthy foods. There are so many incredible products on the market today that it’s easier than it ever was to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet. There's something for every budget and every palate. So take time to explore vegetarian and fresh produce aisles at your local supermarket. Stock up your kitchen with nutritious, plant-based foods and keep healthy snack options in easily accessible places like your bag, desk drawer, kitchen counter and fridge.
Keep your meals fun and exciting. Focus on foods you like and ones that are easily accessible to you. Also, don't deprive yourself of occasional treats. If you're craving dessert, eat something you are excited about. In addition, invest some time in exploring new recipes, ingredients, food blogs and restaurants. Find like-minded people - even if it's via social media, read books and watch films on the subject to broaden your knowledge and seek inspiration. Soon, you'll start to crave more plant-based foods over time.
Count your wins. Every single bite of fresh fruits and veggies that you eat is a win for your health, the planet, and the animals. Celebrate what you’re doing right and let those successes inspire you to continue.
Lastly, keep in mind that any transition takes time. Much of this is about trial and error, finding out what works for you and what doesn't. So be gentle with yourself as you find your rhythm to incorporate plant-based foods.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Soul Liberation & Embodiment Guide
Andrea Firpo is a Psychic Cheerleader who is focused on soul liberation and embodiment. Combining her psychic and intuitive abilities with her educational background of trauma psychology, she connects women to their own inner wisdom and self-love. By bringing awareness in the body, mind, and spirit around the deep conditioning of emotional trauma, Andrea identifies underlying patterns that undermine her clients’ self-worth. Through simple yet powerful healing tools, Andrea empowers her clients to achieve energetic balance through healthy boundaries, promoting incredible paradigm shifts in their lives.
Andrea is also an author who has contributed to the anthologies, Dreamweavers, Ceremonies, and the recent #1 Amazon International Bestseller, The Art & Truth of Transformation for Women. As a show host and producer, she highlights the stories and lessons of remarkable women overcoming traumatic events in her podcast, "Brilliance through Resilience." She lives with her family in Portland, Oregon and works with clients internationally.