A plant-based diet can seem quite intimidating initially, but anything new is. The key to success is planning, an open heart and mind and most of all a conviction to values. World Meat Free Week is an opportunity to try something new, reduce your footprint and adopt some new recipes that are kinder to the environment and animals.
Values are the most important driving factor in why we do anything. When taking a new direction in living and eating ethically, the factor that makes us successful is the “why”. I discuss why we should opt for a plant-based diet or eat meat as a treat” in part 1 of World Meat-Free Week.
So how do we do a plant-based diet successfully? What should we know that can help the journey be smoother and ultimately a positive experience?
Initially, many that make the transition to a plant-based diet feel they lack energy. This is because they simply don’t eat enough! 500 calories of meat compared to 500 calories of chickpeas looks very different.
On a plant-based diet, you can eat way more (bonus). Animal-based products are much more calorie dense so you eat less at more calories. But when it comes to plant-based foods, you can eat a lot more at fewer calories. For this reason, many people transitioning, they feel hungrier and over a period of time have less energy.
The key is to eat more. When you are eating fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as beans and legumes, you can eat a lot more and snack throughout the day. The quality of these calories is great. They have a positive impact on blood sugar stability and overall health.
Nuts and seeds are high in good fat and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Add them to meals or eat on their own as a snack.
Not all carbs are created equal
Carbohydrates have been demonised on mainstream media but the truth is that they do have a place in a healthy diet. Simple processed carbohydrates are undoubtedly not good for you. They have poor nutrition and spike blood sugar. French fries, white bread and pasta are on the list of bad carbs.
Good carbs on the other hand – or rather complex carbs – sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, zucchinis are a great addition to a plant-based diet. They are nutrient dense and are a good source of energy.
Eating complex carbs ties into my first point of eating enough. Eating complex carbs on a plant-based diet is not likely going to make you pick up weight so don’t worry about that (unless advised otherwise by a doctor). Plant-based diets, that is whole foods plant-based diets are overall lower in calories so people can generally eat more freely.
Don’t get stuck on the small stuff
One of the keys to a successful transition to a plant-based diet is to not get stuck on the small stuff. What small stuff?
For example, I ate Indian naan bread for a whole 6 months until my dad mentioned to me one day that he found a vegan naan recipe. What? Vegan naan? Isn’t naan vegan?!?
These situations happen a lot and are not your fault or mean you are failing. When you are starting out on a plant-based diet or trying it out, it’s difficult to know all the nooks and crannies where animal-based products are hiding. As you move along your journey you will learn what is to be avoided, adjusted or safe.
There is no need to put yourself or others down. Setbacks and failures are part of life and it is how we learn. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Have fun on the journey.
Take your time
The easiest way to reduce meat consumption is not to go all in at once but make a slow easy transition. No stress, no pressure. Make the decision to go all in plant-based or 80/20 plants to animal products and slowly transition. For some, the cold turkey method works but when it comes to your diet it can be a lot to take in at once. Many people get it wrong and their health suffers. Slow and steady wins the race.
MeManMeVegan makes a great point:
Simply list out all the animal products in your diet from favourite to least favourite. Immediately remove any that you don’t eat more than twice a week. Then, gradually remove animal products 1-by-1 until your left with nothing.
I really love this. Many people I speak to feel that including more plant-based meals or becoming vegan is too difficult. They are not ready to give up certain foods. Starting with things you don’t really eat is the best way and move on from there. I started out vegetarian and over a period of time cut out animal-based products until I became vegan. I was vegetarian for 4 years. I became vegan 6 months from the point at which I had actually made the decision.
A great way to reduce meat consumption is to include vegan meat alternatives. More and more brands are offering some really incredible products. I’m sure most people have heard about Beyond Meat. It’s so close to beef that some hardcore vegans find it a bit challenging to wrap their heads around it.
Create or find a support group
Support groups sound a little cliche but they have stood the test of time for a reason. Humans are social creatures and support makes everything easier. From asking random food questions to serious health concerns. Vegan and plant-based communities are invaluable.
There are hundreds of groups on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to join. My experience is that the vegan community is very warm and welcoming. Like every community or sub-culture, you get extremists and unfortunately they exist in the vegan world too. However, they do not represent the values of the larger community.
The values of vegans are to do no harm, take care of the planet as well as the wellbeing of the people that work in factory farming. We want peace and compassion to flourish. Go get in there and make some friends!
Alternatively, you can reach out to vegan friends or family or better yet, take the journey on with your friends, family or spouses. It’s really fun to learn new recipes, try new restaurants and meet fellow vegans. Most of all, its quite amazing to be part of a movement that is fighting for the rights of creatures that can’t defend themselves and for the health of the environment.
Change your mind
Values were mentioned above and are truly such an important part of life. Most of us have grown up to believe that meat and dairy are absolutely essential to be healthy but as we are now finding out and as more people are proving to be living proof, that this belief is not accurate.
To be successful on a plant-based diet, to reduce your intake of animal products, one needs to change their perception of these foods as well their perception of eating plant-based foods.
I will use protein as an example. Many people fear that they will not be able to get enough protein. Protein is a combination of 9 essential amino acids. These amino acids all exist in different plant-based foods at different amounts. You don’t eat steak to get protein. You eat steak because its a convenient source of all 9 essential amino acids. But part of changing your mind, part of changing your values is to recognize that our convenience does not justify the suffering and death of animals or the demise of our environment.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet means looking at food differently and allowing the idea of an alternative way of eating to grow in your mind. Try vegan restaurants, buy vegan foods at the supermarket and open yourself up to the tragedy that is intensive farming.
Go with the flow
Change is not easy. As a human species our very nature resists change. But change is the only constant we can count on in life. As we move through the ages, we have to evolve. We have to do things differently if we want to survive. Better yet, we have to embrace change if we want to thrive!
World Meat Free Week is a small part of the bigger picture. The way that we are treating the planet, animals and people needs to shift. For a positive future for all, we have to develop our compassion and understanding. We have to allow new things to come to the foreground and let go of others. Sometimes these things are things we like but life is about compromise and justifying the suffering of animals, the environment and people is no longer suitable.
But this is not all doom and gloom. If you let go of what you think you need, you may just find yourself in the midst of exciting new things that give life a new spark.
Now more than ever we are in an amazing time to be alive. New discoveries and new scientific revolutions. Embrace it, embrace change! Have fun with it. Choose better products. Eat more ethical foods. Share, love and grow!