1. Identify Your Motivation:
Try asking yourself "why have I made the decision to try a plant based diet?" Recognizing where your motivation is coming from will help you stay on track. Whether it's because you want to eat healthier, eat environmentally conscious, eat ethically, or for any other personal reasons, remembering your "why" can make your vegan journey a success.
2. Make Gradual Changes:
All or nothing thinking can create high expectations, and make your experience more difficult than it needs to be. Limiting non vegan foods can be both an emotional and physical strain. It is important to allow your body to adjust over time. Personally, I gave myself a month to transition to a vegan diet. This gave me time to listen to my body, and learn what nutritional adjustments were necessary.
3. Get Educated:
Understanding the nutritional changes of a vegan diet is essential in creating a healthy lifestyle. To start, I suggest looking for alternative sources of protein by learning the difference between complete and incomplete proteins, and finding healthy sources of fats, as they are essential to a balanced diet. While you're at it, use books, blogs, and documentaries to educate yourself on the positive effects of a vegan diet! Health related and ethical reasons are common motivators in the vegan world, but Cowspiracy (a documentary on Netflix) really opened my eyes up to the positive environmental effects of vegan diet.
4. Read the Labels:
All packaged foods should have a nutrition label with an ingredient list, where you can find any animal byproducts used to make the product. You will want to eliminate foods containing "modified milk ingredients." However, phrases like "may contain...," are usually okay, because they indicate that the product is only produced in the same facility that uses these other ingredients. In saying that, there is a possibility that traces of the listed ingredient could end up in your food, but the ingredient is not deliberately added. Mind you, this comes down to personal preference.
5. Eat Natural Foods:
Want to save yourself some time in the grocery store? Skip the labels and head straight for the produce! When you buy food in it's most natural form, you know what you're getting. Buying frozen fruits and vegetables can save preparation time and money, and can ensure that your food lasts longer. You can also look for food items with one ingredient, such as peanut butters, canned/bagged beans and lentils, whole grain rice, quinoa, etc.
6. Stock Your Pantry:
This applies to anyone! Having a stocked pantry makes food preparation much easier! Now that you're adjusting your diet, look to stock your cupboards with meat and dairy alternatives as well as your usual necessities. Some basics may include; beans, lentils, chickpeas, nut butters, protein powder, hemp hearts, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, quinoa, whole grain rice, flax seed crackers, oats, coconut oil, almond/coconut milk, and some canned soups or chilis for "lazy days." I recommend "Amy's," which carries a line of already made vegan meals.
7. Embrace Your Inner Chef:
Dining out can be a hassle when you're options are limited, so try getting familiar with your kitchen. Cooking isn't for you? Look for quick and easy recipes that make the task a little less daunting.
8. Meal Prep:
Try preparing meals in bulk! This will save you time in the long run. Whether you live alone, or with people who don't share the same dietary restrictions, meal prep can be your saving grace. Simply cook a couple extra servings, and pop them in the fridge/freezer once they've cooled. Crock pots are great for cooking meals like soups or stews in bulk.
Just because you're dining options are limited, doesn't mean you have to miss out on the fun! Start by looking up vegan restaurants/bakeries in your area. Don't have any vegan friends? Invite that friend who is always up for trying new things! You may be pleasantly surprised! Ethnic cuisine usually has vegan options as well, so hop on urban spoon and see what's around! Many health food stores and health food sections in grocery stores also carry specialized vegan products. Don't stop there! Explore the endless vegan blogs, Instagram accounts, Pinterest posts, Snap Chat bloggers, Tumblr bloggers and other social media outlets for inspiration and ideas. You're a part of the vegan community, so reach out!
Finding a vegan meal when dining out can be quite the task, especially if you weren't able to call ahead to inquire about vegan options. Don't panic; instead look to modify! I usually look for soups, vegetarian options, or salads, pastas, sandwiches, or noodle dishes where I can simply remove meats and cheeses. Mind you, no one wants to eat a meal that has no sustenance! This is where you look to substitute. I usually scan the menu for more filling ingredients such as nuts, seeds, or avocado; balsamic dressings for added flavour/moisture; 0r added vegetables for more nutrients. Coming from someone with serving experience, it is best that you just ask! If I approach a table that requires food modifications for whatever reason, I appreciate it so much more when my guest has an idea of what I can do for them. Especially during a busy lunch or dinner rush!
11. Vegan Doesn't Automatically Mean Healthy:
Eating a plant based diet has many health benefits, IF you balance your diet properly! Often times people will switch to a vegan diet, and find that they are never full, or are constantly craving carbs. Eating animal based foods provide fats that fill us up, but without the added fat, we burn through other sources of calories (which are digested at a faster rate), often times leaving us with low blood sugar. It is important to replace these fats with healthy plant based sources such as avocado, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, coconut, etc, to eliminate those empty carb cravings.
12. Have Fun:
Switching over to a vegan diet is a lifestyle change, which should not make you miserable! It's all about finding a balance in what works for you. So have fun with it, educate yourself, and explore the vegan community!
Have further questions about transitioning to a vegan diet? Feel free to comment below or send in your questions!