By Olivia Janisch
The only way to make healthy, sustainable change is to do it incrementally. Unless you have some insane will power that enables you to crush every challenge you give yourself, making small changes one at a time is a sure fire way to accomplish anything, especially when it comes to your health.
A plant-based diet requires two things: increasing your intake of fruits and veggies, and cutting back on or even eliminating animal products. And, of course, the desire to look and feel better than you ever have before.
Increasing your plant consumption
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a plant-based diet requires eating more things that come from the ground. Let’s talk baby steps.
1. Eat fruit first thing in the morning.
And lots of it. Fruits have tons of fiber and other vitamins, are alkalizing, and are super easy to digest so they leave you with lots of AM energy.
2. Make smoothies.
You can all kinds of healthy greens, nuts and coconut oil in with a banana and some rice milk and get a massive dose of nutrients with very little effort, and delicious results to boot. They’re great in the morning, as a meal replacement, or as an afternoon pick-me-up.
3. Prepare your snacks
Carry mixed nuts (non-roasted and light salt please), hummus and sliced carrots and cucumbers, and tasty fruit on you at all times. If you’re into sweets, have healthy options on you so that you don’t end up eating some processed and sugar-laden treat at the end of the day that will leave you feeling guilty and exhausted.
4. Drink water.
Water helps reduce cravings for weird and unhealthy food and stabilizes your appetite so that you can make clear-headed choices about food.
5. Keep easy-to-prepare veggies on hand.
There are certain veggies that you can eat with anything and are super quick to prepare or require non at all, or are a complete meal in themselves. For me these are avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, beans, and bell peppers. Find what you like and keep them ready to throw together so that they’re easy and accessible to enjoy.
6. Cook once, eat twice.
Make big salads with a quinoa or rice base that you can pack up and take with you for lunch, or have as a snack. This makes eating your veggies easier as they’re already prepped, and helps reduce waste from food not used.
Reducing consumption of animal products
This is where things get a little tricky, but once you get in the swing of it you’ll realize that reducing your consumption isn’t so hard. Many of us were raised on the belief that meat should be consumed at every meal, and that milk is a staple of a healthy diet. Reversing these kinds of ingrained beliefs is really tough, so making conscious steps to reduce animal product consumption is the best way to go at it.
1. Switch your milk.
By now it’s pretty evident that unless you’re a calf, milk is not nature’s perfect food. Find a non-dairy milk that you enjoy with low sugars to replace cows milk in your household. There are tons of amazing sources of calcium in nature so not to worry that you won’t be getting enough without milk.
2. Reduce the portion sizes of meat.
If half of your dinner plate is chicken, try reducing it to a quarter and supplement with more veggies.
3. Don’t eat meat until dinner.
Giving yourself boundaries but still allowing yourself what you want will help you cut back and slowly move to a less meat-centric way of eating.
4. Try meatless Mondays.
Take one day a week to avoid meat completely. Base your meals around whole grains and filling veggies. It’s fun to challenge yourself, try new recipes and go to new restaurants.
5. Work on reducing cheese.
The sugar found in dairy, lactose, is literally addictive, so it’s no wonder many Americans feel strongly that they could never, ever give up cheese. With this, we just take it slow. Keep less in the
household. Take days to be conscious and not eat it at all. It will slowly loosen it’s grip on your taste buds.
6. Find good replacements.
Vegan butter tastes pretty much just like regular butter. Veggie burgers and hot dogs can be really flavorful and filling. Coconut ice cream has a really similar texture to regular ice cream. I don’t
advocate eating fake meats because they typically aren’t particularly healthy, but if it helps with the transition then they’re worth using, especially if you have a family to feed. You definitely have to adjust to the flavor and texture, but after a few times you’ll get used to it, and will enjoy the extra energy from not having to work to process animal-based food.
There are some really amazing vegan options out there for deserts that are based around coconut oil and cacao which means they’re actually packed with antioxidants and omega-3s so they’re super healthy. Dark chocolate is always good to have on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth, and go ahead and sample different desert options out there that don’t have milk oreggs in them. I swear, there are so many delicious things to try, you’ll find some that you like!