Switching to a plant-based diet is a decision that deserves a lot of thought. I thought about going vegetarian for a while before actually starting the lifestyle change. I have to admit, I gave more thought to WHY I should become one and not as much to HOW to (properly) become one. That being said, I am writing this post for any of you who have been considering it.
Before getting started, I want to make it known that I know not everyone wants to be a vegetarian and I don’t write this thinking everyone should be. It is a very personal decision and I respect that. 🙂 And remember, I ate meat for the first 23 years of my life so I would never judge someone for doing the same. This post is simply a resource for those interested that I wish I had before I made the switch!
How to Become a Vegetarian
Now, let’s get started.
1. Ask yourself WHY you want to switch to a plant-based diet.
- This is the most important step because your answer to “why” is what is going to guide you through the entire process. When it feels tough or you start having cravings, it is going to be what keeps you on track and motivated. I wrote an entire post on why I made the switch (read it here), but everyone has their own reasons. Do your research and be honest with yourself. If you are not passionate about this lifestyle then it will never work for you.
2. Pick what type of plant-based diet you want to follow.
- Dependent on your reason(s) for going plant-based, you may want either more lenient or strict diet guidelines. In other words, you may want to remove all animal products from your diet or eliminate certain animal products. Read my post on types of plant-based diets to help decide which one fits your needs.
3. Map out your nutritional needs.
- It is important to match your caloric and macronutrient needs (protein, fat, carbs) with your lifestyle.
- Your nutritional needs will vary based on your gender, activity level, and personal philosophy. If you’re not sure what your target caloric intake and macronutrient ratios should be, I recommend starting with the presets on the My FitnessPal App (Computer, iPhone, iPad, Android). This app calculates each value based on your body mass index, activity level, and ideal weight. If you disagree with the app’s presets you can manually adjust them to fit your needs. Starting out, I logged all my meals/snacks on the app to ensure I was eating enough calories but also getting the right portions of macro/micro nutrients. (Side Note: For those of you who do not wish to switch to a plant-based diet, I still recommend this app. There is a misconception that by going vegetarian you will become malnourished but the average American’s diet is not properly managed.)
- As with any major dietary change, you should make sure you are following up with your doctor and getting annual physicals/blood work. If you have a complex medical history, I recommend consulting your doctor before changing your diet.
|| Once you have completed these first three steps, I recommend one of two methods to start implementing this diet/lifestyle change. One doesn’t necessarily work more effectively than the other across the board; it all depends on the individual. Read both and see which one sounds more realistic for you. ||
4. Think gradual baby steps!
- Unfortunately, it is not realistic to switch to vegetarianism overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard of people who have done this but it is much easier said than done. Gradually changing your diet will make the change less noticeable and easier to make a permanent part of your life.
- Option #1: Start by cutting out certain types of animal products at a time. I recommend eliminating red meat first (beef, pork, lamb, veal, etc). You can start by replacing these foods with chicken/turkey/fish alternatives if that makes the change less drastic for you. Next, gradually start eliminating chicken and turkey meat. Many believe this is the hardest step in the process since these meats are staples in most people’s diets. However, almost everything made with chicken can be made with an alternative (think eggplant, avocado, tofu, imitation meat – sounds gross but most are made from natural plant proteins & fibers, etc.). You will slowly redesign your favorite recipes to fit your new plant-based lifestyle. I can confidently say, there is a vegetarian version for just about every meat-based meal. Once you have reached this point, you can consider yourself a pescetarian (what I am although I follow a vegan diet most days). To be able to truly call yourself a vegetarian you must eliminate fish and seafood. If veganism is your ultimate goal, gradually eliminate eggs and dairy. The entire process can be as fast or slow as you like!
- Option #2: Start by eliminating meat and/or animal products from your diet for one day of the week. You can eat meat as your normally would the other 6 days. Use those regular days to prepare for your plant-based day by writing out your meals and researching new recipes. This will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. Gradually increase the number of meat-free days per week. Like option #1, this can be as gradual as you like. If you start feeling overwhelmed, slow down. There is no rush!
5. Always be prepared.
- More than likely, you aren’t going to be able to always prepare your own meals. Although restaurants and food stores are introducing more vegetarian options, there is still much progress to be made. Before going out to eat, I recommend looking up the restaurant’s menu. If you are going to a sports game or theme park, you will notice sometimes vegetarian options are so limited you have to choose between a hot pretzel and mozzarella sticks. In an effort to not eat like a picky 5-year-old, you have to plan accordingly. When vegetarian options are limited, try to eat something small before you go out (I suggest a protein shake) and have vegetarian-friendly snacks on hand.
6. No diet is perfect and mistakes can happen.
- Every vegetarian’s worst nightmare is the thought of accidentally eating meat (esp. if you went vegetarian for the animals). I will admit, it happened to me and I immediately felt sick to my stomach (I thought I bought tuna when it was actually chicken salad 🙁 ). A sudden rush of panic and immense guilt came over me and I felt like all my previous efforts were wasted. No one is perfect and mistakes happen. These mistakes are more likely to happen when eating out which is why I recommend cooking for yourself as much as possible. If it happens to you, think about what went wrong and make an effort to be more careful in the future. One mistake does not discredit the impact your previous efforts have had on the lives of animals!
I hope you have found this post helpful! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. Leave them in the comments section or contact me directly by email.
Final thoughts: I am significantly happier living a plant-based lifestyle and think of food completely differently than I use to. This lifestyle’s benefits are truly endless.
Thank you for reading!