Change can be hard, I get it, I’ve been there. However, I think sometimes we’re more scared of change than we need to be, and this often makes it harder. Change can also be exciting, especially when it’s a positive one. Deciding to change your diet to support your long-term health definitely falls into that positive category. I know many people are a little nervous when they decide to transition to a plant-based diet, so I’ve got 10 of my top tips for you to make it easy. These strategies will get you off to a good start and help you avoid a backslide. Without further ado, let’s make some lasting lifestyle change.
Master Your Mindset
Quite frankly, I hate the word ‘diet’. It has a whole host of negative connotations when it comes to food. For the purposes of mindset though, the biggest problem with diets is that people consider them temporary. Something you do to lose the last 10 pounds or to get into your favourite skinny jeans. Then, they are quickly abandoned when you’ve met your goal or have run out of willpower. And for good reason, most diets are restrictive and hard to sustain over the long-term. Some are even downright unhealthy to stick to for any length of time.
The problem with a temporary solution is that it will only net you temporary results. Once you abandon your diet, the pounds creep back on, often with some extras that you weren’t exactly looking for. Sound familiar? The sad fact is diets don’t work.
Lifestyle change, on the other hand, is something sustainable. Something long-lasting that people maintain for the long-term. It is built around habits that you weave into your daily life. Over time these new habits become the norm. Things you do without even thinking. It’s important that you view your transition into whole food, plant-based (WFPB) eating, not as a diet, but as a lifestyle change.
After all, the goal is improved health over the long-term, with a lower risk for disease. Sure, many people will release weight when eating WFPB, but those lasting health benefits are a great reason to maintain the changes you make. Commit to the idea of this as a lifelong change and you’ll be far less likely to fall off the wagon.
Know Your Motivation
When making any big change in your life, it’s important to identify your why. What’s your motivation for this change? What spurred you to make this decision? Everyone has their reason. Whether it’s to regain your health after some bad news from the doctor, trying to improve cholesterol numbers, fear of what diseases you may be predisposed to or simply living a healthier life. Really sit down and think about what your motivation is because this is a powerful tool.
The more emotionally charged that reason is, the more powerful the motivation you draw from it will be. For example, I could just say that I want to eat a WFPB diet to live a healthier life. Sure, that’s true, but it’s not all that powerful. My real reason for wanting to live a healthier life is so that I’ll be around for my daughters. The idea of leaving them without a mother absolutely breaks my heart. That, my friend, is powerful motivation.
So dig deep to get past the reasons just sitting on the surface. Wanting clearer skin is great, but it’s not going to motivate you for long. Keep digging until you find the reasons that evoke strong emotion for you. Those are the motives that will keep you going when it starts to feel tough.
Things you can do to increase motivation:
- Do your research so you are armed with knowledge when well-meaning people seem concerned about your choices. I highly recommend NutritionFacts.org for science-based information you can trust.
- Watch documentaries or videos to remind yourself of the benefits, as well as the increased risk of consuming animal products.
- Leave yourself notes around the kitchen, in the bathroom, wherever you need to see them the most.
- Journal about your feelings surrounding the change. What you want out of it, how you are feeling as you transition, and the changes you start to feel in your body and mind.
These are just some ideas, but do what works for you. The idea here is to have something to refer back to when you’re about to slip. A reminder of your motivation and what you want out of your new healthy lifestyle.
Establish Your Comfort Zone
When you’re completely changing the way you eat, it can be helpful to start with foods you’re already comfortable with. To do this, I suggest getting out a piece of paper to make a list.
1) List the foods or meals that you enjoy that are already plant-based. You might be surprised by how many you come up with. Things like pasta with marinara sauce, baked potatoes, whole-grain toast with nut butter, fruit salad, avocado toast, etc.
2) Add food or meals you enjoy that can be made plant-based with just a few simple tweaks. Things like mashed potatoes made with plant milk, chili made with beans and lentils instead of ground meat, fajitas made with sliced mushrooms instead of meat, burritos made with beans, etc.
3) Lastly, star the items you can put together quickly, and try to keep the ingredients for one or two of them on hand each week. These quick meals can act as a safety net when time is short or if a new recipe doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped.
It helps to keep this list on the fridge where you can see it each time you go to prepare a meal. You can also add new meals you discover and watch your comfort zone grow!
Another handy sheet to hang on the fridge is my plant-based meal building tool. It helps you build a delicious, satisfying and nutritionally balanced meal every single time. Grab a free copy by signing up below.
Add Before You Subtract
When you first transition to a plant-based diet, it can feel like you’re eliminating a lot of foods. In reality though, your options become so much more abundant. There are thousands of edible plant species on this planet, and most of us in the western world only eat a tiny fraction of those. Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also the key to nutrient diversity, which is very beneficial and protective to your health.
With this in mind, I always recommend adding new foods before you start eliminating old ones. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. It could be as simple as adding an additional plant-based side to your meals each day.
Use this opportunity to taste new foods you may not have tried before. Whether it’s a whole grain you’ve never tasted, a vegetable you’ve been nervous about or a new fruit that sounds delicious.
This method is really helpful for those who may be a little particular in their food choices. The beauty is, if you don’t like it, you’ve got the rest of your meal to fall back on. And, if you do like it, you’ll be crowding out the foods you want to eventually avoid by eating more healthy plants instead.
If you tend to be picky with your food choices, I have a couple of posts that will help you incorporate more vegetables (which equals more nutrients) into your meals. Check them out below.
Clean Your Environment
Set your environment up for success. It will be much harder to transition to a plant-based diet if you constantly surround yourself with the things you don’t want to continue eating. This would require a lot of willpower every time you enter the kitchen. Instead, just get rid of it. If you come home from a long day, tired and hungry and you look around the kitchen and find processed foods, you’re more likely to snack on those while making your meal. Or worse, eat those instead of making a balanced meal out of whole foods.
Instead of tempting yourself, just don’t have it around. Get the food that you no longer wish to eat out of your kitchen. Fill it with all the foods you will eat instead. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables, and your pantry with whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It’s also a great idea to make sure you’ve always got something healthy to fall back on when hungry and time-crunched. Whether that’s a batch of hummus and some pre-cut veggies or a simple go-to meal you can whip up quickly.
If you share your kitchen with someone who does not eat plant-based, try dividing up cupboards and shelves in the fridge. This way, their food is not what you’ll find when you’re looking for something to eat. It can be difficult living in a home with people who eat differently than you but try not to sweat it. Stay in your lane and keep your eyes on your own plate.
Set Some Goals
There’s a reason why goal setting is a normal part of any job in the corporate world. It works. Setting a goal to work towards keeps you thinking forward. It helps to provide direction and focus on the tasks you’ve deemed as important. Decision making becomes easier when you have goals in place, as you’re making decisions based on what will get you closer to achieving those goals. It also provides motivation, a sense of purpose, and huge amounts of personal satisfaction when you crush those goals. The best part is, that amazing feeling spurs you on to crush more goals and keep moving forward.
So, what’s the best way to set goals? Start with a long-term goal. An overarching goal to aspire to. Then, set yourself a series of short-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term goal. If setting a series of short-term goals all at once seems too overwhelming to you, set one at a time. Just keep in mind that each of these short-term goals should help you on your way to the long-term goal.
Your long-term goal can be anything from a normalized blood pressure or cholesterol panel, hitting a healthy weight, or simply sticking to WFPB eating for a year or more.
For example, maybe your long-term goal is to lower your cholesterol. Short-term goals to support this can include eliminating dietary cholesterol from animal foods and oil, adding cholesterol-lowering foods like oats to your diet, and exercising for 30 mins a day. The best part is, goals set you up for a pattern of improvement. Once you’ve met those goals you can go on to create new ones to work towards.
Some people are able to make large-scale changes quickly and stick to them, but there are many who struggle with that and prefer to make slower changes. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, the correct one is the one that works for YOU. Be honest with yourself, if you tend to get overwhelmed when it comes to change, perhaps you need a slower approach.
Try changing one behaviour at a time to avoid overwhelm. In terms of transitioning to a plant-based diet, maybe that means nailing breakfast first. Making sure your breakfasts are on point and filled with whole, plant foods before moving on to tackle lunches. Or maybe this means alternating between adding in new foods you’ve never tried before and eliminating foods you no longer wish to eat. Adding a daily salad, then removing dairy. Etc.
The only right way to do it is the way that works for you. Focus on the end goal. Who cares how quickly you get there, as long as you get there.
One thing to point out though. If you are going the slow and steady route, make sure the changes are meaningful. Don’t decide you’re going to give up drinking coke and then start drinking sprite instead. This is a lateral move, at best. Don’t use the slow and steady approach as a crutch. No loopholes, do the work!
Seek out Support
Support is a huge predictor of success. Humans are social creatures, so having that support can be a game-changer. If you can, make the change with your partner or a buddy. You’ll be far more likely to succeed than if you go it alone. This is because you’ll feel some accountability to that buddy, and be able to talk through the tough times. If you can’t find a buddy to join you on your journey, join an online group for support and accountability. There are lots of them out there on platforms like Facebook and Reddit. Find one that fits with your goals and don’t be afraid to take part. They can be a wealth of information and support.
Ask for support from friends and family as well. Let them know that you’ve decided to transition to a plant-based diet and why. Then ask them for their support. It helps to make things less awkward if they know what to expect. You won’t have to walk into a situation where someone has made one of your old favourites and is offended or hurt when you politely decline.
Change is not easy. You’re likely to hit some bumps in the road. The best way to overcome potential obstacles is to plan for them. Take some time to think about what obstacles you might come across and what situations you may have trouble with. Then brainstorm ways to handle them in advance. This way you go into it armed with a plan and some strategies ahead of time.
For example, maybe you’re worried you’ll have trouble finding plant-based foods on the go. How will you handle that? Perhaps you can pack snacks to bring with you in case you get hungry. Or you can make a list of restaurants and markets near you that have plant-based options so you will have something to fall back on if you need it.
Even if you come across an obstacle you hadn’t planned for, some of the strategies you came up with may still apply. Planning ahead will greatly increase your chances of success.
Reward Your Success
Rewards are a great way to incentivize your goals. Your own pat on the back for a job well done. That being said, I would urge you to avoid food rewards. Many of the highly processed foods that people enjoy are addictive in nature. As a result, rewarding yourself for a job well done may actually lead to a backslide. This is not the way to set yourself up for success.
Instead, reward yourself with something you love that has nothing to do with food. Maybe some clothes shopping to reflect how bright and confident you now feel. Or how about a spa treatment, like a massage, manicure or pedicure. Reward yourself with something that feels good but won’t sabotage your efforts.
The Bottom Line
Change can be hard, but it’s not impossible. The difficulty is mostly in your mind. The idea of doing something you aren’t used to seems more difficult than it is, simply because it’s new. Don’t be scared of change. Look at it as an exciting opportunity. Open your mind to it. Visualize all the things that can result from the healthy lifestyle change that comes with transitioning to a plant-based diet. That’s pretty exciting, isn’t it?
Forward momentum is what’s important. I truly believe that life is about progress, not perfection. To focus on perfection is to set yourself up for frustration and mental anguish. Ain’t nobody got time for that noise. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your progress instead of pushing for some idea of perfection.
I hope you find these tips helpful in transitioning to a plant-based diet. If you did, please share this post with your friends. Together we can make plant-based eating easy for everyone.