After spending a lifetime working towards becoming primarily a plant-eater I can honestly say that I’ve learned a thing or two.
Being raised as a carnivore, but always wanting to be a vegetarian, meant that my vegetarian ways could not begin until I was about eighteen. Once I left home and no longer had to eat what was put in front of me, I realized that I could choose how I ate. And so I did.
Back then there were not many guides to the vegetarian lifestyle, but my first cookbook was Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure. With this one, I learned how to bake bread, make quiches, and do things with a cabbage I would have never thought of myself. I still reference its pie crust recipe to this day. Laurel’s Kitchen and The Moosewood Cookbook also made it onto my cookbook shelf and taught me how to make a hearty Black Bean Soup, cauliflower and potato crusts for quiches, and still my all time favorite dessert, Carrot Cake.
There is one warning I do have to give about the above cookbooks – if you follow the recipes to the word, and you make lunch and dinner from them every day, you will gain weight. Since these books were published, much has been learned about calories, using fats (like butter or olive oils) when we cook, food portions, and timing of meals.
Over the following years, in my twenties and thirties, it wasn’t easy to stick with a vegetarian lifestyle.
It took maybe thirty years before I could really really settle on being a vegetarian/almost vegan. Beef and pork were permanently eliminated from my diet when I was eighteen, but I always hemmed and hawed about chicken, turkey, fish, and seafood. If they were on the menu, there were times when I did not discriminate. Take Thanksgiving – that one was really hard to give up – and I only did so maybe five or six years ago. There would be many years when I would only eat vegetarian style. Even during those times when I would allow meat in my diet, it was not a daily, weekly, or even monthly thing. Traveling and being on the road was particularly difficult. Depending on the culture or the environment, vegetarian food can sometimes be difficult to find.
Something finally clicked for me a few years ago and I’ve been happily vegetarian, often times vegan ever since. I do not know what that click was. It was just a sense of lightening up, or seriously wanting to. My body was literally rejecting foods that I had eaten all of my life. I even had a few trips to the ER, where the doctors had no clue what was wrong with me. I realized that I had to change, and I’m so happy I did. I started off with a radical 30-day elimination diet, cutting out meat, cheese/dairy, sugar, wheat, and alcohol. These days I eat a lot of salads and soups, and because I live in California, I have ready access to organic vegetables, farmers’ markets, and a lot of vegetarian and vegan take-out like a wide variety of vegetarian tacos and rice bowls.
That’s my back ground.
Why am I writing this, you might be asking?
To be helpful and to share my experience.
I find that a lot of people who seriously want to be vegetarian or vegan fail because of a few simple habits they don’t know that they can break. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve tried to become a plant-eater and failed. You would not be the first, or the last, who has been done in by your conditioning.
Tips for going Vegetarian/Vegan:
Straight to Vegan: The first mistake people often make is waking up one morning and deciding they are going to be vegetarian/vegan after a lifetime of eating burgers and steak.
Nothing could be harder for the mind and body to adapt to. Don’t get me wrong, that can work, but more often than not, it’s a long haul to give up eating meat. It’s not just the physical cravings we have to get over – there’s a psychological element to eliminating meat from the diet, as well as a lot of fear and food shaming in our culture. Being a carnivore is also a habit, almost an addiction – and one that is difficult to break.
The best way to go about becoming a plant-based eater after a lifetime of being a Carnivore, is to move slowly. Set your goal on being a Vegetarian first. Cut back the amount of meat you eat, at first, daily. Are you eating meat at three meals a day? Then cut back to having meat at two meals for a while, then one. The start cutting back how many times you eat meat during the week. From seven days eventually down to one day. Substitute eggs or cheese for some of your meat at first. Not a lot, but some. Make this a gradual process of cutting meat out of the diet – not going cold turkey (pun intended).
Eating meat substitutes: Forget this. Meat substitutes are not for the beginner. You will never be satisfied by them as long as they are named after the product they are substituting.
Also, if you are watching your gluten intake, or are gluten sensitive, these can be landmine. Reading meat substitute labels is a must.
Tofurkey Bacon has no relationship whatsoever to real Bacon. You will be forever disappointed. Once you’ve established yourself in the land of vegetarianism, you might want to experiment with adding these to your diet. They are a good source of protein, and new items are coming out on the market all the time.
I do have to say though, that a really good Garden Burger is a great substitute for a burger every now and then as long as you aren’t expecting a real burger.
Tofu and Soy Milk: Tofu and Soy Milk do not have to be bland.
Learn how to cook with soy products. They take on the flavors that you add to them. It’s a great source of protein, but it is also a great source of estrogen. Be careful about how many soy products you serve your children, especially young girls.
Quantity of Food: It’s better to eat a lot of small meals during the day, rather than the traditional three meals.
As a Vegetarian, one still has to be careful about fat and cholesterol intake (eggs and cheese, and salad dressings).
Once you get to Vegan status, you can, and should, be eating all of the time. This is one of the biggest mistakes that people make when transitioning to a plant based diet – sticking to that three meals a day schedule – if you do, you will always be hungry as your day will be a constant feast or famine experience.
That said, only eat when you are hungry, but if you are hungry, EAT! Don’t wait for the next meal time. Get in the habit of carrying snacks with you, like little bags of trail mix, a protein bar, an apple or other fruit, carrot sticks, crackers and peanut butter, so you can munch when you need to.
Wheat and Sugar: Wheat and Sugar do some crazy things to the body and it’s only noticeable after doing an elimination diet – not eating wheat and sugar for 30-days and then adding them back into your diet.
I found that when I brought wheat and sugar back into my diet, I became bloated and hungry within the first 24-hours. I wanted to eat anything at all, ALL THE TIME. This was a depressing realization for me, because I LOVE BREAD. But I found that bread does not love me.
Eat Whole Foods: By “whole foods” I mean non-processed food. Salads, soups, rice bowls, fresh fruit …
Doritos may be tasty now, but if you eliminate them for a month out of your life, while you are transitioning to a whole food diet, you won’t be able to stand the taste of them.
Read the labels: This is a must if you still want to eat processed food. As an example I’m going to use one of my favorite comfort foods from childhood – Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
Go to the grocery store and grab a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and then grab a box of Annie’s Mac & Cheese, and then hold them side by side with the ingredient list facing you. Then read both of the ingredient lists. This one experiment will make you want to read labels for everything you buy and put into your body.
The protein question: Yes, you can get enough proteins by eating a plant based diet. Rice and beans, yum yum and many other food combos will give you all the protein you need.
And lastly …
Find a transition buddy: Doing your food and vitamin research is easier when you’ve got more than one person doing it. You’ll also have someone to share meals with. But don’t hesitate to do this on your own too.
I’m sure there is a lot more that I could talk about and share here.
Do you have any questions? Ask them in the comments below!
And share your transition stories there too!
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