A friend of mine recently asked what steps she should take to ease into a vegetarian diet. This is quite possibly my favorite topic, and I was glad to help. Here are the 10 points I gave her.
1) Go at your own pace: It is not good for you physically or emotionally to completely change your diet all at once. Take it week by week and give yourself a few months to slowly phase out animal products. If you eat meat for almost every meal, try eating vegetarian for 2 meals a week. Gently increase it to 3, 4, 5 meals a week. The best time of day to eat vegetarian would be at night because you wouldn’t have as much to digest before bed. It should take at least a few months for you to get to eating mostly vegetarian or all vegetarian.
2) What is your intention/goal?
Make sure you know what you are aiming for:
Are you going to be lacto-ovo vegetarian (vegetarian with eggs and dairy), lacto-vegetarian (with dairy but no eggs), or vegan (no dairy, eggs, or any animal products at all)?
What do you want to experience by changing your diet (i.e better mood, more energy, etc.)?
What kinds of foods are you eating a lot of, some of, not at all?
Once you have set you intention, that vibration of “you as vegetarian” has been struck. It is already done. Just take it step by step.
3) Stages of letting go: At your own pace, with a clear intention, let go of animal products in this order: 1. red meat, 2. pork, chicken and other “white meats”, 3. eggs, 4. fish. You can decide how long it takes to let go of each type of animal product. If you are giving up daiy as well, that can be done at any stage.
4) Remember to replace: In other words, you don’t just want to get rid of everything you’ve been eating. You need to find something to replace it with, or you’ll starve! Since meat is highly caloric, you will find that you’ll need to eat more portions of legumes (beans), grains, vegetables, and fruit than will seem reasonable. A cup of ground beef is not the same calorie count as a handful of rice. That means you get to eat more! Start to befriend mung beans and rice, quinoa, yams, potatoes, tempeh, and other “filling” plant foods.
5) Eat! The fact that you are eating more plant foods will do plenty to get weight loss into high gear. You don’t need to starve yourself on top of that. You want this to FUN, so don’t think you have to eat everything steamed all of a sudden, or have just salad for dinner. In fact, don’t do that! Getting “too clean” in your diet too fast will not make you feel good. It will make you feel starved, cloudy, and weak. You will end up blaming vegetarianism when it’s under-eating that is at fault.
6) Learn New Recipes: This is why, every week or so, you should try a new vegetarian recipe that looks delicious. Ideas for indulging include mac n’ cheese (can be vegan), oven potatoes with sauteed zucchini and garlic, vegetarian chili with cornbread, etc. There are so many great vegetarian recipes out there. Treat yourself to some new books and get inspired! The more great meals you can make, the more you’ll love being vegetarian!
7) Limit Sugar: Processed sugar attacks the nervous system and will make your transition to vegetarianism a lot more painful than it needs to be. Since you will be consuming foods that are A LOT easier to digest (plants!), your body will be going through a little bit of a stressful time “detoxing”. You won’t want to increase the stress on your nervous system by eating a ton of vegetarian baked goods and ice cream. If you are used to eating a lot of processed sugar, don’t give it up completely. When possible, opt for an “upgrade” though: i.e. dates, oranges, raisins, apples, vegetable snacks like almond butter on celery, etc.
8) Be proud of yourself! I once heard a statistic that said when people were asked what they would rather change, their religion or their diet, an overwhelming majority answered “religion!” Changing the way you eat is not easy. Give this at least a 40-day trial and see where you want to go from there. If you decide you want to eat some animal products by the end of the 40 days, at least your body will be that much cleaner for the beautiful break you gave it from meat. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence, but it’s important to make an initial commitment. 40 days is biologically the amount of time it takes to form a new habit. Give vegetarianism a reasonable chance.
9) Don’t worry about protein! The “how do you get enough protein?” question is perhaps my biggest pet peave. The reason being, it is based on a completely lie that even vegetarians help propel. The only correct answer to this question is in the form of another question: “aren’t you worried you get too much protein?” If you are more interested in this topic, please read The China Study, or Diet for a New America. Basically though, the only people who have to “worry about protein” are people who are starving. And people who are starving are starving for food, not protein. If you eat food, like a variety of delicious leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and oils, your body will put its brilliance into action and do what every animal’s body on this planet knows how to do – turn amino acids into protein.
10) Don’t over-do soy! There are so many great imitation meat products out there meant to keep your carnivorous cravings in check. They are very healthy though. Anything processed should be eaten in moderation. Limit your consumption of mock-meat to a few times a week and your body will thank you.
11) Drink lot of water: Because your vegetarian diet will be so much easier on your digestive system, you body will get to work it was “putting off” for a while. It will start releasing a lot of the toxins stored in your. Drink a lot of water so the filth can leave quickly. You don’t want to be walking around full of lingering toxins. Trust me.