With the new year many people decide to make New Year’s resolutions, one of the most common resolutions every year is the decision to cut out or limit the amount of animal products that we consume by becoming a vegetarian, vegan, or simply, by limiting the amount of animal products in our meals.
But where do we start? What can we expect? When we have been eating animal products our entire lives it can be difficult to know what becoming a vegetarian or vegan can look like. In order to ease the transition, we have put together a list of things to consider when making the transition to becoming vegetarian, vegan, or eating a more plant based diet.
Slow transitions can really help
In our blog about New Year’s resolutions we discussed how to start small and build off gradual adjustments. This can build a strong foundation for a long term shift. Be patient and allow yourself and your body time to adjust to any new habits. However, be aware of falling into a cycle of not moving forward. Small modifications to your diet can help with long term change. But sometimes some of us can benefit from a more structured plan that helps us take next steps at specific times. It can help to talk with other vegans or vegetarians to learn about how the transition went for them (and to learn about yummy recipe recommendations). If you find yourself feeling ill or uncomfortable make sure to evaluate your diet to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need. If discomfort persists talk with a local healer or health care provider.
Some people experience really strong cravings
Not everyone experiences these craving, but some people do. They can often be very intense. These cravings might be for things that you have never had cravings for before. This will usually pass with time. Often we get cravings as our body adjusts to new ways of receiving nutrients. Cravings can help you learn what your body wants or is missing. Sometimes a craving can be a sign that your body has adjusted to having more protein, certain vitamins, or chemicals found in the foods that you usually eat. It can help to be conscious of what you are craving so that you can find a substitute to satisfy your needs.
Be weary of substitutes
Just because something is vegan or animal product free doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthier for you. For example seitan, a common meat substitute that is used in many vegan dishes, is made entirely from wheat gluten. People who are sensitive to gluten, and especially people with celiac disease, should avoid seitan. It’s important when making the transition to look critically at the foods that are available, especially if you are looking at mass-produced, ready-to-eat meals that can often be just as processed or contain high levels of sodium, sugar and unhealthy preservatives as those containing animal products. Take some time to look over the nutrition information on the back of ready-to-eat veggie patties and other premade foods as many products that are marketed as being “healthy” can be made with high levels of sugar, salt, and other chemicals.
There can be an initial cost
So the new year is here and you are taking steps to create change in your life. You’ve decided that you are going to cut out meat and/or animal products and that you are going to start cooking more meals at home. If your plan is to begin cooking meals at home more often and cooking is not something you have done in the past, there can be an initial cost as you gather the ingredients, spices, and other items to prepare meals. This initial cost can be offset with the savings in other places, such as money not used to eat out as often. It can also help to start slowly by adding in a new spice or item every so often during your grocery shopping instead of all at once. Also, if you are not accustomed to cooking there can be some trial and error as you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Take your time, and allow yourself to experiment and learn.
Meals can be more than beans and salads
A common misconception about becoming vegetarian or vegan is that food options are limited. Many people have spent their whole lives eating meat and animal products at every meal, and it can be difficult for them to imagine meals without meat. We are here to tell you that there are so many good and delicious meals that exist in the world! One of the hardest parts for many people may be learning to cook or prepare foods that are balanced and nutritious. Here are a few places where you can find recipes that are vegan or vegetarian.
Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen – Cookbook
Bryant Terry – Chef with multiple cookbooks
Epicurious – Website
Start slow if you decide to eat meat and/ or animal products after a while.
If you have been a vegetarian or vegan for a while, be careful not to give in and go for that triple meat patty burger right away! Though small amounts of meats and animal products will probably not cause vegans and vegetarians discomfort, we recommend avoiding large amounts after not having them for a while as that can lead to some intestinal discomfort. This discomfort isn’t something that happens to everyone, but we recommend that you start slow. In addition to possible stomach discomfort, we have often heard from people that have been vegetarian or vegan for a while that eating meat can make a person feel heavy, weighed down, or sluggish.
These are just a few things to keep in mind as you move through your vegan or vegetarian path. Remember that long term changes take time. Allow yourself to experiment and learn what you like. Be kind, and gentle with yourself, and remember that changing our diets is a process, one that takes time and work. Allow yourself to lean into new and exciting things in a way that supports and empowers you, and remember that there is no one way to be healthy or healthier.