Have you been considering going vegan? Or even incorporating more vegetarian meals into your diet? There are many benefits to reducing the amount of meat or animal products in your daily life.
Of course, the health benefits like reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers, are the main reason a lot of people decide to change the way they eat, also the environmental factors of adopting a plant-based diet can reduce your carbon footprint in a significant way; and some people have ethical reasons for not eating food produced by animals.
The bottom line is eating less meat and eating more plants means you’ll increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. And that’s a good thing.
No matter your reasons, choosing a plant-based diet, if done in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way – can have amazing health and performance benefits – whether that means no food from animals (even honey from bees), or just actually basing your diet around plants, but still having a burger or ice cream cone once in a while – you’ll no doubt feel different-in a good way.
Here are my recommendations for making successful changes to your diet:
One Change at a Time
Trying to overhaul your entire life all at once is asking for failure. Choose one habit to change at a time and, once you’ve mastered it, move on to the next. It could be as simple as choosing what to have for breakfast each day. Start with that one meal or day (like meatless Monday). Once you’re used to having a meat/egg/dairy free breakfast, then you can move on to other meals, and other habits.
Don’t be so Hard on Yourself
Mistakes will be made. You’ll eat something without thinking, then realize you just ate meat. Don’t stress out. Being aware of everything you’re eating is the first step. Acknowledge the mistake, and move on. You’re human. It’s bound to happen a few times.
This is crucial. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Making a grocery list before you go to the store can make a huge difference, so you know you have all of the ingredients you need. As does preparing for a busy night, so you don’t order takeout. Have a look at your schedule and plan accordingly.
Make Your Own Meals
Making your own meals means you know exactly what’s going into them. This is great for many reasons:
- If you’re reducing meat in your diet, you get to decide if you’re going to include animal products and, if so, how much.
- You can keep other unhealthy items like certain fats, sugars and salt to a minimum.
- You can batch cook. Batching cooking (cooking more than you need) means you’ll have leftovers and, if you’re making a meal that takes some extra time and effort, you may as well eat twice.
Stick to Real, Whole Foods as much as possible
It’s easy to choose to eat less meat and then buy processed meat alternatives like ground meat made from pea or soy proteins, veggie burgers, veggie bacon, veggie hotdogs and “chick’n” nuggets. But, if you look at the ingredients in these items, they aren’t much better for you than a loaded beef burger with bacon and cheese.
Choosing to eat processed foods over real food is not the goal here. Reducing meat by eating more real, whole foods is the best way to live a healthier life and feel the benefits. If you simply can’t give up burgers, don’t. Have them every once in a while, and eat plant-based foods the rest of time. Just know that if you’re swapping real meat for fake meat, it’s not necessarily a healthier option, just meatless.
Pay Attention to How You Feel
Changes in your diet are going to have an effect on your energy levels, your focus, your hunger and mood. Paying attention to how you feel will give you cues about your body, and you can change what you’re eating according to your feelings. For example, if you feel tired all the time, you may need more protein or carbohydrates for energy. Listening to your body is the best way to slowly change what and when you eat.
Seanna Thomas is a holistic nutritional consultant from Toronto