I think after nigh on 5 years eating plant based, making a multitude of mistakes and learning some awesome tricks along the way, I’m qualified enough to divvy out my fair share of advice. It’s not always easy starting out on the plant based path and for many, making that leap is difficult enough when you don’t have a clue what we’re doing. Lets face it – does anyone actually have a clue what they want to do? So without further ado, lets jump into it:
CHOOSE STRICT PLANT BASED FOODS
When you first transition, it’s very easy to scoot on down to your local supermarket and grab all the cool vegan foods off the shelf and stroll out (after paying, of course) with a supreme sense of satisfaction at successfully becoming a newly minted Vegan. Ideally, you’ll want to spend some time investing in your cooking skills as this will pay dividends later in your life. Lets face it – you can only eat so many burgers until it becomes boring.
Which is why learning how to cook delicious and inventive new meals is a life skill you cannot afford to ignore. Choosing your ingredients fires up a creative spark that enables you to find new ways of combining different foods so you can benefit from a rich and varied diet that doesn’t get boring with time.
DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE MEALS
We’ve all seen the images of Salads and Buddha Bowls filled to the brim with exotic and fancy foods – yeah, they look great but it’s not for everyone. Personally, I can’t stand salads. There’s too much going on and simplicity in meals is the ideal balance between flavour and convenience. The worst mistake you can make it thinking that meals with a dozen ingredients are the cornerstone of a Plant Based Diet. That’s just not true. The best meals are simple, rice, veggies and some protein. Pasta, sauce, veggies and some protein. Beans, some vegan mince and tortilla wraps. So simple but when you prepare them right, the flavour is plentiful.
Choosing the right flavourings can make all the difference between a plain, boring meal and a supper packed to the brim with taste. Cooking with spices, herbs and simple sauces is the gateway to flavour town.
PLAN FOR LONG TERM CHANGE
You’re going to have to accept that the change necessary for success runs deeper and you’ll have to change a lifetime of behaviours and habits – you can’t rely on these default behaviours anymore. This one is pretty self explanatory but it’s not something you will consciously accept needs doing until old behaviours limit your success. You’re not just changing your food, you’re changing your lifestyle.
Choosing to go Vegan should become part of your identity as it strengthens your resolve and creates a firm willingness to make changes necessary to enjoy every aspect of Veganism. Seeking support with friends and family can help you an awful lot as you cultivate a sense of self and engrain your lifestyle within your identity.
Also recognising that being vegan isn’t a diet – it’s a lifestyle can help establish it’s roots within your life. Choosing to eat plant based won’t help you in the long run if you simply want to lose weight – it’s has to be a conscious decision to do what’s right for the animals and the planet. They are, after all, the core principles of eating plant based.
HAVE COMPASSION FOR YOURSELF
You’re going to have to accept that you will make mistakes. There is no such thing as a perfect Vegan. You’ll accidentally eat Meat, Dairy, you’ll still have to rely on products that may have a link to animal exploitation (until you find alternatives). Unless you go completely off grid you’ll still have to use power that burns fossil fuels, drive a car that pollutes and purchase products sold in plastic containers.
Mistakes are okay; your success as a Plant Based Pioneer is a constant change through out your life. So, don’t be hard on yourself. As long as you’re doing your best and want to be better, that is enough. As with all things in life, learn from your mistakes and then move on.
LEARN YOUR NUTRITION
Many reasons Vegans are considered to be a healthy bunch is the plentiful knowledge cultivated among the community and on a personal level. Learning about what is in your food, what you’re putting into your body and what your body needs to prosper is the foundation of living plant based.
Understanding your food consists of Macro/Micro Nutrients and being able to choose what to eat based on your needs is a powerful tool for developing the healthy mindset and body synonymous with a vegan lifestyle. There are many nutrients you may previously have been able to ignore as a traditional animal based diet allows you to neglect these common components and still live a healthy life. Some of these common nutrients are Vitamin D, B12, Iron and Calcium. My Fitness Pal is a fantastic free App for tracking these very nutrients and observing your foods effects on your body short and long term – perfect for those who struggle to do the math or simply don’t want to calculate their macros and calories the old fashioned way.
Many will also consume too few calories and this is just as destructive. Eating plant based foods may leave you feeling full as high fibre foods have this effect but these very foods are typically too low in calories – these very calories your body requires to operate and maintain common bodily processes. Chronically eating too few calories will leave you feeling lethargic, tired and in the long term, you can become malnourished.
It helps to find which of your favourite foods you can still enjoy as a Vegan and to plan ahead. Meal preparation in advance is a great tool for making the usual kitchen grind easier and less time consuming. Having go to Vegan snacks is another great way to get your nutrition in without sacrificing your valuable time and spending effort choosing what to eat.
DON’T RELY ON PROCESSED FOOD REPLACEMENTS
While this section ties in with an earlier one, I felt it needed to be expanded upon. There are some great Meat and Dairy Replacements coming to the shelves every year but it’s important to recognise that these should only be enjoyed in moderation as they are commonly heavily processed with the potential to negate any benefits of eating plant based – phew!
They are great for transitioning from animal to plant based and as the occasional treat but try not to rely on them to pack out your meals – rather, embrace home made and unprocessed meat replacements like Tofu, Seitan, Soya Mince and Tempeh. Many cheese replacements can be made pain free at home and while not being exactly like the real thing, can serve to fill that craving.
ENJOY YOUR PLANTS
From an early age, as children, we develop a disdain for vegetables that lasts long into adulthood but it’s time to shake those notions that vegetables are boring and should only be a small portion on the plate at dinner time. Variety is, after all, the spice of life and variety is exactly what nature offers. All the different vegetables, lentils, legumes, beans, nuts and fruits on offer means you don’t actually have to eat the same meal twice.
You can experience the joy of shopping at local green grocers, choosing your vegetables, learning which ones to choose, what is ripe, what is in season and what is not, even supporting your local economy while doing your bit for the planet – super satisfying to say the least.
Don’t be afraid to try new foods and even go back to ones you perhaps may not have enjoyed – there’s different ways to cook these foods and it just simply be that you didn’t prepare it right. Trying new cooking methods can change these very foods from unpalatable to delicious with little to no effort at all.
BE PROUD OF YOUR CHOICE
It’s entirely possible that you’ll encounter some friction from friends and family along the way so be prepared for that. Don’t let it take away from your choice and what you are doing for the greater good. You’ll hear the usual excuses from people about Hunter Gatherers, brain size, canine teeth, top of the food chain, the list goes on but the simple truth is you’ve made a conscious decision to change your habits and behaviours for a cause you believe in – if they can’t swallow that pill then it says a lot more about them than it does about you.
Colleagues may find themselves teasing you for what you “can” and “can’t” eat when actually, it’s more like what you WILL and WON’T eat. I’m sure this is especially worse for Men as there’s an unusual fallacy that Meat means Muscle and Men who don’t eat meat are weak. I can personally attest to having the bajeezus ripped out of me constantly at work by my colleagues – while it’s all good fun and games and I know there’s no malice intended – my resolve is strong enough to know that no matter what is said and done, what I am doing is the right choice for me and your reasons will make it the right choice for you.
Ignore the propaganda (you’ll start to notice more and more as you travel this path), avoid people who incessantly question your choices and when given the opportunity, stand up for what you believe in – discuss, educate and rationalise with people.
I’d love to hear any feedback from folks who found this helpful and all comments or suggestions are welcome. I really hope this helps any struggling or budding vegans – get out there and enjoy your plants people!