When my family was first starting a plant-based diet, I was a little nervous. I mean, how do you feed your family on just plants? But my husband and I believed it would improve our health, and it has. So we continue.
Having lived my entire life in the Midwest, I knew I’d have to relearn everything about how to prepare meals. I was a vegetarian for years when I was younger but removing all dairy and eggs is not something I ever imagined I’d do. I remember thinking in the past that being vegan (before plant-based was a thing) sounded both crazy and super difficult!
We’ve been plant-based for over two years now. I can tell you it’s not as hard as you might think. It’s also definitely worth the rewards! There are just a few things you should know going in that will definitely make it a little easier for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and am not prescribing a plant-based or vegan diet. What I am offering is a way to make it easier if a plant-based or vegan diet is something you decide to pursue!
What’s the difference between vegan and plant-based?
Let’s get this out of the way really quickly. When you enter the plant-based world, one of the most confusing things is the use of the terms plant-based and vegan. And all of the argument that ensues over their meanings and whether or not they’re interchangeable.
Veganism is the removal of all animal products and by-products from your diet. Strict vegans also remove anything animal based from their lifestyle (such as clothing) and anything that used animal products in it’s production (such as bone char to process refined sugar).
Not all vegans are equally as strict. However, there is a large group of them, perhaps the majority, that are strict. And anyone who calls themselves vegan who isn’t playing by all the rules receives a lot of criticism.
Plant-based refers to eating a diet created entirely, or mostly from plants. Most plant-based eaters have removed an equal amount of animal products from their diets as vegans, but may not be strict in terms of things like honey or gelatin. They may even occasionally consume dairy or meat.
While vegans are strict on animal products, plant-based diets might actually favor the removal of more processed foods. Vegans are vegan because of their ethics. Plant-based eaters tend to be plant-based because of their desire to be healthier.
My verdict is that it’s all a bunch of BS. Don’t let it overwhelm or worry you. There are too many terms and rules that go along with all of these labels. So many that it has alienated many people from even trying either diet. People tend to think vegans are crazy and that plant-based eaters are health nuts.
If you’re interested, the creation of the word vegan was in the 1940’s to identify a form of vegetarianism that excluded dairy. Here’s a little history lesson from The Vegan Society that demonstrates that the word itself has changed over the years and it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the word took on a meaning that resembles what it does today.
What ends up happening is most people try a little and decide they can’t commit that whole-heartedly to something. This whole battle is behind the creation of yet another term, flexitarian.
I choose to eat this way because of both animal welfare concerns AND my health. I don’t want my kid to grow up eating the S.A.D. American diet, and I want him to understand the devastation it causes to animals.
I refer to myself as vegan because most people don’t understand what plant-based means. And you better believe I’m going to save myself the 15 minute explanation of what I do and do not eat every time I eat at a restaurant, the office pot luck, or a picnic.
I also think people don’t think you’re as serious when you say your plant-based. I actively choose to stay away from animal products. When you say plant-based, people think that means you might still eat their macaroni and cheese. (I won’t.)
So the first thing you need to do when starting a plant-based diet, is throw all the garbage about what it means to be this or that right out the window. It really doesn’t matter. Who cares what they think of you or the reasons behind why you’re eating the way you do? What matters is your reasons behind why you do it and what eating decisions fit those reasons. That’s it.
I’m not against veganism, let’s be clear. And I’m not here to attack vegans, because they don’t all have this same mentality. I’m against the justifications of any group of people to judge and attack people because they don’t subscribe exactly to their rules regarding a way of living.
At no point in time do you have to justify yourself in your eating decisions or why you choose them. ESPECIALLY to strangers. Your ideology might not match up to theirs, and that’s okay. What other people think of you is none of your business. That’s on them.
Adopting a Plant-Based Diet does not require you to be perfect.
A lot of people believe they have to do things a certain “right” way when starting a plant-based diet. While that’s true to an extent, it doesn’t require perfection.
We live in a society that is hell-bent on prescribing a set of rules and demanding you follow them to a T. If you don’t, you suffer the wrath of the collective group. Or you’re told you’re “not doing it right” and won’t benefit from it.
Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Does walking on a treadmill a few times a week get you a killer set of abs and eliminate the mom-pooch? No, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it won’t do anything! You’ll still be healthier, leaner, have increased stamina, and eventually you’ll be able to do more easier.
Stop the mindset that there is a set list of rules that you must follow or you will fail. It’s just not true.
My husband decided he’s a “flexitarian” (ugh, the labels), and that fits him. Unlike me, he doesn’t have the same strong pull of conscience to eat in a way that’s best for the animals. He thinks it’s great that it’s a byproduct of what he’s doing, but he follows this diet for his health.
He started out following a fully vegan diet. After seeing a lot of health benefits and getting closer to his goal, he decided he would be more flexible. At home, he is strictly vegan. We have no dairy or animal products in our home at all.
When we go out, however, he will get cheese on his pizza and a little cream in his coffee. And that’s just fine. He’s getting the benefit he wants and making the diet work for him.
Because here’s the thing. If you’re absolutely miserable following any diet, then it’s not going to be a lifestyle change you stick with. It will be a short-term diet you resent.
You do not have to be all or nothing. Especially at first! It’s often easier to create lasting change if you ease yourself into it as you’re learning. Maybe at first you find alternatives for a few of your favorites and then slowly start eliminating more and more.
The goal is to make this a lasting change and not something you want to give up because you’re making it too hard on yourself by trying to be perfect. You don’t have to be. Just do your best and do what works for you.
How to make starting a plant-based diet easier.
There are three things I would say make it much easier to follow a plant-based diet successfully. Know yourself, know your triggers, and know your limits.
My husband is successful in his diet because he knows himself. He hates vegan cheese. Like, really hates it. Zach and I love it, but he just can’t. So when we get pizza, he gets mozzarella.
If he had to get vegan cheese, he’d never want to get pizza again. That would make him miserable. He’d also be a lot less likely to continue with this diet.
There are certain things that you may try and just find that you cannot do. As long as it’s not a ton, which signifies that maybe you just need to try harder, it’s fine. Allow yourself the few things that make it easier for you. If that’s mozzarella on your pizza and cream in your coffee, so be it.
Maybe you know that you will never be able to make yourself make lunches for work, so you buy processed foods for that one meal each day during the week. If that’s your thing, fine.
That’s a pretty good trade off for being able to eliminate animal products and processed foods the rest of the time.
Know your triggers.
When it comes to processed foods, if there are certain things you can’t resist, don’t buy them. Refuse to keep them in the house. We all have triggers that are really hard to overcome.
For me it’s chips and ice cream. If they are in the house, I WILL EAT THEM. I have to make a conscious effort to know what triggers me and stay away from it.
The same goes for certain places that may trigger you. If you have a restaurant where you know you’re going to fall down a rabbit hole of bad decisions, maybe just avoid that restaurant.
Know your triggers and avoid them as much as possible. It’ll make it feel a lot less like you’re “not allowed” to have things if you aren’t constantly confronted with having to make the decision to not have it.
Know your limits.
We all have our limits. If you feel like a plant-based diet isn’t working for you, then make some modifications.
The goal here is to be healthier. And while I firmly believe a plant-based diet that seriously limits or removes animal and processed foods is best, there are lots of people who don’t feel that way. It’s even widely debated in the medical and scientific communities.
So give it a chance, but know your limits. If something feels off, it probably is.
I was a vegetarian for 12 years, between the ages of 12 and 24. I had no inclination to eat any meat at all. Then suddenly, I started craving things I never liked. Things I’d never even had! Then my health started to get a little wonky. So I gave in and decided to start eating meat again, and I felt better.
I say that still firmly believing that meat isn’t really good for me. What I think happened is I’d become a “junk food vegetarian” for so long that I was seriously lacking in nutrition. There are lots of vegetarian things that aren’t good for you. And lots of vegetarians fall into the habit of consuming way too much pasta and bread in lieu of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans.
So if you start to feel off, think about what you’ve been eating and if you’ve been getting enough variety and eating enough. You will need to pay a little bit more attention to your food intake. This includes both what it is and how much. You’ll find that when you go plant-based, you actually eat more food.
I eat so much more than everyone else I know. My salad is processed a lot quicker and more smoothly than someone’s gigantic double cheeseburger. When they’re done eating, they feel stuffed, whereas I don’t after my salad. I’m just satisfied. So while 3 hours later they still feel full, I’m ready for a snack!
Don’t let starting a plant-based diet be overwhelming!
When you’re starting a plant-based diet, it’s really easy to find it all very overwhelming. I promise you, it doesn’t have to be! There are so many resources out there and so much support.
A few sites I’ve found particularly helpful are It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken and Oh She Glows. Tons of simple recipes to help you find alternatives to your favorites. Here’s a link to a series on Oh She Glows regarding starting a plant-based diet! Lots of tips for transitioning!
Remember, this is your journey. You are doing it for your reasons. It does not have to be perfect, follow someone else’s rules exactly, or look like what everyone else does. Because the truth is, we all do things a little differently.
Just listen to your body, know yourself and your triggers and limits, and make the choices you think are right. Don’t allow the pressure of any label get you down. As long as you’re choosing mostly plant derived foods, and really limiting those animal and processed ones, you’re on the right path.