We all want to feel better. Even if you cannot imagine succeeding at such a drastic lifestyle change, I implore you to read this 5 step formula. Not only will you learn how to kickstart a plant-based transition with success, you will gain tools that will improve your overall health and wellness. If you want want to feel better – mind, body, and soul – dig in.
Feel better – mind, body, and soul – it’s a hefty promise, and one that we’re constantly peddled, but I could not be more confident in this formula. After immersing myself in a decade of self-taught culinary exploration, and an on and off interest in nutrition – now fully on, I finally feel like I have begun to figure food out.
These 5 steps represent the culmination of what I have learned over the past year, which was a trial by fire adventure into the realm of plant-based living. Before making the choice to undergo such a drastic change, you should have a clear intention behind the why of your decision. Mine was simple.
Please note: A plant-based diet is not for everyone. Assess your own individual needs to make sure you’re eating in a way that will nurture your unique constitution.
#1. Know What You Need To Eat
Empower yourself with education.
Grocery stores, million dollar advertising campaigns, fad diets/cleanses, and chain restaurants are all counterproductive to anyone in search of optimal nutrition. Those sources do not communicate what you should be eating for a long life of wellness, and focus their efforts on attention grabbing marketing tactics. Whole-food, plant-based items do not require sexy packaging, unless you consider dirt an acceptable wrapping material.
When your consciousness is inundated with a “variety” of eye-catching items that are mostly just conglomerations of fat, salt, and sugar, it can feel as if there is so much to choose from. And having lots of choices leads you to believe that there’s probably items in the mix that are “healthier” than others, but it’s all an illusion. Nearly all packaged and processed foods are made up of corn and soy – neither of which are optimal sources of nutrition. It may feel normal, because that is the world of food we’ve grown accustomed to, but it is anything but.
Forget what you think you know about nutrition.
What are you supposed to eat?
The answer is simple, and includes anything that can be considered whole: vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, legumes, nuts, herbs, and the like. But even with the wide variety within each of those categories, pairing down to plant-based may feel very limiting and challenging. More on that in a moment.
Once you learn what to eat on a plant-based diet, it’s also important to know why.
To best explain this I turn to my nutrition guru, Dr. Michael Greger. Not familiar? Check out his nonprofit site, Nutrition Facts, for the most comprehensive guide. You can search for nearly anything related to food and get a clear answer and understanding of whether it’s good, harmful, or neutral for your body.
Dr. Greger has done his due diligence on every facet of nutrition, culminating his findings into easy to understand videos and articles, and also in his book How Not To Die – (watch that video as an intro!). You may find yourself getting increasingly curious about what goes into your body, and rightfully so. Especially if you’re suffering from, or prone to, any diseases.
But you don’t need to read his website or his book to get a super simple glimpse at what he has deemed the “daily dozen” – a list detailing the ideal breakdown of what you should be eating every day, going back to the what of plant-based.
There’s even a convenient app for it:
Clicking on any of those categories reveals an explanation, and a list of the foods it includes. For instance, “Other Vegetables” contains mushrooms, squash, okra, peas, tomatoes, beets, garlic, and much more (not all of which are vegetables, like mushrooms, which are fungi).
You may find yourself wanting to shop at new places, explore farmer’s markets, or even grow some of your own vegetables and herbs.
This can be a very fun part of going plant-based. Embrace it!
The best part of all? You don’t have to worry about protein, calories, fiber, vitamins, or any of that distracting nonsense. Seriously, you’ll be just fine (more than fine!) if you eat all that you’re supposed to. With time and commitment you’ll also start to experience weight loss, better sleep, and more energy. More on all that another time.
Boost the effects: Audit your current daily intake of food to assess how drastic or minimal the shift will be. If you’re currently just skimming the surface of plant-based, go slowly with the transition. Clean your fridge and pantry of all ingredients and items that are not in line with plant-based eating. But again, do it gradually!
#2. Tune Out All the Noise
Even educational empowerment can’t fight isolation, temptations, cravings, and connections to convenience.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we already know what we should be eating. How can you argue with whole, plant-based foods? But when you truly focus on Step #1, the next necessary move is to tune out all the noise that will continue to bombard you with counteractive messaging. You will be tempted, pressured, and feel like a hapless victim of enticing marketing.
Anywhere you look within social media someone is selling supplements, convenience-driven nutrition programs, fast fixes, cleanses, and the like. But there’s also an entirely different message out there: one boasting that happiness comes from the most gluttonous sources.
Take any fast food or chain restaurant, and think about their commercials/ad campaigns. A resounding theme will be young, beautiful, and thin people having the time of their lives as they ingest seriously unhealthy food and drinks. Add to the mix all the commercials for prescription drugs that will “fix” the problems caused by the Standard American Diet. Not to mention the fact that you’ll still have to walk the aisles of a grocery store, tempted by the forbidden fruits of your pre-plant-based life. (Never go hungry unless you’re a glutton for punishment.)
Being stuck in the middle of these confusing messages is what keeps us in the loop of constantly consuming food for status and “happiness,” then seeking quick fixes, or a pill, to “correct” those indulgences. It is immersive, overwhelming, and can feel inescapable!
Break the loop.
You’re rewriting your own rules for happiness and wellness now.
This step is arguably the most difficult.
Disconnect, meditate… reset your ingrained food algorithms. Take up kickboxing to channel the cravings and rage into a secondary body benefit – whatever you need to do. But also be patient. After a year, I am still struggling with this aspect of the transition. Often I think that going off the grid and disconnecting from modern society would be the best course of action!
But the goal is to become unshakeable in your stance, and confident in yourself. You know what’s going to fuel your body best, and why you’re making this change, so don’t let any outside noise continue to cloud that focus.
Boost the effects: Find a partner to undergo the transition with you. Support is paramount!
#3. Reclaim Your Kitchen
And kill convenience.
Now that you know what you need to be eating, and are working to become undeterred by outside noise, how are you going to make it all happen? Given the lack of whole-food, plant-based convenience items currently on the market, your kitchen is the best place to start.
Before we go there, though, let’s touch on the topic of time. We don’t have enough of it, right? While that may seem true, perhaps an audit of your days is in order. You may be surprised how much of your time gets leeched by social media, television, and other sources that aren’t serving you. Losing ourselves to these augmented and distracting worlds is another way we stay inside the loop. Break the loop!
Start giving yourself the gift of time, even if it’s just 15, 20, or 30 minutes to start. Maybe transitioning to plant-based just means one homemade meal a day, or every other day, to get the ball rolling. The investment in your health via nutrition will pay you back, tenfold. Better sleep, better energy, and more joy from connecting with real people, and real food.
But what if you’re not a cook? Can’t boil water?
Get empowered with education. Again.
Remember when the Food Network actually used to air shows that would teach you things, void of odd challenges and competitions? Ah, those were the days.
Luckily, though, we have the internet! You needn’t look far to find yourself in a rabbit hole of cooking tutorials, and I suggest you glean as much knowledge as you can. But start small – this is a marathon, not a sprint. A radical diet change can very quickly feel overwhelming, as can getting acquainted with your food from the ground up.
Here are some great resources:
- Basic Knife Skills
- The Ultimate Guide to Roasting Your Vegetables
- How to Make Basic Tomato Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes
- A Guide to Tofu Types and What to Do With Them
Boost the effects: Start using tools like Pinterest to round up your own set of resources. Keep notes on your experiences, and lists of techniques and recipes to try.
#4. Understand Our Six Tastes
Translate your taste experiences to the new world of plant-based.
If you’ve never cooked before, have no interest, or don’t think you’re very good at it – perhaps you’re missing some foundational know-how that makes cooking easy, enjoyable, and rewarding. Once you’ve started to work on the technical aspects of preparing food from scratch, start to invest some time into the creative side of things.
If you’ve tried cooking at home and found the results to be lackluster, you likely weren’t incorporating enough variety of tastes and textures in a way that was harmonious. First, get familiar with tastes.
Our Palate’s Six Tastes:
Salty: Self explanatory, should be minimally applied. Try things like seaweed as an alternative to salt.
Sweet: As your palate changes, you’ll disconnect from sugar as the main source of sweet, and enjoy that flavor via fruits, certain vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, etc), and even whole grains.
Sour: Foods with acidic flavors, like citrus, pickled and fermented foods, berries, and alcohol.
Bitter: Often not appealing alone, but can help bring out the flavor of other tastes. Think coffee and tea, raw green vegetables, turmeric, celery, and beets.
Pungent: Foods that are “sharp” tasting, like radish, ginger, onions, and mustard/spices.
Astringent: Foods that cause a feeling of “contraction” in the mouth, making it feel rough or dry, like unripe bananas, pomegranates, cabbage, tea, beans, grapes, and sprouts.
Notice how these tastes don’t come from sources like meat and animal byproducts.
Getting to know the six tastes, and all the new foods you’ll likely start experimenting with, should be a fun endeavor. Cooking will become a puzzle of making them all work together.
But it’s worth noting that your palate will probably need a bit of spring training. If you’ve been eating mostly meat and dairy for a while, your tastebuds have been missing out on an array of flavors. And colors! Your mouth has likely been coated with salty and sugary for a while, which will need a bit of detox time. You may even think that going plant-based would mean losing flavors. But you’d be wrong. Again, patience is key.
Once you’ve got the six tastes in your mind, think of all the textures and mouthfeels you love: Creamy, crunchy, crispy, soft, firm, hot, cold, gelatinous, sticky, oily, buttery, cheesy, crumbly, doughy, flaky, gooey, pickled, smoky, vinegary, acidic, tart, prickly, tangy, unctuous, earthy, spicy, floral, woody, salty….
You should continue to seek out all of the tastes, textures, and mouthfeels that you love. This is not about suffering! Making your own plant-based meals will eventually become a creative challenge of figuring out how to integrate all of those elements in a way that is balanced and delicious.
If it seems intimidating, know that it will get easier. And again, start simple. You’re learning an entirely new way to eat and compose a plate of food. Be patient.
Boost the effects: Treat yourself to a meal at a vegan/plant-based restaurant to give yourself an idea of how to make these whole ingredients shine. And to give yourself a day off from the kitchen!
#5. Infuse It All With Love
As formulaic and scientific as food and nutrition can be, there is an important element that cannot be quantified.
Have you ever tried to replicate a family recipe, only to find that it didn’t taste quite as good as the original? Maybe you tried cooking when you were in a bad mood, and could sense it in the finished product. There is a feeling that food requires – a love and care – that adds that extra oomph, elevating food from sustenance to special.
There will be many days during a plant-based transition that bring up a lot of confronting challenges. Even with a clear mindset of why you’re doing it, and how to do it, plus carved out time to get it all done – it may feel impossible. And in those moments, you need to get centered and show yourself a little love. Maybe a lot of love. That goes for what you’re eating as well.
Making the choice to feed your body a seemingly “radical,” yet simple diet will not happen seamlessly. Here’s the story of how drastic and jarring it was for me, and it continues to be an uphill battle.
Boost the effects: On the days when you completely abandon or fail at plant-based eating, forgive yourself. Love yourself. Tomorrow is a new day.
These 5 steps are all about patience, allocating time to learning and incorporating new habits, and approaching the transition with long term goals in mind. You’re starting over, cultivating a new connection to food, and giving little gifts of commitment to your future self. Keep that person in mind when the going gets rough.
At your own pace, embrace each step as best as you can:
- Know what you should eat, use the daily dozen as your guide.
- Ignore all the noise, distractions, and temptations. Break the loop!
- Make time to reclaim your kitchen and learn necessary techniques.
- Understand our six tastes, and how to balance them through flavors and textures.
- Infuse your food, and your body, with love.
Here’s to feeding ourselves in a way that serves our mind, bodies, and souls!
This post is part of my Plant-Based Life series.
If you are interested in transitioning to plant-based, or just want to eat healthier, these posts will be helpful in facilitating those changes.
A plant-based diet is not for everyone, and I am not qualified to administer advice on what you should be eating. This series is merely a breakdown of what I have learned over the past year, and what has worked for me after much experimentation, research, and trial by fire. I hope you will seek out the best diet for your individual constitution so you can thrive as well.