How To Become A Vegetarian, According To 7 People Who’ve Been There
If you're thinking of becoming a vegetarian, you may be balking at the amount of work involved. Finding replacements for your go-to late-night sausage sandwiches, learning new recipes, clearing out the ancient frozen burritos from your freezer isn't an act of Kondo-ing you can do in a weekend. But people who've gone through it say it's not as hard as it looks. The transition to vegetarianism can lead you to big discoveries about flavor, ethics, sustainability, and more. All it takes, vegetarians tell Bustle, is a little forward planning.
Anybody who's committing to being vegetarian for the first time needs to ensure they're getting enough nutrition, Dr. Nadja Pinnavaia Ph.D., founder of vegetarian food business Plantable, tells Bustle. "Make sure you're getting enough plant-based protein for satiety," she says. "Incorporate beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet to keep blood sugar stable and energy up." She also recommends increasing your water intake, as switching to vegetarian diet with a lot of whole foods will likely mean you're eating a lot more fiber, which can increase your risk of dehydration and constipation.
Another tip? Don't go it alone. Here are the best ways to go vegetarian, according to people who've made the change from omnivorous to plant-based eating.
"My only advice would be to rip the Band-Aid off quickly. Reducing meat slowly probably works for some people, but it might discourage others. To succeed, I suggest trying out the vegetarian or pescatarian diet for a whole year and then decide to keep going or not. It's a habit, like any other, and it's not easy at the beginning. For months, I was craving meat and my skin was breaking out due to the diet changes. But now, I'm so happy I did it."
"I made the transition in one weekend! I stopped meat, alcohol, gluten, and coffee for 30 then 60 days and felt so much better.
"This past January, I participated in Veganuary, which meant 31 days of no meat, seafood, or dairy. It was a challenge at first but then I got creative. I spit my fridge in half and put vegan stuff on the right and everything else on the left. I’m not sure that I will never have seafood again and I’m down for the occasional omelette, but I absolutely won’t ever go back to chicken, steak, and so on."
"My entire family went vegetarian when I was a kid in the '90s, back when being vegetarian was far less trendy than it is today. My advice is to recognize that there are two main approaches to main dietary changes. Some people quit meat cold turkey, while others plan a gradual transition. The downside to the cold turkey method is that it can be a bit of a shock on the body. I recommend a gradual transition period of several months or even half a year.
"It will take the body time to adjust to a new diet. I eat legumes four to six times per week, and a ton of vegetables. If you’re not used to this, your gut will start producing painful gas and other unmentionable symptoms that you will find discouraging.
"You’ll need to be prepared for friends and family to ask a lot of questions. Nobody likes a crusading vegetarian, but they’ll be more likely to listen to you talk about your tempeh if you show some courtesy for their chicken wings."
"I've been vegetarian for about 13 years. I highly recommend avoiding late-night food or bar-food situations in the beginning, as vegetarian options will be limited and you'll be more tempted to nosh on whatever is easy and available. If you're at a meat-heavy restaurant with limited veggie options, you can always ask your waiter what they recommend. Very often the kitchen will offer to whip something up for you that will be outstanding and off the menu.
"Be sure to allow yourself access to other foods that you love, even if, or especially if, they're indulgent and bring you joy. Most importantly, if you get into a situation where you slip up in the beginning, don't be too hard on yourself and don't use it as an excuse to give up completely. Changing habits long-term is hard!"
"Pick one consistent meal and see how it can be modified to align with a vegetarian approach. A whole day may feel overwhelming, so starting small can help build momentum.
"Look outside of the processed foods section at the store and limit making direct swaps. If you typically have bacon with breakfast, don't automatically replace it with soy-based bacon. Instead, look to different, minimally processed protein-rich foods to enjoy on the side.
"When possible, opt for adding plant-based proteins (pea protein, flax, chia seeds, etc.) versus animal-based (cheese, eggs, milk) to meals. Most Americans fall short in reaching their daily dietary goals, so this will help increase fiber and limit saturated fat and dietary cholesterol."
"Start experimenting with plant-based protein choices before fully cutting out all animal products. Choose tofu, tempeh, beans, and other proteins you may not be used to using in cooking. Try out one to two new recipes per week and learn the style of vegetarian meal prep, which can seem different at first.
"Discard the expectation that you need to find something that tastes just like meat or cheese! While it's absolutely possible to mimic these flavors, we are limiting the possibility of exploring fantastic flavors by trying to stick with only the flavors we're familiar with.
"Keep a food journal, at least in your initial transition. Choosing plant-based can mean a lot of behavioral and dietary fluctuations. In the process, it can be really easy to become nutrient-deficient. A food journal can be helpful in keeping your favorite new food ideas that can be pulled back out for later.
"Expect to shop more frequently. Since the bulk of your choices are plant-based, these can perish more quickly. Keep dried goods like beans, lentils, grains, seeds, and spices on hand.
"Keep in mind all your efforts are just feedback. If you're experimenting and create an absolutely terrible meal, use it as a teaching moment. Try to identify what went wrong to make something incredible next time."
"My best advice would be to find a group of like-minded people. It can be in real life or on Facebook, but it’s easiest to stay on track if you are part of a community. There are tons of great 'vegetarian for beginners' groups on Facebook where you can ask questions, get recipe inspiration and more.
"Don't put yourself in a rut. Try lots of different foods, meat substitutes, fruits, and vegetables, and try making them in new ways. When you rely on meat to bring the main flavors to most your meals, you are actually missing out on lots of great, and extremely nutritious foods! Challenge yourself to find a new vegetable in the supermarket to try out. If you don’t live in an area with any vegetarian specialty foods, there are a lot of places you can order from online."
Whether you choose to take it slow or make a quick change, the switch to vegetarianism doesn't have to be a chore. The world is more vegetarian-friendly than ever — and with a bit of preparation, transitioning to a meat-free diet can be headache-free. And it's very easy to find vegan dark chocolate.