I first tried lamb chops when I was five years old. I watched my dad hand select each one at the butcher shop, coat them in a Dijon garlic rub, and place them side-by-side on the grill. I remember the satisfying sizzle they made as they hit the iron rods. The second I sank my teeth into that tender, medium rare chop - juice running down my chin and dripping off my elbows – that was the moment my love for meat and my passion for food began.
By the time I was 15, I’d graduated from lamb chops, moving on to more exotic cuts: boiled calf brain, Rocky Mountain oysters, haggis, fish eyes, frog legs. There was nothing I wouldn’t try. At 17, I was eating about a pound of bacon a week. In college, it was burgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And before my 20th birthday, I was a proud Buffalo Wild Wings Challenge Survivor. As a fit, college athlete, I didn’t think twice about my eating habits, and had even trashed the idea of veganism to friends.
Today, I am 100% plant-based and have no regrets. While I changed my diet mostly for philosophical reasons, I’ve reaped the health benefits as well, from fewer allergies to more energy.
The most common thing people say about changing their diet is it’s too hard to give up their favorite foods. And they’re right – it is hard (at first). But from one meat lover to another, it’s doable. You’ll need a little willpower to start, but the good news is: those cravings dissipate, sooner than you expect.
OK, OK…how do you get to that point? A few insider tips:
1. Try it for a month
You can do anything for a month, right? Challenge yourself to go four weeks without animal products or processed foods.
In just one month, you may find your energy levels increase, your sleep patterns improve, and your body fat decrease. And you may come out of it with some new favorite meals and snacks. Above all else, you’ll gain the confidence needed to break through your self-doubt. It’s like jumping into a cold pool. Sometimes it’s easier to take the leap if you know you can get right out, but once you’re in you find it’s not so unbearable after all, and you might even enjoy yourself.
2. Stock your fridge!
Be prepared! Look up a few simple, go-to recipes online, Try these easy plant-based swaps. Stock up on plant-based foods you like (there will be time for experimentation later). Fill the kitchen with snack foods like trail mix, veggies and hummus, apples and peanut butter, and granola so you don’t give up when cravings hit. And never grocery shop while hungry!
3. One day at a time
If making the transition gradually is a better choice for you, first cut out meat. Give yourself time to learn a few recipes featuring your favorite vegetables. Discover new spices! Teach yourself how to cook vegetables well (I promise – they’re delicious).
After you’re confident with your new recipes, cut back on something else – like eggs or cheese. Make a savory tofu scramble for Sunday morning brunch. Experiment with a few plant-based mac and cheese recipes online (spoiler alert: soaked, blended cashews are creamier than you ever could have imagined). Eventually, you’ll have so many new skills and meal ideas, you can stop purchasing animal products all together. The easiest way to avoid eating cheese is to not have it accessible.
4. Cut yourself some slack
This isn’t a diet – it’s a lifestyle! It’s not about counting calories or losing points. Never beat yourself up over how you eat. Enjoy a mostly plant-based diet, but if you down half a cheese plate at your friend’s dinner party (speaking from experience), don’t think of it as “cheating.” Think of it as being flexible. Eating plant-based is not a contest or a game; you don’t drop out if you “cheat. Instead, thank yourself for how far you’ve come!
Whichever approach you take, remember to never deprive yourself. The overall goal is eat, feel, and be healthier by eating more whole and plant-based foods. And with each plant-based day, think about how much better you feel, how you’re taking steps to save the planet, and how you’ve uncovered a whole new style of cooking. It’s simple: eat your fruits and veggies, now go out and play!
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By Caroline DiNicola Fawley