Starting a plant-based diet in 2021 and wondering how to make your resolution a reality? We hear you! So many of us have the best of intentions in January, only to see our goals elude us come February. And sure, everyone would like to “become a better person,” “be more charitable,” or “get healthier" for the new year, but vague goals like that can be unfocused, overwhelming, or unattainable. Make your plant-based hopes a reality this year by taking these 6 steps towards your New Year's resolution. (And bonus: these tips don't just apply to plant-based eating; they're helpful for any last changing you want to make this year and beyond!)
Before We Begin: Kickstart Your Healthy 2021
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1. Know Your WHY
WHY do you want to “get healthier” with a plant-based diet? Do you want to be able to keep up with your grandchildren? Do you want to avoid that triple bypass? Maybe you just want to feel less tired on a day-to-day basis.
Here's a good exercise for finding your "why:"
I want to feel/or have _________________.
So that/or because __________________.
Once you've identified your why, write it down and tape it to the mirror above your sink, and repeat it out loud each morning to yourself in the mirror after you brush your teeth.
“I want to get healthier so that I can get back into downhill skiing..." You get the gist!
2. A Little Positive Reinforcement Goes a Long Way!
Just as you're going to repeat your “why” each morning after you brush your teeth, each night after you brush your teeth, you’re going to give yourself some positive reinforcement (it actually works!). Tell yourself, “Good job, you are one step closer to your goal because you did X today.”
Maybe “X” was just drinking an extra glass of water, or maybe it was running three miles. Either way, you deserve a pat on the back, even if it’s from yourself (might as well be. You are, after all, your own biggest critic).
6 Steps Towards Your Plant-Based New Year's Resolution
OK, so now that we've gotten that (important) housekeeping out of the way, let's talk about HOW will you “get healthier” with your new plant-based diet.
My advice? Start with one obtainable goal at a time. It takes an average of two months to form a habit, so set yourself up with 6 goals max for the year. It will be tempting to rush into them all at once, but take your time. They are more likely to stick that way.
Next time you sit down to watch a movie, get inspired for your year of health by watching a plant-based documentary, like Game Changers or Forks Over Knives.
Mark your calendar with your new goals RIGHT NOW, or set alarms in your phone (daily!) if need be. If you are able to reach one new health goal every two months, by the end of the year you will feel amazing, prevent (potentially even reverse!) disease, and meet your 2021 goals!
Need help setting six goals? Here are some great goals for anyone starting a plant-based diet, along with a timeline to keep you on track for a healthy new year.
Goal #1: Drink More Water
January and February
For the months of January and February your focus is going to be on drinking more water. By the end of the two months, your goal is to be drinking 8+ glasses of water a day.
Go into your garage, cabinet, or basement and grab a large pitcher that can hold at least 64oz of water (about 8 cups). Fill it to the brim each morning and leave it in your refrigerator. If you’d like, flavor it with lemon, lime, cucumber, or strawberries (fancy!).
After you brush your teeth first thing in the morning, drink one cup of water. Before breakfast, lunch and dinner, sit down at the table and drink two cups of water. Do not start your meal until you have drank it all. Before you shower (especially if it’s a hot shower!) drink one cup of water.
If you don’t work from home, buy yourself a large insulated thermos that holds at least 55-oz of water to bring with you. The beauty of this is that in the wintertime you can bring warm water with a tea bag, and in the summer you can keep your water nice and cold. Make sure you have an 8-oz or 16-oz cup to pour your thermos into!
After February is over, reassess. Have you been drinking your eight cups of water a day or more consistently? If it’s been a total bust, move on to the next goal but keep water-drinking at the back of your mind. You may find that now that the pressure is off, you are more likely to stick to it!
Already drink 8 glasses of water a day? Make 1 gallon your goal!
Goal #2: Eat Less Dairy
March and April
Pro Tip: Never shop hungry — drink this before you head to the grocery store to fill up right.
Now that you've had your smoothie, head to the store. When you’re there, purchase non-dairy milk instead of dairy milk. There will be quite a variety to choose from, so each time you shop select a different brand or kind to try. You will eventually zero in on your favorite. Need some guidance? Check out our guide to non-dairy milk here.
Along those same lines, focus on unsweetened non-dairy yogurts if you enjoy yogurt. Other than milk and yogurt, most non-dairy products (like dairy products) are highly processed and expensive. Check out the ingredients on the back and make sure you recognize them. Here's how to read nutrition labels the right way, FYI!
If you’re just transitioning away from dairy for the first time, use a bit of non-dairy cheese and butters here and there, but try to avoid them ultimately.
In the first week of March, learn to make cashew cream and use it in place of cream, cream cheese, cheese, and even milk. This will make your life much easier.
If you’re at a friends house or out to eat don’t worry too much about being 100% compliant all the time. Enjoy that slice of pizza or bag of buttered popcorn, and don’t let it derail you. If you're feeling deprived, sprinkle a little bit of cheese on your pasta, just avoid using it as a main ingredient.
Once April is over, reassess: Are you still drinking 8 glasses of water a day? Do you mostly enjoy non-dairy foods?
Already cut out dairy? Try cutting out processed non-dairy cheese.
Goal #3: Get Moving
May and June
The weather has just started to get nice (depending on where you live — we are up in New England so it’s always a tossup). This is a great opportunity for you to get outside, and get moving.
And I know it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel to say this, but it makes a huge difference: take the stairs instead of the elevator in 2021!
For the person starting from square one:
If your definition of a workout is taking a long walk with your dog, that’s awesome! Did you know moderate exercise like walking is something that is consistently found in Blue Zones (the areas of the world where people live the longest)? Your goal is to get your heart rate up for 15 minutes straight two times a week.
For the month of May, you are going to take a fast paced, or uphill walk for at least 15 minutes once a week. For the month of June, you’re going to make it twice a week. Get a walking buddy or bring your dog to motivate you! Start with Tuesdays and add Thursdays for the second month.
For the person who is active, but doesn’t like to workout:
Start a new sport! This is a really fun way to exercise without having to run or go to the gym (ugh, I’m there with you). Join a pickleball team, or a kickball league.
Rather do it solo? No worries, grab an inexpensive tennis racket and hit tennis balls against your garage door, or a brick building in your area. This is not only great exercise, but it also helps you with your hand-eye coordination. Not a tennis fan? Grab a soccer ball, or lacrosse stick and ball and do the same. Wall ball is a great exercise, no matter how you play the game.
Try to do your new sport of choice at least one time a week for the month of May, and twice a week for the month of June. Start with Tuesdays and add Thursdays for the second month. Continue any other
For the person who exercises weekly:
If you consistently exercise, you may already know what you’re doing. Increase your reps, your distance, or give yourself a goal for a timed mile. You’ve got this!
Already hit the gym a ton? Try incorporating yoga or meditation into your daily routine.
Goal #4: Choose Whole Grains
July and August
Time to make the switch to whole grains!
This is your chance to fall in love with black and and edamame pasta. They are surprisingly chewy, and delicious. Try a few brands to zero in on your favorite. If all else fails, try brown rice pasta (you may not even notice the difference!).
Speaking of brown rice, choose it over white rice next time. Give wild rice, or even black rice a try while you’re at it. And have you discovered quinoa yet? It’s even easier to make than rice (ready in 15 minutes!). That in itself is motivation.
Love you some bread? That's cool. You can eat bread on a healthy plant-based diet but definitely shop smart here. Just because your bread isn’t white doesn’t mean it’s “whole grain.” Check your added sugar content. If you crumple it into a ball in your hand does it stay there or spring back (it should spring back). Is each grain listed as “whole” or just one or two. 8-grain doesn’t mean 8 whole grains. Try Dave’s Killer Bread, or even Ezekiel bread . Anything you can enjoy whole grain, do! You’ll get more protein, fiber, and minerals with each bite. And don’t worry about carbs… whole carbs don’t cause weight gain.
Already eat whole grains? Try adding legume pasta into your diet for a protein boost.
Goal #5: Eat Less Meat
September and October
Hey, you’ve already done so much to improve your health that cutting out meat will be a piece of cake! Not ready to ditch it totally? No problem. Enjoy it at friends' houses, but when you eat out or grocery shop, avoid the meat section all together. Power your life with plants! You may find that this transition is even easier than reducing your dairy intake. We have plenty of meat-free resources to help.
Already a vegetarian? Try cutting out eggs too! Vegan? Try cutting out fake meat.
Goal #6: Enjoy a colorful plate
November and December
If you’ve been able to turn your lifestyle around in a matter of months… good for you! Change is hard, and even if only two of your goals stuck, you are still doing better than you were in 2020. Drink that water, walk that hill, drink that soy milk! And make it your final 2021 goal to increase the variety of foods on your plate.
The best way to ensure you’re getting balanced nutrients is to simply eat a variety of colorful plant-based foods. Start with making sure there are at least three different colors on your plate, then increase to five in December.
If you skip a day or two, get back on track tomorrow. Fruits and veggies are colorful as heck, so this goal may be reachable in the first week! If you’re struggling, keep some shredded raw carrots, sliced zucchini, and diced tomatoes on hand to sprinkle onto the tops of your dinners.
Already enjoy variety? Woohoo! We love it :)
Some of these goals will stick, and others will fade. In the end, you will have developed the skills to apply each and every one of them…so when the sun sets on 2021 you can decide what you want to carry into the new year.
If you were even able to get into the habit of doing two of these goals regularly, you have completed two New Year's resolutions — and that’s impressive!
Give yourself acknowledgment, feel pride, and use this formula to reach your 2022 goals, too.
And remember, if you need some help jumpstarting your 2021 goals, we've got you covered with our MamaSezz Get Me Started Bundle.
- Use positive reinforcement to reach your goals
- Make it a goal to accomplish one thing every two months.
- Our top 6 goals toward the ultimate goal of starting a plant-based diet for your health in 2021: Drink more water, eat less dairy, get moving, choose whole grains, eat less meat, add more color to your plate.
- And don't forget to be proud of your accomplishments along the way. You're doing great!
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.