There is much evidence that the standard American diet—centered on animal and processed foods—is fueling chronic diseases, and that a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat and increase life expectancy. However, knowing the extraordinary benefits of plant-centered eating often does not translate into sustained practice. If you are transitioning to a plant-centered diet, here are eight steps to make the change less overwhelming and substantially more successful.
1. Know Your Purpose
What motivates you to want to change? People who have a clear vision of why they want to make changes are much more likely to follow through with establishing new habits. (My purpose was I really didn’t want cancer to return!) Setting a personal and meaningful reason for changing your eating patterns will help solidify the commitment and perseverance needed to create lifelong habits.
Consider working with another person as you make changes. A like-minded partner will help you follow through with intentions and make your food journey more enjoyable. Grocery shopping and experimenting with recipes can be more fun with a friend or family member, and a partner can also be an invaluable source of moral support as you make the transition.
3. Start Small
Don’t expect to master the full scope of plant-based eating immediately. Begin with a small, concrete step that you can put into action now. Focus on something that’s practical and meaningful for you. For example, sautéing with water instead of oil, using a plant-based milk, or eating plant-based meals for one week. Concentrating on smaller, achievable steps will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed into inaction.
As you move along, think about what does and does not work for you and what you want to tweak. Share these results with your partner or support group. Know that you are more apt to follow through with change if you are mindful of successes—and failures—and share these with others.
5. Use Resources
There are a host of expert organizations, professionals, materials, and groups committed to educating and supporting your transition to plant-based eating. Examples are the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart from PCRM, frozen plant-based meals from PlantPure Nation, and WFPB Eating Guide, recipes, and cooking tips from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
6. Anticipate Obstacles
Social customs often work against maintaining a plant-based lifestyle. Therefore, expect that your dietary change will result in challenging situations. Think ahead to circumstances you’ll likely face during upcoming family holidays and celebrations, work situations, and social gatherings. This will help you feel prepared and emboldened. After all, you don’t want others’ expectations to weaken your dedication to this healthful lifestyle.
7. Find a Support Group
Feeling isolated and without support is the main reason plant-based eaters revert to animal foods. Therefore, do seek a support network. Both face-to-face and online communities are great tools for motivating, educating, and sharing. Search for local meet-up events, nearby festivals, adult education classes, and cooking demonstrations. Seek online communities, such as CNS’s free CNS Kitchen Community. Being part of a plant-based community can be key to sustaining your plant-based lifestyle.
Celebrate any and all changes you make to better your health. Focus on the self-satisfaction that comes from instilling simple yet significant changes. And do be patient with yourself. Know that trying out ideas and creating new habits takes time. Accept missteps, and then move on—it will be worth it!
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