How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet [For Beginners]
You don’t know where to begin.
You dream of eating a whole-food plant-based diet, but how exactly is it done?
How do you know if you’re doing it in a healthy way?
Cue Sheri Goodman Graham. As a plant-based dietician in Los Angeles, she has tons of advice for anyone nervous (or clueless) about transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle.
After interviewing Sheri, I compiled some of her best tips in this article. Scroll down to read her first piece of advice!
Find Your Why (And Write It Down)
What do you want?
A lighter footprint?
The first step in transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle is pinpointing YOUR reason for wanting it. Remember this when you feel overwhelmed or deprived throughout your journey.
You can even write it on your mirror or fridge so it’s always on your mind!
If you need some inspiration, check out these videos and articles of other awesome people explaining their “why”:
Talk to an Expert (A Certified One)
Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle can be overwhelming. What if you do it wrong?
Ask an expert.
Consulting with a professional can help give you confidence that you’re staying healthy and making smart choices. Registered dieticians and nutritionists are the most informed and will give you accurate information.
If you can’t afford to meet with an expert, read informational books about a whole food plant-based diet. Always look for verified, reputable research in order to ensure accurate information.
Sheri’s Pro tip:
Read How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger, The Starch Solution by John McDougall, and Sheri’s ebook The 7 Amazing Steps You Need to Love Living Plant-Based.
Need help finding a dietitian in your area?
Check out these websites:
Choose Your Own Plant-based Adventure
When trying something new, do you:
- Dive in headfirst?
- Start by getting your toes wet?
When it comes to lifestyle changes, most people like getting their toes wet first. It’s more manageable and less overwhelming. You’ll be more likely to stick to the change because your mind and body are adjusting slowly.
When transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, most people take about 6 weeks. They cut out one animal product at a time or transition one meal at a time.
Some people want to jump all in headfirst. If that sounds like you, start by throwing away all processed food and all animal products. If it’s not in your fridge, you can’t eat it!
Here are some super helpful videos to get you started. Some talk about going plant-based and some give general goal-setting advice:
If jumping all-in sounds crazy to you, slow down and take the first step:
Start with the Most Important Meal of the Day
A plant-based breakfast doesn’t require huge adjustments.
Swap out cow’s milk for soy or almond milk. Buy blueberries and raspberries to top your bowl of oatmeal. You can even make or buy your own vegan yogurt.
Whatever you choose, keep it simple.
This is just the first change! Focus on what you can ADD into your diet, not what you’re taking out.
And if you need some inspiration, here are a few quick vegan breakfast recipes:
Eat at least One Cup of Beans/Legumes a Day
Worried about getting enough protein?
Add in 1 cup of legumes every day!
One cup of edamame gives you almost 29 grams of protein. Black beans and kidney beans have about 15 grams of protein.
Try getting in ½ cup at lunch and ½ cup at dinner.
Here are some legume options: split peas, roman beans, chickpeas, green peas, soybeans, black beans, red beans, mung beans, red lentils, black-eyed peas, green lentils.
“But what about bloating and gas?”
This is a common concern. Generally, people transitioning to a plant-based diet can experience bloating because they’re eating more food and WAY more fiber.
There are lots of tips and tricks to help with bloating, including drinking more water, decreasing your fiber intake, and eating slowly. Here’s a video you can check out that gives some great tips.
Modify your diet based on your body’s response. If you don’t like your body’s reaction to beans, try lentils instead.
Don’t know how to cook beans or lentils?
These recipes could help:
Don’t Be Scared of Fruit
Fruit is not your enemy.
Eating a whole food, plant-based diet means ALL plants—including fruit!
Don’t worry about the natural sugars in fruit. Lots of people find that when they eat fruit, they’re satisfied with the sugar and they stop craving desserts.
Whole, raw fruit provides you with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Fruit juice is less beneficial because the fiber is removed, so stick to eating the entire fruit if you can.
To learn more about the scientific evidence supporting fruit, read this article.
Then just go for it!
Substitute banana “ice cream” for normal ice cream. Throw some berries in your smoothie. Your body will thank you!
Cook in Batches
What’s the biggest roadblock for people, like you, who are starting a plant-based lifestyle?
So instead of cooking for 45-60 minutes every night, cook in batches.
Take one afternoon to cut up all your vegetables and cook all your recipes. Then when you get home after a long day of work or errands, all you have to do is warm up your meal.
Buy an Instant Pot! Cooking beans and rice is so much easier with a pressure cooker. Also, if you’re super pressed for time, buy frozen veggies and rice that only require reheating.
Never meal prepped before?
Check out these resources from people who really know what they’re doing:
Exercise… But Be Cautious
Exercise is good. But…
Be careful if your body is carrying a bunch of extra weight.
If you already have an exercise routine, keep it up! If you don’t, take extra caution so you don’t injure your joints.
When in doubt, consult a trainer for exercises that are safe for you.
(Harvard published an article with tips to exercise safely. You can read it here.)
Don’t Worry about Protein
It’s a myth.
If you do it right, you’ll have plenty of protein on a plant-based diet.
The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 10-15% of your calories come from protein, which is easy if you’re eating whole grains and legumes.
“But what about complete proteins?”
A complete protein is a food that contains all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can’t make for themselves.
You don’t have to eat complete proteins at every meal because you can combine certain foods to make complete proteins. For example, lentils and rice together make a complete protein. Tortillas and beans make a complete protein.
And it gets better:
Contrary to popular belief, there are complete plant proteins:
Quinoa, buckwheat, soy, hemp seed, chia seed, algae flour, amaranth, and pea protein.
If you’ve never cooked with those ingredients before, find a yummy recipe online and just go for it!
Oftentimes plant-based “meat alternatives” aren’t healthier than real meat. However, one healthy option is Field Roast sausage, which is especially good for people who are beginning to switch to plant-based.
To get you started, here are recipes that incorporate the complete plant proteins listed above:
Prepare for Disappointment
Yes, there are benefits (several) to eating plant-based.
But don’t blind yourself to the negative consequences.
At the beginning, you might feel lonely when you’re the only one not eating donuts at your work meeting. You might feel deprived because you aren’t getting cheese or processed foods.
This is natural and even expected! Your body becomes addicted to sugar and dairy products, so of course it will miss those things.
Don’t worry, though:
After 60 days, most people are over their cravings.
So instead of feeling sad when you get those cravings, feel proud of yourself! You’re taking control of your body and not letting food control you. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Although you need to prepare yourself for a small negative reaction from your body (stopping addictions isn’t fun), also be prepared for a ton of positive reactions! Most people lose a lot of weight in the beginning, and they see immediate decreases in their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. You’ll also feel really full if you aren’t used to eating so much fiber!
Don’t Be Pushy with Your Family
Focus on yourself.
If you try to wrestle your loved ones into a plant-based lifestyle, it will just make them fight more. Instead, cook your plant-based meals and if you have to, put their meat with it on their plate.
When they see that you are losing weight, or that you have more energy, or that your skin has a new glow, they might change their mind.
If your partner is willing, watch Game Changers with them on Netflix. It’s a documentary that highlights the success of plant-based athletes. More than anything, it shows that eating meat is a choice, not a need, and that you can be athletic and healthy without animal protein.
Take a Deep Dive into Restaurant Menus
You can go to a steakhouse and eat a plant-based meal.
Investigate the menu.
Look for potatoes, steamed vegetables, pasta, and salads. The appetizer section is usually a great place to start. Remember that your waiter can also be helpful at offering substitutions.
If you want to find plant-based restaurants, check out Happy Cow. Enter your zip code and a list of restaurants near you will appear.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Start small—baby steps are better than no steps. Use all the books, documentaries, and recipes at your disposal to help you feel confident in what you’re doing.
Remember that it could be hard for you to break your dairy/sugar addiction, but after a few weeks, you’ll have more energy, a clearer mind, and fewer health issues.
More than anything, remember your WHY.
Don’t give up on yourself or your goals. You can do it!
Special thanks to dietitian Sheri Goodman Graham for her expert advice on living a plant-based lifestyle! Check out her website to see client success stories or to look into one-one-one coaching: https://sherigoodmangraham.com/