The very first thing I am going to say is this – if you have decided you want to transition to a plant-based diet please make sure it is something you truly want to do, not something you think you should do. Don’t do it because someone else does it, because it’s the latest trend, because you want to lose weight. From my personal and external experience taking this approach isn’t sustainable. You won’t be able to fully embrace the experience and quality of life that a plant-based lifestyle has to offer you. So maybe give it a bit more time until it becomes something you want, or maybe keep reading and I’ll convince you its right for you. It needs to become an internal shift in your mindset, and trust me you will realise when that happens.
If though, in your heart of hearts you believe you are ready to transition and the only thing holding you back is fear of the unknown then let me offer you my experience and thoughts on how I made the transition. Maybe it can act as a guide to help inform your journey or maybe it will plant a seed, which will flourish later on.
One thing before I start, this isn’t going to be a ‘Quick and super easy ten step guide to becoming a plant-based warrior in 10 days – plus, how you can make $1 million in 3 days!!!’ No, my approach is fostered on small steps and slow steady progress. For me it took over 5 years to fully transition and although I don’t think you need that long, I do believe in slowly easing into it and I don’t believe in the cold tofurky approach. It’s taken me a long time to become fully plant powered!
Why you would want to be plant based
Traditionally there are three reasons people adopt a plant-based diet – for ethical reasons (animals), for the environment and for their health. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think we can class people as different types of vegans because it’s a lot more complex than that. But, it is usually a stronger belief in one of these three reasons that set people down this path. I like to consider them as the three pillars of veganism. One always starts off with a super strong pillar, which sets the foundations for the transition. They will become more enlightened as a result of this lifestyle and will start to incorporate the other two pillars into the foundations of their vegan value and belief system. This lifestyle and the three pillars are all driven by compassion – I believe all humans are compassionate beings and it is when they start listening to their compassionate heart and start thinking of adopting a plant based lifestyle that they naturally become more compassionate. For example, an ethical vegan as well as just caring about the animals, will start to consider compassion towards the planet or themselves. It is inevitable.
I would say I first went vegetarian for the environment, as it’s something I care deeply about. A little while later I became aware of the health benefits and now I am completely involved personally in the ethical side. This isn’t to say I never cared about the others before, or to say that your chosen pillar is ethical and you don’t care about your health. It’s to say that as humans we are extremely passionate about the things that drive us, and I believe that from here great changes are possible. By having the support of a chosen pillar that we can lean on and rely on, it can make starting our journey that much more real, that much more driven. So what’s your pillar? Listen to your heart and you will know.
Take it slowly
So you have something that really drives you and you have made that mental shift to wanting to become plantbased. That is amazing but now you need to know how to make it happen. The first thing you need to do is either literally tell yourself you are going to go vegan or write it down. I remember hearing once that if you have a desire that you want to make a reality then write it down, make it real. Both of these approaches work because you are telling your sub-conscious that you want to make a shift and it is something it can grab onto. Literally for the first week or two of your transition this is all I would do – instead of saying ‘right from this point on I’m never eating animal products again!’ compassionately tell yourself that you would no longer like to consume animals products and leave it at that. As time goes by I promise you, you will surprise yourself with your actions. You might be at a restaurant one day and without even planning it you’ll think, hey I might have the vegetarian or vegan option today. Or you’ll be ordering coffee and think, I might just try it with dairy free milk today and see how it tastes. As time passes and you gradually make these changes, the normality of a plant based lifestyle will gradually find it’s way into your life without you even noticing or realising it.
It’s all about not torturing or restricting yourself – this will create only bad experiences and negative emotions towards a plant based lifestyle. You might be able to put up with this for a while, but eventually you will give in and be left with a negative opinion on becoming vegan and be one of those people who say “I tried being vegan, it was just too hard, its not for me”. Being vegan isn’t hard once you’ve learnt the basics, I promise you! And fuelling your body with nutritious plants is for everyone.
Sometimes though it can be really helpful to say, ‘right, today I want to stop eating this’. Say for example you decide to cut out chicken. By taking a small step like this and telling yourself you don’t have to stick to it, you become more accustomed to the fact that you don’t need animal products in your life and that you can live without them. Once you have adapted to this change and you’re ready you might decide to remove cow from your diet. Because you are taking it slowly you don’t feel like you are restricting yourself, therefore the changes become something you want to do, not something you have to do.
I remember for me there was one day where I saw lambs frolicking in a field and I thought right, there is no way I can consciously chose to consume those living beings any more. Eventually I cut out pig, then cow, then all meat. A couple years later I remember reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run and deciding that I was going to cut out dairy and eggs right that moment. So I went out bought almond milk, then the next morning I decided no omelet, I’ll have cereal instead. Well the milk tasted disgusting and I felt completely deprived and unsatisfied. This same charade happened once more, and it wasn’t until on a bus in Peru after watching Cowspiracy that I made the mental shift and decision to go vegan. My experience was full of mistakes and challenging experiences, but one thing I did right was take my time and allowed myself to make mistakes without punishing myself. I let my body naturally transition to what I believe is our body’s natural diet.
Every now and then I would stumble across a new resource, which informed me further. Whether it was a documentary, a book or a podcast, eventually they internally created foundations in me which made me ready to adopt a plantbased lifestyle. I really recommend consuming as many resources as you can before, during and even after you transition. You will face difficult conversations within your self and with other people about why you are doing this, and being educated is key to being able to justify and understand the reason why. For me Forks Over Knives, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run and The Rich Roll podcast played massive roles in my transition. If you want to have a look at some more resources have a look at this article.
The challenge of friends and family
I call this a challenge because it really is. For some people it’s the biggest reason why they don’t do it. I want to write an entire article on this so I’ll just touch on it for now.
Basically the fear is that you wont be able to go out with friends and family anymore and they will judge you and you’ll just be the annoying vegan.
I can promise you though if you approach everything with compassion and an open mind your friends and family will come around, beyond what you ever considered possible. For example when I started my journey my Dad and family weren’t interested at all. Now my dad is basically vegan and my brother is full blown and this is all through leading by example. Have faith even in the most difficult of family or friend situations. Eating out? No worries at all. At the start, yes I admit it seems difficult, but you quickly become a pro at finding the vegan options on a menu (even if they aren’t listed) and you also get super confident talking to restaurant staff asking if they can whip you something up. Once again if you approach this with compassion you will be very surprised with the response. My greatest advice here is don’t be the angry vegan, people don’t respond well when they are made to question their morals and beliefs. So buckle in for the long slow ride of living by example and I promise you that you will change lives.
A more tangible tool you can apply to transitioning is the idea of ‘crowding out’. The main principle is basically that instead of cutting stuff out of your diet i.e. deprivation, you instead start consuming a lot more non-animal products like vegetables and fruits. This will naturally ‘crowd out’ any animal products on your plate until the point where you don’t have room for them on your plate and in your stomach, and eventually in your mind. The same also applies to your shopping basket. Fill it with goodness and you won’t have room for the other crap and in doing so you also remove the temptation and mind drama you have at home when you are stressing over whether to eat some cheese or an apple.
So if you take anything from this article then let it be this –‘take the transition slow and let your body and consciousness guide you and tell you when you are ready to take the next step. Don’t deprive or restrict yourself, instead nourish and respect yourself and you will make a transition to a plant based lifestyle where you never look back’.