So, you think you want to become a vegetarian. Why? That is probably the first question you should ask yourself. The reason for that question, of course, is that in order to make a significant change in your life - and it will be significant - you need to have a reason to commit. Otherwise you may find yourself frustrated and unwilling to continue toward achieving your goal.
There are any number of articles, books and other publications that will provide you with a list of methods to follow to achieve a transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. I use the term lifestylerather than diet because, as I said, it is a significant change. It is a lifestyle that you will follow because you will be faced with challenges at every turn. Family and friends may scoff ortry to talk you out of your decision. Restaurants that serve a variety of vegetarian dishes are still difficult to find in many parts of the country. And, if you like meat to begin with, youwill be tempted by the aroma of that steak on your neighbor's grill or the scent that wafts through your car window as you drive past the fast food joint in town, or simply going out for dinner with friends.
So, think about it. Do you want to become a vegetarian for health reasons? Is it because you are concerned about the environment and the impact that raising livestock has on it? Are you finding a sense of compassion that has come to make you realize that the suffering of animals matters? Whatever your reason(s), learn as much as you can before or as you begin. Google it - use keywords like “animal welfare", “animal rights", “vegetarian nutrition", “plant-based diet" and so on. As I said, there is a wealth of information out there so study a little and you will makeyour commitment stronger. Also consider talking with your physician and/or a registered dietician, particularly if you may have health issues which may be impacted by your decision to become vegetarian. Get several opinions. Not all physicians are attuned to the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle either. So if yours isn't, perhaps you can find one who is and get a second opinion.
All of that said, here are 6 simple ways you can begin to make the transition.
1. Start gradually
Give up red meat first. It is probably the worst from the standpoint of what it does to your body. Even then, phase it out gradually. If you eat red meat once a week now, try to cut back to every other week for a couple of months. Then, after you have pretty much cut the red out of your diet altogether you can begin to work on other meats.
Get yourself a good, simple vegetarian cookbook. You don't need to worry about becoming a gourmet vegetarian cook just yet! Some of the best vegetarian cookbooks are those that offer simple recipes that have a limited number of ingredients or a short prep time. You know what I mean. The book states “50 vegetarian dishes that you can make in 30 minutes or less" or “Great vegetarian recipes with only five ingredients". Get the idea? Try a few recipes so that you have some variation as you begin the transition. Bookmark the ones you like best. Mix up your weekly menu, again for variety. Also, check out the abundance of good websites which have wonderful vegetarian and vegan recipes. Again, Google the keywords and you'll find some gems!
3. Slowly work in things of which you are unsure
You don't want to get turned off right away! I can remember thinking I could never eat tofu. I didn't like the looks of it or the texture, both important nuances for enjoying what you eat. I found that by finding dishes which could utilize tofu as an optional or added ingredient and adding a little at a time each time I had that dish, I gradually became accustomed to tofu. I found that it does take on the flavor of what it is cooked with a lot of the time so dishes with a lot of onion or garlic helped! Sometimes crumbling it or cutting smaller “chunks" made it more palatable, rather than having a large “slab" with which to deal. Marinating it overnight or for at least several hours also works well.
4. Continue to educate yourself
Read whatever you can find about plant-based diets and vegetarian nutrition. Find out how to insure that you are planning meals and eating enough variety to provide the nutrients your body needs, particularly protein and vitamin B12. Visit a natural foods store and ask questions. They will be glad to help. Seek out other vegetarians or vegans for support, encouragement and ideas. Or, join a vegetarian “club" or organization. If you don't have any in your area, why not start one?
5. Use substitutes
What do I mean, use substitutes? Well, since most of the food you will be eating is “lighter" than a meat based meal, you may not feel as full as you were accustomed to being after you finish a meal. In that respect you may be tempted to snack more. If you are, try to substitute the snacks you used to eat with fruit, berries, nuts and so on. These will be better for you and help to contribute to your daily intake of protein. Drink lots of water. It will not only help you stay properly hydrated but also fill your tummy a bit, taking away some of the cravings. If you have a sweet tooth try to avoid sugar and foods with a lot of sugar in them. If you feel the urge to eat something that you normally put sugar on (I eat a lot of cereal snacks) try using agave nectar instead.
6. Enjoy yourself
Make it fun! Experimenting with new recipes is always fun. When you think about the good you are doing for yourself, for the environment and for the animals, it will be even more fun. Vary your meal plans so you have a wide variety and you won't tire of it or get discouraged. Set goals like a month of total vegetarianism equals a reward of a new cookbook! If the whole friends and family thing becomes too much, turn the tables on them and challenge them to join you even if it's for just one meal! Keep a journal - it may become your best seller one day! As I said before, there are many ways to make the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle and just as many books, magazines, articles, blogs and websites to tell you “their way". The bottom line is this - do it because you want to and you know the reasons it's important to you. Find a website, a friend or a book that you trust and let that trust be your guide. Monitor your health and wellness and be sure to get proper nutrition and exercise. You will succeed! Be proud of that in advance! Bon appetite!
R. C. Heiser is an artist and author and a vegetarian. He is the creator and webmaster for http://www.not-just-recipes.com a vegetarian website.