A big part of success in any endeavour is having a positive attitude. Successfully transitioning to a whole food, plant-based (wfpb) diet is no different. Making a big lifestyle change is scary and you can easily feel somewhat adrift before you get comfortable. Here are a few things that might help:
Keep your eye on the prize
What is your motivation for adopting a whole food, plant-based lifestyle? Is it to address a specific health concern like heart disease or diabetes, to lose weight or to shake up your middle-aged blahs? Or perhaps you are already vegan and are fine tuning your diet for optimum health.
Whatever your reason, it’s worth whatever inconvenience or uncomfortable sensations you may experience as you get used to a new way of eating. Keep in mind that it won’t be long before you are a pro at eating whole foods and you are starting to reap the benefits of the wfpb diet, whether it’s more energy, less pain or a better outlook. Life just gets easier and better.
Figure out when to say “I can’t” and when to say “I don’t”
When you make a dramatic change in diet, you will find yourself having to explain yourself quite often. A major concern of most people is what you are not eating. I usually say “I don’t eat animal products” rather than “I can’t eat animal products” for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is more correct, but the main reason is that it reinforces the notion that I am in control of what I eat, and I am doing this for my own reasons.
There are a couple of exceptions to the can’t/don’t rule. One is in situations where I don’t have a lot of time to explain but I want to be sure I’m understood, like in a restaurant. I might say I can’t eat any eggs or dairy when I’m asking about a menu item. The other is when I don’t want to offend someone, like perhaps an elderly relative, who is offering me something smothered in cheese, for example. In that case I might transfer some of the responsibility onto some vague but medical authority by saying “I’d love to but I can’t”.
When speaking to yourself, I think it’s best to use “I don’t” exclusively. You are doing this for your own personal reasons and not just to be compliant with anyone else’s rules. This is an important thing you are doing and you are the boss of you.
Don’t look for loopholes
You are going to have to decide for yourself how plant perfect you want to be. Do you need to do a Dr. Esselstyn style strict low fat, high greens because of heart disease diet or are you more inspired by Dr. Greger and his daily dozen? Perhaps one of Dr. McDougall’s plans seems right to you. Or maybe you don’t have a specific guru, but you just want to eat only whole plant foods with no added oils and limit your intake of salt and sugar (that’s my approach). I’d recommend spending some time reading a few different sources to help cement in your mind why you are doing things the way you are, then do it.
Don’t spend time trying to figure out ways to avoid doing it completely. Commit to this way of eating without compromise. It will feel better, I promise.
Don’t reward yourself for avoiding meat with vegan junk food. Don’t add coconut oil to your diet because you saw an article about how great it is. Don’t replace butter with Earth Balance. Give up coffee cream and substitutes, and learn how to cook without olive oil. Don’t use artificial sweeteners.
Be careful about choosing recipes, especially for baked goods. Just because something is labeled gluten-free and vegan (why are these things linked?) doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Instead of relying on vegan imitations of familiar but unhealthy foods, let your tastebuds develop a taste for the sweetness of fruit or the creaminess of overnight oats. In a few weeks, you’ll prefer these more subtle flavours and you really won’t miss the sweet and greasy foods most people are craving.
Concentrate on all the great foods you love, rather than the ones you miss
There is a wealth of cookbooks and websites devoted to wfpb recipes and there is something for every taste. It may take a while to develop a new repertoire, but you will. Soon enough some of the old favourites won’t even seem appealing anymore, especially if they are particularly fatty or sweet.
Know that the discomfort is temporary
It won’t take long before your new way of eating is just your way of eating. You’ll have a new repertoire of recipes and foods that you love. You’ll have experienced some of the benefits of a plant-based diet and you won’t look back.