Nutrition & Recipes

6 Steps to Ease Into a Vegetarian Diet

6 Steps to Ease Into a Vegetarian Diet
Transitioning into a new way of eating should be slow and steady. When you make a massive change or go “cold turkey” with something, it’s less likely to last for the long-term. And with any lifestyle change, having a reason why you’re doing it will help further the success. Make a decision to change based on your why and then take the action! With will power, your why, and a roadmap to your goal, you can do it!

If you want to stop eating meat and adopt a vegetarian diet, easing into it is the way to go. Your body gets used to eating certain foods, and when you stop eating them, you’re naturally going to crave them because that’s what your body is used to. Easing out of a certain way of eating and easing into the new one is best not only for the body, but also for your success! So let’s talk about how to ease into a vegetarian diet.

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

Vegetarianism is primarily plant-based, with the absence of animal meats. There are a few different types of vegetarianism:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Excludes animal flesh, but consumes dairy and eggs
  • Lacto vegetarian: Excludes animal flesh and eggs, but consumes dairy
  • Vegan: Excludes all forms of animal flesh and animal products (eggs, dairy, etc.)
Going from a standard American diet (SAD) to a vegetarian diet can be difficult. The SAD contains all forms of animal flesh and animal products—cheeseburgers, pizza, fried chicken, etc. It’s mostly animal-based. A vegetarian diet is primarily plant-based, so making that transition will be easier if you take it step-by-step and meal-by-meal. Here are five tips to ease your way into a vegetarian diet.

1. Take It Slow

You don’t have to make the change to vegetarianism overnight. In fact, you’ll feel much better physically if you take it slow. Start with doing Meatless Mondays (as the name implies, go meat free the whole day) for a couple of weeks and then begin to tackle your breakfasts. After a couple weeks of Meatless Mondays and vegetarian breakfasts, you can move to removing meat from your lunches. Going one day and one meal at a time will give you time to adjust to the changes.

Create a calendar for yourself. Set a goal date to be fully vegetarian and work backward for each step to get there. Give yourself two to three months—you need time for your body to adjust to a lifestyle change. Remember, it’s about the long-term, not a quick diet fix! Slow and steady is the key to lasting change.

2. Start with One Animal Product

Instead of swearing off all meat right away, start with one type. Red meat can go first, then pork, poultry, and then fish. It will be easier to ease into a plant-based diet when all meat isn’t immediately off limit.

If you usually get a burger every week, opt for a chicken sandwich once you cut out red meat. As time goes on and you cut out poultry, move to fish, and then before you know it, all meat will be gone! It’s a sustainable way to transition your eating habits.

3. Replace, Replace, Replace!

Adopting a vegetarian diet isn’t about just cutting things out. It’s important to replace what you remove. For example, if you normally have carnitas tacos, get bean tacos! You’ll get the same (or similar flavoring) along protein from the beans and you won’t be missing out on important nutrients.

The good news about a vegetarian diet is that you’ll need to consume a greater volume of food. Who doesn’t love to eat more?! Meat and animal products are typically high in calories so you’ll need to replace those calories with plant foods. Plant foods are usually lower in calories, hence more volume needed! Think 100 calories of beef versus 100 calories of broccoli—you need a lot more broccoli to equal 100 calories than you do with a piece of beef. Incorporate filling plant foods like sweet potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, and quinoa.

4. Collect Recipes

It’s easier to transition into and maintain a vegetarian diet when you cook. Collecting recipes and ideas for vegetarian meals will help make the transition easier. It can even be fun! Head to your local bookstore and look for the cooking section. Vegetarian cookbooks are common. Pinterest is another good source for vegetarian recipes. Or simply search “vegetarian recipes” to find find tons of vegetarian cooking blogs with recipes!

5. Introduce New Foods

Don’t get hung up on what you can’t have and focus on what you can have! Think about adding in new foods constantly. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy your new foods. It’s easy to get stuck eating the same foods, but once you ditch the meat, you’ll have more room on your plate for new options.

Variety is key. There are so many different fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods like quinoa and rice that you can incorporate. Try them all and find out which will be your new favorites!

6. Stay Hydrated

The initial stage of transitioning into a vegetarian diet is the most important. The SAD, because it is so full of animal products, can leave residue in your intestinal tract over time. The majority of animals are fed hormones and treated with antibiotics. Because you consume what the animal is fed, these growth hormones and antibiotic residue ends up in the meat and can then end up in your body. And when you begin to incorporate more plant foods, a gentle detox will begin to happen. The fiber from the plant foods will cleanse your digestive tract, so it’s important to maintain proper hydration to continually flush your digestive system. Adding fresh lemon juice to your water will also help aid in the detoxification process.

With these six tips, easing into a vegetarian diet will be no problem at all!

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

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