Perhaps you've thought about eliminating meat from your diet for environmental or health reasons. Or maybe you've been cutting back on burgers and pork chops already, but recent issues with COVID-19 at meat processing plants have you contemplating going cold turkey on animal products. Of course, no diet overhaul is ever easy, and adopting a vegan diet — one that eliminates meat as well as staples like dairy and eggs — can be challenging. We talked with experts to find out how to sidestep any obstacles in your way and how to making cutting out meat a bit easier.
Veggie vexer: Too much too soon
Once you make the decision to follow a vegan regimen, it's tempting to want to dive right in, eat tofu at every meal and try every nondairy cheese out there. The problem with that, says Bethany Doerfler, a clinical registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is you're likely to burn out just as quickly and soon find yourself headed to the nearest hamburger stand.
Food fix: Small shifts
Make small weekly changes that will ultimately move you to a vegan diet, Doerfler suggests. “Take baby steps,” she says, adding that you should make changes in increments of four to eight weeks. “If you want a faster route, you could shorten it to three to four weeks. It usually takes that long for our palate to adapt to a dietary change and develop a new habit."
For the first interval, try cutting out red meat and pork. During the second phase, she suggests gradually discontinuing chicken and fish by beginning to eat plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu several times a week. In the final phase, you can eliminate eggs and dairy.
To make the adjustment easier, Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and author of The Flexitarian Diet, recommends relieving some of the pressure of vegan perfection. Blatner created the flexitarian diet, which allows for a little leeway in a mostly vegan diet. “Being flexitarian means being vegan most of the time, with a little flexibility for things like social events and travel,” she explains. “You still get the health benefits without feeling so strict.”
Veggie vexer: Eating out
Whether it's at a restaurant or a friend's house, there will be times when you don't have that much control over the food that is served. Here's what to do.
Food fix: Online menus
It's best to do some research in advance, Blatner says. Look up restaurant menus online before you go. That way, you'll have time to figure out what to order. “It's getting easier to find plant-based, vegan options on menus,” she says. “Call ahead to ask questions, so you can enjoy your time, instead of worrying about your order.” You may need to get creative with substitutions, she adds. Look for salads or pasta dishes you can order without meat; then add in protein or healthy fats, such as beans or avocado.
If you're going to a friend's house, be sure to give your host a heads-up about your dietary needs, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of the forthcoming Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. To make it easier on your host, you could offer to bring a side dish that could double as your main course, such as roasted veggies with chickpeas.