This is another guest post from our newest writer, Leigh A. Hall. Leigh runs a really cool blog site called My Bikram Yoga Life
She tells us that she’s a big fan of Pinterest, and has heaps of vegetarian, vegan, and raw recipes pinned up there that she fully intends to try out. She has no idea how she’s going to make all of them during her current lifetime, but she reckons it’ll be fun to try.
I DON’T REMEMBER what inspired me to move towards a more vegetarian diet. When the whole thing started, I was eating what would be considered a typical diet. I ate meat at least once a day – chicken, pork, steak, fish – sometimes with a vegetable (I was never a big vegetable fan when I decided to become a vegetarian – go figure) and always with some sort of starch. But one day I woke up and I wanted to make a change for the better in my diet. You may well find yourself in a similar position.
You may want to make changes to your diet. Maybe you are interested in becoming a vegetarian, or maybe you just want to eat less meat. Maybe you want to cut out animal products all together. So what’s holding you up? Well, if you’re anything like me you just aren’t sure how to get started, and that’s totally normal.
In this series of posts, I’m going to walk you through how I shifted into a vegetarian diet, then a vegan diet, and then something that is a little bit in-between. I will also be sharing my struggles with you. Becoming a vegetarian wasn’t easy, and moving to a vegan diet was even more difficult than I thought (for me). I hope that hearing my story – and all the imperfections and challenges within it – can inspire you to make the changes you want to make in your own diet and make the improvements you want to make that will lead to better health.
These posts are not about convincing you to become a vegetarian or a vegan. They are about sharing how I made some positive changes to my lifestyle and showing you how you can make whatever changes you want to make as well. I hope these posts empower you to take charge of your diet in the ways you want.
My Steps to Becoming a Vegetarian
I didn’t become a vegetarian overnight. It was a slow process that took about three months. I did this intentionally. Why? Because change can be hard and overwhelming. Also, I wanted to succeed and I make sure I set myself up to do so. So right below, you’ll find the major steps I took as I transitioned into a vegetarian diet.
Step 1: Do Nothing
My first step in becoming a vegetarian was to literally do nothing. I bet you weren’t expecting that! When I say I did nothing I mean I kept my diet as is at first. I spent two weeks tracking what I ate at each meal and for each snack. This allowed me to take a closer look at my eating habits and to identify patterns.
Step 2: Take the Easy Step First
When my two weeks were up I could clearly see a pattern. The first thing I noticed was that I never (okay rarely) ate meat at breakfast. When I thought about it, I realized I probably ate meat for breakfast less than 10 times a year. So the very first thing I did was make it a goal to go 100% vegetarian for breakfast.
As you can see, I set a goal for myself that was easy to accomplish and required very little life adjustment. It might not seem like a big deal, but we all have to start somewhere. For me, that beginning lifted a huge weight off my shoulder. It took care of a third of my meals and let me turn my attention to what I was eating for lunch and dinner. It also made me realize that I could accomplish this one little step at a time!
If you eat meat at every meal then committing to becoming a vegetarian for one of them straight off the bat might not make sense. It might make sense to commit to eating vegetarian for one, two, or three meals a week for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You have to decide how the change looks for you.
Now, what was I eating for lunch and dinner? Whatever I normally ate. I didn’t change a thing in the rest of my diet. Making the commitment to being vegetarian for breakfast was enough for a week or two. And yes, even though I was pretty much already a vegetarian for breakfast, and wasn’t really making much of a change, I had made a mental commitment. For me, this was a success.
Step 3: Moving on to Lunch
My next step was to tackle lunch. Why lunch? Because while I ate meat for lunch, I did not eat it as often as I did for dinner. You can see the pattern here, right? I start with what is easy to accomplish and work my way towards the more difficult tasks. This may seem like eventually I’ll end up with a lot of work, and a lot of changes to make at once, but I’m actually setting up some good, strong habits in areas I know I can succeed in. As I’ll show you later, this will pay off big time.
When I evaluated my lunches, I noticed that I tended to eat mostly vegetarian meals already. However, I trended towards some frozen entrees with meat, and I did enjoy the occasional chicken sandwich. I’m not big into cooking at breakfast or lunch. A lot of my meals were frozen, sandwiches, or salads. I realized I already had a large number of vegetarian entrees under my belt so it was a matter of cutting out the ones with meat in them. Since meat dishes made up 2-3 of my lunches per week, getting rid of them was not a big deal.
Step 4: Dinner
I ate meat at dinner pretty much every single night. It was the centerpiece of my meals, and I had devoted a lot of time to learning how to cook a variety of meats in unique and interesting ways. I rarely had vegetarian meals at dinner (and if I did, it was probably a cheese pizza). This was the overwhelming part. This was the impossible part. And finally, I realized it was time to tackle it.
However, unlike breakfast and lunch, I did not declare all dinners to be vegetarian straight out of the gate. That would have seemed too much to handle. I think I would have failed. I know I would have gotten frustrated.
So I picked a number. You can do this too. Decide how many vegetarian meals you want to make for a week when you get to this point. It could be one. One is just fine because one is more than none. Make your meal and enjoy it. And when the next week comes around it’s fine to do one again or add a second – whatever you want. I tried to find a way to push myself, let myself get comfortable with a change, and then push myself again.
Another way to think about it is not how many vegetarian dinners you will have for a week but how many you will have for a month. For example, I might shoot for 10 a month and find that I accomplish my goal in the first two weeks. I like the month approach because if you slip up it’s no big deal. You’ve got space, and life happens. I found it to be a more flexible approach. Once I reached my goal for the month I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted. I could revert back to eating meat or I could keep adding more vegetarian meals to my plate (which is what I usually did).
My approach here is not meant to be followed exactly. Rather, I wanted to share with you how I thought about moving into a vegetarian diet. I hope you find the larger ideas of evaluating what you eat and setting goals for yourself to be useful. At the end of the day, this is really what it takes to make a dietary change on any level. Set the goals that are important and meaningful for you and then work towards making it happen!
In my next post I will talk about the challenges I experienced as I worked my way through these steps. I know this post makes it sound like a neat and clean process, but it really wasn’t. I absolutely had some struggles. I’ll be discussing those struggles and showing you what I did in response to them.
In the meantime, I want to hear your goals for improving your diet! So post them here and let’s discuss.
Leigh A. Hall loves to make vegetarian, vegan, and raw foods and write up her experiences about it on My Bikram Yoga Life where she also blogs about all things Bikram. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.