This was a guest post for my uncle’s site, Healthy Eating Healthy World. Enjoy!
I’ve been eating a mostly plant-based diet since 2006. When I first got started, I faced personal and social barriers. However, by taking a few conscious steps, I was able to break them down and really improve my eating habits! Knowing the truth about nutrition, understanding the benefits of a plant-based diet, and committing to a change are all important, but actually revamping my lifestyle was a daunting task. Here are 6 tricks that I used.
- Think Long-term
- Add Some Extra Steps
- Keep the Good Stuff Nearby
- Surround Yourself
- Embrace Frugality
- Get Accountable
By thinking long-term about rewards and taking steps to preempt myself from falling into old eating habits I was able to leap feet-first into a new way of eating that has improved my life immeasurably.
1. Think Long-term
Thinking in the long term is very helpful. When I would “diet” in the past, trying to lose a few pounds, I would think short-term and have thoughts like, “I’m going to eat ‘healthy’ until I lose however many pounds.” This short-term thinking always left me looking forward to the end of the diet, and never let me enjoy the healthy lifestyle I was leading. Instead, thinking long-term (as a young man) means that I am not looking forward to the hamburger I’ll eat in 3 months, but the vibrant, healthy man I’ll be at 80! That helps a lot in making the right choices.
2. Add Some Extra Steps
One of the first things I did after I decided to make a change was to go through my kitchen and throw out anything processed or animal-based. This was a little bit challenging (particularly as a grad student… I was throwing away food!), but once the food was gone, eating those kinds of foods would mean a trip to the store, and that takes too long when I’m hungry…especially considering the next tip.
3. Keep the Good Stuff Nearby
I always keep my fridge filled with fresh veggies. That means if I’m hungry and I go scrounging around in my kitchen, colorful veggies and leafy greens are the first things I see when I open the fridge. That keeps the thought, “oh well, nothing in here… I guess I’ll go out to eat,” out of my head. The only challenge here is learning some quick ways to prepare delicious plant-strong meals. If you know how to cook ’em, and the veggies are right there in front of you, you can eat well whenever you’re hungry.
4. Surround Yourself
I prepare healthy snacks in bulk, and keep them EVERYWHERE. I have enough small-serving bags of almonds and raisins to feed an army. I keep them at work, at home, in the car, in my back-pack… everywhere. I also have a dozen apples scattered about my life at all times, and a big bag of carrots in every fridge in my universe. Also, I usually have my “real” lunch and a “backup” lunch at work. This means that even on busy days, when I don’t have time to make a lunch, I don’t have to go out and try to order from a restaurant’s menu.
5. Embrace Frugality
Packing lunches saves a lot of money and helps me eat healthy. Another tool along these lines is to buy way too many veggies. I can’t stand to let stuff spoil, so I always try to cook what I buy. That means I have to eat a lot of veggies to keep up! As long as the food is healthy, it is almost impossible to over-eat. When it’s time to decide on the menu, I know that if I don’t cook that zucchini today or tomorrow, it’ll go bad. Guess what I’m eating for dinner!
6. Get Accountable
Accountability is my friend whenever I’m trying to change a habit. Knowing that my friends are aware of my goals (and will be aware of me not meeting them) is a huge motivator for me. Therefore I try to keep people aware of my eating habits in a way that’s light, playful, and not too preach-y. First, I don’t consider myself a “vegan.” This is partially because I’m not vegan (I wear leather shoes, and I eat animal products on occasion), and partially because I know plenty of “vegans” who only eat Tostitos and soy burgers and don’t even know what a vegetable looks like.
Anyway, even though I’m not a vegan, I do use the “V word” as a tool. When people ask about how I eat, I usually tell them in a joking way that, “I’m vegan most of the time… except when I’m not.” This makes it seem fun, and gets them over their initial freak-out right away. After that, I sometimes tease my friends saying, “NOT VEGAN” in a booming, playful voice when they eat a particularly un-healthy meal. (Note, that I never do this in a judgemental way.) This does a funny thing. It makes my diet seem fun and makes them keep an eye on me. When I’m out at a restaurant with friends, they’ll take pleasure in trying to call me out if they catch me eating a slice of pizza… then they get to use the, “NOT VEGAN” catchphrase!