So you’ve decided to become a vegetarian — congratulations! That means you’re on your way to helping ease the strain humans put on the environment. If you eat a healthy vegetarian diet, you may also enjoy many health benefits as a result.
Yet, adopting a vegetarian diet can prove challenging at first. Like any other dietary or lifestyle change, it requires attention, practice, and a shift in daily habits. Below you’ll find 10 tips to help you become (and stay) a vegetarian.
1. Understand Why You Want to Be a Vegetarian
If you deeply understand why you want to adopt a vegetarian diet, you’ll be more likely to stick with this lifestyle change. Consider journaling about your reasons so you can clarify them and review them later. You may also want to talk with friends who can, in the future, remind you of why you made this change.
If you’re not completely sure why you want to become a vegetarian, do some research. You’ll find numerous books that outline key reasons why people adopt vegetarianism, such as “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger and “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. You can also watch a range of documentaries, such as “Earthlings” and “Forks Over Knives.”
2. Consider Easing Into Vegetarianism
Many people adopt a “flexitarian,” or semi-vegetarian, diet before fully transitioning into vegetarianism. Easing into vegetarianism can help make the change feel less abrupt and difficult. This approach also gives you time to do your research, build a support system, explore the available resources, and learn some new recipes.
Perhaps you’ll start by cutting out red meat and processed meats, which likely represent the worst meats for your health and those with the biggest impact on the environment. Next, you might give up all animal flesh for one day a week as part of the Meatless Monday global movement.
As you continue to ease further into vegetarianism, you may decide to give up another type of meat or commit to making one type of meal vegetarian every day. For example, some people start by always eating a vegetarian breakfast. Then, once they master that after a few weeks, they begin eating vegetarian lunches and, eventually, build up to eating only vegetarian meals and snacks.
3. Find a Vegetarian Community
Having a support group will help you stick with your commitment to vegetarianism. Whether you seek support from an online community or an in-person gathering, such as a Meetup group, the vegetarian diet will feel more normal as you spend more time with other vegetarians. This external support can help make your transition to vegetarianism less difficult by providing a source of recipes, tips, and encouragement.
4. Learn About Vegetarian Nutrition
If you only cut out animal products and make no other changes to your diet, you might accidentally become an unhealthy vegetarian. The ideal vegetarian diet should provide enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. For more information, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s advice on vegetarian nutrition.
One reason a vegetarian diet offers health benefits is because most vegetarians eat more fruits and vegetables than the average omnivore. Make sure you’re one of those vegetarians. If you replace the meat you cut out with sugary juices, refined carbohydrates, and sweets, your vegetarian diet might not be more healthy.
5. Learn How to Cook Good Vegetarian Food
If you’re used to only eating vegetables as side dishes and you don’t learn how to prepare new meals, you might feel like you’re missing something when you eat. Avoid this by learning new recipes that treat vegetables as more than just a side item.
With so many vegetarian cookbooks available, you can easily learn new recipes and convert your old recipes into vegetarian favorites. Check out “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page, “The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet” by Alicia Silverstone, and “Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook” by Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway. You also can peruse the many vegetarian recipe blogs, such as Cookie and Kate and Minimalist Baker.
6. Plan and Prepare Vegetarian Meals
Plan in advance what you’ll make for each dinner in the coming week. If you plan your evening meals in advance, you’ll know what to buy at the grocery store and meal time will go more smoothly. The staples you keep on hand in your pantry will likely change as you adopt a vegetarian diet. That means you might find it difficult to whip things up on a whim as you begin this transition, so planning is key.
In addition, consider also planning and preparing your lunches and snacks. This will help you avoid situations in which you accidentally turn to something non-vegetarian in a moment of hunger during the day when you’re away from home.
7. Use Available Vegetarian Resources
You can find a wide variety of vegetarian resources online. For example, the HappyCow app and website allows you to find and review vegetarian restaurants as well as restaurants with vegetarian options.
Magazines like Vegetarian Times offer free content online that can help you find new recipes and learn more about living a vegetarian lifestyle. In addition, the Reddit website includes vegetarian and vegetarian recipe groups in which you can find information and ask questions about adopting a vegetarian diet.
8. Experiment and Give Yourself Time
Dietary and lifestyle changes often prove challenging. Even if you decide to become a vegetarian overnight, that doesn’t mean the rest of your mind and body will adjust that quickly.
Experiment with different foods and approaches. Allow your palate time to adjust. Foods that taste bland at first might end up among your favorites over time.
If you eat meat one day because of a craving or because you find yourself in a social situation where it feels difficult to avoid doing so, don’t give up. One slipup doesn’t mean you’re a bad vegetarian or you can’t follow vegetarianism anymore. Read about how to change your habits so you can adjust what you eat without it feeling overly difficult.
9. Consider Other Aspects of Your Lifestyle
If your primary reason for adopting a vegetarian diet involves health benefits, then changing your diet might be the only action you want to take. However, many vegetarians also choose to make lifestyle changes that enable them to avoid other products derived from animals.
Once you complete the transition to a vegetarian diet, you might want to reflect on other areas in your life that involve using animals and decide if you want to make any changes there as well. For example, you might choose to give up leather and fur or stop buying personal care products tested on animals.
10. Explain Your Shift to Vegetarianism to Family and Friends
Making a drastic change in your diet also can affect the people in your life — especially if you live with and cook for others. Initiating heart-to-heart talks with family members and friends about why this shift is important to you will help them understand and accept your new eating habits.
Remember to give them time to adjust. Just as you probably spent time thinking about becoming a vegetarian, understanding your reasons, and making the transition, people close to you might need time to understand your motivation and accept this change as permanent.