Making Dietary Changes for the New Year? 10 Tips to Help You Stay on Track

Veganuary and Dry January are just a few of the goals people have been undertaking as a means of cleansing, changing, renewing, and growing.  How hard is it to cut something out of your diet or to radically transform your diet and your relationship with food? 

While everyone may not become a sober vegan, there are many dietary changes people are undertaking – perhaps you are trying to cut meat out or eat smaller portions.  Whatever your goal is, it can be hard to consistently reach these goals without the right mindset (even with the right mindset).  Sometimes we feel imprisoned by our habits, which serve as obstacles to reaching our ethical and dietary health goals.  

Sexy Food is Hard to Resist!

Here are some tips for achieving your dietary and ethical goals while transcending those negative patterns and self-defeating habits.  I don’t claim to be a master of diets by any means, but I have made changes to my diet based off of ethical and environmental concerns and have been successful with this for over 10 years.  While I have been a vegetarian-pescatarian, I recently cut octopus and shrimp out of my diet due to octopi having complex brains and shrimp coming from Southeast Asian slave labor.  So I hear you, the struggle is real.

1) Change Has To Come From Within

Do you truly feel inspired to make these dietary changes or do you feel pressure from someone close to you or is it to follow a trend?  When I became a vegetarian 12 years ago, I did it out of my own volition, and it was a personal decision.  No one told me to become one, and I was the odd woman out with most of my friends and family.

2) Determine Your Reasons For Changing

I became vegetarian mainly for ethical reasons. I had seen plenty of tortured animal videos and did a lot of research, so I realized couldn’t live with myself knowing that I was eating the flesh of beings that had suffered for unnecessary reasons. 

I find that when you do something for ethical reasons, it is much easier to stay committed to your goal than when you do something for aesthetic reasons (e.g. I have to lose weight so I look hot in this bikini).  I am not saying that one reason is superior to another reason but if there is a firm connection between who you are as a person and your goals, it will be much easier to truly embody these goals than if they weren’t connected to your authentic sense of self.

My late dog Athena, my inspiration for becoming vegetarian. Dogs aren’t that different from “farm animals”.

3) Don’t Forget Why

Over time, it’s easy to forget all of the atrocious things that are happening to animals, other humans and the earth.  We grow comfortable in our bubbles and can be tempted to just eat that crispy piece of bacon or that refreshing ice cream.  It’s imperative to remind oneself during these periods of temptation that you are doing what you are doing for a principled reason. 

I have plenty of friends and family members who eat meat and of course what they are eating can smell and look appetizing!  It’s easy to envy how many options they have when they eat out.  But when I am tempted, I think back to the videos of the cramped pigs, the artificially inseminated cows, etc., which ends up turning me off from the forbidden food item.

I keep remembering that it’s the system (subsidized meat and dairy industries) that makes being a vegetarian/vegan harder.  It’s not intrinsically harder, but it would be much easier in a country where vegetarianism is more mainstream.

4) Take Baby Steps

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of never eating meat again, see how it goes for a month.  A month long goal can feel much more feasible and within reach than a lifelong goal.  While it takes longer than a month to break a habit (about 2 months), setting smaller goals can ensure more long-term success. 

Right now, I am setting a goal to be sober for the month.  I would cry if I could never drink wine again, but just seeing how it goes for a month makes it much more feasible to not engage in Bacchanalian hedonism.

The hardest part of Dry January

5) You Are Not Alone

It’s easy to experience alienation and isolation when it feels like you’re the only one committed to making these ethical changes.  I am oftentimes one of the few vegetarians when I eat out with friends, family, colleagues, etc. But remember that so many others are trying to do exactly what you are doing. 

Now with the prolific internet and vast social media, it is easy to find a support network online as well as a plethora of helpful resources.  You’re not in this alone!  People have been trying to do what you are doing for years and have created resources based off of their experiences which makes it so much easier to change how one eats.  This leads me to my next tip…

6) Surround Yourself With Others Who Are Doing Similar Things

This may not be possible for everyone but if you can, it is much easier to make these changes when others have already done so or are doing the same.  I can’t tell you how lovely it is to eat dinner and cook with fellow plant-based eaters. 

Not only is it logistically and financially easier, but it is much easier to feel like you have a community, that you aren’t alone and that other people GET IT!  I’m not saying ditch your other friends, but know that surrounding yourself with others who are doing similar things make it much easier to reach your goals. 

7) “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Dust Yourself Off And Try Again” (Aaliyah would have been 40 this month, RIP)

It’s not the end of the world if you slip up and drunkenly eat that cheap pepperoni pizza that all your friends are eating.  No one is judging you but yourself (or the people who run the “Good Place”), so give yourself space to forgive yourself and try again.  Start with a blank slate.  What you eat is very personal; you are your own boss.

RIP Aaliyah, From the Murphy Gallery

8) Don’t Let Others Bring You Down

You know how those annoying people can act when you tell them you’re a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, sober, etc., “Oh, don’t you just want to eat this steak?” “You’re no fun.” “I love how meat tastes too much so I could never become a vegetarian.”  Do you know what I do when I hear this?  I roll my eyes inside and have fun comebacks in my head.  “Oh, a dead tortured animal tastes good to you – you disgust me.”  “Meat doesn’t taste that great unless it’s seasoned well.  Vegetables can be seasoned well too and taste even better.  Just learn how to use some spices.” 

However, I politely nod and say things like “I love how vegetables taste.  When seasoned correctly, they are even more delicious.”  “I feel energetic and great, I’m not tired all the time contrary to the stereotype.”  “There is plenty of nutrition in plant-based sources.” 

I could go on, but you get the general gist.  Sometimes other people have their own insecurities about what they eat/drink so they want to bring you down with them and wish they had the kind of self-control you have, so they act like a 5 year old when you tell them you’re a vegetarian.  Just move on and know that if we lived in a society where veganism/vegetarianism, etc. was mainstream, you wouldn’t be hearing such asinine remarks.

I’d eat this any day over steak

9) Learn How To Cook

Cooking is such an excellent way of controlling what you eat and making it as flavorful as you’d like.  I learned how to cook when I first became a vegetarian in college considering that the vegetarian options on campus were unhealthy and bland.  Always having some spices on hand along with my best friend, olive oil will keep you sane. 

Here are some basic spices to always have on hand to make any vegetable taste delicious: salt, pepper, red pepper, Hungarian paprika, Smoked Spanish paprika, cumin, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and turmeric.  These liquids are also great for sautéing: olive oil, tamari/soy sauce, red wine/white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and dijon mustard

Just a few of my staple spices!

While these aren’t necessary investing in a good blender and food processor (Cuisinart is my go to brand) help speed the process a lot when you’re making sauces.  Many vegan based recipes require either a blender or food processor when you’re making a sauce.  Having a good Cuisinart Food processor has been life changing for me when it comes to making hummus!

While the rest of the world eats whatever, you at least control what goes in your kitchen (hopefully you can), what you cook, what you eat, and therefore what you consume.  I think of my kitchen as my vegetarian-haven where I take shelter from the meat-centric country I live in.  

Some Panko breaded tofu I made

10) Be Cheap

You don’t have to spend a bunch of money on new ingredients, cookbooks, etc. to fulfill your goals.  Ingredients can be bought gradually.  Spices are cheap and so are the basic liquids for sautéing (olive oil can be expensive, but it is much healthier than canola/vegetable oil).  There are also so many free recipes and food blogs online that you don’t have to waste money on a cookbook.  I love cookbooks but if affordability is an issue, then don’t waste money on one.  If you do want to buy a cookbook, here are some that have been very helpful for me on my plant based journey: The Conscious Cook and Veganomicon.

And don’t forget to have fun!  You are embarking on something new and exciting!  Eating the same food and doing the same thing can get really boring. Think of this as an opportunity to expand your horizons and experience something new and enriching.

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