Transitioning to a Vegan Diet
To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.“—La Rochefoucauld
I realize that not everyone can go cold tofu and go vegan overnight like I did! I was that compelled, and really didn’t like milk and eggs and hot dogs and things like that anyway, so it wasn’t a big stretch for me. Sarah Taylor, author of Vegan in 30 Days: Get Healthy. Save the World has done a great job, I think, in helping someone transition from a Western diet to a vegan diet. Below I am outlining her plan, with notes of mine on learning, pitfalls, etc. I do suggest you get her book for more detailed information. There are other transition plans, including the Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn. Explore them and see which works best into your lifestyle.
Day 1. Explore Why You Want to Be Vegan.
My reason was for health, for cancer risk reduction, but there are lots of reasons for vegan lifestyle, including cardiovascular health, animal rights, reducing your carbon footprint, weight loss, etc. What will compel you?
Day 2. Know the Basics.
What exactly is vegan? Organic? Raw and why is it good for you? What is a whole grain? Why no honey? Are all foods labeled “vegan” healthy?
Day 3. Do a Fruit and Veggie Cleanse.
Try a day with only raw fruits and veggies…Eat more if you feel hungry! Cook some if all raw all day is too much. See how you feel.
Day 4. Eliminate Red Meat.
This was a huge windfall for my meat-eating family and friends…Cindy’s freezer opened up for a free-for-all! If it’s not there, you won’t be tempted to eat it while you’re learning a new way of eating. Later, believe it or not, it probably won’t even interest you anymore.
If you are the only one in your family making this change, make fridge, freezer, and cabinet space for your “stuff”!
Donate this food to to a local food pantry or shelter if you don’t have family or friends who want it.
Day 5. Find Substitutes.
Try things, lots of things! You don’t necessarily have to go 100% whole food, plant-based, no oil (WFPBNO) immediately, you can transition yourself from the Standard American Diet full of animal products to vegan options before moving more WFPBNO while you learn a new way of eating.
Some stuff is awful—seriously! Some stuff is AMAZING! Don’t give up if you try something that’s awful, it’s just one brand…try another. For milk, there’s soy, rice, hemp, coconut, almond, oat, on and on and on. Check and make sure they don’t have loads of added sugar or oil and find what tastes good to you. There’s even nut cream to substitute for heavy or whipping cream. There’s Tofutti brand sour cream and cream cheese substitutes; Earth Balance margarine and vegan mayo when you need a little spread. Soy Curls!! OMG, worth searching for or ordering by mail…http://www.butlerfoods.com/. Cheeses, there’s soy, almond, rice, etc., make sure they don’t contain casein, a milk protein.
Day 6. Get a Beautiful Fruit Bowl and Keep it Filled!
Ok, I have TWO huge fruit bowls because I can’t contain it all into one…This is huge! If it’s out on the counter and beautiful, you will reach for it. It’s a great fast breakfast or snack or dessert. And, on hand and ready for smoothies. I buy oranges by the boxful from my produce market and store in my cool garage, taking a few oranges in every day to resupply my fruit bowl. While you’re at it, find new fruits you may never have tried before. Make it fun!
Day 7. Start Each Day with a Green Smoothie.
Ok, it doesn’t have to be ALL GREEN! Do what Mother Superior does and “sneak” handfuls of spinach, some celery, and kale into a beautiful fruit and hemp milk smoothie that the grandkids LOVE! You won’t even taste the greens!
I will make a product pitch here…I recommend a Vitamix blender. Believe me, I thought Mother Superior had lost her marbles and been seduced and brainwashed by late night shopping television when she told me she had ordered a $400 blender from QVC! I was really alarmed! But, after trying it and trying to replicate what it does in my regular blender, I quickly changed my mind and bought one too. Besides smoothies, you can make your own almond milk, grind your own grains, make phenomenal ice cream out of frozen fruit, amazing soups and sauces, grind your own tahini and nut butters. It’s solid, easy to clean and worth every cent!
Day 8. Eliminate Poultry.
Alright, you cut red meat, now cut poultry. You know, poultry really doesn’t have much of a taste…it’s all the sauces we put on them. Try the sauces over potatoes, quinoa, Portobello mushrooms, pasta! Friends, family, and food banks rejoice!
Day 9. Add a Large Salad to Lunch and Dinner.
I have a beautiful Asian bowl, like this one from Amazon, that is my personal salad bowl! It’s meant for Vietnamese phó noodle soup. Fill it up with a variety of beautiful veggies you are stocking up on, add seeds or nuts, even fruit or raisins. Top with a new non-animal product dressing, hummus, or salsa, balsamic vinegar.
Get a salad spinner! When you come home from the market, prepare your salad greens, rinse them in the spinner basket, spin out the water and dump that water out, and store your cleaned prepared greens in your spinner or cloth in your fridge. I find that the biggest hurdle that keeps me from making a salad is all that prep and chopping…do it ahead of time and then making a salad is a breeze! Pre-clean and chop your other veggies too, store in containers in the fridge and then dump, dump, dump together for an instant beautiful salad from your refrigerator salad bar!
Day 10. Read Diet for a New America
Or any other vegan information book. Sarah Taylor was very moved by John Robbins’ book. He was the heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune and walked away from it after he discovered the ill-effects of animal protein in our diets. Check out The China Study by Dr. T. Collin Campbell, The Food Revolution by John Robbins, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, or one of many other books about veganism. I keep my Resources page updated with all kinds of wonderful books and resources on whole food, plant-based, vegan health and lifestyle, so check it out frequently.
Day 11. Do Another Fruit and Vegetable Cleanse.
A repeat of Day 3.
Day 12. Eliminate Cheese.
Ok, folks, this was the scariest part of the whole transition for me (read all about it in I Was Addicted to Cheese)! Those who know me KNOW and have KNOWN that CHEESE was my FAVORITE FOOD on the PLANET. My partner, at the time, said I wouldn’t be able to do it because of the cheese. Well, I tell you what…I DON’T MISS IT!! Don’t even crave cheese substitutes…and I don’t want it. Gone.
Here’s what I learned about cheese. It’s an addiction! Ok, stop laughing and let me explain. Dairy contains casein, which during digestion break down to form caseomorphins which bind to opiate receptors in our bodies, the same as morphine, heroin, and other narcotic substances! It is food crack! There have been studies that administered naloxone (Narcan®), the drug used to reverse narcotic overdoses (that I give as a paramedic), and found that subjects no longer craved or enjoyed cheese after its administration. Interesting! So, I ended up going “cold tofu” on my narcotic cheese addiction and didn’t even know it!
Oh, and if you need further help, as Mother Superior notes, it’s mostly pus anyway… a pound of cheese can contain up to 7.5 billion pus cells. Thanks, Mom, I’m grossed out now.
Day 13. Take a Tour of Your Local Health Food Store.
Most towns have a health food store, even if it’s a closet-sized shop tucked in a strip mall somewhere. Go check it out, don’t be afraid. Ask questions! Get to know them. If there’s something you heard about but don’t see, ask, they will probably order it for you!
Fred Meyer has a large health foods section. And then there’s Whole Foods and New Seasons Market. Vancouver has Chuck’s Produce Market. Look for produce-only markets, like Gateway Produce in Vancouver. And head to the local Farmers’ Markets when in season.
Day 14. Gather Vegan Recipes.
Go to the bookstore or library and spend time, and I mean spend time looking through vegan cookbooks. Get one or two that inspire you, have recipes that you would love to try, perhaps have copycat versions of what you’re used to eating to help you transition. These are two that I bought that are great resources and were very helpful:
The Vegan Cook’s Bible by Pat Crocker
1000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson
Go online, search for vegan recipes. You will be amazed at what’s out there!
Create some boards in Pinterest, if you use that. You can find me there and get all of my recipes and others that I’ve pinned. I’m www.pinterest.com/trimazing.
Day 15. Try a New Recipe.
Pick a new recipe every week, from your new cookbooks or online. Build your arsenal! Maybe try a new food, grain, or vegetable, that you have never cooked with before!
Day 16. Eliminate Fish and Seafood.
OK, like red meat and poultry earlier…kick the fish!
Day 17. Commit to the Kitchen.
For some people, going vegan is scary because it means being prepared, having food on hand…there’s not many vegan fast-food drive thru’s out there! I tend to make more than I need when I cook and freeze individual containers so I have things in a pinch. Make sure you have veggies and fruit and things to snack on!
Day 18. Buy a Veggie Chopper.
I didn’t do this…but buy a veggie chopper or a great knife! Some specialty kitchen tools such as a Microplane grater for ginger or garlic, a mandolin for beautifully cut veggies, or a pressure cooker… Treat yourself!
Day 19. Treat Yourself.
Ha! I just typed that and saw it was Day 19’s topic!! Splurge on something vegan…a book, a shirt, kitchen gadget, something!
Day 20. Eliminate Eggs.
There are lots of ways to substitute for eggs in cooking and baking…and note, liquid Better’n Eggs and other carton egg substitutes are NOT vegan as they are made from eggs.
- 1 heaping tsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp water = 1 egg
- 1 oz. mashed tofu = 1 egg
- ½ mashed banana = 1 egg
- Egg replacer such as Ener-G, per package directions
Or check out http://www.egglesscooking.com/ for more
Day 21. Meet Other Vegans.
This is HUGE! Mother Superior and I bounced things off each other consistently when we were starting, as did members of my fire station crew. Check with your health food store, there’s probably a vegan group in your area…Portland has a huge vegan community at www.nwveg.org and has monthly potlucks, presentations, and even a fantastic convention every year. Look at www.meetup.com and search for vegan groups.
22. Stay Motivated!
This goes with meeting other vegans, but find other things to keep you motivated, like conferences, books, websites, etc. Learn more about a specific aspect of being vegan, explore! Find a vegetarian or vegan restaurant!
23. Begin Taking Vitamin B12 and Ground Flax seed.
Vitamin B12 is produced by a bacteria in soil, however, not absorbed by plants growing in that soil. When we wash our vegetables, we wash away vitamin B12, as opposed to animals who pull up roots and consume the soil with the plants and grasses they eat and then pass it on to us. Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin B12, such as non-dairy milks, breads, etc. You only need trace amounts and I have heard that someone who switches from meat-based to vegan diet has enough vitamin B12 in their body to last two years. However, to avoid the possibility of adverse health effects of vitamin B12 deficiciency, a vitamin B12 supplement can be a good thing. We use a spray from Garden of Life.
Here is some more information: http://www.pcrm.org/health/veginfo/b12.html. You can also have your doctor check your blood levels for vitamin B12.
Flax seed contains Omega-3 fatty acids which research has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, help reduce high blood pressure, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, certain skin ailments, may boost the immune system, and help protect us from Alzheimer’s disease. Usually associated with fish oil, flax seed is a vegan source of Omega-3 fatty acids. You can find it whole, but flax seed must be ground in order for your body to absorb the fatty acids, so run it through a grinder (a coffee grinder works great for this) or buy it ground. A simple tablespoon of ground flax sprinkled on your food is all you need! Keep your flax seed meal in the fridge or freezer to keep it from going rancid.
Day 24. Eliminate All Dairy.
You’ve dropped cheese…you checked out substitutes…go for it!
Day 25. Learn to Eat in Restaurants.
It’s not as scary of difficult as it may seem, but there are a couple of things you can do to make things easier on yourself. I have lots of tips and resources in You Deserve a Meal Out! Dining Out Vegan, but here’s a few now:
- Look at the menu online! If you know where you are going, most restaurants have their menus on their websites! Scope it out.
- Ask for a vegan menu! Did you know that most places have a special diets menu but only give it out if you ask? I was floored the first time someone asked the waiter for that and the waiter produced one!
- Get a smartphone app…Seriously! On the iPhone, check out VeganXpress, they list common restaurants and what items are vegan.
- Look for easy substitutions…veggie fajitas without the sour cream or cheese, Chinese chicken salad without the chicken, rice bowl with veggies only. Most places have a hummus plate anymore these days, check the appetizer list…it’s a great option!
- Ask for what you want if you can’t find it on the menu. A lot of places are used to vegetarians and vegans and can accommodate special requests, like a fruit and salad plate, etc. even if it’s not on the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask!
- Call ahead…at some restaurants, mostly non-chain restaurants, the chef will be willing to make something special if they have enough notice to do this.
- Be creative…last summer my engine company was invited to a special appreciation BBQ at the local Big Box hardware store…no veggie burgers….so I had the BEST lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard, and ketchup on a sesame seed bun ever, and no one was ever the wiser! Actually, I realized at that point that what makes a hamburger taste like a hamburger was all the toppings…so I had two! No hurt feelings for anyone!
Day 26. Attend or Host a Dinner Party.
If you’ve been asked to a dinner party, simply politely note you are vegan when you RSVP and say you would love to bring another dish that everyone can share at the dinner party, since they have so much cooking to do—your way to help! Then bring something fabulous! I’ve not had any problem with this with anyone. There will most likely be a salad and veggies you can enjoy along with it!
When you host, let folks know you are vegan and make it potluck, so they can bring non-vegan options to go along with your things so they don’t feel underserved! And you know what? Your guests will always be amazed at how good vegan food is! Vegan sounds so austere and scary, but in reality is very varied and wonderful—it surprises most people!
I’ve got a lot of scripts and practice conversations for dealing with dinner invitations and hosting meals at your home in Are You Ready for a Plant-Based Thanksgiving? Tips and an Updated Green Bean Casserole!
Day 27. Learn to Say, “No Thank You—I’m Vegan.”
Don’t be embarrassed! People usually are not offended, and most often, they are interested. Be prepared to talk about it. Be prepared, though, so you are comfortable and know how you are going to approach the situation.
Are You Ready for a Plant-Based Thanksgiving? Tips and an Updated Green Bean Casserole! has tips for dealing with this too.
Day 28. Eliminate Remaining Animal Ingredients.
Here’s some of the “secret list” of hidden animal ingredients (click this link for more)! Learn to read food labels and give away items that contain:
- Fatty Acids
- Lactose, most ingredients with the prefix “lact-“
- Lethicin (unless soy lethicin, which is ok)
- Lipase, most ingredients with the prefix “lip-“
- Milk protein
- Milk sugar
- Natural flavoring (often is of an animal source)
- Natural sources (often is of an animal source)
- Stearic Acid
Day 29. Clean Out Your Kitchen.
You’ve probably done this along the way, but do a final walk-through, and replace with healthy alternatives!
30. State Your Case.
Own it! You’ve done it!
There are lots and lots of ways to transition to a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, this is just one. Maybe you like these ideas but not the order—no biggie, reorder it to fit your life! Or go cold-tofu, whatever works for you.
And if you need more help with this transition, you can always contact me to help you on your journey. I absolutely LOVE to help people transition to a whole foods, plant-based vegan lifestyle and watch them thrive! Contact me today!
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Cindy wants you to be Trimazing—three times better than amazing! After improving her health and fitness through plant-based nutrition, losing 60 pounds and becoming an adult-onset athlete, she retired from her 20-year firefighting career to help people just like you. She works with people and organizations so they can reach their health and wellness goals.
Cindy Thompson is a national board-certified Health and Wellness Coach, Lifestyle Medicine Coach, Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Behavior Change Specialist, and Fit2Thrive Firefighter Peer Fitness Trainer. She is a Food for Life Instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Rouxbe Plant-Based Professional, and Harvard Medical School Culinary Coach, teaching people how to prepare delicious, satisfying, and health-promoting meals.
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