9 Tips on Switching to a Vegetarian Diet and Healthy Weight Loss
Recently I wrote about how a vegetarian diet has been shown to promote weight loss. That’s great news for anyone who is struggling to drop those extra pounds, but often times I’ve been asked for some tips on how to make the transition from a meat-based to a plant-based menu as easy as possible.
As one who made the transition many years ago to a vegan lifestyle and who ran a vegetarian nonprofit for about a decade, I’ve talked to hundreds of people about making that change. In fact, switching to a vegetarian diet and healthy weight loss lifestyle can be easy and fun if you adopt the following tips.
Are you ready to give it a go? Combining these tips is highly recommended!
1. Choose a winning starting strategy. There are basically two types of people: those who like to wade slowly and surely into the water and those who jump in with both feet. Be honest with yourself: what type of person are you?
You don’t want to set yourself up for failure. If you decide to go slowly, make a plan. Perhaps begin by eating one vegetarian meal per day for one week, then increase it to two meals daily the second or third week, then go all the way! Or you could go meatless every other day until you gradually go totally vegetarian. The important thing is to have fun doing it!
If you decide to switch 100 percent immediately, then go for it! If you begin to falter, you can always switch to plan B--the gradual approach.
2. Fight cravings with plant-based protein. One reason why people experience sugar cravings (and the risk of all those extra pound-packing calories) is insufficient protein. Vegetarian protein options abound—from tempting tempeh to complete protein grains (i.e., amaranth, quinoa), a wide variety of “fake meats,” beans and legumes, fortified plant milks, nuts, and seeds.
3. Make simple substitutions. Are beef burritos, burgers, and pizza your favorite foods? You may have others that involve meat, fowl, and/or fish. Then it’s time to make some simple substitutions.
Plant-based options to animal products have made huge advances over the past decades in terms of taste, texture, and appearance. Believe me, decades ago veggie burgers, dogs, cheese, and chicken were not too great!
Today that has all changed. When you garnish a veggie burger today with all the toppings you used to put on your beef burgers, I think you will be surprised how good it tastes!
Top your pizza with grilled veggies (and perhaps opt for soy cheese or no cheese as well). Make bean or lentil burritos instead of beef. Hint: Portobello mushrooms and tempeh have a meaty texture and are dynamite when grilled as a burger or chopped up and put into chili, burritos, and pasta sauce.
4. Go ethnic. Eating out can be a breeze if you go to Thai, Asian, Indian, South American, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian restaurants, which usually offer lots of vegetarian options. If you’re with family or friends, everyone can order something different and you can each try each other’s entrees—a great way to introduce yourself to vegetarian meals!
5. Meet others. Take the angst and uncertainty out of switching to a vegetarian diet by getting together with others who follow this path. Most cities have a vegetarian group you can join and/or grocery stores that cater to plant-based eating (e.g., Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, among others). These stores typically offer talks or provide information and recipes.
The internet also has many vegetarian forums and chat rooms. Ask the proprietors of vegetarian restaurants about groups, talks, cooking classes, and other opportunities to meet vegetarians in your area.
6. Try a cooking class. Vegetarian cooking is easy, but if you’ve never handled tempeh, quinoa, tofu, portobellos, or aren’t familiar with making recipe substitutions, then taking a vegetarian cooking class can open the door to new culinary delights and introduce you to people who are on the same path. Choose a basic class if you’re a beginner or something specific if it interests you, such as vegetarian BBQ, vegetarian fast food, 10 ways to prepare tempeh, vegetarian soups, and so on.
7. Explore convenience foods. Although it’s best to choose fresh, organic foods whenever possible, we all get busy, so vegetarian convenience foods can be a big help. Of course, once you discover how to make your own veggie burritos, chili, Reubens, shish-ka-bobs, and five-bean soup, you might save those frozen veggie entrees for emergencies only.
But check them out—there are dozens of delicious vegetarian options in the frozen food aisle, and many are organic as well. You can also look for nonfrozen convenience foods, such as mixes for hummus, coucous, amaranth, falafel and more, which can be prepared in a matter of minutes.
8. Visit a variety of veggies. Most people don’t eat enough vegetables, and that’s too bad because they are typically chock full of nutrients and fiber, which is especially important to help you feel full and less likely to overeat. If vegetables have not been a daily visitor to your plate, then it’s time to explore the possibilities!
Include vegetables at every meal, even breakfast. The recommended intake of vegetables daily is 2 ½ to 3 cups for adults, but people who follow a plant-based diet typically eat even more.
Try vegetables you have never had before—perhaps one new veggie per week. Avoid frying or using fatty sauces or dressings—eating a plate full of deep fried zucchini with ranch dressing may be vegetarian (although the dressing contains dairy), but it won’t be helping your weight loss efforts.
Instead, try grilling thick slices of squash, eggplant, tomatoes, or portobellos or stir frying (with just a touch of olive oil) peppers, onions, celery, garlic, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, pea pods, bok choy…the list can go on and on! Season with your favorite herbs and serve over brown rice, couscous, amaranth, or quinoa for a filling and weight loss friendly meal!
9. Keep it simple. Vegetarian cooking and meals can be super simple. The example I just gave about the stir fried veggies and brown rice is one example. Oatmeal with almond milk and fresh fruit is an example of a simple breakfast; lentil or bean soup with veggies for lunch and pasta with marinara sauce for dinner are easy as well. Explore the scores of simple vegetarian meal ideas online and in cookbooks and exchange recipes with other people who are following this healthful way of eating and losing weight.