10 Pillars of Vegetarianism

On a regular basis, both in person and in email, about vegetarianism and the steps someone can take to make the transition smoother and easier. As I mentioned in my article here about it, the transition to a vegetarian diet isn’t always a smooth one, and if done improperly can be much more difficult than it needs to be.

That’s really the biggest obstacle right there; simply not knowing. If you live in the Western world it’s especially difficult because a meat-eating diet is the predominant diet, and so most outlets are catered towards that lifestyle.

For those interested in transitioning, you can either do the gradual method or the overnight method. I chose the overnight method myself, but that’s only because I hate dragging things out longer than needed. For some people, the overnight method may prove to be too much of a “shock.” This is understandable, as eating meat one day and completely removing it the next can leave you out in left field if you don’t know what you’re doing. I found that out the hard way…

Don’t get too caught up on either method though, as each one leads to the same destination. The goal is a successful and smooth transition into a vegetarian diet, and the road taken to get there isn’t nearly as important as actually getting there in the first place.

With that being said, whether you’re thinking of transitioning, just recently transitioned, or you’ve been a vegetarian for years, these 10 pillars are highly recommended for inspiration anytime the going gets tough.

1) Get Educated
Regardless of whether you’re following the gradual method or the overnight method, you need to educate yourself so you can make a successful transition. The biggest issue most people seem to run into is variety; they don’t know what to make, or they end up eating the same few things over and over. Two books I recommend are Being Vegetarian for Dummies and This Cookbook. The first one has a lot of practical advice on nutrition and common issues new vegetarians run into, while the second book is jam packed full of quick and easy recipes. Don’t let the name fool you, as it’s packed full of quick and delicious snacks and meals that are easy on the wallet AND easy on your time.

2) Cut out junk food
A lot of new vegetarians, not knowing what to eat, end up resorting to more junk food than they should probably consume. I fell into this pattern myself with cheese pizza. While not all pizza is bad, the particular brand I was eating was extremely fatty while also being made with loads of grease. Don’t substitute that hamburger with something equally bad. Being a vegetarian means encompassing a healthier lifestyle, so make sure to squeeze the most out of your new diet.

3) Find Motivation
Usually around the 2-3 week period, right after the excitement of a new diet is beginning to wear off; people begin to complain that they miss the taste of meat. While different people have different taste buds, I can tell you personally that that craving does go away. Meat doesn’t even register itself on my radar anymore. That being said, when those tough times hit, you need to build on some inspiration to keep yourself going. Draw upon all the positive aspects a vegetarian diet can bring into your life, and use that to find your motivation. When I first made the transition, anytime I felt the urge to eat meat I would think of the terrible impact the meat industry leaves upon the Earth, the animals, and even us as human beings. That alone was enough to deter any cravings I had.

4) Embrace Variety
Being a vegetarian, I now eat a ton of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grain products that I used to never touch. A vegetarian diet should never limit what you can eat; rather, if done correctly, it should introduce you to new foods you’ve never explored before. Make it a habit to try a new food at least once a week. Not only does this keep your diet interesting, but it also prevents you from getting in a rut of eating the same few foods over and over.

5) Eat Properly
While this sort of goes hand-in-hand with #1, eating properly is generally dependant on how educated you are about your food choices. It’s important to understand what you’re eating and what’s inside of it. Foods that may be low in fat may be jam packed full of sodium. Likewise, foods that appear to be high in protein may be also saturated in fat and excess calories. Learn to check the nutritional info of each thing you eat, and over time you’ll begin to easily recognize what’s good for you and what isn’t.

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6) Make a Meal Plan
One of the most difficult problems new vegetarians have is not knowing what to eat. They’ll know a few good foods they like and repeatedly eat those over and over. It can also be tough when you’re hungry because you don’t necessarily have the time or desire to make a full list of what you need. To solve this, simply make your meal list in advance. You don’t have to do it for every meal, but do it for at least one meal a day, preferably a larger meal like dinner. Make a list of what you’re going to eat for dinner each night that week, and then when you go to the grocery store, buy all the supplies you need. This means no “what should I make?” issues down the road. On a side note, you’ll also get more confident with making new foods, too.

7) Enjoy the Benefits
All too often new vegetarians continually focus on the bad aspects of a diet change instead of focusing on the good. Stop viewing things in a light of deprivation and start viewing them in a light of positive growth. Most vegetarians are leaner than their meat-eating counterparts, have fewer heart problems, have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and generally live an all around healthier lifestyle. Take advantage of this, as it’s one of the biggest aspects to being a vegetarian.

8) Communicate With Other Vegetarians
This can be tough, because such a small percentage of the population is vegetarian. When I made the transition, I didn’t really have any close friends or family members whom I could get advice or ideas from. Nowadays, as vegetarianism is getting more popular, there are a lot of clubs and organizations you can join that’ll help you out along the way. Most colleges have vegetarian organizations, as do most larger metropolitan areas. It really helps to communicate with like-minded people when doing something like this, as they can easily provide the support and inspiration when you need it most.

9) Don’t Hide It
The last thing you want is a good friend or family member making you a dish or inviting you over for dinner only to find out that they’ve used meat as the main ingredient. You don’t have to go around town telling everyone you’re a vegetarian, but let those important to you know about your diet change whenever you next speak to them. If you’re worried about constant questioning or belittlement from others, then get used to it. Even in the 21’st century there are still a lot of ignorant people, so expect some of those out there to not agree with your diet or lifestyle.

10) Enjoy Being Unique
Embrace the fact that only about 2% of the population (at least in the United States) is vegetarian or vegan. Don’t take on an elitist attitude, but realize that you’re at the forefront of a healthier diet and evolving lifestyle. Sure, some people may criticize or question you over your choices, but that’s their hang-up and not yours. In short: take pleasure in knowing you fuel your body with only the best.