Struggling to go greener with your diet? I know — it’s tough. But you’re not alone.
In fact, it’s said that 84% of vegetarians and vegans eventually go back to eating meat.
Why? Many reasons. After all, there’s a lot to consider, including your budget, your reason for quitting meat, individual tastes, how exciting your meals are, and so on.
Myself, I’ve struggled over the years to maintain a 100% green diet. I first made the transition in 2015 from meat to a wholly plant-based diet but, after an unbroken 2,5 years, I fell back into old habits for a while.
Yet, I — and many others — am determined to see it through, and what I’ve learned is that it’s largely a case of cultivating a few doable shifts in our habits.
In this article, I’m going to draw on my own experiences, as well as those of others, to help you transition to a greener diet like a boss.
What does a green diet look like?
A green diet means that you’re mostly eating plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Some who maintain a green diet still eat animal products every now and then, but their meat consumption is minimal. Going greener is largely a case of eating more sustainably and making a meat dish an accompaniment rather than the main attraction.
But I get it: How do we put greens front and center of our diet 7 days a week? Is it really possible to reduce our meat intake that much?
Let’s take a look at what you can do.
Know your reason why
To achieve a huge goal, we need to understand our underlying motive. In other words, what is our reason why?
I’ve seen ultra-marathon runners complete grueling marathons that had them running for days on end in searing heat. And I asked, how on earth did they do that? More importantly, why did they do that? Why put their minds and bodies through such endurance?
And it’s usually always their Why that gets them over the finish line. When they feel like giving up when their body is packing in and their mind is telling them to quit, they remind themselves of their Why — and they keep going.
It’s the same with going greener with your diet. When you’ve figured out what your Why is, you may be more motivated to stick at it.
For me, my original Why was my health. I decided that going greener would optimize my health, making me feel better. However, when that was no longer a big enough Why, I had to recalibrate and focus on what I should have been more focused on from the start: ethics.
In other words, compassion for animals and our beautiful planet. This is now my reason Why, and it helps me to keep going when I feel like quitting.
Learn about food
Education is power. When it comes to food, the more you know about it, the more you’ll enjoy it.
We all know that a burger tastes great. But how many of us know the sensuous, mystical power of herbs and spices? Do we know that simply adding a dash of rosemary and thyme to our vegetarian dishes can transform them into something amazing? Do we know all about the various different oils and how they can add fairy dust to our dinner?
When you understand how to make your food taste sumptuous, a greener diet gets a lot easier.
See, many meat-eaters are under the impression that vegetarian and vegan dishes are dull and bland. But maybe those folk haven’t tried spicy vegetarian tacos, peanut slaw, vegetable paella, minestrone, black bean sweet potato enchiladas, and spice kale and coconut fried rice.
I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already drooling all over the computer.
In short, it’s important to educate yourself on food in all its wonderful variety. Get to know it, get acquainted with it. Find out what you can do with it, what magic tricks you can perform. Experiment and don’t be afraid to get creative.
Keep vegetarian ingredients in your cupboards
Once you’ve become a bit more acquainted with the different seasonings and oils, you then need to get used to stockpiling them in your cupboards so that you can call on them whenever you need them.
Stock a variety of herbs, spices, and oils so that you eventually get used to sprinkling them on your dishes. If you know you’ve got the likes of turmeric in your cupboards, you’ll be more inclined to cook up a vegetarian dish.
Where can you get all these delicious ingredients from?
Check the next step…
Explore the vegetarian sections in your local supermarket
Ever tried kale chips? I hadn’t until recently. Primarily because I didn’t even know they existed!
And this is the thing with going greener: you will need to do a bit more exploring of your local supermarket to find vegetarian produce and products that were previously unknown to you. Better yet, you can try to reproduce them later at home!
Just by browsing the herbs and spices section, you can find out about more herbs and spices that you’ve never heard of before.
Not just that, but you could go further afield and try stores you’ve never visited before. Check out organic food stores, for example, or zero-waste stores, or Chinese supermarkets (these places are like Mecca for veggie food).
There are plenty of interesting and exciting vegetarian and vegan options — from chips to fake meat, from milk to broccoli and cheese sausages — that many of us are unaware of, but which make transitioning to a greener diet so much easier.
So put some time aside the next time you go grocery shopping, so that you aren’t whizzing around the aisles unthinkingly. Take your time to see what’s really out there. Let the various vegetarian and vegan and organic products excite you.
Make your dishes colorful
In his book Proteinaholic, Dr. Garth Davis points out how obnoxiously dull a meat-based diet looks. And he’s kind of got a point: Burgers are earth-colored. Hot dogs are brown. Steak looks the color of dirt.
Conversely, vegetarian and vegan dishes — such as protein-packed buddha bowls — can be as rainbow-colored as you like. 🌈
There are two things worth noting here: The more colorful your dishes are, the more nutrients you’ll be getting.
Secondly, a colorful dish just looks so amazing that it will excite your taste buds and make you feel amazing.
Here’s a very brief breakdown of what some of those colors can mean:
- Green = the likes of vitamin K from leafy greens like spinach and kale. It means plenty of iron, too
- Blue and purple = essential antioxidants found in beetroot and blueberries
- Orange = vitamins A and D, the latter being a vitamin that you normally only get from the sun!
For a more detailed guide about nutrients and food, go here.
Oh, and do use this totally printable, fridge-door-ready infographic as a cheat sheet:
Stop obsessing over protein
I know that a lot of people struggle to go greener because they’re worried they won’t get enough protein into their diet.
My friend Liam has been vegan for over five years now; he cooks his own meals and is preparing to release a vegan cookbook. As he points out, there’s no need to worry about protein when you go greener.
“Vegetables can work as your main element in any meal. As long as you eat a varied veg diet, you’ll get more than enough protein. Especially if you eat beans, lentils, quinoa, and tofu.”
This is true. In fact, tofu by itself contains as much as 19g of protein per 3.5 ounces. That stacks up pretty well to steak, which delivers 21g of protein per 3 ounces.
Quinoa, meanwhile, is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids.
Moreover, the likes of quinoa, lentils, and beans are excellent sources of other nutrients, such as fiber and calcium. So when you sub them for meat, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck.
Remember that going greener doesn’t mean you can’t eat junk food
I’m probably being a bit naughty adding this section because junk food by its nature is bad for us. But I know that some people struggle to transition to a greener diet because their craving for junk food is just too real.
Hot dogs? Cheeseburgers? Chicken nuggets? They all smell amazing, and they’re often just a few blocks away.
The thing is, going greener doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate junk food from your diet. There are now vegan fast food restaurants all over the world that serve ‘fake’ beef burgers, tacos, chicken nuggets, and more.
Naturally, this stuff is junk and isn’t really good for you. But if you’re having a difficult time making the transition, it’s well worth knowing that you can have a cheat day now and then without taking a break from your greener diet.
Moreover, vegan junk food doesn’t need to be expensive.
“Vegan versions of burgers and nuggets and sausages are everywhere now. It’s much, much easier than five years ago to go vegan if you love your junk food now and then,”
says Liam, who lists V-Rev’s, a vegan fast food restaurant, as one of his favorite places to go and eat.
And if you’re concerned about fake meat in general, check this article out.
Share your experience with fellow vegans and vegetarians
Ever noticed when you share your goals with your friends, you’re more likely to stick to them?
Not just that, but talking to others who are experiencing similar situations to us (such as trying to go greener) can help us to stick to our goals. We get to share funny stories and relate to each other’s struggles.
We can encourage each other as well, and share thoughts and ideas. When Liam was struggling with his reasons for going vegan, we had a chat about his Why, and it helped to get him back on track.
Moreover, people who have been there and done it can help to motivate you to keep going by giving you tips and tricks that worked for them.
Here at NatureHub, we often share our green diet experiences and tips with each other, so we decided to round up some of our stories that might help you, too.
🌎 Justin Harvey Lewis, Co-Founder
I have spent the last 14 or so years experimenting with my diet: I tried 2-months long raw juice cleanses, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian diets — you name it.
It started when I could feel my body not reacting well to the common foods I was eating (many which were considered healthy or safe by the vast majority), so about twice a year, I would do periodic organic plant-based cleanses. It wasn’t easy to source real organic foods at that time, and they were very expensive — which was a big limiting factor for me and a big reason I started gardening for myself.
My diet experimentation and periodic cleansing went on for 5-10 years until I started having health issues and started diving deeper to find answers. Gradually, I minimized (or completely eliminated) my meat, wheat, seafood, dairy, fried and processed food consumption — I realized they made me feel lethargic and placed an excessive burden on my digestive and immune systems.
I’d really just like to approach it from a mindset of doing the least harm to the most conscious of creatures, and being respectful of our place here as humans to achieve balance. NatureHub is about empowering conscious decisions and learning our way forward together in an open and respectful way, not about enforcing a rigid one size fits all approach on to people.
This goes for veganism, too. Simply eating fewer animal products and less processed foods is not only a great starting place for many people, but it can also have a significant impact if the majority of the population adopted more moderate lifestyles.
🧠 Kat Doe, Content Strategist
I became vegetarian 12 years ago when I realized I was feeling guilty about eating meat, and I had to do something with it: either learn to cope with the guilt — or stop eating meat whatsoever. So I chose the latter.
Meat-eating culture is extremely present where I come from, which made the transition unnecessarily confusing. It did take quite a while for my surroundings to consider healthier, plant-based diets for themselves too (or at least not to attempt a banter every time we share a meal anymore, which is nice).
Rookie mistakes? As it turned out, just excluding meat, fish, dairy, and eggs doesn’t work — you gotta find a way to make up for them nutrient-wise (and I don’t mean just carbs).
My tip is to keep your mind open, experiment, and accept that there will be some trials and errors, and that’s totally fine. My curiosity for different national cuisines certainly comes in handy as I’m learning to cook plant-based meals from all around the world so that my diet is green and varied and fun — which means never boring. So Gemini, IKR.
💻 Sajal Arora, Back-End Developer
My current diet is vegetarian: it’s mostly veggies, fruits, sprouts, whole wheat, and nuts.
Three years ago, I have transitioned from a meat-based diet to plant-based, and the changes were quick to follow. I feel more disciplined, organized, and in-control (which also means in control of my food cravings 🙃). I feel lighter in a good way, both weight-wise and digestion-wise.
My 2020 goal is to transition from vegetarian to vegan, and I’m working on that; I have already cut out most of dairy from my diet.
Almost everything is now available as a vegetarian alternative. Humans are getting smarter every day, so why don’t we make our food choices smarter and healthier, too?
📝 Jackie Smith, Writer
My diet is about 90% plant-based, and I eat a plant-based diet during the workweek and vegetarian on the weekends. I have married my plant-based eating with my urban homestead lifestyle by growing and preserving all my own vegetables, fruits, and medicinal herbs, so I tend to eat almost all organic vegetables out of my backyard garden during the growing season.
My health has improved greatly: my mood and mental health is better; my daily blood glucose levels are now in normal range. My gastroparesis has resulted in no abdominal pain and fewer nausea days and hospitalizations.
As a tip, I’d recommend trying to find a way to ease into this way of eating and make it fit into your lifestyle, including traveling and on-the-go (I wrote an article about it).
Other than that: have an accountability partner, always read the ingredients of packaged foods, and avoid GMO and substituting meat for carbs!
The thing with transitioning to a greener diet is that you mustn’t put too much pressure on yourself. Neither should you give up or feel like a failure if you have a week of junk food.
We’re all human, and we’re all striving to do better. Take this one step at a time, use the tips in this article, chat to your green-minded friends — and do this like a boss.