New York — The new year is finally here and if you’re like most people, you are really ready for a change.
The past few months of holiday frenzy and celebration have most likely left you feeling sluggish, rundown, and well, not your best. Furthermore, you’ve probably been thinking about transformations you’d like to see in your own life.
Dr. Mary Wendt, MD, says that the new year is the perfect time to take charge of your health and diet so you can lose weight, feel great and thrive.
How can you achieve this optimal level of health and energy? By swapping out your meat and dairy products for healthy and delicious plant-based foods. In short, by going vegan — or at least mostly vegan.
“Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself,” says Wendt, founder of www.getwaisted.com and author of “Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life.”
“Meat and dairy contain inflammatory proteins and excess saturated fat. Getting rid of these artery-clogging foods frees up your plate so you can enjoy more vitamin and mineral rich vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.”
Wendt, who eats a plant-based diet herself, says that the beginning of the new year is the best time to give up (or cut way back on) meat and dairy. And don’t worry! This kind of change is very doable and best of all it promotes sustainable weight loss; vegans tend to be thinner, fitter and more energetic than their meat eating counterparts. Talk about a winning resolution!
Once you make the decision to remove meat and dairy from your diet, you are well on your way to achieving better health and hopefully dropping a few spare pounds for good. But first you have to actually make this drastic change happen—and that can seem very daunting indeed to lifelong carnivores.
Don’t worry, Wendt says: Going vegan (or near-vegan if you can’t quite commit) is much less difficult than you likely imagine. Making a transformation to a plant-based diet can be an empowering (even joyful!) event. Below is a step-by-step guide that will help you make your transition with ease.
• Do a 24-hour food recall.
First, get an accurate idea of how much meat you’re currently eating. Instead of keeping a food log (which you’re prone to forget about after Meal One), do a 24-hour food recall. Write down everything you ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and drinks for the past 24 hours. For many people, seeing a typical day’s diet in black and white is eye-opening.
“Even if you don’t think you eat much meat, consider the World Health Organization’s recommendations,” Wendt said. “Just 50 grams of processed meat, or a little less than 2 ounces daily, increases your risks. Bacon or sausage for breakfast, plus a deli sandwich at lunch, might put you well over 50 grams — and that’s not even counting supper!”
• Stop thinking of meat as the main event.
Unless you grew up in a vegetarian or vegan household, chances are you were raised to think of meat as the main dish and everything else as “sides.” Wendt says it can be helpful to mentally switch these designations.
“Consider meat a condiment that you can sprinkle over beans, whole grains, or vegetables, rather than the main dish,” she recommends. “For instance, you might crumble a small amount of chorizo into your vegetable soup or top your salad with a pinch or two of bacon bits.”
• Get over your fear of carbs, too.
Are you afraid that stepping away from meat will inevitably lead to more carb consumption…and then to more body fat? This is a common concern, but Wendt promises that it’s unfounded.
“There’s much more to a plant-based diet than bread, rice, and pasta,” she points out. “A balanced plate includes fruits, vegetables, fiber, protein, and more. And anyway, not all carbs are bad. You do want to stay away from simple carbohydrates (like those found in white bread and white rice), which are easily broken down by the body and quickly converted to fat — without leaving you satisfied. However, complex carbohydrates (like those found in whole grain products) will fill you up without filling you out.”
• Take the transition slowly.
There’s nothing pleasant about quitting your favorite meats cold turkey (pun intended) — and anyway, this strategy is unlikely to be successful in the long run. If you’re currently a committed carnivore, start by eliminating meat from just one meal a day. After a few weeks, you can move on to having meat only once per day —and after that, to one or more meatless days each week.
“No matter what kind of dietary change you’re making, the key to lasting success is sustainability,” Wendt said. “A slow, gradual transition gives your body and palate plenty of time to get used to more plant-based options and keeps you from feeling restricted and dissatisfied.”
• Stretch your culinary muscles.
As you cut back on the amount of meat you eat, you’ll want to add new plant-based recipes to your kitchen repertoire. (Sorry — eating more chips, French fries, candy, and other meatless junk food won’t do your health many favors in the long run.) Also, variety is important both for nutrition and your new diet’s sustainability.
“Fortunately, finding recipes and learning new cooking techniques has never been easier thanks to sites like Pinterest and Epicurious, plant-based food blogs, YouTube tutorials, and more,” Wendt notes. “If you don’t want to spend time searching and prefer a more customized approach, my Get Waisted program gives you access to thousands of curated plant-based recipes.”
• Look for satisfying substitutions.
Instead of telling yourself, ‘I can’t eat that,’ ask, ‘How can I make it healthier?’ Your quest to eat less meat (or even go meat-free) won’t feel like a sacrifice if you can find a plant-based way to replicate the flavors and dishes you’ve always loved.
“Before I cut meat out of my diet, I used to love making — and eating — Vietnamese pork bundles,” Wendt said. “I mourned their loss for four whole years before I had the idea to substitute pinto beans for the pork. Turns out their creamy goodness, and even their coloring, mimics ground pork reasonably well. And bonus: Beans are consistently linked to high productivity and longevity. By choosing a bean over meat, I had not only found a way to extend my life, I was improving its quality, too.
“The point is, you don’t have to look for an all-new repertoire of meatless recipes — just get creative when preparing your old favorites,” she continues. “In addition to subbing beans for meat, give meat-replacers like tofu, portobello mushrooms, lentils, and eggplant a second (or first) chance.”
• Start the day off right.
Many of us view cured meats like bacon, sausage, and ham as a breakfast staple. We may even have thought we were doing ourselves a favor by avoiding sugary cereals and carbs. But based on the WHO’s recent report that processed meats are linked to cancer, it’s wise to bid a (perhaps tearful) farewell to these old meaty favorites—or at least enjoy them on a more limited basis.
“Don’t skip breakfast altogether if your old go-to option is off the table,” Wendt warns. “This meal is a great place to start incorporating plant-based substitutions. You can try vegetarian and vegan sausages and bacon if you prefer to start the day off on a savory note.
“Personally, I was surprised by how close to the original many of these copycats are. And don’t forget options like oatmeal, fruit smoothies, and whole grain breads and cereals. All of these are healthy, and once again, will fill you up without filling you out.”
• Find some friends to share the journey.
It’s a lot easier to make healthy transitions when you’re working toward your goal with friends, old or new. Don’t underestimate the power of support, encouragement, and commiseration.
“If you can’t get your family on board with a reduced-meat or no-meat diet, maybe you can swap plant-based meal plans with a good friend or team up with a coworker to make sure the break room is stocked with healthy lunch and snack options,” Wendt suggests.
“This is a great time to start making lasting changes that will improve your whole life,” she concludes. “You can begin a new, healthier chapter of your life today, with no distractions or excuses weighing you down. It is my hope that the prospect of a more fit and healthy ‘you’ is inspiration enough to reclaim your health using the undeniable power of plant-based foods.”
Dr. Wendt is an author and founder of “Get Waisted and the author of Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life.” She is an expert on making the transition to plant-based nutrition and has 20 years of experience practicing internal medicine in private and hospital practice. To learn more, visit www.getwaisted.com.