It’s in your head.
Before starting to plan for it, before even finding the main motivation behind your transition, you need to understand something very, very important.
Your attachment to animal products is mostly psychological:
Most of the anticipated pleasure of having meat in your mouth is only there because (probably) ever since you were born, a good steak or a shawarma sandwich was associated with family, celebration, reward, strength, comfort, ads, strong bones, good health, power figures, etc.
This is important, because you need to understand how deeply your body is actually attached to certain foods that it’s been given its whole life. The hard part is not hunger; it’s psychological hunger.
We all got super sick after eating a particular food as kids – didn’t the idea of that food keep making you sick for years? Probably up until this day?
The same applies to animal products; if they were a big part of your LIFE, imagine all the possible and very positive associations your brain formed with them.
Imagine you give a kid as many marshmallows as they like every day for three years. You then completely cut them off, without walking the kid through the ‘why’, without giving any explanation, and you leave the kid hung out to dry.
Count 24h, and that kid will have found a way to get their hands on some marshmallows, clinging to them for dear life.
Now imagine you do this to your brain and body, with something it’s been having for more than a decade.
The first and best advice I can give anyone is to remember this: your history with animal products is not a switch you can turn on and off. It’s a complex physiological and emotional relationship, treat it as such.
Accordingly, keep in mind, throughout your transition, that your body will crave and ask for animal products; and that is more than okay, and I would say, go ahead, give it what it’s calling for, but maybe just a small piece, with a delicious side of stir fried veggies in a teriyaki or BBQ sauce.
Consider this as reverse-going-to-the-gym; you want to decrease the animal dumbbells’ weights gradually, and increase the plant goodness ones instead.
Another important point is to get to know WHY we’re attracted to animal products. Look up the psychology of eating meat; you will find a lot of research that explains why it is so difficult for us to acknowledge that meat is, well, sort of a huge turn off.
Understand why you’re craving meat, why you’ve been eating it your whole life. When you crave it during the transition, reflect. Don’t block. Never say no to your body without having this conversation. Think about the real reason why you’re craving an animal product in that moment; take that reason, and start to projecting it onto plants!
Is it flavor? Dressing? Texture? Health benefits? Nostalgia? Habit? Tradition? The “fsssh” sound on the pan? The color? The sides?
Find that reason. Recreate it with plants. Wash. Repeat. (and I am here to help with ideas just drop me a dm on IG or an email!)
For example: you realize that red meat used to be something to look forward to post-workout, making your workout ‘worth it’, almost ‘logging it in’. Read more- and a lot- about the benefits of leafy greens, nuts, and seeds post-workout! When you tell your body something is great for it, when you read studies about it, or just google about it, when you’re convinced of something, it’s going to believe you. And that, right there, is your key to shifting those psychological connections from animal products, to plants.
This is YOURS and YOURS only
A lot of people, including myself, will be giving you advice, telling you all about the dos and don’ts. Listen, but only take into account; DO NOT feel pressured to do anything anyone says to you. DO NOT put in mind that if someone had it a certain way, it’s the ‘right’ way.
You are changing the wires of YOUR body. YOU know best. You should get informed, but do not appropriate anyone’s word or experience as what yours should be.
If you cut off animal products for a month, then had a steak, don’t let anyone blame you for it; it’s not wrong. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this. This is your journey and yours only. You’re not doing this for anyone else. (Although the entire planet and our future generations should thank you for it).
If you had animal products after being off them for awhile, it’s fine; keep going forward as if it didn’t matter, because it doesn’t. Just keep going.
Remember, your current lifestyle is still better than your old one. Just keep going forward.
Set the Scene
Alright, now we can get to work.
You will need to identify your WHY.
Is it the planet? Pure curiosity? The trend? The animals? Your body? All of the above?
Identify your why, and deepen your understanding of it. Try and strengthen as much as possible your relationship with it, solidify your conviction through research, reflection, and conversations. This will help your body and mind stay on track.
Some people found documentaries on animal cruelty incredibly helpful – it wasn’t my personal cup of tea because just imagining what was going on in there was too hard to handle – do you, whatever rocks your I’m-into-plants-now boat!
Identify your ‘HOW’
Would you like to use my method of going slow? Or do you think an abrupt change (taking into account the ways your body might react) would be better?
Think about this, reflect on it considering your personality, behavioral patterns, and usual commitment issues or lack thereof. If like me, you have no commitment issues and wouldn’t mind being patient, if you like to go slowly but surely, and would like to avoid any strong reactions from your body – then this guide will definitely be useful!
Just set up a plan – any plan.
Live outside the box!
Something incredible helpful in my experience was to avoid saying ‘I’m vegan/vegetarian’. I kept saying ‘I’m reducing my animal product intake’ instead, even if weeks had gone by without them.
I particularly think this is impactful considering the many many categorizations our current culture imposes on us, and how anxiety-inducing they can be. As a strong believer that you want to prep your brain to crave this transition and love it, you need to make sure it’s actually comfortable in it.
We – very unfortunately – find ourselves defining our lives with our weight, our height, our relationship statuses, employment, income, fitness, culture, gender etc. All of which can be great, but also serve as an open buffet to our anxiety. Why project that relationship onto food? Onto an activity that we do at least twice a day, which, let’s face it, is already emotionally charged most of the time?
Don’t think about ‘who’ you are in the diet scene. Just be whatever you are at the moment. Asserting you’re a ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ now won’t bring you anything but pressure, and possible guilt in case of a change of mood!
Just go with the flow, and whenever you feel like this lifestyle has truly become a part of who you are, and you are completely comfortable with that, then define yourself as whatever-the-hell-makes-you-feel-good.
One day at a time
The way I did it, was only having meat/chicken for four days a week for a month, then for three for a couple month, and eventually cutting it to weekends-only for awhile. Then one day, I decided to go meat-less for two weeks in a row, and these two weeks casually turned into three years, four months, and counting.
Inspired by the efficiency of a slow paced transition, here’s my advice to you:
Decide on a pace; how fast would you like to go – and this can fluctuate through time.
Do it gradually; otherwise, your body might react negatively – and you might end up losing or gaining to much weight suddenly, developing intolerances and sensitivities, or simply adding more negative emotion to your relationship to the new diet because of restriction.
Another way to do this is to wake up every morning and ask yourself: would I like to try and go animal-product free today? If the answer is yes, make a mental list of the kind of foods you’d like to eat, what you are looking forward do, and maybe something new to learn/taste!
What about dairy?
A lot of vegans I know mention dairy being the most difficult category to cut off – it wasn’t the case for me, since I had to cut it off for health reasons anyway. But I feel your pain – nothing like a cheesy, gooey feel on a pizza or nachos or some mac’n’cheese, right?
The answer is simple; you’re at the diet gym. This is your beast. Definitely take your time with it, but also consider you’ll need to warm up even harder for it; reading about the dairy industry helps a lot. Realizing how outrageous it is to be consuming juice coming out of a cow’s tits will definitely be helpful. Also realizing that the meat and dairy industries are inherently and entirely interdependent helps too; doesn’t matter if you cut off meat, as long as you’re consuming dairy, you’re still sending off cows to get slaughtered!
This is the part where, if you have the heart to, watching a documentary would be most helpful.
Again, and for the last time; if you have dairy again, it does. not. matter. What matters is going forward. A day where you consumed an animal product is just more data – nothing more, nothing less.
Finally, make sure you’re kitchen ready. Going slow and with the flow won’t get you anywhere unless you’re able to, as mentioned earlier, decrease the weight of the animal dumbbells, and increase the plant goodness: have a well armed, personalized, plant-based friendly pantry, fridge, and entourage, and definitely make sure you read the rest of this guide.