The Beginner's Guide to a Plant-Based Diet

Updated 11/23/15
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There are a lot of reasons to consider adopting a mostly (or entirely) plant-based diet. First, there are the healthy lifestyle considerations, like wanting to feel cleaner and lighter by eating fresh, whole foods. Maybe you're thinking of it as a temporary or longer-term detox from processed options. For some, the decision might be a moral one, either on behalf of animals or our world at large. And for others, it might have something to do with Beyoncé’s much-publicized three-week vegan challenge.

But changing your diet—especially if you’ve eaten one way your whole life—can feel incredibly overwhelming. 

To help demystify the process, we reached out to the duo behind Sakara Life, the popular plant-based meal delivery service that's a favourite of models like Lily Aldridge and Karolina Kurkova. The company’s founders, Whitney Tingle and Danielle Duboise, focus on principles of balance—that means no rigid rules and, instead, a focus on simplicity.

As plant-based eaters themselves and with a company created around helping total novices adopt plant-based diets, Tingle and Duboise have a wealth of wisdom on how beginners can transition to a plant-based diet. Keep scrolling for their easily digestible (pun intended) advice!

Don’t Go Cold Turkey

“There doesn’t have to be a demarcated day on your calendar when you are officially, publicly, and whole-heartedly slapping that plant-based label across your forehead,” say Tingle and Duboise. “Take your time, ease into it, and slowly start to cut out each animal product you currently eat one at a time.” That means, rather than cutting out dairy in one fell swoop, try phasing out something like yogurt first, and then, when you're ready, swapping out your usual milk for a non-dairy option.

“Not only will this make the entire process more enjoyable by avoiding shocking your system (and the detox headaches and fatigue that go with that), but it will also make it sustainable. You want to avoid the mentality of cheating and falling off the wagon at all costs, so don’t set any rules for yourself that you might break and beat yourself up over. Take it nice and slow and enjoy the ride,” they advise. 

Eat the Rainbow

“Because you are cutting a lot of foods out of your diet, it’s important to ensure that you are getting the variety of nutrients you need,” they say. “Your body doesn’t care if you are eating milk and meat, but it does care that you are getting the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that these foods have.”

They recommend focusing on balancing the colors on your plate at each meal, such as an orange sweet potato, with green broccoli, and a purple and red bean salad. “See if you can include each color of the rainbow, every single day, to help make sure you are getting what you need. But the key is to not freak out about it. Let go of all of the pesky where do you get your protein questions circulating in your head and focus on balance.” 

Make Greens Their Own Food Group

“Greens are rich in nutrients your body thrives off of (protein, antioxidants, chlorophyll, and calcium, to name a few) and are the key to reaping all of the amazing benefits that come from a plant-based diet,” Tingle and Duboise say. “Throughout years of perfecting our nutritionally-designed meal delivery program we have learned that greens deserve their own food group. So many of us pick the more hearty stuff off of the greens and throw the rest in the trash, but greens are like medicine.”

Their advice is to take all of the delicious fruits, veggies, grains, and seeds you are nourishing your body with, and put them on a bed of greens (think kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula). “Aim to consume between four to eight cups of greens a day,” they say.  

Don’t Be Afraid of the F Word

Fats—the good kind—are your friend. “Think avocados, not muffins,” say Tingle and Duboise. “Fats slow down digestion, helping your body assimilate the nutrients and burn belly fat, all of which keeps you fuller longer. Healthy fats play a critical role in your satiation,” they say. 

Look Alive

“A lot of people switching to a plant-based diet make the mistake of resorting to a lot of hearty dried foods,” say Tingle and Duboise. “Ezekial toast with almond butter sounds like the ultimate plant-based meal, no? While there are undeniably some great nutrients in those goodies, these dried foods—what we like to call ‘dead food’—should make up the minority of your diet, while the vast majority should be vibrant, hydrating, alive fruits and veggies that your body loves.”

In other words, anything that comes in a plastic package, that you keep in your freezer—even if it’s healthy sprouted bread—isn’t as “alive” as fresh produce from the ground. 

Stay Social

If you’ve ever tried to drastically change your diet, you might have felt a bit isolated, like you couldn’t go to a happy hour because you didn't want to seem like a high-maintenance pariah. Which is why we love the girls’ advice on maintaining a fun social life to dispel the notions that the two are mutually exclusive.

“Just because you’ve cut out animal products does not mean you have to kiss your social life goodbye,” say Tingle and Duboise. “Say yes to everything, so that you can show yourself and others that you can still participate in life—regardless of many preconceived notions. There is not one restaurant that we’ve been to that does not offer a plant-based option. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions on the menu, and get creative! There will always be some sides and salads you can feast on, and most restaurants are happy to put dressings on the side and omit the cheese.

The more you practice creating plant-based masterpieces, the better you get at eyeing those gems on the menu,” they say.

Don’t Do It Solo

Cooking all your meals yourself when you are plant-based is cumbersome, difficult, and expensive. It’s hard to get the variety you need and not just make the same old salad day after day. We happen to know a pretty darn delicious plant-based meal delivery program that will deliver nutritionally designed, delicious plant-based meals to your door. Give yourself a break and let others take care of you from time to time.” 

Focus on the Good

As with any comprehensive lifestyle change, try to take it a day (and meal) at a time, and don’t stress too much. “When crossing over to the plant-based world, a lot of people get consumed in worry,” say Tingle and Dubois. “What if I accidentally eat something with dairy, what if I INTENTIONALLY eat something with dairy, what if I don’t get enough XYZ, what if it’s so hard I can’t do it? Do you know what’s worse than ordering that cheese platter? Stressing over it!! If you start to struggle with your plant-based lifestyle, focus on all of the good it is providing you with.

How is your body reacting? How do you feel? How does your skin look? Let all these benefits fuel you,” they say.

Do you eat a plant-based diet? If so, what would you add to this beginner’s guide? If you’ve been thinking about trying one, were these tips helpful? Tell us in the comments below! 

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