Eat Plant-Strong: 2 Hearty Vegan Recipes from the New Engine 2 Cookbook

plant-strong

As much as I hate to admit it, that old joke about vegans at a dinner party is kind of true…

We love talking about our food. But if you spend enough time around vegans and vegetarians, you’ll find out that it’s not all just kale and almond milk.

You’ll likely find out that we love to learn about our food and about how what we eat affects the world around us.

But it’s not just talking… we love to eat that food, too.

And no, it’s not that we’re so deprived of calories that we can’t get enough — it’s that we find so much joy and pleasure in the food we eat that we can’t help but go back for a second serving. (With the added benefit of knowing what we’re eating is typically healthy and that no animals were harmed in the making of our new favorite meal.)

Cooking Meals You’ll Want to Share

Along with that love of food comes a deep desire to share our favorite meals and recipes with friends and family, whether they happen to be vegan or not.

So when a fellow vegan comes out with a new cookbook, for me, it’s almost like Christmas. I can’t wait to see a new perspective on how to combine fresh fruits and veggies to create an entirely new dish (or take on a dish) that I’d never considered.

That’s how I felt when I heard about Rip Esselstyn’s new book, The Engine 2 Cookbook, which he wrote with his sister Jane, a nurse, researcher, and recipe developer. Rip is a long-time friend of NMA, so when news got out about his book, we wanted to do what we could to help spread the word.

This cookbook is a follow-up to Rip’s New York Times best seller, The Engine 2 Diet, which he published in 2009. Because of the success of his first book, and the work of his farther, Dr. Caldwell Essylstein, Rip is one of the most well-known advocates for a whole-food, planted-based diet, which he refers to as “plant-strong.” From his years as a professional triathlete to being a firefighter in Austin, Texas, Esselstyn has been an inspiring example of how to thrive on a plant-based diet.

Rip and Jane were also guests on a recent episode of NMA Radio, where they shared more about the Engine 2 Diet philosophy and story. Check it out here:

In The Engine 2 Cookbook, Rip and Jane share a ton of recipes that you’ll definitely enjoy on your own, but you’ll also be exciting to share with your family and friends. I’ll get the ball rolling by sharing a few of my favorite recipes below: Two-Handed Sloppy Joes and DeBoom’s Ironman Cherry Chili (which includes a bonus roasted red pepper recipe!). Both recipes take an old favorite and add a little twist to make them seem new again!

Perfect for enjoying around a table full of loved ones.

Two-Handed Sloppy Joes_credit Donna Turner Ruhlman

Two-Handed Sloppy Joes

Serves 4

Sloppy, smoky, satisfying. Sloppy Joe is probably my favorite comfort food – and this recipe ticks all the boxes.

NOTE: If you are not using canned lentils, combine 1½ cups dry lentils and 4 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Drain if necessary.

Ingredients
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cups cooked brown lentils, or 2 (15-ounce) cans lentils, drained and rinsed
¼ cup barbecue sauce (Rip suggests Bone Suckin’ Sauce)
1 tablespoon 100% pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon liquid smoke, or ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder

4 whole-grain buns

Fixings: butter lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced red onion

Instructions
In a skillet over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes and continue to cook and stir over low heat until all warmed and mixed together, about 3 minutes. Add the cooked lentils, barbecue sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and chili powder, and thoroughly mix. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and tweak mixture to your liking: Add more maple syrup for a sweeter flavor, or more barbecue sauce for a smokier or more fiery flavor.

Load the filling onto your whole-grain buns and add your preferred fixings.

DeBoom’s Ironman Cherry Chili_Cranberry Salsa_credit Donna Turner Ruhlman

DeBoom’s Ironman Cherry Chili

Serves 8

The Engine 2 Cookbook shares a little back story about this recipe:
“Rip’s friend Tim DeBoom won the coveted Hawaii Ironman triathlon twice, in 2001 and 2002. The first time, right after 9/11, he broke a five-year streak of no American winning the race. Rip will never forget the vision of Tim crossing the finish line waving the American flag. Tim and his wife, Nicole, made this chili for Rip one night when he crashed at their place. After two bites he couldn’t get over how much he loved cherries in chili. It’s a total winner—just like they are!”

Ingredients

¼ cup dried tart cherries
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup Roasted Red Bell Peppers (see below) or store-bought roasted peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, with juice
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup sweet corn, frozen is fine
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced, for topping

Instructions

Place the cherries in a dish of warm water and let soak for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and try to rinse off any of the oil used in processing the dried cherries. Repeat, soaking, draining, and rinsing the cherries again. Set aside.

Microwave or steam the sweet potato cubes until they are soft, and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the onion and bell pepper in a little water until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.

Add the roasted pepper, chili powder, mustard, cumin, tomatoes, and broth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat as the flavors meld together. Increase to high heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the drained cherries, steamed sweet potatoes, black beans, kidney beans, corn, and half the cilantro. Continue cooking and stirring on medium-low heat for at least 10 minutes, until well incorporated and the flavors mingle. Simmering longer does not hurt when it comes to chili as long as you remember to stir occasionally.

Serve with remaining cilantro and diced jalapeño to your liking. It is also delicious over brown rice.

Roasted Red Bell Peppers

Makes 3 to 4 cups

Roasted peppers are what make the sandwich, the salad, the pizza, the pocket, the burrito…you get my drift. Make these, share these, and devour these. You will become addicted.

Ingredients

6 red bell peppers
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450°F or set to broil.

Place the peppers on a baking sheet and roast or broil until blackened on one side, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the peppers and continue roasting, rotating until all sides are blackened, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Some people prefer roasting peppers individually over a gas flame which works, too.

Let cool slightly, then peel and seed the peppers under running water. Slice or tear the flesh into long strips and place in a bowl. Add the vinegar, garlic, basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano. Allow the peppers and spices to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container for 7 days.

About the Author: Andrew Carter is a vegan trail and ultrarunner and editor for No Meat Athlete. You can read about his adventures on the trail at Infinite MPG.

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The 5 Big Keys to Habit Change

hand writes with a pen in a notebook

This time of year, whether you set official resolutions or not, you’re likely thinking about the good and bad habits you developed in 2017. And more importantly, how to set better habits this year.

We talk a lot about the dos and don’ts of habit change here at No Meat Athlete, but when it boils down to it, there are really just five keys to creating successful habits. It’s no secret that many attempts at new health and fitness habits fail in just a few weeks. But if you follow these five keys – or rules – you’ll get on the path to success and stay there.

In today’s episode, we share a clip from an Academy seminar, where Matt outlines those keys to creating habits that stick and provides real-life examples from his own successes (and failures) to help you put these rules into action.

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The Big Holiday Extravaganza of 2017

Christmas flat lay

One of my favorite episodes each year is our big, epic, vegan holiday extravaganza, when Matt and I discuss our wish lists and favorite seasonal films, and share what we plan to cook and drink over the holidays.

Here’s 2015’s and 2016’s.

This year, things are a little different. With Matt and his family traveling to Spain for the holiday, the conversation shifted towards traditions, travel, and dealing with family expectations.

But don’t you worry, Matt still shares his (ridiculous, if you ask me) Christmas movie list.

So light up the fire, pour yourself a Christmas beer, and enjoy this year’s holiday celebration.

Click the button below to listen now:

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If you like what we do at NMA Radio, we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d leave us a rating and review on iTunes. Thank you!

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12 Monthly Nutrition and Health Challenges to Thrive in 2018

Freshly harvested vegetables

Each new year, just after the clock strikes midnight, we’re given a golden opportunity to turn the page on one year, and start writing the story of the next.

To set resolutions, and tackle the health, nutrition, and fitness goals that plagued us for the last 12 months. It’s beautiful, if you ask me.

The only problem? Health and nutrition goals like that goals that stick and make a lasting change take work.

There are a lot of blogs out there that promise quick fixes through hacks or other shortcuts, when what you really need is real, lasting change. And the cold, hard, nobody-wants-to-hear-it truth about achieving your health and fitness goals is that it ain’t easy.

Which, if you haven’t figured it out already, is why most people’s health goals and new year’s resolutions fail (often before they even get started).

But your 2018 goals?

Those will be different.

Those will be… magical. No no, that’s not right. No mythical magic here…

Those will be…

Earned.

Sexy, it is not. But in truth an earned goal is far superior than one handed down with magic (if there actually is such a thing).

And to earn those healthy goals, I can’t think of any better way than making small-step-style progress through monthly goals. Small challenges that will make hard-to-get-started health goals easier, manageable, fun, and most importantly, successful.

12 Monthly Health and Nutrition Challenges for 2018

For the past two years, we’ve put together a plan of monthly challenges to help you push through the next year. The first year focused on running, the second happiness, and this year we’re focusing on nutrition and general health to build a solid foundation.

Because any big, lasting health change or goal only takes root on a strong habit foundation. Once that foundation is established, the options are endless.

If you stick with this plan, laid out through 12 monthly challenges, you’ll unquestionably make progress towards your larger health and fitness goals.

Here’s how it works:

  • Each challenge is designed to last a month, but the hope is that you’ll keep up that new habit, or at least a similar version of it, after the month ends. If you’d like to slow it down, feel free, but I encourage you to push yourself to stick within the schedule.
  • The challenges build on each other, so start with numero uno.
  • Most challenges are adaptable, so if something sounds too easy (or if you’re doing it already), step it up a notch to make it harder. If what I’m suggesting is simply far too hard, take it back a bit. But let me be clear, this should be difficult. These are challenges, after all.
  • Each year we set these up to start in January, but they don’t have to! If you’re finding this in August, start now!

Ready to get started? Good. Let’s make 2018 your best year yet.

Challenge 1: The Year Of…

I’m a big believer that overarching themes can help us stay focused. By setting a theme, you provide a guide for all your goals and objectives.

That way, when you’re feeling conflicted about a task or mini goal, you can ask yourself:

Does it fit my theme?

If the answer is “yes,” then great. Go for it. If the answer is “no,” you may want to rethink it.

Objective: Create a theme for your year, then brainstorm how the next 11 goals, plus any others you may have, can fit that theme. They might not all fit perfectly, but there should be a way to make the connection. Take your time on this, and spend the next weeks refining it (and the following challenges) in a way that supports your theme.

Rules: Define your theme in an objective way. Sample themes could include:

As an example, my theme this year is running related: The year of vertical gain. All the races, training plans, and objectives I set for myself will be based on big vertical gains and mastering the climb. Though many of the challenges below don’t have anything to do with running, I can frame them in a way that will set me up for success with my training.

Now it’s your turn. What will be your theme for the year?

Challenge 2: Nailing Breakfast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I’m not sure who “they” are, or even if they’re correct, but I know for sure that if you start your day off on a healthy note, it will get you in the right frame of mind to kick ass as the hours go on.

For this second challenge, start with nailing breakfast by having a healthy, nutrient-rich meal before you start the day.

Objective: Make a nutrient-rich, energy-rich breakfast a priority.

Rules: During each weekday, make a nutrient-rich breakfast to start your day. It could be a smoothie, bowl of oatmeal or fruit, salad, or anything else you come up with. Feel free to treat yourself on the weekends.

Note: Going back to the last challenge and tying my theme into this second focus, I’ll be eating hills for breakfast. Only kidding, but since most of my runs will take place in the morning, I’ll be designing a breakfast perfect for fueling tough workouts and big hill days.

Resources:

Challenge 3: Daily Meditation

Just a few minutes of mediation each day can make you happier, calmer, and more focused. And it’s absolutely free to do.

But anyone who has tried unsuccessfully to meditate knows that quieting the mind for five or 10 minutes is crazy hard. Despite my best intentions over the years, I haven’t been able to make a meditation habit stick, and I know you may be in the same boat.

This month let’s make it happen together.

Objective: Create a daily meditation practice to stay focused, increase happiness, and improve health.

Rules: Start with just two minutes per day, and build from there. You can do this at any time of the day, but it’s often recommended to meditate in the morning, before the day gets too involved. As the month goes on and the two minutes begin to feel like nothing, begin slowly increasing the time.

Resources:

Challenge 4: Meal Planning

If I could give only one piece of advice to someone looking to eat healthier, it would be to start meal planning.

Planning out your meals for the week saves time and money (fewer last-minute calls for take-out), and can be far healthier because you’re not grazing the kitchen looking for something appetizing. When you think through your meals and shop for the ingredients ahead of time, you’re more likely to stick with the healthy habits or goals you’ve set for yourself.

It may seem like a lot, but once you get into the routine of planning your meals, you’ll find it liberating to no longer have to worry or wonder what’s for dinner.

This month the challenge is to start planning your meals for the week ahead of time.

Objective: Save time, energy, and money, and guarantee you’ll get your healthy meals, by making a weekly meal plan.

Rules: Compile a list of your favorite recipes and go-to meals you don’t need recipes for, and plan out at least five lunches and dinners (remember, lunches can be leftovers from the night before!) for the week no later than Sunday. Shop for the meals all at once, so you can start your Monday off with a full fridge and knowing what’s on the schedule. The two additional days can be “free days” to go off-schedule and eat out or treat yourself to something unplanned.

Resources:

Bonus: Heather Crosby on Meal Planning

In this short clip, recorded for a meal planning module in the No Meat Athlete Academy, Heather Crosby shares what to do once you’ve selected a number of recipes for the week.

Click here to gain access to the full module with Heather Crosby, along with dozens of other health, fitness, and mindset programs inside the NMA Academy.

Challenge 5: Sunday Food Prep

Got the meal planning down? It’s a pretty nice routine to get into, if I do say so myself.

Now let’s take it one step further and actually start prepping your food for the week ahead of time.

Even with the best-planned intentions, life can get in the way, and you may find yourself without time to cook what you had scheduled. By starting food prep on Sunday, or any other day when you have a block of time to focus on food, you can pre-chop veggies, soak beans, cook and freeze a meal, or sort snacks for later in the week.

The early preparations will keep you on track, and often lead to healthier decisions, since you aren’t as rushed to get something together.

Objective: Save time and make healthier choices by prepping food for the week ahead of time.

Rule: Block off one to three hours on Sunday to pre-chop, cook, and prepare food for the week ahead. You can do this in the evening instead of watching TV or as a fun family activity with the kids.

Resources:

Challenge 6: Integrated Exercise

I first learned this term from friend of NMA, Sid Garza-Hillman. The idea is simple: take advantage of the two- to five-minute breaks you have throughout the day to add in short, high-intensity exercises like push-ups, squats, sprints, etc.

Just think about the number of push-ups you could knock out in five three-minute mini-workouts, that you probably wouldn’t make time for otherwise.

Objective: Take advantage of short breaks while in the office, watching TV, between phone calls, or any other time you find yourself with a few minutes to kill, to do mini-workouts that get the heart rate up and build strength.

Rules: At least three times per day, use short windows of time to exercise. These should be in addition to your regularly planned exercises.

Resources:

Challenge 7: A Month of Review

Phew! What a first six months this has been!

If all has gone as planned, you’re now crushing your mornings with a healthy breakfast and meditation, taking advantage of extra time to work out and get stronger, and between regular meal planning and food prep, you’re saving time and money, and eating healthier than ever.

That is pretty darn cool. But …

Chances are at least one of those challenges hasn’t stuck.

This month I want you to ask yourself why you’re struggling with a certain challenge, and really dive in to figuring out what you can do to make that challenge, or a version of the habit it encourages, stick.

Objective: Review the first six months of challenges to see where you’re falling behind and which habits have been the most successful.

Rules: Do a complete brain dump of everything you’re thinking and feeling about each month’s challenge. Over the next few weeks, review those notes and spend the time evaluating progress and hurtles to see how you can improve and set yourself up better going into the second half of the year.

Resources:

Challenge 8: Intermittent Fasting

This one might be the toughest challenge yet, but harder challenges yield bigger results.

Intermittent fasting, or cycling between fasting and non-fasting, has recently become a popular weight-loss tool by boosting your metabolism, and it has also been shown to provide longevity benefits as well.

There are a number of approaches to intermittent fasting, including:

  1. The 16:8 method where you eat within an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remaining 16 hours. When you’re fasting you can’t take in any calories, but you can consume non-caloric beverages, including coffee, herbal tea, water, and sparkling water.
  2. The 5:2 method where you eat normally for five days of the week, and restrict your calories to 500 (women) or 600 (men) the other two days.
  3. The eat-stop-eat method where you do one or two 24-hour fasts each week; for example, not eating after lunch until lunch the next day.
  4. The alternate-day fasting method, which involves eating normally one day, and then eating very low-calorie (500 calories) the following day.

This month, the challenge is to follow one of these methods for 30 days.

Objective: Experiment with intermittent fasting to see if it helps with your energy, weight, or overall healthiness goals.

Rules: Ease into an intermittent fasting cycle by choosing a plan that works for you. Once you have a plan, give it a go for the next month. Take notes and track how you feel and your energy levels, and consider whether it’s something you’d like to continue.

Resources:

Disclaimer: As with any major diet change, consult your doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to start intermittent fasting.

Challenge 9: The Pre-Dawn Miracle

Not a morning person? Me neither. I wasn’t, anyway.

In a recent upgrade to the Apple iPhone iOS, they added something called “Bedtime,” where you set a bedtime and wake-up alarm based on the number of hours you’d like to sleep each night. Up until I used that tool, I would set my morning alarm based on what I had going on that day. Now, my phone wakes me up at the exact same time each day. And because I’m an idealist, I set that time earlier than I normally wake up.

Amazingly, after a week or two of waking up at the same earlier hour every day, my natural clock started following the alarm. I’d wake up with more energy and alertness, and the added time and energy has made my mornings more productive than ever.

This month, the challenge is to turn that daily alarm up by 45-60 minutes, and start the process of kicking off your day earlier. While 45 minutes may not sound like much by itself, in just one week that’s over five additional hours of productive time. Over an entire month? 22.5 hours. How’s that for finding time?

Objective: Begin waking up earlier to take advantage of the quiet, productive time and not feel as rushed or stressed in the morning.

Rule: Set your alarm at least 45 to 60 minutes earlier for each weekday morning. No snoozing!

Resources:

Bonus: Jeff Sanders on the First Things You Should Do Each Morning

In this short clip with Jeff Sanders of the 5AM Miracle Podcast, recorded for a morning routine module in the No Meat Athlete Academy, Jeff shares the steps he takes first thing every morning.

Click here to gain access to the full module with Jeff Sanders, along with dozens of other health, fitness, and mindset programs inside the NMA Academy.

Challenge 10: Morning Pages

What if you could start each (now earlier) day by dumping out everything on your mind first thing no matter the topic?

It’s called Morning Pages, and people (including Matt) swear by it. Morning Pages is the process of writing three pages in a stream-of-consciousness format first thing in the morning. These aren’t pages anyone will ever read, and aren’t intended to be rewritten or used on a blog.

Just a massive brain dump, every single morning.

Objective: Promote clarity and productivity through stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning.

Rules: Write at least three stream-of-consciousness pages. There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you just let the writing flow. Remember, no one will be reading this or using it later.

Resources:

Challenge 11: No Beer, Coffee, or Other Vice

Whether it’s alcohol, coffee, chocolate, or Doritos, everyone has their vice.

It’s time you go 30 days without yours.

I know, I know… What’s the harm in an evening beer or morning cup of joe? Probably not much, but you likely won’t know until you go without it. The discipline, clarity, and independence you’ll gain from ditching something you once felt dependent on will give you strength to take on bigger challenges moving forward.

Objective: Ditch one vice for 30 days to prove to yourself that you’re strong enough to go without.

Rules: Select a vice. Ditch it for an entire month without exceptions. If it’s hard to ditch, you’re doing it right.

Resources:

Challenge 12: Tidy Up

If you listen to No Meat Athlete Radio, you’ve likely heard Matt and me talk at length about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. For us, the book was, well, life-changing.

This month’s challenge is to tidy up your life: your things, habits, and lifestyle.

If you’d like to follow Marie Kondo’s method exactly, I definitely recommend the book, but for the purposes of this challenge, let’s keep it simple:

Get rid of what doesn’t serve you.

Objective: Rid your life of the extra “stuff” that clutters your home and life.

Rules: Throughout this month, focus on one specific area of your home or life at a time, and go through it. Ask yourself, does this thing/habit/routine serve me? If not, make an intentional decision of whether or not to keep it.

It may seem hard at first, but trust me, freeing yourself from things you don’t need is addicting, and once you get going, you’ll be amazed at what you can let go.

Resources:

Print This Out. Make a Plan. Take Action.

Reading through this all at once, it sounds impossible.

You want me to do all that, one right after another?!

But once you get started, and begin feeling and experiencing the benefits of the changes and habits you’re developing, I bet you’ll look forward to each new challenge.

Challenges that could make 2018 your happiest, healthiest year yet, and catapult you towards your fitness and nutrition goals.

So print this out. Get your friends or family involved, and start laying the foundation for a healthier, stronger you.

About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One).

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How to be Happier – Lessons from the Blue Zones with Dan Buettner

EP-215

What makes people truly happy?

If you’re a regular listener to NMA Radio, you’ve heard Matt mention the book Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner, time and time again. He loves the scientific approach Dan takes to examining the healthiest communities around the world and pulling lessons from them that we can use in our own lives.

In Dan’s new book, Blue Zones of Happiness, he takes the same approach. Only, instead of looking at longevity and health, he looks at happiness by studying the world’s happiest places. And the lessons?

They aren’t the typical hacks or quick fixes we’ve come to expect. Instead, Dan suggests lifestyle shifts that could truly change the way you live for the happier.

Click the button below to listen now:

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The Surprising 3-Step Plan for Using December to Crush Your New Year’s Goals

For as long as I’ve been an adult, New Year’s has been my favorite holiday, and December my favorite month.

The two are related, of course, and this post is about the best way I’ve come up with to use them together—to create real, lasting change (even when you’ve failed many times in the past).

I’m a total sucker for the inspiration a New Year brings. But it’s not that I believe in some magical wiping clean of the slate and a chance to “start fresh” with a new resolution. We all know that’s a joke, and usually no more than a reason to delay making a change you’re scared to make.

But the silly New Year’s resolution tradition has ingrained one useful habit in me, which is to take a step back at the end of the year to assess how it went, and to take note of where I am relative to where I’d like to be.

And then, if there’s a gap, to set about on a course to close it.

So let’s not talk about New Year’s resolutions, but rather of new habits, habits designed to move you in the direction of goals that matter to you.

And from there—with the help of the legitimate, now well-charted science of habit change—we can actually say something logical about how best to use December as a springboard into your best year ever.


3 Simple Forces that Make All the Difference

Really, just three:

  1. Small steps. For almost everyone, they work better than dramatic, overnight change. The idea of change being easy once some imaginary internal switch flips is (mostly) a Hollywood myth, not how people really make changes that last.
  2. Impatience. The problem with small steps is they take time; they don’t bring visible results right away. Nobody wants to wait six months or a year for their change curve to hit the exciting, exponential part where the results all start to show up, seemingly once. So instead, most of us try to change too fast, and we fail.
  3. The start (or quit) date. Smokers know that cessation programs often suggest setting a “quit date”: a specific day in the future when you’ll make your move. It’s tempting to write this off as another procrastination, but it’s more than that. Setting a date (for any change, not just smoking) creates a sense of importance, even anticipation. So that once that day comes, you’re not as likely to cave to urges and cravings as you would be if you tried to change your habit today.

And with all the machinery in place, here’s the best way to make a change this time of year (hint: it involves December 1st, which comes later this week).

Step 1: Decide on your big, exciting (maybe even massive!) habit change, set to begin January 1st.

Maybe that’s the day your marathon training starts. Perhaps that’s your cheese quit date. Or maybe it’s when you start hitting the gym three times a week, and running on the off-days.

This is one time when it’s okay to go big here; we’ll worry about small steps in a minute.

Mark it on your calendar. Congratulations, you’ve got a start (or quit) date! It’s important not to let yourself begin (or quit) until then, to build the anticipation and sense of importance.

For bonus points, do all the other things that help you follow through: creating accountability by involving other people is the most important, probably.

Step 2: Make December your small steps month.

Just because we set our sights on a massive change, doesn’t mean we’re ignoring small steps. In fact, that’s why we desperately need them! And that’s why we’ve got December.

So December is for small steps. If you had a month to prepare for your January 1st change (hint: you do!), what would you do?

It shouldn’t be massive. It shouldn’t all at once. Instead, make it a gradual ramp-up, one that preserves your willpower by making it easy to succeed.

If your marathon schedule starts on January 1st, then December might be a great month to run every day. Maybe just a mile per day the first week, or another amount you can handle pretty easily (or 2.018 miles if you’re Doug). Then add a little more the next week, and a little more the next… whatever it takes to be in shape to start training for real in January.

Same story if it’s the gym. If you wait until January 1st and then go at it like a crazy person, the soreness and schedule disruption will be your downfall. But how about if you get that soreness over with in the first week of December, with just one or two light workouts? Then add some more volume and weight over the next few weeks, still not quite reaching the amount you’re saving for January 1.

Or if you’re looking to go vegan on January 1, come up with a plan to gradually transition from wherever you are. Could be a “vegan before 6” sort of thing, or maybe it’s vegan at home, or maybe just on weekdays. The in-between time will help you learn to plan meals, shop, order at restaurants, and navigate parties and social situations. And then, come January 1 when you go all the way, you’ll be in a position to make the real thing last.

Step 3: Start on December 1.

See what we did there? A mini start date, even for your small steps month! Because you’re a whole lot more likely to follow through with it, I believe, than if you were to decide to start right now—it wouldn’t mean anything.

But mark your calendar today, with the smallest possible first step, and you’ll have created something real, with your best shot ever at making this change last.

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Plant-Based Muscle with Robert Cheeke and Vanessa Espinoza

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Don’t think you can gain muscle on a plant-based diet? Think again.

Over the 200+ episodes of No Meat Athlete Radio, we’ve had vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke on to talk about training and nutrition a number of times. But rarely do we dive into what it really takes to build muscle on a vegan diet.

In today’s episode, we do just that.

Joined by Vanessa Espinoza, who co-author of the new book Plant-Based Muscle with Robert, we discuss the pros and challenges of bulking up on plants.

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Two Healthy, Hearty Thanksgiving Recipes from The No Meat Athlete Cookbook

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This Thanksgiving will be my seventh as a vegan, and I’m happy to say that it’s no longer a big deal to not to have turkey at dinner. Honestly, though, I can’t say that it ever was.

Even before I went vegetarian, the interesting part of cooking Thanksgiving dinner was never the turkey: we knew what turkey tasted like. And it was more or less the same every year, save for the ill-fated turkey-fryer-on-the-deck experiment of 2007.

The side dishes, though? Those were the opportunity to have fun and to try new things. And other than good company, of course, they’re what stands out in my mind to distinguish one year’s Thanksgiving dinner from the next.

So since going vegan, my wife and I have never found it a big deal to just make Thanksgiving dinner—we just make a bunch of sides, new ones every year. And it works. If we’re attending somewhere else, we do the same, and just bring plenty to share. And enough that even if there’s nothing else for us at the table, we’ll be happy.

And as I always like to point out this time of year, I think that’s the best attitude to have if you’re a new vegan and you’re concerned about Thanksgiving—be happy with the abundance that you have.

It’s a time to be grateful—grateful that you have enough to fill your belly, and people you love to share it with. Even if your father-in-law is making annoying vegan jokes, even if you’re stuck eating nothing but salad and bread because that’s all there is for you, just try to keep in mind how many people in the world—right there in your town, probably—would be overjoyed to switch places with you, to have the luxury of being the vegan with only a few dishes to eat at a Thanksgiving feast (in a heated home, I should add) for a day.

And that, long as corny as it may be, is my answer to “How do you do Thanksgiving as a vegan?” 🙂

Below are two Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes from The No Meat Athlete Cookbook, which I co-wrote with Stepfanie Romine, published earlier this year. While these aren’t traditional Thanksgiving recipes per se, the flavors definitely work for a modern, plant-based (and oil-free!) interpretation. You could consider them both sides, but the stew can definitely be a main course if you’d like it to be.

And by the way, in case you’re looking for a health-focused gift for yourself or a friend, I must say The No Meat Athlete Cookbook makes a good one. Granted, I’m just a little bit biased … but lots of reviewers, and even many mainstream publications like Sports Illustrated and Outside Magazine, agree.

Enjoy the recipes, and have a happy, grateful Thanksgiving!

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