7 Steps to Eating Less Meat Now

Want to eat less meat, but worried about taking the plunge?

Maybe you want to go completely vegetarian or vegan.  Or you’ve recognized the benefits of making fish your only meat source and want to cut out the chicken.  Perhaps you simply want to eliminate red meat.

vegetables photo 300x257I made two attempts at becoming vegetarian. The first time, I didn’t plan anything—I just stopped eating meat “cold turkey,” if you will. (Sorry.)

I made it about a week before I was back on the meat-train.

The second time, the change lasted—for over a year, now.  I took a more measured approach this time.  My plan to stop eating meat boiled down to these 7 steps, which I happily share with you now.

7 Steps to Eating Less Meat Now

1. Commit to eating less meat.

One thing is certain: There are times when your new diet will be inconvenient.  Parties, travel, dinner with friends, going out to eat.  If y0u want to get through these without slipping up, you’d better be committed.

Tell everyone you know. Post it on Facebook.  Blog about it.  Take a trip to the health food store and buy lots of stuff for your new diet.

Yes, this will make it more embarrassing if you fail. That’s the point.

2.  Tie it to another goal and get excited.

When I went vegetarian, it wasn’t really about not eating animals.  It was about having more energy than ever; it was about a glimmer of hope that this diet would help me qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Being vegetarian became part of my training.  That’s what made it so easy to stick with—I wanted to qualify for Boston more than anything, and in my mind, cutting out meat became the way to do it.

For you it might not be running.  But if you can find something else that means even more to you than just “being a vegetarian,” your chances of sticking with it go way up.

3.  Start small.

For me, the scariest part of it all was the thought, “I’ll never get to eat X again.”  But it never has to be that way.

Avoid it by starting with 10 days, during which you will not cheatYou can do anything for 10 days, can’t you?

Once the 10 days are up, you’ll likely notice increased energy and weight loss.  At that point, evaluate whether this is something you could do for 30 straight days (only 20 more!).  Chances are, if you make it that far, you won’t want to go back.

4.  Phase the meat out.

Sometimes a shocking change is exactly what you need to zap you out of your old habits.  But for me, going completely vegetarian or vegan all at once probably would have been too much—phasing out meat gave my taste buds time to adjust.

I didn’t eat red meat and pork for about a year before I went further with it.  Then I quit eating poultry, and was left with a healthy, pescetarian diet of fish and plants.  My plan was to stop there, but a concern for animals took over, and I phased out fish by eating it once a month or so.  I soon lost the taste for it and went completely vegetarian (I’m still working on the vegan thing).

If you’re more of the go-big-or-go-home type, I say go for it.  But if that doesn’t work, give phasing out meat a try before you give up.

5.  Plan meals.

A wise man or woman once said, “If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  In this case, that couldn’t be more accurate.

If you don’t eat well now, simply removing the meat from your current diet will make you less healthy. You can’t live on hamburger buns and fries, and you shouldn’t live on spaghetti with tomato sauce.

You need to find recipes and plan meals that can stand alone, that are designed to be meatless.  Bookstores are full of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.  Check out vegetarian websites.  If you’re not ready to go all the way, get a pescetarian or flexitarian cookbook.

One issue here is that most cookbooks aren’t necessarily designed for runners or other athletes.  If that’s you, I’ll recommend my recipes page, where I’ve listed the vegetarian recipes I’ve found that best fit my training criteria.

6.  Get out of your box.

A lot of people think of going vegetarian as giving up certain foods that they love.  What they don’t always think about is how many new foods they’ll add.

Without meat as a default option, cooking becomes a (healthy) challenge.  So does eating out.  You’re forced to explore cuisines of other cultures that have eaten little meat for hundreds of years.  Indian, Thai, and Chinese menus generally offer many vegetarian options, and cooking that food at home becomes an adventure.

Or hit your local farmers market, and learn to love buying fresh, local produce every week.  This alone can add inspiration to previously lifeless cooking.

7.  Track your progress and celebrate.

It’s fun to look back and see how far you’ve come.  For me the most measurable change was in my running—I got faster and faster every week, and could run greater distances than ever before.

Don’t forget to celebrate.  Reward yourself for 10 days, 30 days, and other meatless milestones.  When you give yourself a pat on the back (or a bottle of wine), you send your brain a positive signal that reinforces your healthy habits.

Good luck; be sure to let me know it goes.  I’m here to help!

This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.

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Comments

  1. I think these are great tips since they don’t make becoming a vegetarian “scary.” I’m currently in that phasing out stage where I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, but not eating meat or dairy more than twice a week. For someone who used to have it everyday, that’s an accomplishment and I feel so much better! Yay!
    .-= Jacquie´s last blog ..i’m backkk =-.

    • Thanks Jacquie. I didn’t realize you were phasing out meat when I met you. Or is it new? Either way, good for you. And I’m so glad, though not surprised, to hear that you’re feeling better as a result!

    • Barbara~Louisa Walker says:

      You have really helped me make my session happen,I was so upset when I saw how we here in Australia treat our animals on.farms that I wanted to give up meat,chicken and bacon.this is going to help.me..CCTV the way aim 66 it’s never to late to change and be kind.

  2. Great tips. Especially like #6. Going veg has introduced both myself and my husband to meals we would have never tried before! I hope you have a good Monday :)
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Asparagus Pasta Bake (With or Without Meat) =-.

  3. I love that you tied going veg in with something else- qualifying for Boston. That gives it even more importance and more motivation to stick with it. I’m glad you’ve been happy with the results! :)
    .-= Heather @ Side of Sneakers´s last blog ..Keen on Quinoa =-.

  4. Those are really great tips. Especially the planning!

    It took me about 15 years to become vegetarian (15 years from the moment that I first had the thought that I wanted to do so), and then only one month after that to become vegan.

    There were two things that made my final switch a permanent one.

    The first one was that I actually stopped thinking I needed to phase it out. Although I do think your way of phasing might have worked better, I was stubbornly attempting to phase it out by days of the week. But what it meant was that I never left the meat-eating state of mind. Each week, when I got to the day that I had said I’d eat vegetarian, it was like a whole new hurdle that I was overcoming for the very first time. By just trying to switch my whole kitchen to a vegetarian kitchen and leaving the meat outside, suddenly, I couldn’t just fall back on my standard meat dishes, and when I opened the fridge and pantry, I was able to see all of my other options and go from there instead of having my eyes be drawn to the meat and thinking all the things I could be doing with it if only it were a different day!

    The other thing that helped me was to consistently go back over the reasons I wanted to give up animal products. As I gave up meat for ethical reasons, when I would think about wanting to eat meat, I would go online and read up yet again on the horrors of the slaughterhouse. And it would quickly suppress any craving I had. It was this method that ended up helping me make the switch to veganism even though I hadn’t even considered it a possibility until I started doing all of this reading. And I haven’t had a craving in ages – can’t even remember the last time I really thought about it.

    I’ve also made myself the promise that as long as I’m vegan, I don’t have to watch the film Earthlings. But if I decide that I want to start eating animal products again, then I must make it through the whole thing before doing so.

    I’m approaching my one year vegan-niversary in four days. I can’t believe that after 15 years of giving up on vegetarianism, this one year of veganism has been one of the easiest things I’ve ever done!

    And wow, this was a long comment!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Shorts Stories. =-.

    • Hey Melissa, I’ve experienced something similar to your phase-out troubles with coffee. I tried a while ago to say “Coffee only on weekends,” but it felt like every other day I was just counting down the days until I could have it again. That was not the point at all!

      And I like your method of going back over your reasons. It’s a matter of getting strong enough “why’s,” or linking enough pain to eating meat. It works very well for any habit you want to change, I’ve found.

      Now I’m intrigued about Earthlings…

  5. i love these tips! although i don’t ever plan on being fully vegetarian, i definitely figured out through Lent that I’m OK with eating a lot less meat. these are going to help with that a LOT (and hopefully i can apply them to my hubby too!)

  6. I love the idea of thinking about what you’re gaining instead of giving up. I’ve discovered a whole new world of foods (um, can tempeh BE any more delicious!?) that I otherwise wouldn’t have when I was including meat in my diet. You can fall into a food rut being veggie too, but is certainly more difficult!

  7. Great advice! I definetly did this and rarely eat meat now- it’s amazing how much better my body feels!

  8. GREAT tips! i am definitely going to need to buy your shirt :)

  9. I love this post.

    I would have no problem eating a full on vegetarian diet… if the food would fill me up! I need a lot of protein to keep me satisfied, and beans and nuts are not enough for me! I don’t like fake meats and I don’t like tofu. Any ideas?? I force myself to eat chicken once every other week or so and eat a lot of fish and eggs just to get that satisfied feeling and to not gain weight (since I eat more when I exclude those items.). Any thoughts or advice?
    .-= RhodeyGirl´s last blog ..Happy Easter! =-.

    • RhodeyGirl, are you it’s protein that you need, or could it just be bigger servings of food? I’ve found the protein to be very much a psychological thing. That’s not to say your body isn’t different than mine, but it’s worth considering that you might not need as much as people tell you.

      If that is the issue, though, a few higher-protein foods you can try are Barilla Plus pasta (not vegan; it has eggs), seeds like flaxseed and quinoa (which is a like a grain), hemp seeds, hemp protein in smoothies.

  10. Hey! I just wanted to let you know that your website (and then reading Thrive Fitness based on your recommendation, and then reading The Kind Diet) convinced me that going vegetarian/vegan is the way to go! I never liked the taste of meat, but thought I “needed” it to be a better athlete. After seeing how much it helped your running, and the amazing results it’s had for Brendan Brazier, I’m pumped to begin my vegan journey! I gave up meat on Easter; sort of in the spirit of the whole “being born anew” theme. I also ran my first half-marathon in March and will run my first marathon in May! Thank you so much for your positivity, honesty, and constant source of motivation!

    Amanda

    • Amanda, thanks for telling me that my site has been an influence. As I always tell people, that’s what makes it worth it. So are you only two days into meatlessness, then? Or was it LAST Easter? Congrats on your running success too!

  11. This is really helpful and I am going to start using some of these tips.
    .-= Meg´s last blog ..Sunday Funday =-.

  12. Going vegetarian about 12 years ago on Thanksgiving Day was easy for me – as soon as I started thinking about it as “turkeys” and not just faceless “turkey.”

    Going vegan, now – that can be difficult for some, but was easy for me after reading The Vegan Sourcebook (Joanne Stepaniak), Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer), and then watching Earthlings (wow, just wow…) all in a week.

    I have only one regret when I think about my pre-vegan life – – – that I didn’t do it sooner.

    Long-time lurker, first time speaker – love your blog… and that it reaches out to non-vegetarians in a non-preachy manner. That can be hard to do…
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..More Puppy Pictures! =-.

    • Lisa, Eating Animals and Earthlings are both on my list of things to watch. I’m definitely attracted to the idea of being vegan. I’m not sure if it’s the right decision yet, but I think those books/movies will help. I just watched the Earthlings trailer now that you and someone else mentioned it. I couldn’t finish it; it made me sick and brought tears to my eyes. All the sudden I feel much more passionate. Interesting…

  13. I think slowing phasing out would be the way for me. Even though you’re giving up meat you can add so many more varying vegetables to your diet then.

  14. I think I can use these tips. I absolutely loving my new healthy routine now. Living without meat is really healthy! Thanks for the post *_*
    .-= Sand Sock Girl´s last blog ..“LADIES, LET’S GO FISHING!” – Fishing Seminar April 23-25 =-.

  15. Great tips! Re #1 — I think another reason to tell everyone you know is so that you can fully explain your reasons and (even if they aren’t completely supportive), at least increase the likelihood that they’ll respect your choice and understand what it really means. When we first went veg, my Grandparents would make us meat dishes (stir fry, sauce, etc) and then just pick out the meat before serving it. haha….ummm…not quite the same thing. ;)

    I also totally agree with phasing it out, especially if you are not 100% SURE that you want to (or can) be completely vegetarian. Committing to not eating red meat can be a lot less overwhelming than taking everything out all at once. And once you stick with it, not only do you gain confidence, but your tastes and cravings really do change!
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..Whole Wheat Flax Blueberry Pancakes =-.

    • Lauren, that’s a great point. That’s really funny about your Grandparents, too.

      Along those same lines, I think telling people that you know about it eases whatever tension there might be if, say, they invite you over for dinner. It’s hard not to seem elitist when you require certain foods and are unwilling to eat what they’d otherwise make for you.

  16. Great tips! I’ve toyed with vegetarianism before, and I just don’t know! I love reading about it’s benefits none the less!

  17. Great post! I would also add that it’s important to know WHY you’re reducing your meat intake. There has to be enough reason behind it that we feel strongly about in order to get us to do it. There needs to be some motivation there beyond believing that it’s “healthier” or “better for the environment” or some other vague notion… when we have specific reasons and motivations, we’ll be far more likely to be successful.
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Budgeting, Part Two: Making Sacrifices =-.

    • Sagan, yes you’re exactly right. Someone else mentioned something similar. The why’s are so important. Even when you feel you have strong reasons, it’s very helpful to enumerate them and review them to condition yourself. I love that kind of stuff.

  18. I’m currently trying to phase meat out, and I have been unknowingly following some of your suggestions. Right now, I have it 1-2 times a week, and it is still a little bit of a struggle some days. Other days, I go the entire day without meat and don’t even think about it. Any tips on trying to get your spouse to phase it out with you?
    .-= Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete´s last blog ..Tour de Flanders for the Amateurs 2010 =-.

    • Nicole, try the flexitarian stuff. Some books on the subject have recipes where you can easily add or remove meat. You could make those for yourself and your spouse. And as you progress, my guess is that you’ll see a lot of benefits that will be visible to your spouse too.

      I was lucky, Erin was on board from the very beginning.

  19. Not eating meat isn’t a problem for me. I’ve never really liked it. Going from no meat or dairy, to eating certain things (like fish, eggs) for my pregnancy has been the hard part! I’d rather struggle through it than be deficient in B-12 and zinc though. I just don’t feel like supplementing that is enough for my baby.

    • Diana, it’s interesting that you decided to add some foods to your diet because of your pregnancy. Erin and I aren’t vegan, so it was less a concern for her. But we did check it out. It seems like B12 is something that would take many years of veganism to result in a deficiency, so we weren’t concerned about that and figured that her prenatal vitamin would cover it. I believe her doctor mentioned zinc too, but when she got her levels checked, it was fine. (I think it was zinc.)

  20. Great post! I went vegetarian (also for the second time) about 8 months ago, and used several of the same tricks to get myself going. I started phasing meat out at least a couple years ago, although that’s not really what I thought of it as at the time. I just thought I was being a “flexitarian.” ;) Anyhow, I’ve never looked back, and I’ve never been healthier!

  21. I love eating meat and have no intention of giving it up but I love the steps you’ve chosen because I think it can be applicable to anything you want to do, not just becoming vegetarian (maybe step 4 might need a slight revision). But in general, I think your steps to vegetarianism is perfect for people who want to accomplish goals, be it weight loss, muscle gain, running a marathon, weight training, doing a push-up.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m glad becoming vegetarian has led to you venturing out and trying new cuisines. I think that’s my favorite part about eating in general. There are so many different things to try. The possibilities are ENDLESS.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Weigh-in #9 =-.

  22. Matt,

    Great blog. Just discovered it. I’m a life-long vegetarian. I’ve never eaten meat (no fish either). I do eat dairy and eggs. I’m also a runner training for my 3rd marathon. I love hearing more people enjoy being vegetarian. Saw you just had a son (congrats!). Will you raise him vegetarian? I can tell you my brother and I didn’t miss anything growing up veg. We love it and I’ll raise my kids that way.
    .-= Olivia Khalili´s last blog ..Should Your Business Use an e-Commerce Philanthropy Platform? What You Can Gain and What to Be Wary Of =-.

  23. terrin says:

    I luv your site!! A cookbook I recommend to everyone, veg or not is mark bittman’s how to cook everything vegetarian, full of amazing ideas and inspiration and real food! No tofurky, tvp or scary fake foods, just a million easy new ideas

  24. Jodi Baxter says:

    Try this!
    Black Olives with Lemon and Fennel

    Ingredients:

    * 1 lemon
    * 1/2 pound black olives
    * 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
    * 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
    * 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil)

    Directions:

    Peel 12 strips from lemon rind (yellow part only) with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Mix all ingredients in a plastic container with a lid. Marinate for as long as possible, preferably 1 hour, for flavors to blend. Olives can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

  25. Caitlin says:

    I just discovered your site (thanks to the NYTimes) after five years of being a pescetarian. I am loving all of your tips, recipes, and positive reinforcement! I am living in Korea this year and it has been extra challenging – but I am learning to cook new things and try recipes I have always wanted to try. Thanks!!!

  26. Hi, My husband is very athletic, has high metabolism and surfs, rides and walks all the time. He tried being vegetarian and lost so much weight. He added smaller amts of meat back in but now he wants to try again. I have him eating the foods on your list already but perhaps the quantity is or variety is not enough. It is all organic, whole and local as much as possible.

    Any advice? Thanks so much!!!!!

  27. Constance says:

    Not really caring for the taste of meat all that much and having the desire to live healthier and reach my fitness goals has led me to the decision of becoming a vegetarian. Your site was suggested to me by a trainer that made a fitness plan for me and I love it! I have only been completely meat free for a week now and even though there a few challenges when it comes to eating on the road I feel that it will be well worth it! I have also read “Breaking the Food Seduction” and “Foods That Fight Pain” by Neal Barnard, M.D., those two books really make you think twice about what you are putting into your body and it helps you to see the benefits of removing meat from your diet.

  28. Melissa P. says:

    Very interesting article, thank you for posting! I am in the “phasing out fish” stage and have not eaten any other type of meat for three months. I’ve stopped craving chicken finally (the thought of eating it is gross to me now) and am glad to hear that I may eventually stop craving fish too!

    It’s truly amazing how much more energy you have once you start eating a plant based diet!

  29. Hi, Matt. I just discovered your website. Really interesting! I’ve been thinking of completely giving up eating red meat for some time actually, but I haven’t been able to do it. Maybe I’ll try one of your advice to reduce eating red meat for, let say, 10 days, starting tomorrow. Hopefully I survive :p

  30. Ann Goines says:

    I gave up the meat not to be a veggie I just didnot want it any more yes you feel much better without it.This is the third time I quit this time is it no more meat for me!!!

  31. I found a helpful way to change my diet was to tell myself that if I really want a burger, or steak, or any other food that wasn’t in my diet, I would let myself have it. For some reason this made me feel less trapped and while I never succumbed to those cravings (and never really had them) it gave me that feeling of freedom and made me look very hard at the foods that I chose to make sure that they were nutrient dense and good for my body.

  32. This website is a blessing. :D I’m gonna try going vegetarian! Woot! Woot!

  33. I am currently looking into a raw food diet to improve my health and this article is a great help, thank you.

  34. Hi, I have been thinking of going vegetarian although I haven’t started it yet,I don’t eat red meat all the time..But I need to know that if ever I start being vegetarian,do I still need to count my calorie intake? Thank you in advance!

  35. My transition was pretty recent- I stated out in a household that ate meat for pretty much every meal, and while I was living at home I knew I could never stick to a vegetarian diet- I was still in my childhood home, neither of my parents really like the idea and they’re very concerned for my health/weight, cutting out animal-based foods. (I’m a long-distance runner and a perfectly normal weight, but can’t fault them for worrying!) When I moved out for college, though, I knew I would wind up bringing down my meat consumption- both because I care about animals and the environment (vet technician and environmental science major, hahah) and because… well, I wound up being very poor on my own for the first time! Meat seemed like an extravagent luxury and while I still had it time to time, it no longer formed the backbone of my diet.

    After slowly lowering my consumption from twice daily, to every other day, to once a week, to once a fortnight- I decided to assign March the label of my first Meat-Free Month (mostly due to alliteration), and promised myself that if I could get through 30 days without meat, if I really needed it afterward I could go down to the corner rotesserie and go to town on a quarter chicken.

    38 days later, I still haven’t rewarded myself with anything other than a little extra red wine, and feel much better for it. =) I don’t feel any need or desperation for meat, and due I suppose mostly to making the switchover gradually, I didn’t at all during my entire vegetarian period. I still haven’t reached a point where meat-based meals don’t sound tasty to me- someday, hopefully!- but one thing that phasing out the meat definitely did do for me was open up my tastebuds to a zillion delicious kinds of vegetables that I didn’t have the least amount of interest in before- maybe that’s also part of adulthood, of course, but so many plant-based foods that seemed tasteless or bitter before now seem like a special treat. Like green olives and zuccinni. Omnom.

    This blog is a fabulous find, and it’s so nice to hear about the ways to factor nutrition for an athlete into vegetarian cooking. Thanks! =)

  36. Great read! Crazy how I find this article and it only hit home when you referenced you were training for the Boston Marathon with the news only being heartbreaking this year. Hoping you are still on that great path being vegetarian. And praying for the victims and families affected in yesterday’s ordeal.

  37. surfsnowgirl says:

    Thank you for this article. I have been on and off the vegetarian diet for ears. I always fall off of it. I really am commited this time and I thank you for writing this article. I have always naturally gravitated towards thigns other than meat so maybe I am a natural vegetarian but dammit I like the way some things taste and I always fall off the wagon. This time feels different. I have been at it for 8 days now. Instead of dwelling what I can’t have I find alternatives. No more corned beef hash. Well forget that I will find a vegetarian alternative. I have in the last months given up hamburgers and hot dogs and sub them with tasty alternatives. I have made a list of my favorite meat foods and and one by one am finding veggie alternatives. Your article has been very inspiring to me. I read it every few days to keep me going. My mantra is one day at a time and so far its workign.

  38. Kimberly Hill says:

    Update: Still not eating meat and it’s been 6 weeks now. I did have a couple cheating incidents which I will explain below. This again was the best article ever that really inspired me. I love the 10 day starting approach with increasing time after that. I also love the phasing out approach. I did cheat a couple weeks ago. My boyfriend gave me 2 boneless chicken wings that were “ok” but I wasn’t wowed back into being a carnivore so I take this as progress. He also gave me a tiny taste of his steak and i have to say I felt ill after eating it. I also did have fish sticks the other day when we were watching football. It was good and I may have fish again but we will see. I have really gotten in the habit of not looking for it and it really feels easier this time. I was amazed by whole foods yesterday where every fake meat frozen meal was before me and wow. Everything from Turkey to chicken to Steak, amazing. Anyway, it hasn’t been that long and I still have a long way to go. I still have far to go but I really feel like lots of progress has been made. My mantra is one day, one week at a time and so far it’s working.

  39. This works. I started small, then after 30 days I didn’t even want to eat it.( sorry I’m having problems with English)

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