Want to eat less meat, but worried about taking the plunge?
Maybe you want to go completely vegetarian or plant-based. 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.
I 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 cheat. You 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 vegan 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! And if you need some extra help, check out our 80/20 Plants program with coaches, a community, and a ton of resources for going plant-based.
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.