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How to Overcome Common Challenges of Switching to a Plant-Based Diet

The popularity of plant-based diets is on the rise due to their ethical, environmental, and health benefits.

That being said, there are various common problems faced by people who decide to cut meat out of their diets.

Despite the benefits, newcomers to plant-based life may struggle to maintain a balanced diet, understand their nutritional needs, find the time and money to sustain a plant-based diet, plan interesting plant-based meals regularly, cope with cravings, and address the social challenges that come with adopting a plant-based eating model.

We will discuss these common challenges and find solutions that can work for everyone.

Moreover, we’ll look at how to transition meat out of your diet and remind you that it’s okay to make the odd mistake on this journey.

Let’s dive into this comprehensive guide to plant-based living.

Plant based diet, Mediterranean diet - vegetables, fruits, greens, flax seeds ingredients with close up flat lay.

Understanding the Plant-Based Diet

Before we begin to explore the various problems and solutions of living a plant-based life, first we need to define this term.

You may wonder what the difference is between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based — are they just three terms that mean roughly the same thing? Not quite. 

Vegetarians do not eat meat but may eat animal-derived products like eggs, honey, and dairy.

Whereas, vegans exclude everything animal-derived from their diets, including gelatin and honey.

Meanwhile, plant-based is an umbrella term that refers to people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, and even some people who occasionally include small amounts of animal products into their diet but live predominantly on plant-based meals.

A key aspect of a balanced plant-based diet is that it focuses on the consumption of whole foods rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.

Adequate protein intake is also essential in maintaining a healthy plant-based diet, so it involves having some knowledge of the important macro and micro nutrients we need in our diets.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Eating

The main benefits of adopting a plant-based diet are ethical, environmental, and health-related.

Ethically, by choosing not to eat animal-derived products, including but not limited to meat, you are choosing a life in which animals are not harmed for the benefit of your meals.

Moreover, environmentally, you are reducing demand for the shipping of animal products overseas and the need for vast expanses of land for cattle to graze on, as this too is very bad for the environment. 

Health-wise, a plant-based diet is healthy due to its emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods.

This kind of eating tends to lower your risk of developing a chronic disease, it leads to better weight management and improves overall health and well-being in the body and mind.

Your gut health can see huge improvements when you eliminate animal-based foods as well.

Maintaining a Balanced Diet

That all being said, one of the main challenges faced by people who switch to plant-based foods is the difficulty of maintaining a balanced diet.

It can be all too easy to stick to the same few quick and simple plant-based meals and avoid cooking more complex or varied dishes.

The issue is that if you are not eating animal-derived foods, you will need to try harder to incorporate all of the essential nutrients into your eating. 

So, a solution can be to watch online cooking guides for plant-based meals, many of which you can find on social media.

Another option is to buy a plant-based cookbook and try out all of the recipes. You can make the experience more fun by sharing the cooking responsibilities with a friend or family member.

Or, if it’s a solo plant-based adventure, get online and start discussing the experience with people around the world who are trying out the same life changes.

Knowledge and Education About Nutrition

It is very important to have a basic knowledge of nutrition and the essential nutrients that our bodies require to maintain proper working function.

Some people choose to read up on their dietary needs, while others prefer to watch educational YouTube videos and documentaries or listen to podcasts.

It is recommended to speak to a medical professional when you are making a huge dietary change, as they can advise you based on your health and well-being, and give you vital nutrition information.

We will briefly go over some of the main macro and micronutrients that we need to survive and function properly, but if you need more information, it is wise to seek out a medical expert for specialized advice.

Macros and Micros

Macronutrients, or macros for short, refer to the essential nutrients that the body requires in larger quantities, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These nutrients provide energy and support bodily functions.

Micronutrients, or micros, are essential in smaller amounts, and they include vitamins and minerals, which play vital roles in metabolism, growth, and overall health.

Adequate protein intake is essential for the body. Luckily, with the right knowledge and information, you can ensure that your plant-based diet provides ample protein through legumes, tofu, edamame, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and plant-based protein powders.

You can incorporate plant-based fats and oils with nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Carbohydrates are easier, as they tend not to be animal-derived.

Make sure you also include a healthy mix of micros into your diet as well. Plant-based sources of calcium like plant kinds of milk, tofu, almonds, and leafy greens should be consumed to ensure strong bones and teeth.

Make sure to combine these foods with exposure to sunlight for Vitamin D synthesis, as this is how the body processes these micronutrients best.

Plant-based sources of iron include beans, lentils, quinoa, cereals, and leafy greens. Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods enhances iron absorption.

What’s more, incorporating flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and algae-based supplements can provide essential Omega-3 fatty acids to the body.

Lastly, as B12 is primarily found in animal products, individuals following a plant-based diet should consider supplements or fortified foods.

Time and Budget Constraints

This is a lot of information to take in, and naturally, it can be a little overwhelming.

You might be wondering how anyone has the time or budget required to live a plant-based life and prepare meals that incorporate flax seeds, quinoa, walnuts, and leafy greens seven days a week.

Well, one great option is to use services that deliver chef-prepared whole food plant-based meals to your door.

This is a huge time-saver and prevents you from having to buy huge amounts of every plant-based ingredient to prepare these meals yourself.

You and your diet partner can prepare a box of eight or more plant-based meals and have them delivered weekly or as a one-off treat.

These eight or more meals can be the same or all different and will cost around 12-14 USD each.

This means, for roughly 100 USD a week, you and your partner can rest assured that you’re giving your bodies the necessary nutrients they need to thrive without animal products.

Meal Planning and Prepping

It is also recommended to learn how to meal plan and prep at home so you are not always reliant on delivery services.

You might choose to take a cooking class, use online guides, or even get creative with recipes you already know, replacing animal-derived ingredients with plant-based alternatives. 

When you meal prep for the week, you take the pressure off to cook every night, which can make sticking to a plant-based diet easier.

Great ideas for meal prep are vegetable kinds of pasta, overnight oats, soups, veggie stir fries, and snack packs incorporating seeds, nuts, and dry fruits.

Try to take a few hours every Sunday to focus on meal prepping for the week, as this can greatly enhance your plant-based experience and avoid the common problem of lacking the effort to make a big fancy veggie meal on a weeknight.

When you have pre-prepared meals and snacks in the fridge or cupboards, you won’t go hungry on a plant-based diet.

Coping With Cravings

Another common challenge faced by people adopting the plant-based way of life is the perseverance of cravings for animal-derived treats.

Common cravings are for chocolate, bacon, cheese, and ice cream. There is a useful two-fold approach to dealing with cravings once you have given up animal-derived products.

First, you can practice mindfulness to deal with the cravings. Acknowledge the craving and try not to judge yourself or get upset with your mind and body for wanting what you have decided not to consume.

Instead, focus on distracting yourself from the craving by focusing your energy elsewhere. Breathing exercises and meditation are great ways to achieve this and to cope with emotional triggers that can lead to cravings.

Second, you can seek a plant-based alternative to your craving. For instance, you can have some vegan chocolate, try a plant-based bacon alternative, make vegan mac n’ cheese, and give plant-based ice cream a go.

In this modern age of veganism, many companies have begun to make excellent quality plant-based alternatives to classic animal-derived treats.

Addressing Social Challenges

Our final common problem faced by people who choose to eat only plant-based foods is the stigma, teasing, and questioning they face from people who eat animal products.

This can wear thin very quickly and even cause problems when you are invited to an event or meal that does not cater to your new dietary choices.

Here, again, mindfulness comes in handy. But beyond taking deep breaths and remaining zen, you can also come up with various practical approaches.

For one thing, always keep a tasty plant-based snack on you, such as a pack of seeds or nuts. This will tide you over if you are in an environment that does not cater to your dietary needs.

Moreover, you can broaden your social circle to include more people who follow the same plant-based diet.

There will be cooking groups, online forums, and various people in your local community who prefer to eat only plant-based foods, and you can lean on this community for support, advice, and shared experiences.

Gradually Transitioning Meat Out of the Diet

It is a good idea to transition meat out of your diet rather than suddenly cutting it out. Your body will need time to adjust to the change and slowly get used to the plant-based diet.

Be kind to your body and transition meat out over a couple of weeks so your digestive system has time to catch up.

You will also need this time to prepare for your plant-based future and make sure that you are having a nutritionally balanced transition away from meat.

Transitioning gradually allows you to try out meat-free alternatives and see which options work for you through trial and error. It is better than jumping in the deep end with no lifejacket and finding that you have no idea what to eat.

What Happens When You Make A Mistake?

Finally, it’s okay to make a mistake or occasionally treat yourself to an animal-based snack. Just because you have decided to eat plant-based meals it doesn’t mean you have failed if you sometimes incorporate animal-derived ingredients too.

You may have to adapt your diet for your health or else be in an environment where you have limited other options. It’s always okay to do what’s best for your body and mind, even if that means eating animal-derived foods from time to time.

The key takeaways from this guide to plant-based eating are that it can be challenging to stick to a plant-based diet and remain healthy.

However, there are various solutions to the common problems faced by plant-based eaters. You can maintain a balanced diet by understanding nutrition, using whole food plant-based delivery services, and meal planning and prepping.

Moreover, you can deal with cravings by being mindful and eating plant-based alternatives to animal-derived snacks.

Lastly, you can address the social challenges of eating a plant-based diet by leaning into the vegan community for support and advice.

Remember that essential nutrients come from a range of colorful plant-based sources like vegetables and fruits, brown rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, avocados, and nuts.

The more colorful and diverse your plate is, the more macros and micros you get into your body. Have fun adjusting to the plant-based way of eating and enjoy the journey of discovering your favorite delicious plant-based dishes.