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09/06/2013

Tips For Transitioning To A Vegan Diet

Afrikan VeganWhen you are new to veganism or considering making the transition it can seem overwhelming. But fortunately it doesn't have to be. Here are suggestions and tips that I have gathered from interviewing four black vegans for the Black Vegetarian series. Each of these women have or are dedicating their work to helping our Afrikan (black) community get healthy. 

Here is what they say:

  1. Aba Bailey

    Long time vegetarian Aba Bailey became a vegetarian in the 70s. She says: "I would say find vegetarian foods that you enjoy and substitute them. Even if the gluten foods aren’t that good for you they are still better than meat so do that until you get used to not having meat.

    What I always suggest is don’t try to do everything all at once. Just take little steps. Maybe you can have one day a week that is your vegetarian day. Or you could have one day a week that’s your juicing day or your raw day. Wherever you are you can just take it up a notch and then when you get comfortable with that you can extend it because once you do something and you see the results you’ll want to do it."

  2. Tracye McQuirterAuthor and vegan advocate Tracye McQuirter says: "For someone who is just starting what I suggest is to add rather than subtract. If you can think that about the fact that you already eat vegan foods, like you already eat vegetables, you already eat fruit, you already eat grains, these are all vegan foods. So, a lot of your diet is already vegan, it's already plant-based you just don’t think of it that way. Think of adding more of these foods that you’re already eating. You’re already eating beans and lentils anyway. Add more of these.

    Start by making half of your plate dark leafy greens at least twice a day. For lunch and dinner. So, that means having a kale salad or having some sautéed collard greens or stir-fried broccoli, whatever it is, mix it up with the vegetables that you like, spinach, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, whatever it is. Make that half of your plate.

    And then, if you’re going to be eating grains, if you’re going to be eating rice or pasta, make it a whole grain rice or pasta. The white flour, the refined grains, make it whole grains. So half of your plate is vegetables and then, a third of your plate is whole grains, which you would be eating anyway.

    Already two-thirds of your plate is vegan. Two thirds of your plate is plant-based. So then the other thing is the “Protein”, you know the piece of meat on your plate. There are millions of, so many vegan recipes out there that are loaded with protein. There are so many ways that you can get protein and other nutrients. Even fruits and vegetables have protein in small amounts.

    So you just have to kind of start where you are. I tell people with don’t get bogged down with the worry of getting enough protein. At this point add more fruits, more vegetables and more whole grains to your plate. Then if you’re thinking of the main part of your meal you can look at my book, you can look on-line and just google “vegan recipes” or “vegan meals” or “vegan main dishes” to get loads of ideas about the type of vegan foods that you can eat as the main course."

  3. Black-Vegetarian-VanyaYoga instructor and health coach Vanya Francis offers this advice: "So what I really encourage people to do is not focus so much on what you’re not eating but focus on the good things that you are eating and try to incorporate more of those foods into your diet. That concept is called crowding out. Don’t worry so much about eliminating beef and pork (even if you want to do that eventually). Think about adding in more fruits and more vegetables, and find creative ways to prepare them. The more you do that, the more you’ll find you crowd out the other foods that don’t serve you. As you eat more of the wholesome fruits and vegetables and start to pay attention to how you feel, you’ll want less and less of the less nourishing foods.

    In my opinion, that is one of the best ways to do it; do it gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once because it then becomes an issue of deprivation, and you’ll want it more because you told yourself you can’t have it. And you don’t need to add a lot of things to your food (i.e. seasoning, butter, etc) to make it taste good.

    There is this concept in yoga one of my teachers talks about; it’s the 51% rule, which means if you’re doing something 51% of the time, then you’re doing it. Hopefully, that 51% will inch up until you’re eventually full fledge with whatever you’re doing. Just do it most of the time and then maybe eventually it will become all of the time."

  4. A. Breeze HarperBlogger and author A. Breeze Harper tells folks: " I usually send them to the Vegetarian Society or the Vegan Society website because right off the bat they have introductory or primers on how to transition to a vegan diet. If it’s mostly black people, mostly women that I’ll be talking to I tell them all about Sistah Vegan Anthology and Queen Afua’s work. And the Queen Afua’s Wellness Network on-line to get them started and let them know that you’re not weird, it’s not an anomaly, there is a whole community out there that’s doing this. From people who are beginners to people who have been doing it for thirty years.

    Whether you want to be a vegan or not, transitioning into something really new is scary, it’s really scary. So I try to let people know that you don’t have to be scared. I think it’s great to connect to your own personal stories. So instead of using a lot of high academic talk or scientific theory around nutrition I just start talking about my own narrative. And that seems to be the number one way for me to make that connection and have someone more open to transitioning to a more plant-based diet."

I think these are all great suggestions. It is also important to take time to set your goals and get the skills you'll need to be able to create satisfying meals for yourself. Fortify your understanding of why you are making these changes. Get clear on where your trouble spots are likely to be and develop a strategy for dealing with these areas. 

In the work that I do to support Dr. Opare with his patients I developed a curriculum to guide new vegans through this process of goal setting, skill development and identifying strategies for dealing with being vegan in the "real world". I teach it as a compliment to Dr. Opare's in-depth nutrition lessons. The Healthy Eating Success course here on this site brings my lessons to you.  

You CAN be successful!

Do you have tips to share? Leave a comment below. Have concerns or questions? Leave those too!

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Ama Opare
Lifestyle Coach, CEO at Opare Institute
Supporting you by bringing you flavorful and satisfying vegan and raw vegan recipes, inspiration and online training and one-on-one coaching to help LOVE YOUR VEGAN LIFE! I am an educator and revolutionary who has teamed up with my physician/dietitian husband, Nana Kwaku Opare, MD, MPH, CA, to address the growing health problems in the Afrikan/Black community by building a Nation of Black Vegetarians and Vegans.

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