Often when we think of sustainability in vegan diets, the first thing that typically comes to mind is the environmental impact of our food choices. Although the ecological footprint of foods we choose is very important, let’s refocus and take a look at sustainability in terms of our own lifestyle changes. Transitioning to a vegan diet is considered a big change, because like any kind of behaviour change it challenges us to form new habits and associations. Here are some key things to keep in mind for anyone making lifestyle changes:
Understand what influences your food choices
When making healthy lifestyle changes, it is important to build them on a solid foundation to ensure long term change and success. By taking the time to understand what influences your eating habits, you can work toward building a healthy relationship with food. Much like a house needs a good, solid foundation, so too do our eating habits. In order to do this you need to understand what influences your food choices. Ask yourself: “why do I eat?”. Is it because you are physically hungry? Or is there something else going on? Are you bored, tired, or stressed? Are you at a certain place/event or with a certain person? For some people this means keeping a journal to track not just what you eat, but also how you feel emotionally before and after eating and what is going on in your life at that time (such as situations, events, and people).
Ask yourself why you want to make the change
Ask yourself why it is that you want to make this change. This can help to keep you motivated in the long run. Do you want to choose more plant based foods to improve your health, manage cholesterol, or get more fibre? Are you making changes to help animals? Do you want to have a more positive impact on the environment? To make changes that last we need a balance of confidence and convictions. In other words, it is just as important for you to understand your belief or opinion that has lead you to this change as it is to believe that you can do it.
Pick one thing to work on a time
When we set out to change our lifestyle, it can seem daunting. It is common to feel overwhelmed when we look at the big picture and think about all the things that we will need to do to reach that goal. We might tell ourselves all kinds of excuses, or put up mental blocks. So instead of trying to change everything all at once, try and pick just a few things to work on a time. Maybe a first step will be to come up with a list of some favourite family meals and find ways to incorporate more pulses and vegetables. Or replacing dessert with fruit. Or it might be to drink water more often. Give yourself time to adjust to the changes; think of it as more of a marathon than a sprint.
Avoid all or nothing thinking
Let go of the idea of perfection. Some people get caught up in mental space that if they can’t eat perfectly all the time, then it’s not worth even trying. Similarly, some people might think that if they aren’t ready to make the switch to going vegan or vegetarian, why make the effort to include more plant based foods or enjoy more meatless meals. Try to become aware of your own perceived limitations that might be stopping you from taking steps in the right direction. Remember, everything you do makes a difference and it’s not about being perfect, it is just about doing your best.
Set realistic goals for yourself
Outlining goals can help us figure out what steps we need to take in order to accomplish our desired outcome. In order to set successful goals, we want to meet some basic criteria. So, goals should be SMART:
Specific – you should be able to answer the questions: when, where, and how?
Measurable – How often? How much?
Action-oriented – In stating your goal, focus on the actions and behaviours that you can directly influence.
Realistic – If you were to rate your confidence on a scale of 1-10, it should be at least 8. Otherwise, you likely have some barriers that you need to work through to successfully achieve your goal.
Time-framed – Give yourself a certain amount of time to achieve your goal. Keep in mind to allow for some flexibility. You are human, and changing your habits is a learning process.
Don’t set self-imposed rules around food
The more “food rules” we set, the more we want to rebel against them. Be comfortable with having flexibility with your eating habits. The choices you make one day can be very different from the next day, since your activities and schedule will likely also be different. Wherever you are on your journey to eat more healthfully, mindfully and/or ethically, you don’t need to compare yourself to others.
Pay attention to your thoughts
Our thoughts have a powerful impact on how we feel and can forge the difference between success and failure. If we are constantly telling ourselves negative things, how likely are we have confidence to maintain the changes we have planned? Don’t beat yourself down. Remember, motivation is equal parts confidence and conviction.
Maintaining the change
Change is hard, and it takes time. A lot of time. The process of changing your habits and behaviour will likely be a little messy, so you might slip up. And that is quite normal. Instead of getting frustrated, look back on your accomplishments to realize how far you have come. Also, to prevent “relapse” in the future, think of some barriers or challenges that you might face, and think of ways that you can work around them (this might even include re-working your goal a little). Brainstorming solutions can help you figure out what you need to put in place in order to maintain your lifestyle changes in the long term, and what you need to do to stay motivated.
The Bottom Line
The transition toward a plant based way of eating is often a far fetch from what we are used to, which can be a huge barrier for many. This is why having a plan and understanding our own personal influences and motivations is so important. And when that change means a more sustainable, compassionate food system for all, the effort is well worth it.
Used for reference:
Instigating and Implementing Eating and Physical Activity Behaviour Change: a Lifestyle Intervention Manual and Toolkit. Dietitians of Canada. Diabetes, Obesity and Cardiovascular Network. 2012