2012 was a big year of change for me, one of the biggest being my farewell to meat. I was really happy and excited, concentrating on all the health benefits of changing the focus of my meals to vegetables, fruits and grains. But many times early on, I underestimated just what a big change (and challenge) this would be.
Going through this process over the past year, what I learned about was more than new recipes and healthier eating, but also about patience, care and being able to respect and accept myself and others.
If you're thinking about making some healthier changes to your diet, here are 4 tips that may help you go forward in a positive and kind way.
1. Change Isn't Easy, Cut Yourself Some Slack
Becoming vegetarian was a huge change for me. It took a lot of re-thinking to figure out how to prepare meals that didn't center around meat while at the same time, were more substantial than green beans and a bagel. Even as I poured over some of the more popular vegetarian cook books and web sites, all the new information seemed overwhelming at times and some of the ingredients were things I'd never even heard of! It was frustrating at first and on bad days, I felt totally clueless but I kept trying and things got easier with time. I didn't love every new dish I tried but I did eventually discover some great ones. Big changes take time but things get easier.
2. Be Patient And Go Slow
As I started learning more about healthier eating, I also had to adjust my thinking about what being full really felt like. Eating meat can leave you with a heavier, dense kind of full feeling, different than how fruits, veggies and grains feel. It's a good different but it's still – different. Going slowly and just making small changes at first can help your mind and body adjust. Even starting with one or two meatless days or meals a week is a great beginning. Be patient with the process and especially, patient with yourself. If this is going to be a life change, there is no race to the finish line.
3. Be The Example, Not The Nag
Once I had cut out meat completely, I really felt good. I started seeing so many great differences with my body and how I felt overall, I wanted to shout it from the mountain tops. I also had to hold myself back at times from wanting to lecture family members or others who continued to eat in a way I now saw as unhealthy and even dangerous. I quickly learned though, the fastest way to turn people off from learning about the changes I'd made was being a nag about it. But being a walking example of the benefits of healthy eating (“You look great, what have you been doing?”), far more positive and pleasant for everyone.
4. Don't Judge
It's awesome to feel proud about all the study and work you put in to committing to living a healthier life but it's also important to remember, it's a personal choice. We are all different, unique in our thoughts and feelings about what feels right for us. It can be easy for people to start feeling a bit elitist after making changes to better themselves but it's really just ego and illusion. No one is perfect!
This is also a good point to keep in mind on the days when you're frustrated and tired or so overwhelmed with life that you pick up a burger on your way home from a horrible day at work. It happens. Don't give up, failure doesn't even apply here. We as human beings are in a constant process of learning and for most, becoming a vegetarian is having to unlearn everything we've been taught about eating our whole lives.
For any big change you're trying to make from quitting smoking, cutting back on sugar, starting a new work out program or learning to meditate, go forward in a positive way. Practice patience and kindness, for yourself and those around you. Remember big changes take time, no one is perfect and that's ok. Just making the effort toward living a healthier life is an accomplishment and something to feel good about.