When I first started eating a plant-based diet, I wish someone had given me some guidelines to follow. It would have been so much easier than trying to figure everything out on my own! If you’ve been searching for that too, this article is for you. Today I’m sharing six plant-based diet guidelines for a healthy life. Use them as the guidelines they are, and not as hard and fast “rules”.
It’s all too easy in our current time to get completely inundated with information overload.
Here’s a great example: you’re thinking about changing your diet. You make a comment about it to your partner, do a quick Pinterest search to find a plant-based recipe, and like a photo on Instagram from a plant-based chef you follow. The next thing you know, your Pinterest feed is chock full of plant-based recipes of every kind; you’re seeing ads all over the place for everything from vegan “eggs” to all-inclusive plant-based cruises (yes, they actually exist!). Before you have time to breathe, you’re overwhelmed.
What seemed like a fun challenge and a way to improve your health, is suddenly so overwhelming it seems impossible.
It’s not that a plethora of information is bad. Not at all. Doing your research is super important, especially when you’re doing something as big as changing your diet.
But often, too much information too quickly just pulls us in seven different directions and we aren’t able to settle onto any one path. Instead of changing our diet and boosting our health, we end up dabbling in plant-based cooking for a few months, trying a recipe here and there, with no concrete plan to get to the next level. More often than not, life gets in the way, we get busy, and our vague goal of prioritizing plants gets left behind.
My goal is to help you avoid all that. Eating plant-based should be a fun challenge and a way to boost your health. If information overload is causing you major decision fatigue and you’re putting your health goals on hold, you might benefit from reinforcing the foundation of your diet. The plant-based diet guidelines that follow will help.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #1:
Eat regularly scheduled meals
This is the first on this list for a reason!
If you’ve done nothing about changing your diet yet, except found the desire to do so, start with this.
Decide on a time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then make it a habit by repeating those meal timings daily.
This won’t change what you’re eating directly, but you might be surprised to find you snack less and eat less junk when you’re eating at the same times every day.
You can train your body to expect food at certain times every day. And when you put your body in an environment where you’re able to focus on the food in front of you, your digestive system will work better and you’ll get more nutrients out of your food.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #2:
Put whole plant foods front and center of your meals
No matter what your ideal diet looks like or how your current diet compares to your ideal diet, prioritize whole plant foods in your meals.
This means that even if you include animal products in your diet, any given meal should feature whole plant foods. The processed foods and animal products on your plate should support the plant-based foods, not the other way around.
I’ve got a whole blog post about shifting the composition of your meals to increase the plant foods in them. This technique works for practically any meal and any cuisine! Check the full blog post and learn the technique here.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #3:
When you start eating plant-based meals, it can feel like you’re eating a ton. Especially compared to how you used to eat, you might feel like you’re eating extra large portions to reach the same level of fullness.
This makes a lot of people nervous, but there are two main reasons for this:
- Whole plant foods tend to be lower in calories per gram, which means a meal based on whole plant foods will be lower in calories (and therefore less filling) than the same sized omnivorous meal.
- Initially, it can be hard to know whether the meals you’re putting together are providing a balanced amount of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Especially if you’re substituting plant-based foods for animal products in your favorite recipes without first considering the nutritional differences, it can be all too easy to suddenly end up with a bunch of unbalanced meals. (This is where the next guideline comes in really handy. Keep reading to learn more.)
All that to say, you may need to eat bigger servings or go for seconds where you did not before.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #4:
Focus on food groups over macronutrients (ie carbs, protein, fat)
When we focus on eating from all the food groups every day, the macronutrients tend to take care of themselves.
This isn’t to say that balancing protein, fats, and carbs in our diets isn’t important – it is! Being aware of which foods are rich in which macronutrients can absolutely help create nutritionally balanced meals. However, as a general rule, especially if you’re new to eating a plant-based diet, focus on food groups first.
Focus on eating from a variety of food groups, and you’ll find that creating balanced meals is much easier to do.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #5:
Adapt the plant-based diet
One size does NOT fit all when it comes to diet. What works for me may not work for you. Just because I eat oats most mornings and feel great doing so, doesn’t mean you will.
And no, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or me.
I like to think of a plant-based diet as a framework that each person tweaks to meet their needs and preferences.
No diet should be used as a cookie-cutter plan that works for everyone as is. I know it would be so much easier if that were the case, but no two people have the same digestive systems, stress levels, life circumstances, flavor preferences, or timelines.
We are all unique and our diets must reflect this. So customize your diet to make it work for you, your needs, and your lifestyle.
Plant-Based Diet Guideline #6:
Throw out the idea that you can “fail” at healthy eating
This final guideline is so important, it should really be a whole blog post on its own. For now, here is food for thought until a large conversation can be had.
It’s easy to envision a perfect version of ourselves in “perfect” health.
If you really think about it though, perfect health implies a static destination – an end way of being that you either achieve or you don’t…And that’s really not how health works.
We are living, breathing, moving, aging beings, and our health needs to live, breathe, move, and age WITH US.
It’s for this same reason that what worked for you a few years ago doesn’t work for you now. The type of exercise that felt good to you in your 20s might not feel good in your 30s. The foods that nourished you a few years ago just aren’t doing it for you these days.
It can feel like there’s always something “wrong” with us and we’re always “fixing” something.
But the truth is: our health struggles feel like they phase into one after the next because HEALTH IS A JOURNEY.
What you’re worrying about and working on now, you may not be working on in 5 years. You’ll probably be working on something else though. And that’s okay!
So if you eat less healthily for a day or a month, try again, health is a journey, not a destination.
And there you have it, six plant-based diet guidelines for a healthy life. I hope they provide the structure you need so you can enjoy eating plant-based, have fun with your new diet, and finally achieve your health goals.