Sticking To A Plant-Based Diet: Is It Sustainable?

Well, it’s been a whole month since my partner and I began our little plant-based journey. It’s given my energy levels a big boost, I have new meals to cook, and tons of new knowledge to chew on alongside the whole foods.

But…A couple weeks in, I was reminded of just how tough old habits are.

You know, I was wondering if I would be able to keep up with my plant-based nutrition plan, and when my more “traditional” eating habits would kick in! Here’s the story.

While attending a men’s group meeting, where we have each brought an item for the past two years, I instinctively made myself a plate of the entree without really considering what was prepared for me.  It was a pulled pork sandwich, and the fact that pork is a meat didn’t even register for me until I was finished! Whoops.

And like a lot of folks, my mind filled up with questions and doubts. Things like “Is eating plant-based really sustainable for you? Should you be stricter and start a vegan diet? Will you run out of new foods and get bored?”

I’m sure your mind has said similar things.

But! Instead of continuing down that road and kicking or shaming myself for falling off my plant-based wagon, I chose to see this as an opportunity. Slipping up gives me a chance to…

  • Forgive myself
  • Reaffirm my intentions behind switching to plant-based foods
  • Reboot my mindful eating practice
  • Re-evaluate what parts of plant-based eating were working for me
  • Dig into why we slip up diet-wise in the first place

Do I think a plant-based diet is sustainable long term? Yes. Do the results speak for themselves? So far, yes!

But we need to give ourselves a solid platform for success. So I have made this post into a deep dive on how to make plant-based eating something you can stick to more easily.

In case you too find yourself downing a pulled pork sandwich all of the sudden!

8 Reasons We Slip Up, And How to Work With Them

In order to make a diet stick, it is best to start looking at some of the reasons it doesn’t. These come from all over. Perfectionism, cultural expectations, lack of planning, and more can impact your eating in ways that snowball over time.

Below I have listed 8 major things to understand about making a plant-based diet sustainable in the long term. You will also find some helpful tips and tricks to help!

#1: Habits take time

It has been shown by numerous studies that a new habit needs at least 3 weeks to become “sticky”. It takes a bit longer for that habit to become a fundamental part of your day.

There’s a trick known as the 21/90 rule: take 21 days to make something a habit, and then take another 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change.

Breaking habits can unsurprisingly take a longer time, particularly if it is a habit connected to your identity. Some studies show it can take up to 254 days to fully break a habit. Nearly an entire year!

So if you are early in the plant-based diet adventure and feel like it is impossible to keep up, make sure you are giving yourself the time you need to really develop that “stickiness”.

Good thing there are so many amazing plant-based recipes out there!

#2: The perfect is the enemy of the good

It’s an age-old proverb, but it is true. Being one thousand percent strict with a plant-based diet (or any new diet for that matter) will increase your likelihood of quitting before the diet becomes part of your lifestyle.

That might sound harsh, but based on the work I have done with clients, your chances of sticking to it go way up if you A) start slow, B) be a little flexible with your diet every now and again.

Every nutrition program will be hard to adhere to 100% of the time, so planning out breaks that are mindful and healthy for you to indulge once in a while is part of the process. 

For example, a couple weeks after my pulled pork sandwich incident, I was at a restaurant to watch an Avalanche playoff game. I found myself blindly ordering an appetizer without going through every ingredient. 

Fast forward a few minutes, and I was presented with Buffalo Chicken French Fry Nachos when I believed I was ordering solely french fries dressed up with buffalo sauce, blue cheese, and sinful goodness.

Nope, definitely chicken on there. Yes, fries technically are plants, but it was definitely not a plant-based meal! But, I had chosen that evening as a break from the healthy focus of my plan.

I ate what I wanted while putting the fried chicken off to the side, eating the fries, wing sauce, blue cheese, and enjoying every bite dipped in ranch dressing.

Which brings me to #3…

#3: Deliberately “Cheat”

If nothing seems to stick, and you find yourself daily wanting to give up, try this.

Take a single meal (or even a full day) to not just relax those diet restrictions, but eliminate them. Meat, dairy, whatever. Cook, eat, and enjoy!

For a plant-based diet this can vary widely. You could have one day a week or month for animal products, or simply indulge the way I did.

Because here’s the deal: a plant-based diet (or anything-based diet!) should not feel like punishment. What you to feel better should not make you feel worse.

So if you need to take a break, do it. 100% plant food 80% of the time can be a lot easier to adhere to! Just remember to do it mindfully and deliberately.

#5: Plan ahead

Planned food is fast food. Take some time in the week to research new recipes, and/or draw up meal plans. For times when you know are going to be extra busy in some way, substitute some of your favorite meals or eat simple recipes instead (stir fry is a great example).

This will help make a plant-based diet more sustainable by lowering the number of decisions your brain has to make. Decision fatigue is a real thing; our brains go for the simplest option possible when they’re exhausted.

Another way is to make plant-based snacks easily accessible for when hunger hits, like in your bag or car. Nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, fresh produce, for example. Think of these like your hidden “arsenal” of delicious plant-based alternatives to animal products or processed foods.

Keep in mind though, nuts and seeds tend to have lot of fat in them. Don’t go overboard!

(Pro tip: don’t just leave the fresh fruit in your car. Trust me on that one!)

#6: It’s in the culture

Many of our eating habits actually have a base in social convention, and that is perfectly normal. We grow up with our parents saying things like “eat what’s in front of you” or “clear your plate” or “it’s impolite to not finish your meal”. I am sure you have some pretty distinct stories to tell regarding your “eating history”.

This is 100% me. When it came to the pulled pork, the old habit of eating what was prepared for me out of politeness and social acceptance overcame my mindfulness of my new nutrition goals. 

Being mindful of the food you eat is important, but being mindful of your ultimate goal is critical. For me, plant-based eating is about feeling better and boosting energy levels.

The more clarity around that goal that I have, the easier it is for me stay aware. The easier it is to stay aware, the less likely I will eat something I’d prefer not to!

#7: Check your macros

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. When starting a plant-based diet, it is common to run a little low on protein (unless you plan ahead).

Remember the essential amino acids from my last post? Our bodies know what they need, so we will start craving animal products more to get the amino acids we can’t make ourselves.

Protein cravings can also be mistaken for sugar cravings. This can also happen if we are not getting enough calories.

Often, we are also craving satiety, or to feel satisfied after a meal. Thankfully, there are solutions to satiety, like…

  • adding an extra scoop of protein powder to a smoothie
  • eating more high-protein vegetables (e.g. lentils, quinoa, chickpeas)
  • cooking meals focused on high-protein, plant-based foods like tempeh or tofu
  • eating whole plant foods (e.g. potatoes with the skin on)
  • adding more fat to recipes (e.g. a dash more olive or coconut oil)
  • having several meals throughout the day instead of the usual 3
  • introducing more slower-digesting veggies, like beans
  • switching out “white carbs” like rice or flour for whole grains
2 great recipes for satiety (vegan diet fans, take note!)

This week, I found a couple great, 100% plant-based meals to hit that satiety button. One is high in protein, both are delicious.

They are also some of the tastiest vegan options I have found so far! Plus: very simple, more so if you have an air fryer.

This crispy tofu recipe is a game-changer. Easy prep, 30 minutes from start to finish. Plant-based eating at its finest.

My partner and I also tried a potato wedges recipe from the same website. The parmesan and garlic powder combo was so satisfying, I might have to make some more after finishing this blog!

#8: It is ok. Really!

When I reframed my diet slip-up, the feelings of shame and guilt passed quickly. I still felt them of course, but I reminded myself that this is a journey.

I gave myself an opportunity to practice forgiveness and reset my intentions around being mindful of my choices.  I was able to reconnect with my purpose for starting to eat plant-based originally; to feel better and boost energy!

Health is obviously important, and self-forgiveness when you make mistakes is a big part of that, even just from a scientific percentage!

Final Thoughts

I let the cat out of the bag near the beginning. I still believe that a plant-based diet is sustainable. But I hope you enjoyed reading and learning more about plant-based eating. Trust me, there is more to come!

Honestly, the final word of the day is self-forgiveness. Like any habit we want to train ourselves into, a plant-based diet is only doing to be sustainable if we acknowledge the fact that mistakes happen, it’s ok, and we have all kinds of ways to move forward.

Healthy food is healthy food, right? You don’t have to let one slip-up cancel out weeks of effort. So stay mindful, take care of yourself, fry up some sweet potatoes, and keep moving forward!

And as always, I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Comment below with your questions and I’ll be sure to answer them quickly!

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