Three days is the amount of time you can use to turn your diet around. You can take longer, but don’t fall into the trap of information overload and nonaction. This is a rough outline, learned over much more than three days by yours truly.
Day 1: Get Ready for Your New Routine
Read and watch videos. Allow yourself one day at being a couch potato and learn more about why you are doing this. Dr. John McDougall has lots of videos on YouTube from his advanced study weekends, along with “McDougall Moments” which explain the benefits of a plant-based diet. I’m partial to McDougall because No. 1: He helped me and No. 2: He is one of the most public medical figures in support of this lifestyle.
When you begin, you don’t have to download a single book. Plenty of vegan sites (look for plant-based in your keyword search) offer recipes for free. Try this to see some of this type of cooking for yourself. Chef AJ’s book, “Unprocessed,” has great, simple recipes to try, and her book really does a good job explaining how to get away from processed sugar, one of my weaknesses. McDougall’s website also has recipe listings in the forum. I would recommend these recipes first to ease into this, because the McDougall plan utilizes potatoes and beans in many of the recipes, which to me tasted great as my taste buds adjusted to a much lower salt intake. I stuck with the McDougall plan for the first month and downloaded his app from Apple’s app store to have even more recipes to choose from.
As you look through the recipes to see what you might like to eat, you will soon get a sense of repetition in the ingredients. Start making a list (better still, start a document on your laptop or tablet so you can reuse it). If you do download any plant-based cookbooks, or cookbook/lifestyle books such as “VB6” or “Engine 2 Diet” you can learn tips on how to stock your pantry. Again, McDougall’s site can help you get your list started here. Collect a fair amount of recipes just to get into the habit of cooking with new ingredients. Organize with a calendar and menu plan for your first week, and try to do a menu plan every week the day before your next big store trip. So consider Day 1 your organizing/recipe collecting/goal setting day.
Day 2: Out with the Old, In with the New
Start the day with whatever you like to eat and drink and make sure you are ready to begin this day feeling good about what you are doing. This is going to be the hardest of the three days because you will clean out your fridge and cabinets of all processed and junk food. After breakfast, say goodbye to your sugary cereals, milk, yogurt, potato chips, sugary breakfast bars and juices, boxed macaroni and cheese, and sodiun-packed canned soups and marinaras. This is the hardest phase. If you have invested in a lot of meat stocked in your freezer, for example, that’s a money commitment you need to think about how to handle. Depending on how strict you think you can be, either donate, give to a friend, or use it up through the week and don’t replace. Again, this phase is as bad as it will be in making the switch, because this is where the change begins for real, reinforced with each boxed or cheese-filled thing you toss. It’s fine to read about eating healthy, but getting rid of your milk-chocolate candy bars will seem impossible. Just take a deep breath and keep plugging away. You’ll be surprised at the weight of reluctance you feel for your own stuff, and maybe not so much for your partner’s favorite things. And that’s another big wake-up call as to the power food has over all of us.
The people I trusted in guiding me through this said to be relentless and make no excuses. Plus, if you are super-tied to something processed in a box or bag, you have to wonder about your relationship to that item and what is it worth to you versus your health. It was very difficult for me and I hated this phase, I won’t lie. But I also knew it needed to be done for me to get better.
Now that you have empty shelf/refrigerator space and probably no more food left except for some Quaker Oats, it is time to go to the store. Stick with the produce section and grains for your first outing. If things you love are out of season, check the frozen aisle and go with frozen vegetables. This is a good way to load up on spinach for smoothies (yes, really) and kale for soups. Also, remember frozen berries are available all the time, whether or not the same is true in the produce aisle.
I also recommend stocking up on diced canned tomatoes with no or low salt, canned beans (also no or low salt) and brown rice, available in bags and also in the frozen section. During your day of shopping, get a rice cooker if you don’t already have one. You will find you use it every day in the beginning. When you get home, wash the fresh vegetables that you bought and put away. You could treat yourself after the store to steamed vegetables and rice from an Asian restaurant, along with maybe some tofu teriyaki so you don’t have to start cooking right after a store run.
Day 3: First Day of Health!
Start cooking. This is your therapy. Make at least three of your new recipes so that you can eat later in the week from these. You also can steam rice in extra amounts so reheating and serving is a snap. Have a dessert be one recipe, because that will help motivate you even more as a sweet and healthful treat.
Inspiration That Tastes Great
Here is a great smoothie to start your first day living plant-based, demonstrated by Chef AJ. You won’t believe how much energy you have after you drink it. (Energy was/is a big deal to people with RA like me). She goes pretty fast through it but the ingredients/measurements are at the end of the video. I recommend Medjool dates, pitted and diced (easier on your blender that way). Maybe fix this and tackle that tough day 2!