Dealing with cravings for non-plant-based foods when transitioning to a plant-based diet can be challenging, but it's totally doable with a few tweaks. Here are some strategies to help you overcome cravings:
1. Figure out when the cravings happen:
Try to identify why you're craving certain non-plant-based foods. Are you bored? Tired? Anxious? Is it the taste, texture, familiarity, or emotional attachment? Understanding the source of your cravings can help you address them effectively and head them off before they happen.
2. All-in, or gradual transition:
Figure out if you're the type of person that can open a bag of chips and eat one serving or if you look down and the bag is gone. If you're ok with moderation, consider making a more gradual transition to a plant-based diet. Slowly reduce your consumption of animal products while increasing plant-based options. This can make the adjustment more manageable.
If you're terrible with moderation, you may need to jump in with both feet and give yourself a full month of nothing but plant-based. In this case you might want to try my 21-Day Reset, or pick a breakfast and lunch recipe to repeat, and then order something like Purple Carrot meal kits for dinner. These meal kits have been a game changer for me and my busy schedule. Created by Chef Mark Bittman, they have the perfect balance of flavors and my family loves them. Two meals feeds three of us if I add an extra veggie. You can pick your meals before they ship and you get everything you need.
3. Have a game plan:
This might be the biggest factor to your success. Do NOT try to wing it in the beginning. When you're working to better any area of your life, some planning, prep and learning is involved. Plan your meals in advance and make sure they're balanced and satisfying. Shoot for a protein like tempeh or super firm tofu, lots of veggies, like double the veggies, and a whole grain. A yummy, oil-free sauce can help too. A well-thought-out plant-based meal is less likely to leave you craving non-plant-based options.
4. Explore plant-based alternatives:
There are plant-based alternatives for many animal-based foods. Explore options like veggie burgers, plant-based milk, tofu, tempeh, and meat substitutes. These can provide familiar flavors and textures. Check out Meati cutlets. I'm obsessed. They're clean, have very few ingredients and aren't a processed junk food.
5. Experiment with flavorful ingredients:
Try using rich, flavorful, and texture-enhancing plant-based ingredients and cooking methods to make your meals taste better. Add herbs, spices, and condiments. Roasting, grilling, or marinating vegetables can also add depth to your dishes.
Secondly, we can often reduce cravings when our meals contain a combination of "tastes"; sweet (like fresh or dried fruit), salty (like tamari or soy sauce), sour (like vinegar or lemon), bitter (like chocolate or coffee), umami (like tomatoes or mushrooms).
6. Stay hydrated:
Sometimes, cravings are mistaken for thirst. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, which can help reduce cravings.
7. Satisfy sweet cravings:
If you're craving sweets, opt for fruit-based desserts or snacks like date energy balls, fruit salad, or smoothies. Dairy-free dark chocolate can also be a good option in moderation. Grab yourself some Medjool dates, smear a 1/2 tsp peanut butter on each half, and top with a dairy-free chocolate chip. (Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips are naturally dairy-free.) You can thank me later.
8. Fill up first:
Fill up on high nutrient, low calorie dense foods before indulging. Big salads with an oil-free dressing, brothy soups, and even foods like plain popcorn and a sweet potato can help. Once you've eaten something, if you're still craving, set out a portion and have what you're craving. By filling up first, you'll naturally eat less. I'm a volume girl so this works great for me.
9. Join a community:
Connect with a community or support group of individuals who are also transitioning to a plant-based diet. Sharing experiences and tips can be encouraging. I love CNS Kitchen and Whole Communities. Check your local meetups too for a vegan / vegetarian group!
10. Occasional indulgences:
It's okay to occasionally indulge in your favorite non-plant-based foods if you're ok with moderation. I am not one of those people so I have to find naturally sweetened substitutes or suffer the consequences for about three weeks to a month.
This can help satisfy cravings and prevent feelings of deprivation. Just be mindful of portion sizes and frequency. If you feel like you mess up, do not give up! Just get back up and keep going. We love you. We support you. You've got this.
11. Education and motivation:
Remind yourself of the reasons you chose a plant-based diet, whether it's for health, environmental, or ethical reasons. Educating yourself about the benefits can reinforce your motivation to stick with it. Watch Game Changers, Forks Over Knives, What the Health, and the Blue Zones documentaries.
12. Talk to a dietitian:
If cravings persist or you're concerned about meeting your nutritional needs on a plant-based diet, consider consulting a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They can provide personalized guidance and meal planning tips.
Remember that cravings are a normal part of any dietary transition, and they tend to decrease over time as your taste preferences adjust. Be patient with yourself, stay committed to your goals, and continue exploring delicious plant-based recipes to keep your meals exciting and satisfying!