Meat used to be the main part of my diet. All everyone could talk about was the Paleo Diet, so I tried it and found myself getting sick all the time. I couldn't understand how this could be happening since I thought I was eating the healthiest I ever had. Something wasn't right, so one day I decided to switch up my approach and cut out meat entirely. Low and behold I stopped getting sick.

The transition wasn't as simple as it sounds. I wondered, "What is there to eat?"  I had a vision that I would be starving all the time. But once I cut out meat, I started looking up vegan meals and exploring different cuisines and began to create meals that were filling and delicious. What surprised me the most during these early weeks was that I didn't miss meat at all. I feel so good on a plant-based diet, that I wouldn't even consider going back, and it's been five years of living meat-free.

How You Can Go Mostly Meatless for May

If you've been thinking about cutting out meat but keep pushing it off, this month is the time to do it. May has been designated "No Meat May" by an environmental organization and already 25,000 people have officially signed up to give it a try. We expect many more are doing it on their own.

The hardest part about cutting out meat once you make the decision is not knowing where to start. Everyone wants a shortcut; consider this yours. I am now an expert on how to do it among all of my friends and family. Here are my 5 best tips to get you started.

1. Cut out one meat at a time 

Don't go cold turkey (pun intended). The smallest step will make a difference in how you feel. Start out by cutting out chicken, if you're addicted to the taste, then get rid of beef, pork (bacon is not a food group), then eggs, and so on. Do this day by day and by the end of the week, they are all off your list.

Easing into the change will prove to yourself that you aren't so dependant on meat after all. You may not realize if, but one meatless meal makes a huge difference to your health and the climate. In fact, giving up meat for just one meal a day for a year is equivalent to not driving from New York to LA. It also will begin to change your microbiome for the better and you will likely feel less bloated.  Keep going. Crush the first days of going meat-free with this list of plant-based items.

2. Swap out meat for plant-based protein

You don't need meat to have a protein-packed meal. Cutting out meat means you get to explore all the plant-based alternatives that are out there. For every animal protein, there is a vegan equivalent. Buy pre-packaged meatless chicken, beef, or pork in the grocery store instead of meat such as Gardein's Classic Meatless Meatballs, which we're all obsessed with at The Beet.

If you want to try out healthier plant-based proteins, there's always tofu, seitan, or tempeh. You can even use vegetables as the 'meat' in your meals: You won't ever miss a meat burger again after you try our Portobello Mushroom Burger recipe. You can eat your favorite foods and make easy substitutes for almost every animal protein that you crave. Love meatballs? Try our recipe for Eggplant and Lentil Meatballs or buy Gardein's Classic Meatless Meatballs.

3. Focus on what you can eat

Don't focus on all the things your missing, but focus on the foods you eat day-to-day that are already vegan. The guacamole you eat on Taco Tuesday? Plant-based. The avocado toast you make every morning? Plant-based. Some of your favorite foods are already plant-based (oatmeal, stir-fry, salsa) and the ones that aren't can be tweaked to swap out the meat. You can find all those substitutes here. Your mindset will determine how successfully you can make this change.

4. Take it one meal at a time, and try out new recipes

If you are the type of person who likes to ease into changes, eat one meat-free meal a day. Try out new recipes for breakfast, then take on lunch, and finally dinner. You can even swap your usual snack for hummus or something equally healthy and plant-based. For me, the most fun dinner to make that I never would have tried was Thai Spring Rolls, with a vegetable filling and my family loved them and it gave me the confidence to keep cooking more plant-based meals.

You may be the type of personality who wants to make the switch all at once, or setting a boundary works for you. If you like to make the change all at once, then go for it.  Or try not to eat meat after five o'clock. Find the style that works for you. This new approach is only as good as your ability to stick with it.

5. FInd your reason for cutting out meat

What determines your success in going meatless is knowing your reason for doing it. If you don't have a "Why" then it's harder to stick with it. For me, my health keeps me motivated and on track, and staying plant-based has been a way of feeling like I am taking good care of myself.

For others, it's the motivation of the ethical treatment of animals or the realization that plant-based is better for the planet. Your "why" may even be a combination of all three! Identify a reason for this lifestyle change and have a name for it. (I do it so my stomach doesn't hurt. That may sound basic to you but it works for me.) Then remind yourself of that reason in moments of doubt. It will be your motivator and course-corrector, the thing that gets you back on track throughout the change.

Know that slip-ups and "cheats" will happen, but don't let them discourage you completely. One slip up doesn't mean you have to quit this whole process. Here's how to get back on track, and know that it's all part of the process

Want more on how to cut out meat and go plant-based sign up for one of these plans: Beginner's Guide to Going Plant-Based, which is one week of healthy recipes and motivation. For a three-week program, try the  21 Day Plant-Based Challenge

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