If you grew up following a Standard American (read: processed food and animal product-centric) Diet, the idea of waking up one day and suddenly eschewing meat and dairy may seem completely unfathomable. Our personal diet is so deeply ingrained in us that it can seem fundamentally impossible to change. It’s easy to forget, though, that the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians used to be omnivores too. While some folks really do make a split-second decision to go vegan, for most of us, the journey towards a plant-based diet is winding, gradual, and often takes us by surprise. In fact, if you’re reading this article, you may have already begun this journey without realizing it.

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Here are five signs you may be on your way to a plant-based diet:

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1. You’ve found yourself becoming more curious about food and diet in general.

Whether it’s due to digestive issues you’ve been experiencing, a desire to get fit for the summer, a feeling of boredom with what you’ve been eating lately, or just an inexplicable impulse, you’ve found yourself drawn more and more  to articles and videos about food and diet. The more you read about where your food comes from and how it affects your body, the more you want to know. While you used to take for granted that the foods you grew up eating were healthy, nutritious, and wholesome, you now have a desire to take in the information yourself, to think critically about it, and make your own decisions about what to consume.

2. You’ve begun making changes in the way you eat.

After learning more about food and diet, you’ve come to the conclusion that the way you’ve always eaten may not be the best for you (or the world).  Maybe you’ve given up gluten or dairy to try to soothe your stomach, you’ve switched over to grass-fed or free-range meats, or you’ve made a Meatless Monday pledge. Whatever the change, it’s evidence that your relationship with food has begun to evolve and you’re now open to more possibilities.

3. You’ve become more aware of the fact that you are consuming animal products.

Meat and dairy are such an integral and ubiquitous part of most traditional Western diets that most of us simply see them as “food” without making a conscious connection to the animals that they come from. One of the first signs that you may be feeling uneasy about your omnivorous diet is experiencing intrusive thoughts reminding you that the food on your plate came from a living thing. This experience could be as obvious as seeing flashes of cute baby animals as you bite into a burger, but also as subtle as feeling grossed out by the presence of gristle, skin, or bone in your meat.

4. You’ve consciously or unconsciously started to reduce your animal product intake, even if minutely.

Of course, if you’ve made the active decision to eat vegetarian a few days a week, that’s a very clear sign that you’re moving toward a plant-based lifestyle. It may be easy, though, to overlook more subtle changes, like swapping  the chicken breast add-in for nuts or beans at your favorite salad place, forgoing the extra cheese on your pizza, or even deciding to use only one piece of bacon to flavor your soup rather than a whole package. If you’ve begun to make little changes like this, you are likely starting to find that you did not need the animal product as much as you thought.

5. It starts to happen that you reach the end of  the day and realize that, without making an effort, you haven’t eaten any meat or animal products.

The more you reduce your animal product intake, the more your taste buds and habits evolve to the point that you naturally begin to gravitate towards, and even crave, plant-based foods. Once you’ve discovered, for example, how tasty, filling, and easy to throw together a veggie stir-fry or a lentil soup can be, dishes like this can easily take on permanent positions in your cooking repertoire. Similarly, after you’ve come across a few vegetarian lunches that are as satisfying as, but cheaper and healthier than, your go-to meat-based ones, it’s natural to start to choose these options more and more.  Little shifts like this can begin to snowball to the point that they gradually begin to crowd out the meat-centric dishes in your rotation, and, before you know it, you’re choosing the plant-based option at every meal.

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See yourself in the signs above? It may be time, then, to embrace the transition you’ve begun. There’s no need to make a definitive decision to give up all animal products for the rest of your life or to try to be a perfect vegan, but you have nothing to lose by making a conscious decision to give a plant-based lifestyle a try. Not sure where to start? Start with this article here on One Green Planet.

Lead Image Source:Hearty Black Beluga Stew/Sara B. Allen

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