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Stop Working Hard

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last...

Your Life Changes

It is a curious phenomena that when we try to change our habits — simplify our clutter, eat healthier,...

Plant-Based Diet

If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move...

Eating Boring Food

My month without food reward, which was the May challenge in my Year of Living Without, was a rousing...

Weight Loss Tips

Last week I asked you all to offer up your best weight-loss tips. And boy,did you deliver. I’ve compiled...

Relationship With Food

Have you ever stopped to consider what relationship you have with food? We don’t often think we even have...

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Stop Working Hard

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last minute.

People have forgotten how to relax. How to be lazy. How to enjoy life.

Try this: read some of the best books, magazines and blogs on productivity, and see how many will tell you how to get the most out of the time you spend waiting, how to maximize your energy, how to make use of your commute time, how to make every meeting more effective, how to get more out of your workday, how to crank out more widgets.

People are working longer hours, constantly checking their inboxes, constantly focused on Getting More Done.

But to what end?

Are we producing more in order to make more money for corporations? Or to make more money for ourselves? Or just to hold on to our jobs — jobs we might not like anyway?

It’s possible we’re trying to get more done because we love doing it — and if that’s the case, that’s wonderful. But even then, working long hours and neglecting the rest of life isn’t always the best idea. Sometimes it’s good to Get Less Done, to relax, to breathe.

Let’s take a brief look at how to do that.

The Beauty of Getting Less Done
While working long hours and cranking out a lot of widgets is one way to go, another is to work on important things, to create amazing things, and then to relax.

I’m not saying you should surf the web all day, or take naps all afternoon … but why not? Why not enjoy a lovely nap? Why not take a long lunch and then a siesta? Why not enjoy a good book?

I get people who ask me all the time, “What should I do on those days when I can’t seem to be productive?”

My answer: “Enjoy it!”

Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but an obsession with productivity is unhealthy. When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax. Let go of the need to be hyperefficient. Stop feeling guilty about enjoying yourself.

But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever? Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax, and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier. And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation. Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love, when you get excited.

It’s how I work every day. I work on lots of projects, on things I really care about, with people I enjoy working with. (See my guide to becoming self-employed if you’d like to do the same.)

How to Relax
It’s funny that I’d even need a section on this topic — how to relax. It seems like it should be something we all know how to do. After all, aren’t we constantly searching for ways to be less lazy? And doesn’t it logically follow that we already know how to be lazy?

It’s possible you already have mastered the art of relaxing. And if so, congratulations. You are a Get Less Done master. All you need now, perhaps, is to let go of the guilt you might feel, and enjoy this relaxation.

But for those of you who have forgotten how to relax, you’re going to have a tougher time. Here’s a hint: don’t stress out about it. If you don’t know how to relax, it’s OK. Breathe. Take it slowly. One step at a time.

Some steps:

  • Take 5 minutes to go outside for a walk. Breathe the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to do things. More time means less rush.
  • After work, get outside, take in nature, run around if you can.
  • Play. Play like a child. Play with a child. Play when you work.
  • Give yourself a day off. Sleep. Watch TV. Eat bon bons.
  • At work, give yourself an hour off. Don’t try to be productive. Just have fun.
  • Work with someone who is exciting. Get excited about a project.
  • Take evenings off. Seriously, no working in the evenings.
  • Get a massage.
  • Breathe.

Step by step, learn to relax. Learn that productivity isn’t everything. Creating is great, but you don’t need to fill every second with work. When you do work, get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax.

Your Life Changes

It is a curious phenomena that when we try to change our habits — simplify our clutter, eat healthier, start exercising — the other people in our life don’t instantly want to be changed in the same way.

It’s as if they had their own minds!

Horrible as that might sound, it’s the reality we have to deal with if we have a family (or friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.). They often resist changes we make, or their possibly unhealthy habits stand in our way.

You’re trying to eat only whole foods, and yet your daughter eats goldfish crackers and pizza and Oreos. And she doesn’t seem to want to munch on asparagus instead!

So what’s a habit changer to do? Abandon all attempts at change? No. Force change on family members? Tempting, but not effective.

The answer is that there is no simple answer. I’ll share what has worked for me, but that won’t work for everyone. When you’re single and living alone, it’s easy to make whatever changes you want to make — but if you’re married, you have to make compromises. You live in the space that is common between the two of you, and that is negotiated space. When you add kids to your life, you now live in a space that is common between all of you, also a negotiated space.

What works? Let’s take a look at some strategies. Try one, try two, or try them all, and figure out what works in your negotiated space.

Getting Others On Board

Here’s a common scenario: you’ve read about some interesting challenge or change someone else has made, or perhaps read a magazine article or book on the topic, and have been giving it some thought, and finally arrived at the decision to make the change … and then you spring it on your significant other or entire family. They somehow aren’t as enthused as you’d like!

That’s because you have gone through an entire thinking process to arrive at the decision, and they are being asked to come in only at the end — after the decision has been made. That’s not fair to them, because they haven’t had time to go through the same thinking process, to consider the reasons, to find the motivation, to be included in the decision.

I’ve found a more effective method is to get all the people who will be affected in on the thinking process as early as possible. Don’t talk to them about it when you’re near the decision-making point … talk to them when you first hear or read about the idea. Talk about why it’s appealing to you. Get their input. Ask whether they’d consider that kind of change. Talk about your motivation. Include them every step of the way, until the decision is made, and even after.

What people don’t like is being forced to change, against their will. So never make people feel that way. Don’t ask them to change … ask them to help you change, once you’ve gotten to the decision. Say that their support is really important to you, and while they are welcome to join you (you’d love that!), they don’t have to change. Just help you make your change. Ask them to be your accountability buddy, someone to call on when you’re having trouble, someone to report problems and successes to.

Setting the Example

While not everyone will be instantly on board with your ideas for change, I’ve found the best method of persuasion is being a good model for change.

When I started exercising, most of my family wasn’t doing it. I tried to convince people, but I wasn’t as good at persuasion as I thought. When they saw me exercising, at first they thought I was a bit kooky. Then they saw the changes in me, and how much I enjoyed it, and I would share how great it was, and over time, it inspired some to think about it.

That’s what you can do — inspire people to consider something they wouldn’t normally consider, just by setting a good example. No one else will do yoga with you? That’s OK … keep doing it, and share your experiences. Do it in front of them as they watch TV. Try not to be annoying, though.

Making Changes on Your Own

If others won’t get on board with your changes, ask for a minimum amount of support: ask that they give you the space to make the change on your own, without their help. This isn’t a small thing sometimes — often people are threatened when someone in their life makes changes, or they don’t like the disruption of their routine of doing things with you (eating junk food together, for example). You doing something on your own is a big change for them.

Ask for the space to do it alone, and ask that they not criticize or otherwise make it hard on you. If they are resentful, this makes it more difficult, but you’ll have to make an effort to show that this is something that will make you happy, and you will do your best not to disrupt things for them. If that means you don’t spend mornings together because you are out running, then try to create other time together, like in the evenings or on weekends.

When you make changes on your own, without the support of others, it’s more difficult. You need to find other encouragement — I’ve joined running groups online, a smoking cessation group, and other similar groups. Facebook and other social networking tools can also be helpful in finding online support. Often there are groups in your area where you can meet people in person who are going through the same changes.

Family Challenges

One of my more successful strategies is creating challenges for my family. They aren’t required to do the challenges, of course, but sometimes people like the opportunity to rise to a challenge. And they like making changes with others.

My wife and I have created eating challenges to do with each other (we call them Lean Out Challenges, usually after we go on a trip and gorge ourselves on unhealthy food). With the kids, I’ve challenged them to do pushups, handstands, running, vegetarian experiments, daily drawing, and more.

Challenges are fun if you do them together. It can be fun to do it as a competition, or to offer rewards for people who complete the challenge.

Notes on Eating Habits

Eating changes can be especially difficult if your family isn’t doing it with you, because they can be eating junk food right in front of your face as you try to much on celery. Tough stuff.

Here are some notes from my experiences:

  • If you do the cooking, cook food for the family, and cook your meals separately. Eva & I often cook our healthy food in bulk and eat the same food for days, while the kids eat other things. For some reason they’re not big kale and quinoa fans. Kids.
  • Kids can change their taste buds, but slowly. They won’t instantly like big green salads, but you can introduce vegetables slowly, in soups and other dishes they might be used to. Dice carrots and kale can be added to chili and spaghetti sauce if you cut them small enough and add them when you’re cooking onions/garlic.
  • Kids will eat nearly anything if you add some baked fries to the dish.
  • If the kids are going to eat something especially tempting (pizza), I try to make myself scarce so I don’t have temptations. It’s too hard to avoid junk that I enjoy eating, if it’s right in front of me, so I’ll go for a run or go to my room to do some work — keep busy.
  • We try to find restaurants that has healthy food that the kids will like.
  • When I went vegetarian, Eva & the kids weren’t vegetarian. I did get them to try some dishes, which they generally liked, and then would just eat my food separately from them. If I made my food especially delicious, it would be tempting for them to at least try.
  • Kids will go to any restaurant if there’s dessert at the end.
  • Many people don’t like the idea of vegan food, even if they’ve never tried it. Making delicious vegan cupcakes will often win them over, at least to try it. I recommend Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Truly amazing.

Supporting Their Changes

If you want others to support your changes, you should also support theirs. When my kids or wife express a desire to make some change, I do my best to help them achieve that:

  • I share my experiences and what worked for me, and how I overcame some obstacles.
  • I share websites and books that help with that change, and often will buy books to help them.
  • I’ll do a project with them, or create a challenge we can do together.
  • I run and workout with my wife, and created a workout log to help her track her fitness.
  • I share vegetarian recipes with my wife (who is now vegan), and with my daughter, who decided to try vegetarianism

There are more possibilities, but these are a few examples. When they see you supporting them, they now have a model for how to act when you want to make changes in the future. It’s not an overnight change that you’ll see in your family, but slow gradual long-term changes. Play the long game when it comes to changing the culture of a family.

Learn by Teaching

The best way to make changes yourself is to help others. That means supporting them when they want to make changes, sharing the changes you’ve made and teaching them what you’ve learned, showing someone how to do something cool after you’ve learned how to do it.

You are teaching by making changes and sharing those changes with your family. They might not care about learning at first, but they will, over time. And when you teach, you learn more and more. As I am now, sharing with you.

Plant-Based Diet

If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move to a plant-based diet.

Eating plants has been the best change I’ve made in my diet — and I’ve made a bunch of them, from intermittent fasting to low-carb experiments to eating 6 meals a day to eating almost all protein to eliminating sugar (all at various times).

Plants have made me slimmer, healthier, stronger, more energetic — and have increased my life expectancy (more on all this below).

Of course, the diet is simple, but moving away from the Standard American Diet to a plant-based one isn’t always so simple for most people.

Changing your diet can be difficult, but in this guide I’ll share a bit about how to change, talk a bit about why, and what you might eat.

What’s a Plant-Based Diet?

The simple answer, of course, is that you eat plants. You eliminate animals and (eventually) animal products like dairy and eggs.

The less simple answer is there is an abundance of plant foods that most people never eat, and eating a plant-based diet means you might widen the variety of foods you eat. For example, some of my favorite foods include: tempeh, seitan, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, raw almonds and walnuts, raw almond butter, olive oil, all kinds of berries, figs, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, organic soymilk, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, peaches, mangoes, pineapple, garlic, red wine, green tea, brown rice, sprouted (flourless) bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats.

A “plant-based diet” can be basically another way to say “vegan”, though many people do use the term to mean that you eat almost all plants with some animal products. In this post, I’ll be focusing on veganism, as I believe it’s the ultimate plant-based diet.

Why Should I Change?

There are a few important reasons to eat plants:

  1. Health. The basis of this guide is health, and many people switch to eating plants because they want to lose weight, improve their heart health, stay healthy as they age, improve blood pressure or deal with diabetes. A plant-based diet has been shown to help with all of these things — if you also stay away from the processed foods. A diet of processed flour and sugar and fried foods isn’t healthy even if it’s all plants (more on this below). The healthiest populations in the world are plant based: the Okinawans (traditionally at almost all plants such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, lots of veggies, with a little fish and occasional pork), the Sardinians (beans & veggies, red wine, some cheese, meat only once a week), and the vegan Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California who are the longest-living Americans. Eating plants is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of the leading causes of death.
  2. Environment. Honestly, while this is very important to me, it’s probably the least important of the three reasons on this list (for me personally, that is). But it’s huge: the biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating animal products — better than giving up a car (next best) or using less energy in your home or traveling by plane less or recycling or using solar energy or driving an electric car or buying fewer things. The animals we raise for food production use a ton of resources, eat way more plants than we do (which in turn also require resources to be grown), give off huge amounts of planet-warming methane, breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide, and create a lot of pollution. This 2006 United Nations report concludes that “Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversity resources and contribute significantly to climate change. Animal agriculture produces 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), compared with 13.5 percent from all forms of transportation combined.” And it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to make the beef for one hamburger, according to a recent report from the U.S. geological survey.
  3. Compassion. For me, this is the most important reason to move away from eating animals. I’ve talked a lot about compassion on this site, but by far the most cruel thing any of us does each day is consume animals (and their products). The cruelty that is perpetuated on these living, feeling, suffering beings on our behalf is enormous and undeniable. If you don’t believe me, watch this video with Sir Paul McCartney or this video about pigs. While I became vegan for health reasons, I stick with it for reasons of compassion — wanting to reduce the suffering of othersentient beings.

But … if you don’t do it to avoid pollution, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, increased death rates, animal cruelty, global warming, deforestation, and higher costs … maybe weight loss would do it. Vegetarians and vegans weigh less on average than meat eaters. That’seven after adjusting for things like fibre, alcohol, smoking … and calorie intake! Half of Americans are obese, but vegans tend to be much less obese (with exceptions of course).

That said, just going vegan will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. You could easily eat a lot of sugar, white flour, fake meats and fried foods and gain weight. If you eat whole plant foods, you’re likely to lose weight. Plant foods, for starters, have pretty much no saturated fat, low calories and tons of fiber, while animal foods all have saturated fat, lots of calories and zero fiber.

Beating Death: I highly recommend watching this video on uprooting the causes of death using a plant-based diet. It’s a bit long, but well worth the time.

How to Change

It will be no surprise that I recommend people start small and change slowly. A good plan is to make the change in stages:

  1. Slowly cut out meat. This stage is actually several smaller stages. You might try starting with Meatless Mondays and then, over time, expanding to other days of the week. Another common idea is to start by cutting out red meat, and then poultry, then seafood, in gradual stages of a month or even six months. There is no rush — do it at the pace that feels good to you. Another important point is that, as you eliminate meat, don’t just fill it with starches (which don’t have that much nutrition). Try new foods, experiment with ethic recipes, and explore different nutrients as you make these changes.
  2. Eliminate eggs. After you cut out red meat and poultry, you’ll be pescatarian (seafood). When you eliminate seafood, you’re vegetarian! If you’re eating eggs and dairy, that’s called a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian. You can then eliminate eggs — and no, they’re not cruelty-free. This is one of the easier stages, in my experience.
  3. Cut out dairy. This tends to be harder for most people. Not because of milk (soymilk and almond milk are good alternatives that just take a few days to adjust to) … but because of cheese. I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t give up my cheese!” — and I empathize, as this was a sticking point for me too. It helps that there are better and better cheese alternatives these days (Daiya being a favorite of many). But for me, what made all the difference is not focusing on what I was giving up, but on the good things I could eat!
  4. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. This is the phase that I’m in, and I wholly recommend it. You can go straight here if you have no problems changing your diet, but people eating the Standard American Diet will find it difficult, because the foods are very different than what most people eat. For example, most people in the U.S. don’t eat many vegetables, and find them distasteful, especially dark green leafy veggies, which are the best. I now love vegetables, and kale is my best friend. Most people dislike protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, and beans. Most people don’t eat raw nuts — they eat roasted and salted nuts. However, all of this can change over time, which is why I recommend that you move into this slowly. What exactly is this phase? See the next section for details.

What to Eat

So what do you eat when you’re on a plant-based diet that focuses on whole foods? Lots!

A few categories of foods to include regularly:

  1. Beans and other protein. This means the regular kinds of beans, like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, etc. But it can also mean soybeans (edamame), tofu, tempeh, and seitan (protein from wheat, not good for gluten-intolerant people). It can also mean soymilk, soy yogurt, and the like, which are often fortified. Get organic, non-GMO soy.
  2. Nuts and seeds. My favorites include raw almonds and walnuts, along with ground flaxseeds and chia seeds, and hemp seed protein powder. Almond milk is also good. And quinoa — it’s like a grain, but really a seed, and full of nutrition.
  3. Good fats. Fats aren’t bad for you — you should just look to avoid saturated fats. Luckily, not many plant foods have saturated fats. Plants with good fats include avocados, nuts and seeds mentioned above, olive oil and canola oil.
  4. Greens. This is one of the most important and nutritious group of all. Dark, leafy green veggies are awesome, and full of calcium, iron and a ton of vitamins. My favorites: kale, spinach, broccoli, collards. Eat lots of them daily! They also have very few calories, meaning they pack a ton of nutrition in a small caloric package.
  5. Other fruits and veggies. Get a variety — I love berries of all kinds, figs, apples, citrus fruits, peaches, mangoes, bananas, pears, bell peppers, garlic, beets, celery, cauliflower … I could go on all day! Get lots of different colors.
  6. Good starches. Starches are not bad for you — but ones that have little calories aren’t great. So find starches that give you lots of nutrition. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, squash, brown rice, sprouted whole wheat, steel-cut oats, among others.
  7. Some other healthy stuff. I love red wine, green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, spirulina and nutritional yeast.

OK, by now you might be overwhelmed by all of this. How do you put it together? It’s not that hard once you get used to it. Start learning some recipes that combine some of these foods into meals, and over time, you’ll have a few go-to meals that you love that are full of nutrition.

Some examples that I like (but don’t limit yourself to these!):

  • Tofu scramble w/ veggies: some organic high-protein tofu crumbled and stir-fried with olive oil, garlic, diced carrots and tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, and spiced with tamari, turmeric, sea salt and coarse black pepper.
  • Steel-cut oats: cook some steel-cut oats, then add ground flaxseeds, raw nuts, berries, cinnamon.
  • Stir-fry: Here’s my secret … you can make an endless combo of meals by cooking some garlic in olive oil, then cooking some veggies (carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.) and some protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc.) and some greens (kale, broccoli, spinach, etc.) and some spices (turmeric or coconut milk or tamari & sesame oil, black pepper, salt).
  • Veggie chili over quinoa: Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans with olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, diced kale, diced carrots, tomato sauce, chili powder, salt, pepper. Maybe some beer for flavor. Serve over quinoa or brown rice.
  • One-pot meal: Quinoa, lentils, greens, olive oil, tempeh (or a bunch of other variations). Read Tynan’s post on cooking this all in one pot.
  • Whole-wheat pasta: Serve with a sauce — some tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, onions, bell peppers, diced kale and carrots, diced tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano.
  • Big-ass Salad: Start with a bed of kale & spinach, throw on other veggies such as carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, snow peas, green beans, tomatoes … then some beans, nuts and/or seeds … top with avocado. Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or red wine vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle on the salad. Yum.
  • Smoothies: Blend some almond or soy milk with frozen berries, greens, ground chia or flaxseeds, hemp or spirulina protein powder. Lots of nutrition in one drink!
  • Snacks: I often snack on fruits and berries, raw almonds or walnuts, carrots with hummus.
  • Drinks: I tend to drink water all day, some coffee (without sugar) in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and red wine in the evening.

My Food Journal: If you’d like to see my food journal (admittedly not always perfectly healthy), I’ve started one that you can see here.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ll add to this section as questions come in, though obviously I can’t answer everything.

Q: Isn’t it hard to get protein on a vegan diet?

A: Not really, as long as you eat a variety of whole foods, and not a bunch of processed flours and sugars (the white kind that has little nutrition). There is protein in vegetables and grains, and even more in beans, nuts and seeds. I often eat protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, edamame, black beans, lentils, quinoa, soymilk, and raw nuts. Read more here.

Q: What about calcium or iron or B12?

A: Again, it’s not difficult at all. I’ve calculated the iron and calcium in my diet at various times, and as long as I’m mostly eating whole foods, it’s really easy. Nuts and green veggies are your best friends, but there’s also calcium-fortified soymilk and tofu and the like. Eat some kale, quinoa, raw nuts, various seeds, broccoli, tofu or tempeh … it’s not difficult. Vitamin B12 is a bit more difficult to get from regular plants, as the main source of B12 is usually animal products — including eggs and dairy. But actually, vegans have figured this out, and now if you drink fortified soymilk or almond milk, or use nutritional yeast or a few other good sources like that, you will have no worries. More reading on iron, calcium and B12 for vegans.

Q: Isn’t soy bad for you?

A: No. That’s a myth. I would stick to organic, non-GMO soy, but actually soy is a very healthy source of protein and other nutrients, and has been eaten by very healthy people for thousands of years. More info here.

Q: I follow the Paleo diet and believe this is how humans are meant to eat.

A: Well, if you’re eating unprocessed foods and have cut out white flours and sugars and deep-fried foods, you’re probably healthier than the average American. I admire the Paleo crowd that focuses on whole foods and that eats lots of veggies and nuts and seeds, but when it’s just an excuse to eat lots of meat, it’s not as healthy. It’s also not true that hunter-gatherer societies ate mostly meat — the crowd that believes this has made a flawed review of contemporary hunter-gatherers. Most traditional societies eat, and have pretty much always eaten, mostly plants, including lots of starches — respected anthropologists such as Nathanial Dominy, PhD, from Dartmouth College say that the idea of hunter-gatherers eating mostly meat is a myth. Also read this. I’d also warn against low-carb, high-protein diets over the long run — in the short term, you’ll see weight loss, but in the long run they’ve been shown to increase cardiovascular disease(from June 21, 2012 issue of British Medical Journal).

Q: It sounds difficult and complicated.

A: Actually it’s very simple — you just learn to eat a variety of plants. It does mean learning some new meals, but instead of seeing that as a hardship, think of it as something fun to learn. If you slowly change your eating patterns, it’s not hard at all. Be flexible and don’t be too strict — you’ll find that it’s much easier if you allow yourself an occasional meal with animal products, especially in the first 6-12 months.

Q: What about fake meats and cheeses?

A: There’s nothing wrong with giving them a try now and then when you’re having a craving for something, but in all honesty you don’t need them. They’re more expensive and less healthy. Basically, they’re convenience foods.

Q: What if I’m allergic to soy or gluten or nuts?

A: It’s still possible to get all the nutrition you need from a plant-based diets without a specific kind of food (like gluten or soy), from what I understand. More here.

Q: It sounds expensive.

A: Actually it can be a lot less expensive, if you stay away from the vegan convenience foods (which are fine on occasion). Meat is more expensive than beans or tofu, for example. While fresh, organic veggies can cost a bit, you should get these in your diet even if you eat meat — and in the long run, you’ll save much more on medical bills.

Q: There’s no way I’ll give up (eggs, cheese, ice cream, etc.)!

A: Well, you don’t have to. If you want to eat mostly plants but also eggs and cheese, that’s much better than eating meat. But there are cheese substitutes you can try, and vegan ice cream, and in the long run, you might find that giving these things up isn’t as difficult as you think.

Q: What about eating out at restaurants or social gatherings?

A: I’d recommend you take it slowly at first, and eat mostly plants at home, and be more liberal when you eat out, for a little while. You don’t want to make this too difficult on yourself. But actually, once you learn some simple strategies, it’s not that hard to find vegan food in restaurants — some are easier than others, and sites like Happy Cow make it easy to find veg-friendly restaurants in your area. As for eating at friends’ and families’ houses, I’ve learned to offer to bring one or two vegan dishes, and it’s not usually a problem.

Q: What if my family and friends don’t support this change?

A: It’s best if you don’t start preaching — people don’t like it. This article might seem like a violation of that, but actually I rarely push veganism on this site, and when I do it’s only as a way to show others a healthy and compassionate alternative. Remember that those around you probably don’t know much about veganism, and are likely to react defensively. Take the opportunity, when they bring up the topic, to share what you’re learning, and the concerns you yourself had when you first learned about it. Show them some great vegan food. Share this guide with them. And always be patient.

Image as content background : with gap

Stop Working Hard

Your Life Changes

Plant-Based Diet

Eating Boring Food

Weight Loss Tips

Relationship With Food

Caring About Work

Work-Life Balance

Get In Shape

Reasons to Eat Slower

Image as content background : without gap

Stop Working Hard

Your Life Changes

Plant-Based Diet

Eating Boring Food

Weight Loss Tips

Relationship With Food

Caring About Work

Work-Life Balance

Get In Shape

Reasons to Eat Slower

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Stop Working Hard

Your Life Changes

Plant-Based Diet

Eating Boring Food

Weight Loss Tips

Relationship With Food

Caring About Work

Work-Life Balance

Get In Shape

Reasons to Eat Slower

Image to the right of content : basic

Stop Working Hard

Your Life Changes

Plant-Based Diet

Eating Boring Food

Weight Loss Tips

Relationship With Food

Caring About Work

Work-Life Balance

Get In Shape

Reasons to Eat Slower

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Stop Working Hard

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last...

Read More

Your Life Changes

It is a curious phenomena that when we try to change our habits — simplify our clutter, eat healthier,...

Read More

Plant-Based Diet

If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move...

Read More

Eating Boring Food

My month without food reward, which was the May challenge in my Year of Living Without, was a rousing...

Read More

Weight Loss Tips

Last week I asked you all to offer up your best weight-loss tips. And boy,did you deliver. I’ve compiled...

Read More

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Stop Working Hard

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last minute.

People have forgotten how to relax. How to be lazy. How to enjoy life.

Try this: read some of the best books, magazines and blogs on productivity, and see how many will tell you how to get the most out of the time you spend waiting, how to maximize your energy, how to make use of your commute time, how to make every meeting more effective, how to get more out of your workday, how to crank out more widgets.

People are working longer hours, constantly checking their inboxes, constantly focused on Getting More Done.

But to what end?

Are we producing more in order to make more money for corporations? Or to make more money for ourselves? Or just to hold on to our jobs — jobs we might not like anyway?

It’s possible we’re trying to get more done because we love doing it — and if that’s the case, that’s wonderful. But even then, working long hours and neglecting the rest of life isn’t always the best idea. Sometimes it’s good to Get Less Done, to relax, to breathe.

Let’s take a brief look at how to do that.

The Beauty of Getting Less Done
While working long hours and cranking out a lot of widgets is one way to go, another is to work on important things, to create amazing things, and then to relax.

I’m not saying you should surf the web all day, or take naps all afternoon … but why not? Why not enjoy a lovely nap? Why not take a long lunch and then a siesta? Why not enjoy a good book?

I get people who ask me all the time, “What should I do on those days when I can’t seem to be productive?”

My answer: “Enjoy it!”

Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but an obsession with productivity is unhealthy. When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax. Let go of the need to be hyperefficient. Stop feeling guilty about enjoying yourself.

But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever? Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax, and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier. And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation. Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love, when you get excited.

It’s how I work every day. I work on lots of projects, on things I really care about, with people I enjoy working with. (See my guide to becoming self-employed if you’d like to do the same.)

How to Relax
It’s funny that I’d even need a section on this topic — how to relax. It seems like it should be something we all know how to do. After all, aren’t we constantly searching for ways to be less lazy? And doesn’t it logically follow that we already know how to be lazy?

It’s possible you already have mastered the art of relaxing. And if so, congratulations. You are a Get Less Done master. All you need now, perhaps, is to let go of the guilt you might feel, and enjoy this relaxation.

But for those of you who have forgotten how to relax, you’re going to have a tougher time. Here’s a hint: don’t stress out about it. If you don’t know how to relax, it’s OK. Breathe. Take it slowly. One step at a time.

Some steps:

  • Take 5 minutes to go outside for a walk. Breathe the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to do things. More time means less rush.
  • After work, get outside, take in nature, run around if you can.
  • Play. Play like a child. Play with a child. Play when you work.
  • Give yourself a day off. Sleep. Watch TV. Eat bon bons.
  • At work, give yourself an hour off. Don’t try to be productive. Just have fun.
  • Work with someone who is exciting. Get excited about a project.
  • Take evenings off. Seriously, no working in the evenings.
  • Get a massage.
  • Breathe.

Step by step, learn to relax. Learn that productivity isn’t everything. Creating is great, but you don’t need to fill every second with work. When you do work, get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax.

Your Life Changes

It is a curious phenomena that when we try to change our habits — simplify our clutter, eat healthier, start exercising — the other people in our life don’t instantly want to be changed in the same way.

It’s as if they had their own minds!

Horrible as that might sound, it’s the reality we have to deal with if we have a family (or friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.). They often resist changes we make, or their possibly unhealthy habits stand in our way.

You’re trying to eat only whole foods, and yet your daughter eats goldfish crackers and pizza and Oreos. And she doesn’t seem to want to munch on asparagus instead!

So what’s a habit changer to do? Abandon all attempts at change? No. Force change on family members? Tempting, but not effective.

The answer is that there is no simple answer. I’ll share what has worked for me, but that won’t work for everyone. When you’re single and living alone, it’s easy to make whatever changes you want to make — but if you’re married, you have to make compromises. You live in the space that is common between the two of you, and that is negotiated space. When you add kids to your life, you now live in a space that is common between all of you, also a negotiated space.

What works? Let’s take a look at some strategies. Try one, try two, or try them all, and figure out what works in your negotiated space.

Getting Others On Board

Here’s a common scenario: you’ve read about some interesting challenge or change someone else has made, or perhaps read a magazine article or book on the topic, and have been giving it some thought, and finally arrived at the decision to make the change … and then you spring it on your significant other or entire family. They somehow aren’t as enthused as you’d like!

That’s because you have gone through an entire thinking process to arrive at the decision, and they are being asked to come in only at the end — after the decision has been made. That’s not fair to them, because they haven’t had time to go through the same thinking process, to consider the reasons, to find the motivation, to be included in the decision.

I’ve found a more effective method is to get all the people who will be affected in on the thinking process as early as possible. Don’t talk to them about it when you’re near the decision-making point … talk to them when you first hear or read about the idea. Talk about why it’s appealing to you. Get their input. Ask whether they’d consider that kind of change. Talk about your motivation. Include them every step of the way, until the decision is made, and even after.

What people don’t like is being forced to change, against their will. So never make people feel that way. Don’t ask them to change … ask them to help you change, once you’ve gotten to the decision. Say that their support is really important to you, and while they are welcome to join you (you’d love that!), they don’t have to change. Just help you make your change. Ask them to be your accountability buddy, someone to call on when you’re having trouble, someone to report problems and successes to.

Setting the Example

While not everyone will be instantly on board with your ideas for change, I’ve found the best method of persuasion is being a good model for change.

When I started exercising, most of my family wasn’t doing it. I tried to convince people, but I wasn’t as good at persuasion as I thought. When they saw me exercising, at first they thought I was a bit kooky. Then they saw the changes in me, and how much I enjoyed it, and I would share how great it was, and over time, it inspired some to think about it.

That’s what you can do — inspire people to consider something they wouldn’t normally consider, just by setting a good example. No one else will do yoga with you? That’s OK … keep doing it, and share your experiences. Do it in front of them as they watch TV. Try not to be annoying, though.

Making Changes on Your Own

If others won’t get on board with your changes, ask for a minimum amount of support: ask that they give you the space to make the change on your own, without their help. This isn’t a small thing sometimes — often people are threatened when someone in their life makes changes, or they don’t like the disruption of their routine of doing things with you (eating junk food together, for example). You doing something on your own is a big change for them.

Ask for the space to do it alone, and ask that they not criticize or otherwise make it hard on you. If they are resentful, this makes it more difficult, but you’ll have to make an effort to show that this is something that will make you happy, and you will do your best not to disrupt things for them. If that means you don’t spend mornings together because you are out running, then try to create other time together, like in the evenings or on weekends.

When you make changes on your own, without the support of others, it’s more difficult. You need to find other encouragement — I’ve joined running groups online, a smoking cessation group, and other similar groups. Facebook and other social networking tools can also be helpful in finding online support. Often there are groups in your area where you can meet people in person who are going through the same changes.

Family Challenges

One of my more successful strategies is creating challenges for my family. They aren’t required to do the challenges, of course, but sometimes people like the opportunity to rise to a challenge. And they like making changes with others.

My wife and I have created eating challenges to do with each other (we call them Lean Out Challenges, usually after we go on a trip and gorge ourselves on unhealthy food). With the kids, I’ve challenged them to do pushups, handstands, running, vegetarian experiments, daily drawing, and more.

Challenges are fun if you do them together. It can be fun to do it as a competition, or to offer rewards for people who complete the challenge.

Notes on Eating Habits

Eating changes can be especially difficult if your family isn’t doing it with you, because they can be eating junk food right in front of your face as you try to much on celery. Tough stuff.

Here are some notes from my experiences:

  • If you do the cooking, cook food for the family, and cook your meals separately. Eva & I often cook our healthy food in bulk and eat the same food for days, while the kids eat other things. For some reason they’re not big kale and quinoa fans. Kids.
  • Kids can change their taste buds, but slowly. They won’t instantly like big green salads, but you can introduce vegetables slowly, in soups and other dishes they might be used to. Dice carrots and kale can be added to chili and spaghetti sauce if you cut them small enough and add them when you’re cooking onions/garlic.
  • Kids will eat nearly anything if you add some baked fries to the dish.
  • If the kids are going to eat something especially tempting (pizza), I try to make myself scarce so I don’t have temptations. It’s too hard to avoid junk that I enjoy eating, if it’s right in front of me, so I’ll go for a run or go to my room to do some work — keep busy.
  • We try to find restaurants that has healthy food that the kids will like.
  • When I went vegetarian, Eva & the kids weren’t vegetarian. I did get them to try some dishes, which they generally liked, and then would just eat my food separately from them. If I made my food especially delicious, it would be tempting for them to at least try.
  • Kids will go to any restaurant if there’s dessert at the end.
  • Many people don’t like the idea of vegan food, even if they’ve never tried it. Making delicious vegan cupcakes will often win them over, at least to try it. I recommend Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Truly amazing.

Supporting Their Changes

If you want others to support your changes, you should also support theirs. When my kids or wife express a desire to make some change, I do my best to help them achieve that:

  • I share my experiences and what worked for me, and how I overcame some obstacles.
  • I share websites and books that help with that change, and often will buy books to help them.
  • I’ll do a project with them, or create a challenge we can do together.
  • I run and workout with my wife, and created a workout log to help her track her fitness.
  • I share vegetarian recipes with my wife (who is now vegan), and with my daughter, who decided to try vegetarianism

There are more possibilities, but these are a few examples. When they see you supporting them, they now have a model for how to act when you want to make changes in the future. It’s not an overnight change that you’ll see in your family, but slow gradual long-term changes. Play the long game when it comes to changing the culture of a family.

Learn by Teaching

The best way to make changes yourself is to help others. That means supporting them when they want to make changes, sharing the changes you’ve made and teaching them what you’ve learned, showing someone how to do something cool after you’ve learned how to do it.

You are teaching by making changes and sharing those changes with your family. They might not care about learning at first, but they will, over time. And when you teach, you learn more and more. As I am now, sharing with you.

Plant-Based Diet

If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move to a plant-based diet.

Eating plants has been the best change I’ve made in my diet — and I’ve made a bunch of them, from intermittent fasting to low-carb experiments to eating 6 meals a day to eating almost all protein to eliminating sugar (all at various times).

Plants have made me slimmer, healthier, stronger, more energetic — and have increased my life expectancy (more on all this below).

Of course, the diet is simple, but moving away from the Standard American Diet to a plant-based one isn’t always so simple for most people.

Changing your diet can be difficult, but in this guide I’ll share a bit about how to change, talk a bit about why, and what you might eat.

What’s a Plant-Based Diet?

The simple answer, of course, is that you eat plants. You eliminate animals and (eventually) animal products like dairy and eggs.

The less simple answer is there is an abundance of plant foods that most people never eat, and eating a plant-based diet means you might widen the variety of foods you eat. For example, some of my favorite foods include: tempeh, seitan, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, raw almonds and walnuts, raw almond butter, olive oil, all kinds of berries, figs, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, organic soymilk, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, peaches, mangoes, pineapple, garlic, red wine, green tea, brown rice, sprouted (flourless) bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats.

A “plant-based diet” can be basically another way to say “vegan”, though many people do use the term to mean that you eat almost all plants with some animal products. In this post, I’ll be focusing on veganism, as I believe it’s the ultimate plant-based diet.

Why Should I Change?

There are a few important reasons to eat plants:

  1. Health. The basis of this guide is health, and many people switch to eating plants because they want to lose weight, improve their heart health, stay healthy as they age, improve blood pressure or deal with diabetes. A plant-based diet has been shown to help with all of these things — if you also stay away from the processed foods. A diet of processed flour and sugar and fried foods isn’t healthy even if it’s all plants (more on this below). The healthiest populations in the world are plant based: the Okinawans (traditionally at almost all plants such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, lots of veggies, with a little fish and occasional pork), the Sardinians (beans & veggies, red wine, some cheese, meat only once a week), and the vegan Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California who are the longest-living Americans. Eating plants is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of the leading causes of death.
  2. Environment. Honestly, while this is very important to me, it’s probably the least important of the three reasons on this list (for me personally, that is). But it’s huge: the biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating animal products — better than giving up a car (next best) or using less energy in your home or traveling by plane less or recycling or using solar energy or driving an electric car or buying fewer things. The animals we raise for food production use a ton of resources, eat way more plants than we do (which in turn also require resources to be grown), give off huge amounts of planet-warming methane, breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide, and create a lot of pollution. This 2006 United Nations report concludes that “Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversity resources and contribute significantly to climate change. Animal agriculture produces 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), compared with 13.5 percent from all forms of transportation combined.” And it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to make the beef for one hamburger, according to a recent report from the U.S. geological survey.
  3. Compassion. For me, this is the most important reason to move away from eating animals. I’ve talked a lot about compassion on this site, but by far the most cruel thing any of us does each day is consume animals (and their products). The cruelty that is perpetuated on these living, feeling, suffering beings on our behalf is enormous and undeniable. If you don’t believe me, watch this video with Sir Paul McCartney or this video about pigs. While I became vegan for health reasons, I stick with it for reasons of compassion — wanting to reduce the suffering of othersentient beings.

But … if you don’t do it to avoid pollution, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, increased death rates, animal cruelty, global warming, deforestation, and higher costs … maybe weight loss would do it. Vegetarians and vegans weigh less on average than meat eaters. That’seven after adjusting for things like fibre, alcohol, smoking … and calorie intake! Half of Americans are obese, but vegans tend to be much less obese (with exceptions of course).

That said, just going vegan will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. You could easily eat a lot of sugar, white flour, fake meats and fried foods and gain weight. If you eat whole plant foods, you’re likely to lose weight. Plant foods, for starters, have pretty much no saturated fat, low calories and tons of fiber, while animal foods all have saturated fat, lots of calories and zero fiber.

Beating Death: I highly recommend watching this video on uprooting the causes of death using a plant-based diet. It’s a bit long, but well worth the time.

How to Change

It will be no surprise that I recommend people start small and change slowly. A good plan is to make the change in stages:

  1. Slowly cut out meat. This stage is actually several smaller stages. You might try starting with Meatless Mondays and then, over time, expanding to other days of the week. Another common idea is to start by cutting out red meat, and then poultry, then seafood, in gradual stages of a month or even six months. There is no rush — do it at the pace that feels good to you. Another important point is that, as you eliminate meat, don’t just fill it with starches (which don’t have that much nutrition). Try new foods, experiment with ethic recipes, and explore different nutrients as you make these changes.
  2. Eliminate eggs. After you cut out red meat and poultry, you’ll be pescatarian (seafood). When you eliminate seafood, you’re vegetarian! If you’re eating eggs and dairy, that’s called a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian. You can then eliminate eggs — and no, they’re not cruelty-free. This is one of the easier stages, in my experience.
  3. Cut out dairy. This tends to be harder for most people. Not because of milk (soymilk and almond milk are good alternatives that just take a few days to adjust to) … but because of cheese. I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t give up my cheese!” — and I empathize, as this was a sticking point for me too. It helps that there are better and better cheese alternatives these days (Daiya being a favorite of many). But for me, what made all the difference is not focusing on what I was giving up, but on the good things I could eat!
  4. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. This is the phase that I’m in, and I wholly recommend it. You can go straight here if you have no problems changing your diet, but people eating the Standard American Diet will find it difficult, because the foods are very different than what most people eat. For example, most people in the U.S. don’t eat many vegetables, and find them distasteful, especially dark green leafy veggies, which are the best. I now love vegetables, and kale is my best friend. Most people dislike protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, and beans. Most people don’t eat raw nuts — they eat roasted and salted nuts. However, all of this can change over time, which is why I recommend that you move into this slowly. What exactly is this phase? See the next section for details.

What to Eat

So what do you eat when you’re on a plant-based diet that focuses on whole foods? Lots!

A few categories of foods to include regularly:

  1. Beans and other protein. This means the regular kinds of beans, like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, etc. But it can also mean soybeans (edamame), tofu, tempeh, and seitan (protein from wheat, not good for gluten-intolerant people). It can also mean soymilk, soy yogurt, and the like, which are often fortified. Get organic, non-GMO soy.
  2. Nuts and seeds. My favorites include raw almonds and walnuts, along with ground flaxseeds and chia seeds, and hemp seed protein powder. Almond milk is also good. And quinoa — it’s like a grain, but really a seed, and full of nutrition.
  3. Good fats. Fats aren’t bad for you — you should just look to avoid saturated fats. Luckily, not many plant foods have saturated fats. Plants with good fats include avocados, nuts and seeds mentioned above, olive oil and canola oil.
  4. Greens. This is one of the most important and nutritious group of all. Dark, leafy green veggies are awesome, and full of calcium, iron and a ton of vitamins. My favorites: kale, spinach, broccoli, collards. Eat lots of them daily! They also have very few calories, meaning they pack a ton of nutrition in a small caloric package.
  5. Other fruits and veggies. Get a variety — I love berries of all kinds, figs, apples, citrus fruits, peaches, mangoes, bananas, pears, bell peppers, garlic, beets, celery, cauliflower … I could go on all day! Get lots of different colors.
  6. Good starches. Starches are not bad for you — but ones that have little calories aren’t great. So find starches that give you lots of nutrition. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, squash, brown rice, sprouted whole wheat, steel-cut oats, among others.
  7. Some other healthy stuff. I love red wine, green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, spirulina and nutritional yeast.

OK, by now you might be overwhelmed by all of this. How do you put it together? It’s not that hard once you get used to it. Start learning some recipes that combine some of these foods into meals, and over time, you’ll have a few go-to meals that you love that are full of nutrition.

Some examples that I like (but don’t limit yourself to these!):

  • Tofu scramble w/ veggies: some organic high-protein tofu crumbled and stir-fried with olive oil, garlic, diced carrots and tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, and spiced with tamari, turmeric, sea salt and coarse black pepper.
  • Steel-cut oats: cook some steel-cut oats, then add ground flaxseeds, raw nuts, berries, cinnamon.
  • Stir-fry: Here’s my secret … you can make an endless combo of meals by cooking some garlic in olive oil, then cooking some veggies (carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.) and some protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc.) and some greens (kale, broccoli, spinach, etc.) and some spices (turmeric or coconut milk or tamari & sesame oil, black pepper, salt).
  • Veggie chili over quinoa: Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans with olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, diced kale, diced carrots, tomato sauce, chili powder, salt, pepper. Maybe some beer for flavor. Serve over quinoa or brown rice.
  • One-pot meal: Quinoa, lentils, greens, olive oil, tempeh (or a bunch of other variations). Read Tynan’s post on cooking this all in one pot.
  • Whole-wheat pasta: Serve with a sauce — some tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, onions, bell peppers, diced kale and carrots, diced tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano.
  • Big-ass Salad: Start with a bed of kale & spinach, throw on other veggies such as carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, snow peas, green beans, tomatoes … then some beans, nuts and/or seeds … top with avocado. Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or red wine vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle on the salad. Yum.
  • Smoothies: Blend some almond or soy milk with frozen berries, greens, ground chia or flaxseeds, hemp or spirulina protein powder. Lots of nutrition in one drink!
  • Snacks: I often snack on fruits and berries, raw almonds or walnuts, carrots with hummus.
  • Drinks: I tend to drink water all day, some coffee (without sugar) in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and red wine in the evening.

My Food Journal: If you’d like to see my food journal (admittedly not always perfectly healthy), I’ve started one that you can see here.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ll add to this section as questions come in, though obviously I can’t answer everything.

Q: Isn’t it hard to get protein on a vegan diet?

A: Not really, as long as you eat a variety of whole foods, and not a bunch of processed flours and sugars (the white kind that has little nutrition). There is protein in vegetables and grains, and even more in beans, nuts and seeds. I often eat protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, edamame, black beans, lentils, quinoa, soymilk, and raw nuts. Read more here.

Q: What about calcium or iron or B12?

A: Again, it’s not difficult at all. I’ve calculated the iron and calcium in my diet at various times, and as long as I’m mostly eating whole foods, it’s really easy. Nuts and green veggies are your best friends, but there’s also calcium-fortified soymilk and tofu and the like. Eat some kale, quinoa, raw nuts, various seeds, broccoli, tofu or tempeh … it’s not difficult. Vitamin B12 is a bit more difficult to get from regular plants, as the main source of B12 is usually animal products — including eggs and dairy. But actually, vegans have figured this out, and now if you drink fortified soymilk or almond milk, or use nutritional yeast or a few other good sources like that, you will have no worries. More reading on iron, calcium and B12 for vegans.

Q: Isn’t soy bad for you?

A: No. That’s a myth. I would stick to organic, non-GMO soy, but actually soy is a very healthy source of protein and other nutrients, and has been eaten by very healthy people for thousands of years. More info here.

Q: I follow the Paleo diet and believe this is how humans are meant to eat.

A: Well, if you’re eating unprocessed foods and have cut out white flours and sugars and deep-fried foods, you’re probably healthier than the average American. I admire the Paleo crowd that focuses on whole foods and that eats lots of veggies and nuts and seeds, but when it’s just an excuse to eat lots of meat, it’s not as healthy. It’s also not true that hunter-gatherer societies ate mostly meat — the crowd that believes this has made a flawed review of contemporary hunter-gatherers. Most traditional societies eat, and have pretty much always eaten, mostly plants, including lots of starches — respected anthropologists such as Nathanial Dominy, PhD, from Dartmouth College say that the idea of hunter-gatherers eating mostly meat is a myth. Also read this. I’d also warn against low-carb, high-protein diets over the long run — in the short term, you’ll see weight loss, but in the long run they’ve been shown to increase cardiovascular disease(from June 21, 2012 issue of British Medical Journal).

Q: It sounds difficult and complicated.

A: Actually it’s very simple — you just learn to eat a variety of plants. It does mean learning some new meals, but instead of seeing that as a hardship, think of it as something fun to learn. If you slowly change your eating patterns, it’s not hard at all. Be flexible and don’t be too strict — you’ll find that it’s much easier if you allow yourself an occasional meal with animal products, especially in the first 6-12 months.

Q: What about fake meats and cheeses?

A: There’s nothing wrong with giving them a try now and then when you’re having a craving for something, but in all honesty you don’t need them. They’re more expensive and less healthy. Basically, they’re convenience foods.

Q: What if I’m allergic to soy or gluten or nuts?

A: It’s still possible to get all the nutrition you need from a plant-based diets without a specific kind of food (like gluten or soy), from what I understand. More here.

Q: It sounds expensive.

A: Actually it can be a lot less expensive, if you stay away from the vegan convenience foods (which are fine on occasion). Meat is more expensive than beans or tofu, for example. While fresh, organic veggies can cost a bit, you should get these in your diet even if you eat meat — and in the long run, you’ll save much more on medical bills.

Q: There’s no way I’ll give up (eggs, cheese, ice cream, etc.)!

A: Well, you don’t have to. If you want to eat mostly plants but also eggs and cheese, that’s much better than eating meat. But there are cheese substitutes you can try, and vegan ice cream, and in the long run, you might find that giving these things up isn’t as difficult as you think.

Q: What about eating out at restaurants or social gatherings?

A: I’d recommend you take it slowly at first, and eat mostly plants at home, and be more liberal when you eat out, for a little while. You don’t want to make this too difficult on yourself. But actually, once you learn some simple strategies, it’s not that hard to find vegan food in restaurants — some are easier than others, and sites like Happy Cow make it easy to find veg-friendly restaurants in your area. As for eating at friends’ and families’ houses, I’ve learned to offer to bring one or two vegan dishes, and it’s not usually a problem.

Q: What if my family and friends don’t support this change?

A: It’s best if you don’t start preaching — people don’t like it. This article might seem like a violation of that, but actually I rarely push veganism on this site, and when I do it’s only as a way to show others a healthy and compassionate alternative. Remember that those around you probably don’t know much about veganism, and are likely to react defensively. Take the opportunity, when they bring up the topic, to share what you’re learning, and the concerns you yourself had when you first learned about it. Show them some great vegan food. Share this guide with them. And always be patient.