Does the idea of selling your soul to the whole "vegan" movement scare the living daylights out of you? Not ready to give up the stringiness of your favorite mozzarella sticks? And what about having to sacrifice that unmistakable, juicy goodness of the perfect summer burger? These are some of the questions you might be pondering if you've considered (but almost immediately backed out of) ditching animal products for good. 

But what if there was a way you could reduce your environmental footprint, become healthier, and not have to give up some of your favorite foods? It is indeed possible! In fact, adopting a gradual transition to a plant-based lifestyle rather than going (ahem) cold turkey is one of the best ways you can set yourself up for success in becoming more plant-based. I call it veg-curious, but it's also commonly referred to as a flexitarian diet. Flexitarians don't omit any food group from their diet specifically, but rather make conscious, environmental and ethical choices every time they decide what to eat. For flexitarians, even thinking more about food choice is a step in the right direction. 

As someone who went from omnivorous (16 years) to vegetarian (1 year) to vegan (3 years- and loving it), there were certain points during my journey that I wish I had done things differently to make it easier on myself. Here are some of my pointers for staying on-track and making your veg-curious experience as successful as possible. 

Embrace whole foods, but don't explicitly limit yourself to eating fruits and veggies 24/7. 

I would currently describe my diet as whole-foods plant-based (WFPB). This means I don't eat heavily processed foods, like white bread, pasta, ice creams, candy, or refined sugars. For some people, this diet plan works. For most- well- carrots just don't taste as good as a pint of ice cream at the end of the day. If your diet wasn't especially high in fiber intake before, only eating fruits/veggies will upset your digestive track and make you more likely to divert back to processed foods. #bloat-happens?? 

I suggest a more supplementary approach to adding fruits and veggies to your diet rather than an all-or-nothing. This might mean having some berries with your breakfast, eating sliced veggies as a snack for lunch, or making a pasta salad with more salad than pasta. 

"Fake" meat is an option, but not your only option. 

I often joke that Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers are the e-cigarettes of the vegan world: they're not great for you, but they're better than the alternative. If you can't pass up a warm plate of chicken nuggets, you might become more veg-curious by switching to plant-based alternatives. Or if you don't have a lot of time to prepare food for yourself, you might try to buy some veggie patties you can just pop in the microwave. 

You can also explore alternatives to these "fake" meat products by searching through Pinterest. If you have some time on your weekends, try experimenting with different black bean burger recipes-and let me know when you find a great one. 

You might not even have to "give up" some of your favorite foods- just modify them! 

This comes with a caveat- textures are often hard to replicate from animal-based to plant-based products. Such is especially true with cheeses (but I must admit, I have come pretty darn close to getting a good "mozzarella" for vegan pizza). Ultimately, if you decide that a food is super important to your lifestyle and your wellbeing, you shouldn't have to completely get rid of it. Try eating it in smaller quantities, or less frequently instead. 

You'd be surprised, however, how many foods are accidentally vegan, or can be modified with a simple change of ingredients. Peanut butter, OREOs, most breads, hummus, salsas- these are all already vegan! And if you need to find a replacement, there are tons of online recipes for how to DIY foods to omit animal-based ingredients.

Keep on track of your calorie, fat, and protein intake. 

You cannot survive on apples and granola alone! Animal products are calorically-dense foods, so they supplement much (often, too much) of our daily intake. Veggies and fruits are less calorically-dense, so you can eat them in high volume without getting a lot of calories. In the first few weeks of reducing your meat intake, you might feel more tired and less energized because your body isn't getting the "fuel" it needs. 

If you're feeling drained, try to introduce more protein and fats into your diet. These include small portions of nuts (i.e. peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and cashews), beans, dips (as if I needed an excuse to eat more hummus), sprouted grains, and legumes. This is also where you can strategically use meat substitutes and protein powders to enhance protein and fat intake. 

You might learn to really, genuinely, enjoy cooking. 

Becoming plant-based allowed me to take more ownership of what I was purchasing and eating. I felt that I was able to become more creative and cook from scratch; I even became confident enough to cook my own recipes without looking on Pinterest first! 

It will undoubtedly take awhile to develop your culinary repertoire with some staple dishes, but from there you will be able to try new techniques and dishes from all over the world. Curries, stir fries, and baked goods can all be made plant-based- it just takes a little creativity to find the perfect recipe that suits your needs. It is a challenge by choice- the more you open yourself up to different textures and tastes, the better it will serve you in the long run. 

No matter what the preachy vegans say, any effort towards becoming more plant-based is worthy of applause. 

And anyone who tells you differently is wrong. Becoming plant-based is a hard transition, no doubt. After all, you might have gone your entire life without ever considering that you could omit meat and still live a happy, healthy lifestyle.

Your diet choices have an immeasurable impact on your body and the health of the planet. You should be as kind as possible to yourself during your veg-curious explorations; this is a time of growth & discovery!