With the right tools and tricks, a plant-based diet is incredibly rewarding, fulfilling, and of course, delicious. For many of us though, making or maintaining the transition to this lifestyle can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re looking to go fully vegan, work through a rough patch in your vegan or vegetarian diet, or merely cut back on your animal product intake, there’s a great deal to be learned from the many folks out there who have been able to happily and healthfully maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet for years or even decades.
Emulate these five habits of successful vegans, and you’ll be on your way to a lifetime of nutritious, cruelty-free eating.
They base their diets on whole foods, rather than faux meats.
Nowadays, most supermarkets are full of a wide array of highly proccessed faux meats that often bear an uncanny resemblance to the real thing. Thanks to hyper-processed proteins developed after years of lab research, these products look, smell, taste, and cook up so much like animal meat that it’s easy to simply swap them in for the chicken, beef, or pork in your diet without batting an eye.
Take a look at any of the most popular vegan food blogs or cookbooks, though, and you won’t find many of these ersatz products making an appearance. Why not? Because the majority of long-term vegans don’t eat them often, if ever.
Sure, being able to eat something familiar can be very comforting at the beginning of your plant-based journey, but centering meals on substitutes continues to reinforce the outdated idea that animal products should be a central part of our diet, and that a vegan diet is inherently missing something.
Long term vegans instead develop a love of vegetables and healthy, minimally processed plant proteins like tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes, and beans that are delicious and nutritious in their own right.
They eat a diverse range of foods from all over the world.
If you’re used to a Standard American Diet (SAD) or other Western diet, removing animal products may feel like you’re leaving a big, gaping whole in the middle of your diet. No one wants to live on sandwiches with just tomato and lettuce, or dinners consisting of a green veggie, potatoes, and nothing in the center of the plate. Having only a few veggies to choose from and relying on the same vegan protein every day can lead to extreme boredom, not to mention indigestion and nutritional deficiencies.
Successful vegans, however, have learned that the key to long term happiness is to pull inspiration from food cultures where vegetables are the star and meat plays only a supporting role. Cuisines like Chinese, Thai, Indian, and Caribbean, for example, feature such a vast array of delicious vegetables (e.g. bok choi, okra, greens, Chinese broccoli, long beans — the list is limitless!) and plant-based proteins (e.g. beans, lentils, silken tofu, firm tofu, tempeh, chickpea tofu) that there’s no need to ever eat the same meal twice.
They have become great cooks and love to experiment in the kitchen.
Since very few of us learned vegan cooking from our parents and grandparents, we may need to get creative and adventurous in the kitchen to develop a plant-based cooking repertoire. With the right technique, tasty vegan food is no more difficult to make than traditional standbys.
Many longtime vegans have mastered a handful of basic skills and substitutions, like making roux, basic cream sauce, veggie stir-fry, hearty vegetable soups, and legume-based stews. With this arsenal of techniques, they no longer need to rely exclusively on specialized vegan recipes or to go to special vegan restaurants to eat something delicious, but can easily adapt any dish they come across into a plant-based meal.
They don’t place unrealistic demands on themselves to be perfect.
Because hidden animal products are unfortunately so prevalent in mainstream food, many would-be vegans find themselves fearful that they will never “live up” to seemingly impossible standards of perfect veganism. Other plant-based newbies beat themselves up after accidentally consuming a non-vegan food or slipping up during a particularly weak moment. Putting so much pressure on oneself can be incredibly stressful and can make it difficult to relax and have fun in social situations involving food.
When I wrote a an article about this theme on my blog last year, several vegans chimed in to share they had eventually decided to stop obsessing over these types of “mistakes” that ultimately had a negligible impact on their health, animal welfare, and the environment. They realized that being angry at themselves for these blips after the fact wouldn’t change anything, yet ran the risk of making them miserable. Happy, long-term vegans recognize that they are only human and that remaining happily committed to the lifestyle and being a positive, easy-going role-model to others is more important and effective in bringing about change than panicking over a rogue drop of whey.
They allow themselves to splurge sometimes.
One Thanksgiving night after everyone had gone to bed, a friend of mine caught her mother, who had been vegetarian for over 20 years, nibbling on a piece of leftover turkey. Embarrassed, her mother confessed that she knew if she didn’t take a little taste then, she wouldn’t be able to take her mind off of the turkey later. The next day, she returned to her meat-free diet as though nothing had happened and has remained vegetarian for many years since. Cheating in that weak moment was not a dangerous slippery slope, but a way for her to get the craving out of her system in a controlled way so that she could recommit to her diet.
Now, of course, this is an extreme example and most longtime vegans or vegetarians would never willfully eat meat under any circumstances. But, particularly for special occasions, many lifelong plant-based eaters will occasionally treat themselves to a meal that in some way does not conform to their typical dietary standards, whether that means chowing down on something that’s richer, sweeter, more processed, more expensive, or perhaps less local than what they normally eat.
Whatever it is that we have a soft spot for, this kind of indulgence is part of being human, and it allows us to blow off steam so that we don’t start to feel overly restricted. As long as it’s done thoughtfully and under isolated circumstances, splurging, like taking a vacation, can be a healthy way to recharge.
As these examples show, finding long term happiness with a plant-based diet is all about taking steps to ensure that your relationship with food remains fun and stress-free. All it takes is approaching plant-based eating with an open-minded, forgiving, and creative attitude.
Lead Image Source: Saffron Risotto With Roasted Vegetables