So you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and more compassionately and signed up for a 30-day vegan challenge. For a month, you have eaten a plant-based diet and stayed away from animal products. You tried new dishes and discovered a few foods you never knew existed. Maybe you watched some videos or read a book or two about where your food really comes from. The grocery store you always shopped in suddenly felt like a whole new frontier to explore. You learned how to eat plant-based at restaurants, at work, and at social functions and maybe you even learned to cook a few vegan dishes. Now January is coming to a close and guess what? You did it! Congratulations! You set a goal and you reached it. Now what? After feeling all the benefits – physical, emotional and spiritual – of eating a plant-based diet, there’s no way you can just go back to your old ways of eating. Here are some tips for turning your month-long challenge into a lifetime journey.
1. Look Back
Before you can make any decisions about going forward, it’s a good idea to look back at the past month. How did it go for you? Was it easy, was it challenging or did it feel really hard? If you found it easy, great! This is something you can probably see yourself doing for a longer time. How do you feel? You probably feel healthier, lighter and happier. Many people remark how eating a plant-based diet makes them feel better physically, emotionally and spiritually. But if you found it hard or challenging, can you pinpoint exactly what made it feel that way? Knowing where the difficulties lie allows you to problem-solve so you can move forward. Many of the challenges can be made easier with more preparedness, more support and more practice. It just takes some investment of your time and energy. If that is not something you’re willing to do, then maybe it’s just not the right time for you and that’s ok. You can always revisit veganism later and in the meantime, you can still cut back on meat and other animal foods. But if everything you learned and experienced in the past month just makes you want more, than it sounds like you have found the right path for you.
2. Look Forward
Your goal for the month was simple: eat a plant-based diet. Now that you’ve done that, you can set new goals that are more specific to your needs. Think about what you have accomplished and what you would like to further accomplish. If you have figured out what areas were difficult or challenging to you, make a plan to work on those aspects. Maybe you felt like you ate the same 3 or 4 things every day for a month. Make it a goal to try a few new foods each week, test out new recipes, buy a vegan cookbook or two and treat yourself to dinner out at a vegan restaurant or one with vegan options. The variety of vegan food is so great, you can go for months and not eat the same thing twice. If feeling alone or marginalized was an issue, figure out ways to meet other people on the same journey. Join a meet-up group or vegan groups on social media – vegans are very friendly and love having other vegans to talk with. Find a friend who is willing to do this with you or at least eat plant-based foods when they are with you. Were cravings an issue? Learn how to satisfy your cravings with vegan versions of your favorite foods. When you figure out the specific issues to address and set short-term goals to improve them, it won’t seem as hard or overwhelming.
3. Stay Motivated
It’s possible to get so caught up in the day to day, that you forget why you started this journey in the first place. It helps to identify your motivation. There are many paths to veganism and the one you take should match your wants and needs. People are more likely to stick with something if the actions they take are congruent with their goals. Is your main interest in improving your health or losing a few pounds? If so, then maybe what you want is to eat a more, or fully, whole foods, plant-based diet. To stay motivated, keep a journal of the things that matter to you like your weight, your measurements, your fitness routine or your jeans size. Record your progress so when you start to feel bored, tired or think about eating something off your plan, you can see how far you’ve come. Reward your progress with a new outfit or a new workout tape.
Is your motivation helping animals or the planet? Then you may want to eliminate all animal products from all aspects of life including food, clothes, make-up, toiletries, furniture and more. If you ever have a craving for meat, dairy or cheese, go back and re-read what you learned about where your food comes from. Watch a video or visit an animal sanctuary. Remind yourself that no food is worth an innocent animal’s life. Treat yourself to some amazing vegan cheese or non-dairy ice cream and savor how good compassion tastes.
Many people start out switching to a plant-based diet for their health and later get more involved in other aspects of veganism when they learn about its other benefits to the animals and the planet. Others begin by focusing on being compassionate towards animals and then embrace the healthy aspects. So long as you know why you are exploring the vegan world, you will be less likely to put unrealistic goals or expectations on yourself. And then, you can put more energy into enjoying the experience.
4. Higher Education
I bet that you learned more in the past month than you ever imagined you would. The list of foods that vegans eat and don’t eat is long. By now, you know to read labels and you can spot milk, eggs or butter from a mile away. But animal products and by-products are hidden in so many things and have so many names. Even after 6 years, I still sometimes end up searching the internet to figure out if an ingredient is vegan or not. There is always more to learn. Is there casein, lactose or whey? What about carmine, gelatin, or albumin? Those are all animal-based ingredients and not vegan. Make sure you have some good sources with some handy lists of which foods are and are not vegan. Check out For the Newbie Plant-Based Eater: Your Vegan Starter Shopping List and 15 Sneaky Foods that Might Be Hiding Animal Ingredients. For many helpful guides, check out this array of vegan guides on One Green Planet.
Keep learning how to cook too. Thanks to the internet and web sites like One Green Planet, we have 24-hour access to millions of recipes as well as web sites about veganism and any other issues you may be interested in. There’s no need to toss your hands up and say you don’t know how to press tofu when in less than a minute, you can find how-to articles and even instructional videos online. The web is also your place to find cruelty-free clothes, make-up and other products, learn about health and nutrition, and find out which restaurants near you have vegan options. There are also more vegan cookbooks than ever and you can choose whether you want a print version in your hands or an e-version on your phone. Read reviews and get a couple of vegan cookbooks that other new vegans recommend.
Keep learning beyond the topic of food. I remember how while I was still figuring out what to eat, I started learning about nutrition and health, animal testing, circuses and zoos, animals hurt and killed for fur, leather and wool, world hunger, deforestation and so much more. It may sound overwhelming and to be honest, sometimes I think about how much easier it seemed when I didn’t know these things. No one is expecting any of us to save the entire world but if each of us does our part, we can make significant changes for good and being part of that is an amazing feeling.
5. Keep it Healthy
I’m sure over the past month you have had more people inquire about your health than in your whole entire life. Many people don’t understand how healthy a plant-based diet is. They worry that you won’t get enough protein or calcium. Most people think all our protein comes from meat and all our calcium comes from dairy, along with believing dozens of other nutritional half-truths. Before you just get annoyed by their questions, think about whether you do actually know which foods give you which nutrients. You don’t have to become a dietitian, but getting to know a little bit about nutrition can help you navigate the waters of both choosing what to eat and how to answer the questions you know you’re going to be asked. Learn more by reading How to Tell if You are Getting Enough Protein , 10 Vegan Foods Packed with Protein and 10 Dairy-Free Foods Packed with Calcium.
If you’re like most new (and seasoned) vegans, you enjoyed some packaged, convenient vegan food. That’s fine but it’s not always the optimal choice for your health. Technically, you could eat nothing but French fries and potato chips and be vegan but if you don’t get all your vitamins and minerals, you won’t feel well and you will probably give up on the idea of eating a plant-based diet. Do some research and make sure you are getting enough protein, calcium and other nutrients. If you are unsure, take a vitamin supplement especially B12. Try to eat mostly whole foods such as whole grains, fresh fruit and lots of fresh vegetables. Yes, even some vegans have to be told to eat their vegetables. Read about how to Avoid These 5 Unhealthy Vegan Eating Transition Mistakes.
Studies say it takes 3 weeks to break a habit and learn new ones. That may be true but being vegan is a lifelong journey with new things to discover every day. If you enjoyed your month-long challenge and think you want to keep going, do it. Even if you take it month by month, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier and before you know it, you’ll be helping others in their vegan journeys.
Lead Image Source: How to Veganize Your Favorite Familiar Dishes