Every year I make a few New Year’s resolutions to improve my behavior or make positive changes in my life – eat better, lose weight, worry less, have more fun, etc. To be honest, by the time January ends, most of my resolutions are long-forgotten. We may start out with good intentions and strong motivations but some resolutions seem too hard and it’s easy to become distracted or give up.
Many people decide on New Year’s to start eating a vegan diet and/or live a vegan lifestyle. That’s great! There is no other diet that is more beneficial to your health, to the planet and certainly, to the animals. It’s a huge change and one we may expect to live with for the rest of our lives. There are challenges, more for some than for others, and it may seem daunting in the beginning. There is so much to learn about the foods we have blindly eaten our whole lives, as well as all the new foods out there that we may have never even heard of, let alone tasted. But it’s not impossible and believe me, I know. When I first became vegan, I was confused about many things but going vegan may actually be the only lifestyle change I have ever stuck with. Now I can look back and try to share the lessons I have learned with others. Here are some of my tips to help you keep your New Year’s Resolution to go vegan.
1. Find Your Motivation
Ask yourself why you want to become a vegan. It isn’t a test; it helps to be able 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. 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. Check out 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Embracing a Plant-Based Diet to see what great things could be in store for you.
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.
2. Do It in Your Own Time
An important part to becoming vegan is to do it in your own time. There is no rule that says you have to wake up tomorrow and be 100% vegan and animal product-free. That’s nearly impossible for most people! Don’t let other people pressure you or rush you. It’s sad to say but there can be a lot of judgment out there in the vegan world. It’s bad enough that vegans get judged by non-vegans but then, vegans get judged by other vegans for not being vegan the “right” way, or for the “right” reasons, or fast enough, etc. There are some vegans who were raised vegetarian or vegan, which is awesome. They didn’t eat much, if any, animal products and therefore, probably don’t miss those foods or understand why anyone would want to eat them. But most vegans saw the light later and the later in life it happened, the more years of consuming animal products they experienced. Going vegan at age 40 or 50 is not the same experience as going vegan as a teenager or in your 20’s.
Some people become vegetarian and stay there for years before they transition to veganism. Some people go directly to vegan. The important thing is getting there no matter what path a person takes. Maybe you would be more likely to stick with a plant-based diet if you ate vegan 3 days or week or did the “vegan until 6” regimen. Maybe you want to start out eating plant-based a few times and week and slowly increase the number of days over time. Maybe you just want to take a 30-day challenge and see if it works for you. Take time to learn and figure out the best transition plan for you! Check out this Step by Step Guide: How to Transition to a Vegan Diet.
3. Educate Yourself
While you certainly learn a lot by living vegan, being prepared can make things a whole lot easier. You don’t have to study and take tests but you should know a bit about what you’re getting yourself into. A quick Internet search can score you easy lists of what vegans do and do not eat. I know it sounds like it should be easy, right? If it comes from an animal, don’t eat it. If it doesn’t come from an animal, go for it. But animal products and by-products are hidden in so many things and under so many sneaky names, they get by the best of us. You read a label and look for milk, butter, cheese and honey. You don’t see those ingredients so you think you’re in the clear but look again. Is there casein, lactose or whey? What about carmine, gelatin, or albumin? Those are all animal-based ingredients and not vegan. But fear not. You don’t need a biochemistry degree, just 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.
The minute you tell anyone you’re even considering a vegan diet, they will ask you “Where will you get your protein?” 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. You might think this yourself. I know I used to think this way. 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 and 10 Vegan Foods Packed with Protein.
4. Explore Your Options
Maybe one of the biggest mistakes I made at the beginning was to not find out just how many non-animal food products exist in the world. In my pre-vegan days, vegetables meant peas, corn, potatoes and salad. After I made an eggplant dish, I thought, “Now what?” It wasn’t that there wasn’t food out there to eat, I just wasn’t aware of it. There are so many vegetables, fruits, grains and other foods to eat, I can go weeks without eating the same thing twice. It’s amazing how many foods there are to try! And try you must. I used to swear I hated at least a dozen vegetables even though I hadn’t tried them or maybe I had tasted them once. Now, I have a rule that I’m not allowed to say I don’t like something unless I’ve tried it several times and prepared it in different ways. Palates change or maybe you have only had Brussels sprouts boiled. Yuck! If you think you don’t like a vegetable, try it roasted or fried. Roasting brings out the rich nuttiness of vegetables and frying, well, frying just makes everything taste better, doesn’t it? And now, I will fight my husband for the last Brussels sprout. Read my 5 Rules to Start Enjoying New and Unfamiliar Foods to see how I learned to experiment and explore with food.
Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean just piling a bunch of greens and vegetables on a plate and grazing through them. You can put as much care and preparation into making vegan dishes as you do any other dish. Make a list of fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods you would like to try and think about how you would like them prepared. You might want to even take the time to write out a few meal plans for a week or two and then buy the ingredients you need to make those dishes. Having a plan definitely beats having a confused meltdown in the middle of the supermarket (like I did). For the best tips, read The Smart Shopper: A Beginner Vegan’s Pantry List for Winter.
5. Use Resources
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.
6. Don’t Sacrifice, Substitute
Maybe the idea of eating all new foods is too overwhelming for you. That’s fine. You don’t have to. No one wants to give up their favorite foods. It took me as long as it did to go vegan because I thought I couldn’t live without chicken. Then I had a hard time letting go of eggs. But I did it and not because I just learned to live without those foods but because I learned how to substitute for them. There is a vegan substitute for almost everything and if there’s something missing, I can guarantee you someone is working hard to develop it. There are vegan meats, vegan chicken, vegan fish, vegan hot dogs and sausages, vegan milks, cheeses and ice creams, vegan butter, and even vegan eggs. That means you don’t have to experiment with all new recipes and foods. You can eat all your usual favorites, just in vegan versions. Eating the foods you usually eat with just that one change can make it much easier to transition to plant-based eating. What most people come to find is that with the right textures and flavors, vegan food tastes pretty close to the original and many times, even better. Learn more in 10 Food Substitutions Every Plant-Based Eater Should Know, 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat and How to Veganize Your Favorite Familiar Dishes.
7. Be a Healthy Vegan
It’s easy to buy lots of packaged, vegan, convenience food but it’s not 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. 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 how to Avoid These 5 Unhealthy Vegan Eating Transition Mistakes.
8. Get Support
It always helps to do things with a partner. See if any of your friends or relatives want to take this vegan journey with you. When I became vegan, my husband did it with me but the two of us often felt alone. We reached out to local vegan groups and went to many pot lucks and vegan functions. Joining a meet-up group or even chatting with some vegans online can provide a wealth of information and support. The majority of vegans we know are online. The vegan community can be very helpful and someone is always willing to answer any questions you might have. Read Finding Community as a New Vegan for more tips.
9. Dealing with Cravings
Cravings are normal. I will say it again. Cravings are normal. I didn’t give up meat because I didn’t like it and it disgusted me. I loved the taste of meat but morally and ethically, I could no longer engage in the cruelty that brought those tastes to me. But becoming vegetarian and/or vegan doesn’t automatically wipe the slate of one’s brain clean. There is a difference between what the brain/mouth/stomach wants and what the conscience will allow. Of course, I now look at meat, dairy, and eggs differently. There are strong emotions that I didn’t have before. But in all honesty, sometimes when I see cooked food on TV or in real life, I have cravings. When I smell certain foods, I have cravings. When I am in certain places or moods that have food associations for me, I have cravings. There are foods I loved that I still miss. There’s a part of me that still wants Buffalo wings, fried chicken, steak, and pizza with extra cheese. The point is that I will not eat them. I will not put my cravings above the suffering and lives of other beings. For me, there is no going back.
Over time, the cravings lessen but I still get them and that does not make me a bad vegan. It makes me NORMAL. Having cravings is not what is important. What matters is what I do about them. I remind myself about the reasons I went vegan in the first place and then it’s simple because no matter what foods I crave, I love the taste of compassion more. And if you do give in to a craving, don’t beat yourself up over it and give up. You’re human. Just get back on track and look forward. For more on cravings, read A Guide to Understanding and Managing Your Food Cravings and 5 Ways to Battle Those Cheese Cravings After You Go Vegan. Also check out Why Eating Vegan is Not About Being Perfect, But About Being Aware.
10. Review and Reassess
After a few weeks of vegan eating, sit back with a green smoothie and look back over your experience. How did it go? Was it easy, was it hard? Was it something you could easily see yourself doing for a longer time? Or, was it something you can see yourself learning and enjoying as it gets easier? How do you feel? Healthier? Lighter? Happier? Many people talk about not only feeling better physically but emotionally. They say their consciences feel lighter, they feel more at ease in the world and happier. If it was difficult for you, can you pinpoint what was hard about it? Was it something that could be easier with more preparedness, more support, or more practice? And if so, is it something you want to invest your time and energy in?
If the answer is no, 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. If the answer is yes, then it sounds like you are ready to dip your toes a bit deeper into the vegan water. Time to jump in and enjoy!
All Image Source: Photo by Rhea Parsons