Veganism, (in the UK at least) is still very much a minority movement, and it can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. For those just starting, or thinking of trying a vegan diet, this is the best advice I can give to you. Of course, I’m advising from my own experience, and we all vary – my diet, for example, was already very plant-based even before going vegetarian, and I still struggled at the beginning even with that. I appreciate it’s be harder for those used to more animal-based diets than I ever was, but hopefully these tips can help you, not just to survive, but to thrive, as a vegetarian or vegan. :)
10. Know Why You’re Doing It
If you don’t have a clear motive, it will be hard to stay, well, motivated. Furthermore, it should be your motive. Don’t do it as a result of pressure, or even because somebody you respect says it’s a good idea – you should go into it knowing that you want to go vegan, and understand exactly why you have chosen to do it.
9. Take Small Steps
Some people can go “cold turkey,” and cut out all animal products at once from their diet. To me personally, this wouldn’t work, as it would be too many adjustments to make at once. Don’t go straight to veganism – start with vegetarianism. Start with pescatarianism. Or perhaps try the meat-free Monday thing, and gradually increase the number of days.
Once you’re comfortable with vegetarianism, eliminate, say, cheese. Then dairy altogether, or one thing at a time, or eggs first, whatever suits you… you get the idea.
For me, the phrase “accidental vegan,” really applies – I found I was hardly eating any dairy anyway at one point and made the decision just to get rid of it, but got rid of yogurt, the only dairy product I thought I might really miss, last.
If you’re capable of just making the switch in a one-er, by all means, go for it! But if you’re like me and need time to adapt to new things, (new clothes have to sit in my cupboard getting acquainted with the locals for at least a week before I’ll very cautiously start to wear them…) try doing it this way.
8. Replace Things
Simply “cutting out,” animal products is one of the worst mistakes you can make! The more you rely on animal products, the more of those nutrients you’ll need to replace with veg counterparts. Protein is the obvious one; beans/pulses are the obvious answer, but by no means the only one. Vegan sources of fat include avocados, nuts/seeds, and coconut. Calcium can be obtained from a myriad of vegetable sources, in smaller doses, iron from dried fruit, and so on… I won’t go into too much detail; there are tonnes of online resources available that explain all these nutritional aspects much better than I can. All I have to say is do some research, and make sure your diet is no less “complete,” as a vegan than it was beforehand.
But at the same time…
7. Don’t Get Obsessive
It’s easy to get too caught up in worrying about nutrition. Don’t. Stressing will make your body miserable no matter how well you’re feeding it. Remember that health recommendations and guidelines are just that – guidelines. There is no such thing as a set “vegan diet,” that will be absolutely perfect for every single person. Your needs will vary, depending on your age, gender, height and weight, activity level, and, for that matter, your likes and dislikes! If you find yourself eating something purely in order to leech some obscure letter followed by a number from it because some site says you need it… you’re probably getting a tad pedantic.
Trust yourself – if you feel fine, you probably are.
So long as your diet is varied and balanced, you’re more than likely to get everything you need, even if your exact “daily” measurements of each and every vitamin and mineral is not owlishly watched over.
If you are concerned, don’t sit biting your nails. See a doctor, get checked out and some professional advice.
6. Be Prepared For (And Try To Be Nice To…) Other People
Confusion, curiosity, disdain, mockery, impatience, even hurt and offense – vegetarians will get a selection of all these reactions from others with regards to their diet. For vegans it’s even worse. Happy days.
You’ll have to be insanely patient. People tend to ask about your diet, whether out of inquisitiveness or aggressiveness. Be ready to answer the same questions over and over and over again. You may be forced into debates when you’d rather just relax. You’ll be the awkward one who ends up forcing people to go out of their way to cater to you. You’ll have to explain, over and over again, that no, vegetarians do not eat fish. No, vegans do not eat cheese. You’ll need to sit and smile (or at least grimace) through jokes that are neither tasteful nor humorous. Try not to let this annoy or distress you too much.
Difficult as it can be, you must remember the context you live within.
Difficult as it can be, you must remember the context you live within.
In a world where eating meat is considered ok, the complete rejection of all animal produce makes you unusual, and you will be treated as such. Know this, and take it as part of the package in order to enjoy as normal an existence as you can.
5. Always Have Something Up Your Sleeve
For most people, missing a meal, because they get caught up at work, or ending up eating out because they stayed too long in town, or any kind of spanner in the usual meal rota, is a non-issue.
However, the sandwich display in a convenience food place when I was making a long journey recently says it all: out of five varieties, three had meat, and the remaining two were egg, and cheese. Even boxed salads or or tabouleh or couscous (which I personally don’t like anyway) tend to have random lumps of feta cheese thrown all over them.
To avoid being driven to eating nothing but leaves and oily dried slivers of potato from a packet, get into the habit of just having a couple of long-life items in your bag for emergencies. A small packet of nuts/dried fruit, or a snack bar, can save your life in situations in which you'd have otherwise ended up hungry/annoyed, or eating something you didn’t want.
As for times when you know you’re going to be travelling, or not to have access to vegan food, make packed lunches. It’s cheaper anyway.
4. Do Your Research Before Eating Out
Much like convenience food shops, in restaurants, cafés, and, for that matter, family households, vegetarians these days are usually catered for at a basic level, but vegans all too often find themselves “not able to eat anything!”
Apart from the salad.
It might seem like a faff, but if you agree to go out somewhere, check the place out first on the Internet, or phone in, and make sure it caters for you… You’ll avoid making yourself and/or the people you’re with miserable.
Most importantly, you’ll avoid the salad.
3. Expect A Level Of Discomfort
This one actually doesn’t apply to my own personal transition to veganism – which was easy. But when becoming vegetarian, I really DID miss meat: enough that I just couldn’t do it on my first try. (Though in all fairness to me, I was at that point about 12 years old.)
In any case, what I’m getting at is that missing animal products, or even craving them, is completely normal. Don’t worry! It’ll pass. Most people find that after a certain period of time, it actually flips the other way, and animal products start to smell, look, and taste physically repulsive.
But if you do give in at those early stages, or even later:
2. Do Not Beat Yourself Up
Whatever effort you are making, you are making an effort. That sounds obvious, but it bears saying. Some seem to think that weeks of not touching dairy have been “wasted,” if one day you eat some milk chocolate, or that after having done that you’d have to “start again,” like you’ve spilt soup over a painting you were working on. It’s only a big deal if you make a big deal of it. Don’t feel guilty; it’s a waste of time. Forget it and move on.
Maintaining a truly cruelty-free existence is nigh impossible in the modern world – you’d have to reject civilised society and start living in a cave. Non-vegan ingredients can slip into practically anything, and really it’s just not worth stressing over.
You’ve made a step in the right direction and you’re still standing there, so forget the little things. Nobody’s perfect.
1. Enjoy It!
This statement may be met with scepticism by some, but it is in fact very likely that veganism will open up dozens of new culinary possibilities. It will get you eating foods you possibly didn’t know existed, force you to use foods in new ways you’d never have bothered with beforehand, quite possibly make you healthier, and definitely make your diet more varied by tenfold. Compare the limited number of animals and their by-products used regularly for food, with the absolute abundance of separate species present in the plant world of the rung below, and you’ll see what I mean…
For me, this is great: Not only because I love cooking, but because I get to eat the foods I like more often. Ditching dairy = more peanut butter? Yes please. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I love being vegan.
If you’re doing it right you’ll probably feel better than you ever have before – physically and mentally. Go for it, and have fun!