Fifteen Tips for Going Vegan!
Whether you are going vegan for one week, one month, or for life, check out these fifteen tips to help you get started and succeed.
1) Find your motivation
There is some reason you have decided to eat vegan. Going vegan may feel daunting and have it’s challenges, and clarifying the motivation behind your decision can help you stay on track. Three major reasons are to improve your own health, support compassionate treatment of animals, and protect our environment. See my blog post Vegan – the BEST Way to Eat for more details and resources around these three points. Which do you connect with most? Maybe all three!
2) Do your research
Once you have found your motivation, look for more information about it! There is a LOT of evidence and information about why eating vegan truly protects your health, animals, and our environment. At the same time, there is a LOT of evidence about how eating animal products is harmful for your health, animals and the environment! The more you learn, and the more you know the facts, the stronger your determination will be. One book I recommend that covers all three of these areas in detail is The Food Revolution by John Robbins, also available in my Body & Soul Bookstore.
3) Set your intention
Now that you are super motivated and ready to go, set your intention to eat a plant-based diet. This is a commitment to yourself. It may help to write it down, or tell some supportive friends. Maybe put a note on your refrigerator! If you slip up, you can always come back to this intention.
4) Find vegan foods you already love
There are lots of already-vegan snack foods out there. I love this list of “accidentally vegan” items that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) put together. Even though it’s mostly processed food, it’s nice to know. Hopefully there are also some healthier vegan foods you are already eating and love! Mexican rice and beans with salsa and guacamole? Indian red lentil dahl with basmati rice and curry vegetables? Middle Eastern hummus, tabouli, baba ganoush and falafel? I would eat all of these things whether I was vegan or not!
5) Adapt favorite recipes
There are lots of foods that aren’t vegan, but that can be easily adapted by replacing the animal products. You can bake almost anything replacing the milk, butter, and eggs with non-dairy milk, margarine, and egg-replacer, and trust me, vegan baked goods are delicious!! You can make vegan pesto by leaving out the parmesan cheese, or vegetable lasagna with tofu and vegan cheese (try Daiya, it’s so good!) The possibilities are endless. Almost any animal product you can think of has a vegan replacement. Look online for recipes and adaptations of your favorites.
6) Plan ahead
In the beginning while you’re still figuring things out, it’s good to plan ahead. If you are starving and have no idea what to eat you may quickly resort to old habits. There was one New Year I made a resolution to eat vegan, and before the week was even over I was out running errands, skipped lunch, and was so ravenous I ended up ordering a tuna salad as soon as I passed a Subway. So disappointing! Figure out which restaurants near your home and work have good vegan options. Make sure you have some good snacks at home (I try to keep hummus at home at all times, it’s a quick and healthy snack!) Plan some meals ahead of time and have the ingredients ready, or cook extra for leftovers. Maybe even keep some nuts or trail mix in your bag if you’re afraid you’ll be stuck.
7) Try something new!
Eating vegan does not have to be limiting! There is a whole world of new foods out there to try. Try the vegan cheese, you might like it! Try tofu, which can be cooked in so many different ways. Many cultures have foods that are designed to be vegan and tasty, try some Middle Eastern, Indian, and Ethiopian dishes!
8) Be realistic
If your typical dinner is take-out pizza, it may not be realistic to think you’ll turn over a whole new leaf and start growing your own sprouts and making lentil loafs from scratch. Be realistic. Find a way to eat vegan that fits in with your lifestyle, and that may mean picking up some vegan frozen pizzas (trust me, they are yummy, even my kids eat them.)
9) Be adaptable
Chances are that at some point you’ll be in a situation where you’ve gone to a restaurant, event, or friend’s house, and the only vegan things on the menu are steamed broccoli and plain bread. It’s happened to me many times. If you are serious about sticking to your intention, it’s good to be mentally prepared for these occasions, and know that it’s okay that that’s all you’re going to eat at that meal. You can always eat something more satisfying at the next meal. Or you may go out to ice cream with your friends and find that the only option for you is an anticlimactic lemon sorbet. Don’t worry! Go buy yourself some So Delicious Mocha Fudge frozen dessert on your way home! That’s the beauty (and curse!) of your appetite, it will be back soon!
10) Read labels!
There are a lot of foods that you would be surprised to know have animal products in them. It would be very disappointing to celebrate your one monthiversary of eating vegan, only to realize that the supposed “non-dairy” cheese you’ve been eating is made with casein, a protein from cow’s milk! (Quite common, these are produced for people who are lactose intolerant, not vegan.)
11) Eat balanced, healthy meals
This point has more to do with being healthy than being vegan. In theory you could eat nothing but pasta, and Fritos, and you’d be vegan, but you sure wouldn’t be healthy. You could also swing in the opposite direction and decide to be a raw fruitatarian and eat nothing but bananas (I’ve actually seen this…) and you’d be quickly sick from the sugar overload, and lack of other nutrients. Eating a variety of whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, lots of vegetables of different colors, and some fresh fruits, will help ensure that you get all the nutrients you need to avoid cravings and stay healthy.
12) Pay attention to protein
Americans tend to eat too much protein (with some negative health consequences, see The China Study.) But we do require some, and it’s not healthy to switch entirely to sugars and carbohydrates either. It’s important to eat balanced meals, or you will likely start craving animal products again. Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein, and there are so many varieties. If you don’t think you can build enough muscle, or get enough protein eating vegan, just ask the 300 pound, NFL football player, David Carter!
13) A note on vitamins and minerals
You can get all of the vitamins and minerals you need eating plant-based foods, with the exception of one: B12. If you are going to eat vegan for an extended period of time, look for a B12 supplement, here is a good vegan option: TwinLab – B-12. If you are concerned about iron or calcium, then taking a multivitamin could be a good idea (for the record, all the studies showing that calcium prevents osteoporosis were done with calcium supplements, not dairy products.) If you find that you are experiencing strong cravings, you might be deficient in something. Try a quality multivitamin before you get discouraged.
14) Find your support network
There is a beautiful feeling of living in line with your aspirations and values. But sticking to these aspirations can be challenging if you are surrounded by people who’s motto is “Life’s short, eat bacon!” Find your tribe. The vegan community is large and strong and vocal! If I post a photo on Instagram and tag it #vegan, I’ll get twenty “likes” within minutes! Have a potluck with friends who are open to having a plant-based meal; join a local vegan meet-up group at meetup.com; or join a virtual group on Facebook, or other social media. These like-minded people will inspire and support you.
15) If you slip up, start again
The first time I tried to be vegan was when I was 16, and I only lasted two months. My will power was not strong enough to resist the pints of Ben & Jerry’s my family had in the freezer (this was long before all the yummy alternatives they have available now!) I was so discouraged I totally gave up. Now I am more forgiving with myself and others. I think it’s better to be mostly vegan, then to not try at all. The more times you start again, and the longer you do it, the easier it will get. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good : ) Give it a try!
Do you have additional tips, questions, or concerns? Comment below!