We are now into the third week of Veganuary and I thought that this would be a great time to share some of my tips for transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. I’ve been a vegan for around eighteen months now and I can tell you that the first six weeks are the most difficult. But those weeks were difficult for reasons I hadn’t anticipated.
I had expected that I would have to deal with strong food cravings during my transition period. In particular, I predicted that I would have the most trouble separating from cheese, because it was my favourite food in my pre-vegan days. In actual fact, food cravings weren’t that much of an issue for me. What I found the most difficult was just navigating the shops and restaurants as a new vegan. Tasks that had previously been second-nature took on a whole new dimension and became time consuming and difficult. I had to check labels, ask questions and the whole process was kind of overwhelming. Additionally, modifying recipes to make them vegan was tricky in the beginning. But as time passed and I gained more knowledge and experience, these things became much simpler and less stressful. Let me share with you some of the things I wish I’d known when I first became a vegan, as well as my top transition tips.
- Go at a pace that feels manageable for you. There is no rule that says you have to be completely vegan from the get-go. You might find it easier to cut out meat one month, then progress to dairy and eggs when you are ready.
- Don’t rely on meat substitutes. In the early days of adopting a vegan diet, you might be tempted to replace your usual meals with the “meat free” version. Although this sounds like a good way to ease away from meat, I found this actually made it more difficult. Meat substitutes are great, but most of them don’t have the flavour or texture of meat. This means they’re less likely to satisfy cravings. Use meat substitutes sparingly and instead stock up on fresh veggies, legumes, grains, pasta and spices.
- Try new things. This is the perfect time to experiment with new recipes and ingredients.
- Eating out can be a bit of a minefield when you’re a new vegan. But there are loads of options available, even at restaurants that aren’t specifically vegan. Mexican restaurants have a huge range of options, pizzas can be ordered without meat or cheese, salads are served at most restaurants and most burger places have at least one veggie burger. Even my local pub has a veggie stir fry with smokey soy sauce that is accidentally vegan.
- Plan ahead when you go shopping. Make a list and spend a little time researching at home which brands offer vegan options. You can find lists of accidentally vegan snacks at Veggieful which are super helpful. This will save lots of time and stress when you actually hit the shops.
- Embrace home cooking. If you don’t know how to cook, this is the perfect time to learn. Even though it might be difficult to find vegan versions of your favourite foods in stores, it’s pretty easy to make your own snacks, sweets and meals at home. It’s also so much cheaper than buying pre-packaged meals or eating out.
Image from mikimottes.com
- Don’t stress out about protein. A lot of people believe that meat, eggs and dairy are the only sources of protein. This isn’t true at all. If you’re eating a wide range of foods that includes nuts, legumes and grains, you’ll be fine.
- Some folks love to be jerks to vegans. It sucks, but it’s a fact. Accept this, but realise that it’s not your job to respond or be an ambassador for the vegan lifestyle. If you want to, that’s your choice, but you do not have to engage with someone who is harassing you over your diet.
- Don’t be alarmed by portion sizes. When I first went vegan, I got really worried because I had to eat a much larger meal in order to feel satiated. This occurs simply because plant-based foods don’t have as many calories and therefore it takes a larger amount to make you feel full and satisfied. So if you’re eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans, you might find that your serving sizes need to increase in order for you to feel full.
- Make your own rules and choices. You don’t have to be the “perfect vegan” and you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. You get to decide how to implement your lifestyle and make choices that suit you. For example, some vegans get rid of all of their animal-based clothing and only buy animal free clothes. I still own wool and leather from my pre-vegan days, and I will continue to use these things until they are worn out. I won’t buy new items that are made from wool or leather but I will still purchase second-hand items made from animal products because I believe in recycling and getting the most out of clothing that is still wearable. That’s my choice, and it feels right to me, even if it might not be the “perfect vegan” choice.
- You are going to make mistakes. You will buy things that have sneaky animal products in them. You will accidentally order a meal that you didn’t realise had cheese or cream included. It’s ok. Mistakes happen and we learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up or expect to be perfect.
It’s true that the first month or so of trying a vegan lifestyle can be difficult, but I promise you that it does get easier. And the benefits definitely outweigh the initial struggles.
Do you have any transition tips that you’d like to add? Or any questions about transitioning to a vegan lifestyle? I’d be happy to answer them.