Vegan transition tips

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.

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My anorexic brain.

Lately, I’ve been stressing out about my weight.  I realise how ridiculous that must sound, but it’s the truth.

Most of the time, I feel pretty confident about the way I look.  I’m fairly content with my shape and happy with my body.  I try my best to be kind to myself, particularly when it comes to matters of body image.

A few weeks ago, something happened that threw me off the body-confidence wagon.  I was putting on my favourite pair of jeans, and I had to really struggle to button them up.  Although I finally got them fastened, they were so tight that I felt as though my insides were being squeezed out.  I refused to admit defeat, and wore the jeans for an entire, very uncomfortable, afternoon.  I had to take them off at dinner time though, because there was no way that I was going to be able to eat while I was wearing them.  I had to face facts: my favourite jeans no longer fit me.

I feel ashamed to admit that this tiny event shot me into a spiral of self-hate and doubt.  I started internally berating myself for eating so much takeaway food, and for not exercising every day.  I found myself calculating the calorie-content of every thing that passed my lips, and I started to get a bit obsessed with choosing the ‘right’ foods .  Every time I passed a mirror, I scrutinized myself,  checking for new lumps and bumps and feeling disappointed with the figure staring mournfully back at me.

For the longest time, I didn’t even realise that I was doing this.  Perhaps that’s because I’d fallen back into an old, familiar way of behaving. You see, for the bulk of my teen years, I struggled with anorexia.  This pattern of self-hate and self-scrutiny was nothing new to me, because it was the way I lived my life every day between the ages of 13 and 17.

It’s hard for me to tell exactly when I got over my anorexia.  I started to feel more confident in myself when I was about eighteen, and my destructive behaviour slowly settled down.   In much the same way as my anorexia began, it left my life in a gradual fashion.

I went through many periods in my young adult life where my anorexic behaviours cropped up again.  Sometimes it was the result of extreme stress or depression.  Sometimes it was the result of comparing myself with others, and feeling as though I fell short. Sometimes I’d go through a rough patch, and I’d lose weight from sheer anxiety.   At the moment I realised that the weight had come off, there was always the temptation to go back to those old starve-and-scrutinize habits.  But I’ve always managed to convince myself that it wasn’t a good idea.  During each of these times, common sense and self-esteem won out, and I managed to get myself back on the right track.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling really terrible about my body.  I’ve been beating myself up for not being more vigilant about what I’ve been eating, for being too lazy to cook and relying on takeaway too often.  I’ve been mad at myself for not making the time to work out.  I’ve scrutinized my body to the point that I’m not even sure that I’m seeing it clearly any more.  And this has to stop.

There are lots of reasons why I’ve put on weight lately.  It’s perfectly normal for people to put on weight as they get older.  Your metabolism and lifestyle change as you age.  I’m 26 years old, and I can hardly expect my body to remain the way it was when I was 16.  Also, I’ve gone through a major life-shift in the last year, as I’ve started living with my boyfriend.  That has caused a major shake-up in the way I cook and shop.  I’ve got a lot more demands on my time as well, which makes it more difficult for me to find time to exercise or cook.  Finally, I’ve been battling with depression this year, and this has  left me feeling drained.  Often, I’ll find the task of cooking dinner far too daunting, so we’ll get takeaway.  Over the past few weeks though, I’ve been making a much bigger effort to take better care of myself, and simply giving up takeaway food and making time for movement has really helped with my state of mind.

I need to be kinder to myself.  I can’t keep beating myself up every time my body changes.  I can’t see every pound gained as a failure, or feel weak if I can no longer fit into clothes I owned as a teen.  I need to give myself a freakin’ break.

It does worry me though when I fall into these patterns.  I worry that no matter how well I get, that although my body is no longer anorexic, I’ll always have an anorexic brain.

So, why am I writing this?  There’s a few reasons:

1. To get some perspective.  In the past, when I was feeling shitty about my body, I’d keep it inside and never tell anyone.  I’d rely on myself to get over the bumps, which was totally unrealistic because I was in no state to provide sound advice to myself.  If I tell someone else how I’m feeling, it helps to put it into perspective.

2. To make myself accountable.  If I make a public statement to try to accept myself and to look after myself, then I’m a lot more likely to act on it.

3. To show you that just because someone seems confident and happy with their body, doesn’t mean that they always are.  I get so many emails and comments from people who are unhappy with the way that they look, who commend me on my body confidence.  In truth, although I am pretty confident about the way I look, I also go through periods of self-shattering doubt.  Loving yourself isn’t an easy thing, and you don’t achieve it all in the blink of an eye.  It’s O.K to fall down every now and again, as long as you pick yourself up and keep trying.

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So let’s all just give ourselves a freakin’ break, Mmm’kay?