Making a transition to veganism

Veganism is on the rise and people are interested in it for many reasons: health, animals, environmental, economic, political, and more. Here’s a list that might make your vegan transition smoother.

Find your groove.

hearty salad

For some, Meatless Mondays is a good start. Others might have fun with being Vegan Before 6 (breakfast and lunch). Lean into veganism when it feels right. But if you wake up tomorrow and want to be a full-fledged vegan, go for it! You don’t have to do it in phases. Push yourself but don’t set yourself up for failure.

It’s a journey.

You’re going to slip up. Maybe by accident (“whey is an animal product?”) or on purpose (“I couldn’t resist the pizza.”) That’s not a reason to quit. After a lifetime of developing food habits, you’ll find some are hard to break. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Being vegan isn’t about being perfect.

Eat out.

A good vegan restaurant (or restaurant with vegan options) is really helpful. If you’re at a regular restaurant, look for ways to veganize a dish. Hold the cheese. Substitute a Portobello for a hamburger. Ask the wait staff. They’re usually more than happy to help customers with dietary needs.

Learn to cook.

There’s nothing like taking your health into your own hands. Cooking at home means you know exactly what goes into your meal. Find some recipes online or get a few cookbooks and experiment. My first vegan cookbook was How it all Vegan. I still use it because the recipes are simple and delicious.

Find replacements.

If you crave cheese, bacon or ribs, look for vegan versions like Daiya, Upton’s, or Morningstar so you can still eat your favorite foods. Mock meats (or analogs) are a lifesaver when you’re not sure what to eat and you haven’t found a new way of eating yet.

Don’t live on processed foods.

That said, it’s easy to become a junk-food vegan. Mock versions of your old favorites can be healthy, but they aren’t always. The best vegan food plan includes lots of natural, whole foods. When it comes to health talk, you might hear “whole-food, plant-based” instead of “vegan,” because chips and soda are usually vegan, but they’re not healthy.

Introduce color.

A colorful plate of whole, plant-based foods is bound to be rich in lots of vitamins. Even my salads are hearty, and include lots of things like quinoa, garbanzo beans and seitan.

mango saladSpeaking of seitan.

Try new foods. You won’t like them all, but you’ll find new favorites and you’ll likely end up eating a more varied diet than the typical meat-and-potatoes American. I like to explore a variety of foods from around the world–and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Expect change.

Meat is calorie dense. I don’t count calories but I know it takes a lot more plant-based food to match the calories of animal-based foods. You might find yourself snacking more (healthy snacking is fine). Maybe you pile your plate higher. If you’re eating whole foods, go for it! If you swap a 3-oz. steak for 3 ounces of hummus you’ll probably still be hungry! If you aren’t full, eat more. If you’re eating processed foods though, be careful. Oils and refined foods are fattening and offer very little nutritional value.

Don’t worry about protein.

Yes, it’s absolutely important, but if you eat enough food (meaning you’re not starving yourself), you’ll get enough protein. And a big surprise to many people is that plants have protein! Tomatoes, potatoes, bananas–they wouldn’t grow without it. Beans, nuts and such have more than fruit, but there’s protein in all of it. A plant-based diet provides 8-10% of calories from protein, which is the exact amount the RDA (recommended daily allowance) recommends. I’ll write a separate post about it soon.

Supplements.

Vitamins are a multibillion dollar industry but nothing comes close to whole foods–it’s what we really need. We get vitamin D from the sun, but if you don’t get a lot of sun, that’s one supplement you could take. Dairy is fortified with it, and fortunately, almond, soy, and other milks have it added too. There’s B12 in organic soil (that’s where the cows get it from) but since so much produce is grown with pesticides and other chemicals, soil isn’t what it used to be. A B12 supplement is probably wise. For the record, a lot of omnivores are low in B12 too–it’s not just a vegan thing.

Remember why you’re doing this.

For me, it’s was all about the animals (I say was because it’s about health now too). What’s your motivation? Remembering why you’re going vegan will help you stick with it. You can eat whatever you want; you choose not too. It’s not limiting if you think of it as a choice.

Resources:

  • Forks Over Knives – This documentary drives home the value and sound nutrition behind a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Engine 2 Diet – This website links to books, recipes, and lots of resources for your plant-based journey.
  • The China Study – A comprehensive look at the 27-year study that Dr. Campbell undertook that led to finding on the superiority of whole food, plant-based diets.
  • Whole: rethinking the Science of Nutrition – This is Dr. Campbell’s latest book and explores a new way to look at how–and what–we eat.
  • PCRM – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine portal has tons of health and nutrition information.
  • Vegan Outreach – This site links to videos, a free vegan starter kit, and lots of resources about why to be vegan (from factory farm cruelty to environmental nightmares).

As an aside, I’m in the middle of taking the Plant-based Nutrition course through eCornell. I’ve learned a ton in the course, but I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The course is amazing but doesn’t qualify me to dispense medical advice. Then again, most doctors aren’t trained in nutrition either!

Vegan readers, do you have other tips on going vegan? Best cookbooks? Favorite recipes?

20 thoughts on “Making a transition to veganism

  1. Excellent advice! I know I’ve had slip ups on pizza, but it truly gets easier and easier. Another good movie to watch is Vegucated. I made a delicious yam and squash soup tonight, with red pepper and red lentils! Like you said, tastes better than candy! You can taste the health and it makes me happy that no animals have been killed! 🙂

  2. Fabulous, comprehensive post, my friend! I’ve also been reflecting on my transition and have started vamping up my blog with resources and information for new vegans. One of the best books I read when I first went vegan was Vegan Freak – helped with navigating social situations and keeping my confidence when asked about my choice.

  3. Nice post, but just wanted to mention that most Morningstar products are vegetarian, as they contain egg. I know because my oldest has an egg protein allergy 🙂

    • Thank you for commenting! You make a good point. Daiya and Uptons are all-vegan. Only some of Morningstar’s products are. I like their all-American burger and their riblets, but check the ingredients! Some of their products do have egg and/or dairy, like you said. Not good for vegans and especially not good for people with allergies!

  4. This is a great, very motivating post. I’ve only begun to try to make the transition to more vegan eating in small steps. I eat mostly vegetarian; I find it’s relatively easy to avoid meat and I crave it less the less I eat it, but I do slip up. Cheese is by far my biggest challenge. I am really grateful that you said one should not beat oneself up if there’s a slip. I find that especially encouraging, and it just makes me want to try harder.

    Some things I also find motivating and helpful:
    – It may sound strange, but when I realized that a lot of the “vegetarian” meals I was eating were technically vegan, the idea of becoming vegan seemed a lot less daunting and a lot more doable. I realize that I still have a very long way to go, though.
    – Subscribing to websites like this and reading articles about nutrition, tips for staying the course, recipes and the reality of what is in “fast food”. Most notably, when I feel like I want a burger, my brain immediately refers back to the footage of animal cruelty, and articles about the revolting practices of the fast food and agriculture industries.
    – Watching movies like Vegucated and Food Matters and really trying to plug in and not ignore the realities of the food system. I look forward to checking out the books mentioned above, Mainstreet Vegan and Vegan Freak.

    I apologize for the long post! The last thing I would like to mention is a soon to be published cook book that I hope to get — the Thug Kitchen Cookbook in 2014. Although the language they use is a bit salty, I think it’s done with a sense of humor. I believe the recipes are mostly, if not all, vegan, and they all look scrumptious.

    • Thanks you so much for your reply! I appreciate long replies! And my post is long too, so it’s fair 🙂 I’ll write a separate post about cheese. It literally is addictive, so don’t feel bad that it’s hard to give up! Doing something is better than doing nothing. I would be sad to hear someone gave up their path to veganism because they couldn’t be a perfect vegan. There’s really no such thing. We can do our best. That’s all.

      You mentioned something that I think will help a lot of people. Many of our favorite foods are already vegan. It’s not a complete 180 degree turn. It’s a matter of replacing this and that. If people look at it the way you do, they’ll probably start to see lots of food they already love are vegan. The lentil soup. The baked potato. The walnut salad with balsamic. Tater tots 🙂

      I’m glad nutritional info and movies are helping you. I’m also motivated by that now. I almost suggested in my post to carry around the cutest picture of a piglet or calf or chick as a reminder of why we shouldn’t eat meat. Not everyone is motivated by the animal angle, but a photo on my cell phone would probably work for me.

      I haven’t heard of the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, but I’ll look out for it. I’d love to include book reviews on this site and I’ll review this one when I get my hands on it.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write about.

  5. I gave myself a month to become vegan. One week I’d phase out meat, another to phase out dairy, etc. I tried to not throw out food just because it had honey or eggs in it, but rather gave it away or tried to use it up. Something I’d recommend is to journal your transition to not only track your progress, growth, and emotions, but to see how much you will learn about your own health and the changes (detoxification) your body will go thru.

    • Great ideas! I like that you had a timeline and set expectations and goals for yourself. Journaling is a great idea too. I’m sure you understood yourself a lot better as a result. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Like Nicky, I too have realized that some of my meals were already “Vegan” and that some of my meals , especially breakfast, could easily be vegan simply by using honey or lemon in my tea and by using more moist fruit on my multigrain hot cereal.
    Given my family and social influences, I do not expect to be vegetarian let alone vegan but I’m convinced that every meal, even every mouthful, makes a difference; thus any animal foods are minimal portions.
    My dietary choices for low fat, high fibre fruit and vegetable and grains with minimal meat intake started some 22 years ago along with a vigorous walking programme had to do with an effort to lower elevated cholesterol levels without prescribed medication. The cruelty to animals is additional motivation to reduce even further the consumption of animal products, especially dairy and egg.
    As for slip ups or backsliding, I would share with the writers above that I am reminded of a conversation some 21 years ago with a dietician who said that changing your diet is like trying to put your shirt (or blouse, ladies) on with one arm tied behind your back. Further, that you have not successfully changed your diet until you have changed your diet for 5 years.
    So, do not beat yourselves (or myself) over back sliding…..all of life is a journey….do your best and enjoy each moment.
    Each vegetarian or vegan choice will, over the years, enhance your health and minimize any health challenges.
    Hopefully the above dissertation encourages each and every one of us.

    • Thanks Bob! I like the analogy of trying to put a shirt on using only one arm. Harder than it looks! You’re right that every bit helps. I’m sure you’ve noticed it in your health and the trajectory you’re on compared to where you might have been if you hadn’t made efforts long ago. After seeing how animal issues, health and the environment are all intertwined, it’s made it clearer to me that veganism is a great way to be. I think of poorer countries and what they give up (or lose, environmentally) so wealthier nations can eat cattle raised on precious land. It’s reveals a big inequality that I don’t want to participate in. Thanks for doing your part and sharing your journey.

  7. A search on your blog for “Vegan sources for vitamin B12” listed only this blog…..having had a nutrition course, do you have any further info? Thanks

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