No matter where you are on your vegan journey, from vegan curious to veteran, I’m here to help. I went vegan in 2014 after having been plant-based for four years. I initially decided to become vegetarian in 2010 after travelling in Cambodia and being put off meat, but within a few short months I was already leaning towards plant-based alternatives for dairy and eggs too. For me, the documentary Cowspiracy was the clincher. I also learned more about the dairy and egg industries, which made the switch even easier. While many people do successfully go vegan overnight (my partner for one), I don’t recommend it to everyone. You have to be super disciplined and very sure of your decision, because let’s face it, going and staying vegan is challenging. I’ve learned so much over my almost decade of being plant-based and vegan that I want to share, so here are the top twelve things I wish I knew before going vegan.
1) You will make mistakes
I’ll put in bluntly, the beginning can be tough. However, I can promise you that it definitely gets easier. When I first went vegan it seemed like milk powder found it’s way into the ingredients list of literally everything. I’d never spent so much time in the grocery store staring at the back of products! Even after years of being vegan, I still make mistakes, I don’t know one single vegan who doesn’t. The best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing your best.
2) You don’t need to do everything at once
It’s normal to get overwhelmed in the beginning, and face confusing situations. For example, what do you do with any existing non-vegan food in your kitchen? Do eat it, throw it out, donate it? How do you tell your friends and family? I totally get the overwhelm, but don’t worry, you don’t need to do everything at once. When I say I was plant-based for four years, I mean that I always ate vegan food and bought vegan garments for myself. However, if someone served me a vegetarian dish when I was at their place, I would eat it. Once I went vegan in 2014 I simply extended my vegan habits into my social life as well. Find the timeline that feels right to you. There’s a great balance to be found between continuing to move forward while still staying true to your situation and capabilities.
3) Your taste-buds and cravings will change
Recently, my partner and I accidentally ate milk chocolate. Remember what I just said about everyone making mistakes? 😉 The packet looked identical to the vegan dark chocolate version we usually get, and we put it in our trolley thinking it was our usual treat. That evening we opened the packet and each popped a chocolate covered almond into our mouths. We immediately looked at each other in disgust, were they expired? Nope, just milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate. Milk chocolate used to be my absolute favorite type, I could eat it by the block (and did). Now, after years of opting for dark chocolate I was shocked by how awful it tasted to me. So, if you currently have a taste for cow’s milk and don’t like any of the plant-based options as much, just remember, that won’t last forever.
4) You’ll find your go-to alternatives
Just sticking to the topic of taste-buds and cravings for a moment, let’s talk about finding the perfect replacements. I didn’t struggle with cheese cravings, but I know that’s a huge one for many people. Your taste is unique to you and as a result it’s totally worthwhile spending some time experimenting with plant-based foods to find your new holy grails. Which type of plant milk do you prefer? I personally love almond milk, but my partner likes soy better. Do you have go-to treats yet? Which favorite dinners can you make vegan? I love a good summer barbecue as much as the next person, but some vegan sausages taste like sawdust, whereas others would fool your omnivorous acquaintances. It’s all about having fun, trying new things and finding fresh versions of old favorites.
5) You’ll learn basic nutrition
I don’t know about you, but before I went vegan I knew basically nothing about nutrition. My education up until that point was the food pyramid and extensive experience counting calories. After becoming plant based, I started to grow more interested in nutrition. Part of that curiosity was inspired by wanting to be informed when people asked me about my diet. By the way, I guarantee you’ll hear the same questions over and over again. “Where do you get your protein?” is cliche for good reason. The top nutritional resource I recommend is Dr Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen App. It’s a checklist of twelve foods to include in your daily diet in order to meet your nutritional needs. You can learn more about it here. I also discuss my favorite plant foods grouped by nutrient profile, and how I make them into meals in my book, Lessons From Veganism.
6) You’ll sometimes feel isolated and attacked
People can be mean, especially when faced with something they don’t understand. When I first went vegan I saw enormous animosity between vegans and non-vegans, and both sides were equally to blame. Vegans can be self-righteous, condescending and downright rude. It’s easy to get swept up in your passion for animal rights, and forget to treat other people with the respect they deserve. I don’t support other vegans who use shame and slander as part of their activism. However, I totally understand the feelings of hopelessness you may encounter, and know that this can lead to treating people differently than you usually would. If this does become an issue for you, please remember, it’s not your job to make someone else vegan. The best thing you can do is state your position clearly and help them as best you can if they come to you with questions.
7) You have so much support
On the topic of feeling isolated and alone, let’s talk about finding support. Everybody needs community and I think this is the most daunting part of becoming vegan. Unless you already have friends who are vegan/vegetarian, you can easily start to feel like an outcast. Don’t worry, with the right approach, that won’t last. Finding vegan communities both online and in the real world is a fantastic way to connect with like-minded people. When I first went vegan, I regularly attended my town’s Vegan Society dinners and joined a bunch of local and national vegan Facebook groups. My main advice, however, is to enjoy new connections whilst maintaining your existing network. There are a hundred ways you and your family and friends can spend quality time together without making you, or them uncomfortable. Here is a quick list of ideas, both food and non food related:
- trying out a new vegan-friendly eatery together
- meeting at a cafe that serves plant milk (i.e. basically every cafe)
- having a potluck
- having a games night
- exploring the great outdoors – bike rides, hikes, kayaking trips, beach days etc
- more communal exercise – yoga classes, gym workouts, spin classes etc
- home help – do any of your loved ones need assistance with some DIY? Painting, gardening, spring cleans etc
- exploring local events like concerts, pop up markets and outdoor movies
- visiting a nearby farm sanctuary
- all time faves like bowling, ice skating, arcade games or mini golf
- crafternoons – painting, pottery, card making
- visiting local attractions like museums or planetariums
I hope that got your creative juices flowing! Give your loved ones a bit of time to adjust and get used to your new lifestyle. Sometimes they’ll forget or make a mistake, but that’s okay.
I also recommend taking the time to investigate social media accounts, apps, websites and books that will inform you and make your life easier. Hands down the most used vegan app on my phone is Happy Cow. I never travel without it!
8) Your choices do matter
If you’re one of the only vegans in your social circles, it can often feel pointless. In the early days, I sometimes felt like I was putting in a big effort, but making no real difference in the world. It’s totally normal to have those moments, but it’s simply a matter of correcting your perspective. Over time, your choices matter so much! Let’s employ the use of the Vegan Calculator. Plug in the amount of time you’ve been vegan, et voila, the difference you’re making in the world in numerical terms. In just your first month of being vegan, you’ll save 124,917 litres of water. Not so shabby. How is that even possible? You can watch Cowspiracy to find out 🙂
9) You won’t have as many choices, but you’ll eat better than ever
While your options at restaurants and stores may be a lot slimmer than they used to be, going vegan is a great opportunity to eat a more varied diet than ever before. One of the first things I noticed when I started investigating vegan recipes was how many new foods I was eating. The plant kingdom is ENORMOUS, and we usually only enjoy a fraction of it! Did you know there are 40,000 types of beans? There’s also thousands of different fruits, of which we usually only eat 10% of. Before going vegan, I rarely ate legumes, tropical fruit like pineapple or cruciferous vegetables. Now, they are all regular (and very nutrient dense) parts of my diet. I also truly don’t mind having more limited options at restaurants as I am not a great decision maker. The more options I have, the more confused and unsure I get!
10) You’ll eat more whole foods
While I do recommend trying out all the amazing vegan alternatives to your favorite non-vegan products, you’ll soon learn that being vegan doesn’t automatically equal good health. In fact, you can be a total junk food fanatic and still be vegan. If you want to feel and look your best as a vegan, all you need to do simplify. Again, your palette may take some time to get used to it, but eating more from the produce section is a sure way to improve your diet. I’ve personally lost over 20 lbs (10 kg) since switching from being plant-based to vegan. That is mostly to do with how I healed my relationship with food (more on that soon) and eating more whole foods.
11) You’ll embrace other conscious lifestyles
By conscious I mean lifestyles that promote thinking about the consequences of your actions, and how they affect others and the world at large. I think minimalism often becomes an area of interest as it’s message of valuing simplicity aligns beautifully with the vegan ethics of cherishing life. Zero or low waste is a an obvious lifestyle choice for those of us who are vegan for environmental reasons. Yoga is also common, especially since yoga philosophy teaches compassion and non violence as it’s principle tenet, ahimsa. You can read more about my love of ahimsa here. Feminism is also movement that many vegans get involved in, as it based on similar values of justice and equality. Natural medicine is what I first got interested in after becoming vegan, as my adoration for the wondrous plant kingdom grew. And finally, ethical or slow fashion makes a whole lot of sense for vegans, as it aligns perfectly with veganism’s stance on causing the least harm possible.
12) Your relationship with food will change
During my teenage years, like many girls, I struggled with constant dieting, binges and a general phobia of calories. In becoming vegetarian at 18 and vegan at 22, I noticed how my unhealthy relationship with food healed naturally. It seems counter intuitive, but the more ‘restrictive’ my diet became in terms of eliminating animal products, the more freedom, health and vitality I experienced. I now see food more like I did when I was a child. I also have very little idea about how many calories I consume in a day and instead, am more focused on what nutrients my meals provide. Overall, it’s a much more positive approach to food, based on abundance and nourishment, rather than lack and self-control.
Chapter 3 of Lessons From Veganism
I wrote extensively about how veganism healed my relationship with food in Chapter 3 of my book, Lessons From Veganism. I decided to give it away for free, because I received so much positive feedback on it, and I want it to reach as many people as possible. I’d love to share more about this journey with you.
Simply click here or the image above, and you’ll be on my Freebies page. There you’ll find Chapter 3, as well as my two self-care e-books, Revamp and Refresh. You can click any of the buttons on that page, fill in your details and check the boxes of the freebies you’d like in the form provided. Then, you’ll receive an email from me with your download link within five minutes.
Thanks for reading my 12 tips for going vegan, I hope you they helped you! Which tip did you find most interesting? Let me know in the comments!
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