Thinking about veganism? Worried that you’ll cave at the first sight of bacon? Whether you’re planning to transition for health reasons, the environment, animal rights or all of the above, this lifestyle transition can seem very daunting! Take a look at the following guidelines to make the process as smooth as possible and ensure that you’re able to withstand those meaty temptations… no matter how mouth-watering they may be.
1. Take it slow. I became vegan three times before I actually became vegan. The first time, cheese got me. The second time, PMS. Part of the problem in both cases was that I attempted to go cold turkey – not pun intended. While this method works for some people (including me, the third time around), it’s extremely challenging for your brain and your body. When your system is used to being fed a certain amount of nutrients, it will get angry if those requirements suddenly aren’t met. If you’re a vegetarian transitioning to vegan, things will be easier. Your body will not feel as though it’s starving. But if you’re a ravenous carnivore who eats meat at every meal, don’t expect that you’ll be able to cut animal products out of your diet without looking back. I mean, maybe you can. Maybe you’re the queen of will power. Who am I to say otherwise? But for most of us normal humans, switching to a plant-based diet should be approached with patience. Trick your body by gradually cutting one product at a time. First milk, then yogurt, then fish. Take it one day at a time and I promise you things will be much easier.
2. Do your research. This blog is not an adequate amount of information on which to build your vegan foundation. It is simply a guide – a rough outline, if you will – that contains the bare minimum when it comes to health. I did not reference any scientific articles during the writing of this post, but I suggest that you do. As soon as you’re done reading this, go buy a book on vegan nutrition, or spend a few days reading all the credible info you can find online. Here’s a few trustworthy sources:
3. Rehearse your reason. Unlike the large percentage of people in this world who survive on a diet of complex carbohydrates, alcohol and refined sugar, vegans get asked all the time why they eat what they eat. They get questioned, on a weekly basis, how they’re able to meet their nutritional needs. I once had a man ask me this as he ate a piece of chocolate cake. So, despite how ridiculous it may seem, prepare a justification for why you eat a plant-based diet. If you’re anything like me, you’re not very good at remembering stats and scientific data. If that’s the case, choose a simple explanation. I feel healthier. I love animals and believe they deserve equal rights. Whatever your reasoning is, write it down and memorize it. And be forewarned, people will always have comebacks. You will endure many debates with people whom you will never see eye to eye with. My brother is a hunter. We once had a heated discussion about veganism as he plucked the feathers from a limp goose that he had shot only moments before. Just stick to your beliefs, accept that you can’t change everyone, and move on.
4. Don’t feel the need to justify it. Despite everything I just said, you don’t actually need a reason to be a vegan. It’s completely unfair and bad-mannered that people ask vegans why they are vegans. If you get tired of justifying it – and you will – simply start telling all those nosy probers that it’s a personal choice. Then ask them why they eat what they eat and see how they respond.
5. Learn how to cook. If you have a lot of money and can afford to get all of your meals from the tasty little vegan restaurant down the street, fine. Ignore this point. For the rest of you, listen up. This is quite crucial. If you don’t know how to cook, you’re going to have to learn. Vegans cannot eat microwave dinners. They cannot eat a lot of things, actually. Which means that the only way to sustain a vegan lifestyle is to educate yourself on the workings of your kitchen. Buy a vegan cookbook, flip to the glossary and painstakingly begin to study the terminology. There will be ingredients and methods and tools that you’ve never heard of, and it’s bound to get ugly for a while. But eventually, as with everything, the dawn will break. Just like that, you won’t have to eat only salads anymore. It will be rewarding and enlightening and beautiful.
6. Buy a cooler. Most people in this world are completely and utterly unaware of how to cook for a vegan. Here’s a conversation that you can expect to have time and time again:
“I made you _________ without the meat!”
“Is there cheese in it?”
So invest in a cooler and learn to bring a few backup meals everywhere you go. You’ll look a bit silly but at least you won’t go hungry.
7. Expect to make mistakes. Here’s another personal anecdote. About two months into veganism, I purchased some spinach and artichoke dip. I brought it home, opened up a box of crackers, and polished off the entire container. Licked it clean. Moments later, as I was washing the remnants of the dip from my hands and face, my wife beckoned me from out on the balcony. Turns out, the dip wasn’t vegan. Not at all, in fact. It contained both cream and eggs, and they were both the primary ingredients. So, lesson number one: never trust food that’s too creamy. If it’s that good, it’s probably not vegan. Always read labels to be sure. Lesson number two: don’t beat yourself up if you fail. On this particular occasion, I sobbed. I’m not forgiving of failure and I took this circumstance as a sign that I wasn’t fit to be a part of the vegan community any longer. But the truth is, it really doesn’t matter. There is no vegan world title. So shake it off and forgive yourself.
8. Go easy on the soy. This is actually quite a serious issue that I’m surprised isn’t discussed more often on the worldwide web. Soy is a staple in many vegan diets. It’s the main ingredient in tofu, soy milk (obviously), and many vegan meat substitutes. Soy has a lot of nutritional value for vegans, most of all its high protein content. But don’t be fooled. It’s a hormone disrupting trickster. Soy contains a substance that activates estrogen receptors in the body. Ultimately, this process interferes with normal hormone regulation – a major danger for women and men alike. I could talk all day about the health effects this can have, including increased risk of breast cancer, but for the sake of time, I’ll say this: be careful of your soy consumption. Limit it wherever possible and find alternative sources of protein. Just trust me on this one.
9. Go easy on the beans. Maybe you’ve heard the old rhyme… “Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you….”
10. Take supplements. This is crucial. If you’re not currently taking any vitamins, start to incorporate them into your daily routine. If nothing else, you need to take iron and B12 supplements. I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years and at the onset of those years I became anemic (low in iron), so I’ve been popping an iron pill with breakfast for as long as I can remember. But B12 was new to me. I’d never taken it, nor did I know the importance of it. We used to receive B12 from fruits and veggies but, over time and as a result of ground pollution and overuse of the soil, nutrients that once existed naturally in the earth were stripped. Now, the only source of B12 is meat. Or pills. So if you’re going to succeed at not eating meat, you really don’t have much of an option.
11. Ask questions. Veganism is becoming more widely embraced throughout North America and this means that we have it way easier than vegans did fifty… even ten years ago. Nowadays, not only is there a wide variety of alternative protein sources, there’s also numerous online support groups available. And don’t let this scare you. In fact, let it uplift you! There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, so utilize it! There’s really no excuse to wonder or be confused about anything anymore because all the answers are out there. All you have to do is ask!
12. Don’t give up. Throughout my personal plant-based journey I’ve learned that the best way to resist temptation (which, it brings me great joy to add, eventually dissipates altogether), is to embrace the wonder of vegan junk food. When I hit the one-month mark of being vegan I nearly threw in the towel merely because I wanted ice cream so bad I thought my head would explode. Then, as if by fate, the universe introduced me to another vegan. I greeted her slowly for fear of startling her, and then asked the one question that had been weighing on my mind for 30 days. “What do you do when you want ice cream?” Her answer brought me to my knees.
“I go get some.”
Yes, folks. In nearly every grocery store in North America there is a vegan section. And in that vegan section there is plant-based ice cream and… wait for it… tofacon.
So, really… there’s no reason to give up.
Have more questions about veganism? Need a “sponsor” to offer support in times of temptation? Feel free to reach out!