Vegan’s not just a buzzword: The idea for living without harming others has been around for centuries, and if you finally feel like your time to join the crowd of compassionate hearts, who care about other creatures AND the planet, I congratulate you!
I also hope that if you are a long-term vegan this article can provide some great reminders and a good resource to share with friends who might be looking into this lifestyle.
Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle can seem really daunting, but…
…often the idea of a big lifestyle change is a lot scarier than actually doing it.
If you focus on making one change at a time the progression to veganism will feel quite natural. It’s important to go at your own pace and to decide on a method that works best for you.
Here are the 18 most useful tips I found to help you make a smooth transition to compassionate living
1. Learn as much as you can.
Before you can approach a vegan diet with full confidence and the best chances for success, it’s a great idea to educate yourself on why you’re considering a vegan diet. Don’t do it in the name of a fad, but instead, learn the benefits behind the lifestyle and how others out there have done it too. Watch some inspirational movies that show the benefits of a plant-based diet and the reality of what eating animals actually entails. Some favorite picks include Food Inc., Vegucated, Hungry for a Change, and Earthlings to start. These will open your eyes, motivate you to change, and get you excited about a vegan diet, which is key to success and a healthy diet.
2. Go at your own pace.
Victoria Moran, author of the book Main Street Vegan recommends removing one kind of animal from your diet at a time (“chicken and eggs are a great place to start”); being “vegan at home” to better control your food; or trying “vegetarian for now” and continuing to eat eggs and dairy. Even Mark Bittman’s “vegan before six” could help with transition. Andre Kroecher of Daiya Foods suggests, “Start with the one thing you consume the most and substitute it with the vegan version,” such as almond milk for whole milk. Jenné Claiborne,The Nourishing Vegan advises: “Crowd out less healthy, or non-vegan foods with a yummy vegan addition. For example, have a green smoothie before your usual breakfast, or some fruit before an afternoon cookie. By eating the plant-based food first you won’t have as much room for other stuff, and you’ll develop a taste for the healthier option.”
Others go vegan cold turkey, and if you are an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person – by all means approach it like that! Make sure you check out the other tips before you do this, though!
3. If you want, start quietly.
It might be easier to become a vegan if you can avoid questions or scrutiny from others. “Don’t announce what you are doing; focus on yourself and being conscious of your surroundings, body, and food addictions first,” says longtime vegan John Salley, a four-time NBA champion and a partner of Vegan Vine wines. “Be still and strong in your ability to control your own life.”
4. Find a vegan support group.
Once you begin your vegan diet, “you’ll need someone to rant to about how many times a day you get asked where you get your protein,” says Jill Wiseman, co-founder of e-commerce site Vegan Cuts. Whether your support lives next door or is through a Facebook page, you’ll widen your world of vegan-friendly products, recipes, and restaurants. If you don’t know where to look, Crystal Tate of Food for Lovers recommends 30 Day Vegan Challenge: “[The] daily tips and videos hold your hand through grocery shopping, dining out, and trying new recipes.”
In order to maintain a healthy vegan diet, it’s important to become proficient at reading food nutrition labels so you can shop with confidence. The first thing to tell yourself when you pick a packaged food from the shelf is, “Skip the marketing and go right for the facts.” Phrases like, “All Natural,” “Sugar Free,” “Low Fat,” and “Gluten Free” are marketing ploys to convince you to buy something without reading the nutrition facts.
Go straight to the ingredient list to first make sure it has no animal products or bi-products. Second, ask yourself, “Is the first ingredient one that I want to put in my body? What about the second and third?” Generally, the fewer ingredients the healthier the item is. Look for whole food ingredients like “dates” or “sesame seeds.” If you can’t even pronounce an ingredient or it sounds like a chemistry experiment, chances are it’s not good for you! If the ingredients pass the test, you can take a look at the serving size (very important), calories, fat, sugar, sodium, and protein content, keeping in mind that not all calories are created equal.
6. Stay stocked with vegan staples.
Come up with a list of staple ingredients, super foods, and healthy snacks to keep your kitchen stocked at all times so that you never get into the common, “I’m starving and don’t have anything healthy to eat” situation. Shakes and smoothies are a great go-to snack, so keep ingredients for your favorite recipes on hand, such as plant-based milk, berries (frozen is fine), dates, hemp seeds, flax meal, and spinach. Fresh fruit, leafy greens, raw veggies, hummus, nut butter, and quinoa are also great staples to consider for healthy, quick, simple snacks and meals.
7. If cooking at home, give yourself extra time to cook,
particularly at the beginning. For most people, designing meals 100% around vegetables is going to be a completely foreign concept, and one that requires planning and extra time in the kitchen, even for a seasoned pro.
8. Focus on vegetables (and fruits).
“Many who claim to be vegetarian or vegan are really starch-atarians filling meat voids with pasta, fries, bread,” and other non-plant substitutes, says Ashayla Patterson of the bakery Sweet Artique. Try to eat more healthy, whole foods to give your body the vital nutrients and antioxidants it needs.
9. Focus on the Basics
Remember that eating a vegan diet doesn’t have to be hard. Just start with the basics when it comes to your first few batches of meals. As an example, for breakfast you could have oatmeal with some almond milk, cinnamon, and chopped fruit or coconut yogurt. For lunch, I suggest picking several meals you can make and keep in the fridge to grab and go like soups and salads. Great snack ideas include an ounce of raw almonds or walnuts, along with sliced fruits and vegetables. Dinner could be a pan of roasted root veggies with seasonings, alongside a batch of quinoa, mushrooms, garlic, and kale. Remember that sometimes the basic ingredients end up tasting the best so don’t get too fancy unless you just want to. When in doubt, you can always make a smoothie and keep things interesting. They’re a great way to fill in the gaps and keep things creative, not to mention delicious!
10. Use Leftovers For Lunches
For lunch, “leftovers are really the easiest,” Hamshaw said. If possible, you can make sufficient food in the evening for dinner to have remains for the next day’s lunch. “But you can freeze almost anything,” Hamshaw said. “Make the whole serving, and freeze the half in an individual serving bags – and you’ll have instant lunches and dinners the next time you need one in a pinch.”
11. Make Sure To Batch Cook
Correspondingly, Hamshaw inspires her clients to cook in batch, or to pick a day of the week and spend a good time in the kitchen preparing good food for the week. Then, Hamshaw said, “you’ll be able to put together quick, easy bowls during the week using different combinations of these ingredients. Plus, with this strategy, you won’t be facing a fridge full of unprepared vegetables I ate on Wednesday night, when your imagination and dynamism levels may not be high.”
12. Use Dressings For Instant Taste Variety
“Dressings are type of my little secret weapon for dodging food boredom,” She recommended. “Then, you can put these on the very same rice or beans, and that will change the dish taste different, she said. Using a assorted of dressings is a good way to take the base ingredients but it make it and taste differently,” Hamshaw said.
13. Experiment with new favorite foods.
Vegan versions of your beloved recipes will inevitably have different tastes and textures from what you are used to. Instead create other go-tos, or try to incorporate similar flavors in new dishes. “I began experimenting with ‘transition foods’ to help quell the cravings for cheese and dairy,” says Bechter. “When I realized that I could still make some of my favorite recipes with non-dairy alternatives, like pizza, macaroni & cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches, it became easier for me to cut out the dairy habit.”
14. If you’re going on a road trip, pack food with you.
In fact, have snacks and emergency rations available to you at all times. It’s not that you’ll get hungrier as a vegan, it’s just that on the off-chance that you do end up missing lunch or forgetting it at home, your options as a vegan on the road or in unfamiliar territory are not good. Some fresh fruit, a good salad, or even trail mix can be a life saver in those situations.
15. You can still eat out.
Even fast-food places are starting to offer vegan options on their menus. In select restaurants, Mexican chain Chipotle serves Sofritas, a shredded, organic tofu cooked with chipotle chiles and roasted poblanos. National chain Tropical Smoothie Cafe will substitute plant-based protein Beyond Meat (which shreds up like cooked chicken) in all salads and sandwiches at no extra cost. New York-based chain Fresh & Co., which also serves the “Vegan ‘Unchicken‘” says that items with it are among the most popular on its menu and even meat-eaters are opting for it. You can find other choices on this comprehensive list.
16. Try more ethnic foods.
Whether you’re eating out or cooking at home, be adventurous. Moran says, “Asian cuisines have tantalizing plant-based options originating from the spread of Buddhism.” She also likes Italian pastas; Ethiopian lentil stews; satisfying and spicy Indian curries; and Mexican veggie tacos, fajitas or burritos (“just hold the cheese”).
17. Take a B-12 supplement.
B-12 is the one nutrient that a modern, plant-based diet inherently lacks. B-12 is formed from a bacteria found in soil. We used to get enough of the vitamin by simply handling vegetables we grew from gardens before our land was stripped of its nutrients. Now, however, with the pressure washing and sanitizing process we perform on plants, we don’t have easy access to B-12 except through supplements. Luckily it’s easy to get all the B-12 you need with an inexpensive supplement. Many vegan foods, such as nut milks, are also fortified with B-12, among other important nutrients. It’s best to include a supplement in your routine though, to be safe.
18. So you messed up. Don’t sweat it.
Again, the key to being a successful vegan is to live the lifestyle as much as is reasonably possible. There may be some who disagree with me on this, but if you’ve just realized that you accidentally ate some butter or that the curry you just tasted had fish sauce in it, don’t kill yourself.
Every little bit counts. Whether you go vegetarian, vegan, or simply cut down your consumption of animal products, you’re taking a step in the right direction. Don’t let yourself get caught up in trying to label yourself based on your diet.
Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed. Adopting a vegan lifestyle isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is a learning curve. Take your time, expect some mistakes, learn from them, and move on!
Dea is passionate about pursuing gentle, pure living in all its forms. She’s a veg and fruit foodie, who loves to explore the healing properties of plant-based foods and then fully indulge in their sun-filled taste. She believes that “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”