Embarking on a plant-based diet can seem very daunting and overwhelming at first. Something that seems like a simple switcheroo of ingredients will prove to be more than just removing meat from your diet. I wanted to share some tips that I have given to clients when transitioning to eating fully plant-based. This list is not exhaustive, so you’ll definitely be learning more along the way, but these 8 tips on going vegan will help you get jump-started and feel more confident in your process.
Set small goals
Start with goals small enough that you know you can accomplish them. Going cold turkey works for a select few, but doing it slowly and steadily may be your best bet. The first step I tell my clients is to not change anything, but go out and buy a vegan cookbook or look up some vegan recipes that are similar to food that you already eat and learn how to make them. Make them weekly or regularly as an addition to your regular menu.
As you become more familiar with making the few dishes, it will be easier to learn more recipes. Having that base of foods you already know you like and know how to make will really aid you in the future for when you slowly peel off the animal product layers: red meat, chicken, fish and seafood, milk, and cheese products. When you’re ready for this step, try doing one of the previously mentioned a week, i.e. week 1- red meat, week 2- chicken.
Start quietly if you want
You don’t have to make a big announcement to the world that you’re going vegan. This can cause a lot more frustration in the beginning with naysayers debating with you and breaking down your foundation before you are even able to build up. It may be easier to just avoid questions and scrutiny overall.
Take some time, even if it’s just a few days, to really hone in on your own surroundings, body, and attachments to food. During this calm time you can educate yourself further on your why and other commonly asked questions before the storm of potential conversations comes.
Learn, learn, learn
I really emphasize learning in this process. Learning about this way of eating is essential for those who want to make as smooth a transition as possible. Many people are going to ask you about where you get protein, B12, calcium, and iron. Learn which supplements are the most important for vegans and why.
You may even have this question yourself. There are tons of resources online (check out Nutrition Facts, Forks Over Knives, and The Vegan RD). You may also want to learn about how to identify whether or not items at the grocery store are vegan! Some are not explicitly labeled “vegan,” but fit the label of plant-based!
Know your why
Take this time to learn about all aspects of veganism. There’s a trifecta of reasons to go plant based: for health, for the environment, and for the animals. Documentaries such as Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy, and Earthlings are great to start with and quite comprehensive. Forks over Knives and Cowspiracy can both be found on Netflix.
Have conversations with people who are vegan and see why they became vegan and how. Knowing your why when getting started will be important for you to last through the challenging times. You don’t have to feel aligned to all aspects of veganism, but just choose one that means the most to you.
Don’t worry about getting enough protein
Many still worry about having enough protein while switching to a plant-based diet. It’s okay if that’s you! Most of us have been taught from when we could remember that protein is very very important and we need to prioritize it. Protein is important for sure, but doesn’t have to be as stressful as many believe.
You can find protein in all foods, in different amounts. As long as you are getting enough calories for your body (you may want to work with a dietitian if you are not sure), eating a variety of foods with a variety of colors, you will get enough protein. Protein is barely a problem in the United States with 97% of Americans getting more than enough protein. In fact, vegans and vegetarians were actually found to consume more than 70% more protein than they need everyday.
Make sure you eat enough & eat balanced meals
To avoid the common pitfalls of switching to a plant based diet, learn (here’s that L word again) about how to build a balanced meal. You don’t have to make it 100% perfect each meal, just make sure the majority of meals you are eating have a variety of food groups. Additionally, be sure to eat enough food.
You may want to track a regular day of eating non-vegan before you start switching over. This isn’t for a weight loss goal or to control what you’re eating, but more so you are aware of what your body is used to having in terms of energy. This is useful when switching over to a plant-based diet.
Plants are generally less calorically dense than animal products, meaning you’d need to eat more bites of food to get the same amount of energy. Feeling weak, tired, and sluggish after switching to a plant-based diet is common among people who just remove meat from their diet. A simple fix is going back into your food tracker for a couple of days and tracking what you’re eating to make sure you get about the same amount of energy until you get used to the feeling and the portions.
You can still be social!
In cultures across the world and across thousands of years, food has been at the heart of gatherings. So, it may be surprising to others that your diet has changed drastically. If it’s a dinner party, try bringing a delicious dish everyone can share (not just a salad). This way you can feel included during the meal and so that everyone else can try your dish.
If the host insists on making food, perhaps have a conversation with them about your new diet and offer to bring ingredients or recipes for your plant-based meal. If you are going out to eat with others, PETA has created a guide for chain restaurants and you can also look at the menu and call the restaurant beforehand to see what you can eat.
Remember that the gathering is about the people, not the food. If someone brings up veganism, you may not feel comfortable with debating the topic right there. Offer to meet with them over coffee or tea (or a phone call) another day to discuss any concerns. It’s all about etiquette, staying firm in your stance, and being kind to others.
Go easy on yourself
Lastly, I think it’s important to be gentle with yourself. I’ve never met anyone who decided to go vegan and never ate animal products afterward. There will be slip ups, mistakes, and misreading labels. Everyone does it and it is human.
Transitioning to a fully-plant based diet is not a straight line process. Strive for progress, not perfection. When you accidentally take a bite of the burger thinking it’s a Beyond burger, forgive yourself. Take it as a lesson to be more vigilant, and move on. The most notable lessons are ones learned through trial and error. Try to see the mistake as a great lesson!