So you’re thinking about — or are ready to explore and begin — a vegan diet and lifestyle. This article outlines some of the aspects to consider — and things to expect — before and during this new journey.
The Decision to Go Vegan
The reasons or justifications for adopting a plant-based diet are numerous. Maybe it’s due to a need or desire to improve your health. Perhaps you just want to lose weight. Maybe you cannot stand the thought of how animals raised for food are treated and want no part of it. Or maybe you’ve discovered the heavy toll raising animals for food takes on the environment.
Whatever the reason(s) for pursuing veganism, you’ve made the decision to give it a try. So here are some suggestions to consider as you get started:
- It’s always a good idea to conduct some research about veganism in order to gain reassurance that the diet will meet all of your nutritional requirements. (Rest assured, it will.)
- Familiarize yourself with plant-based foods and ingredients vs. animal-based foods and ingredients.
- Check out your local grocery stores and natural food stores to identify and try the variety of faux meats, non-dairy products, and vegetables and grains that you don’t normally eat — and may not have even known about before.
- Try new veg-friendly restaurants — or find veg*n options at your favorite restaurants.
- Consider taking a gradual vs. all-or-nothing approach for the transition to a veg*n diet; slowly eliminate red meat, then pork, then poultry, then fish, and finally, eggs and dairy.
Although it will initially require you to make some adjustments in your shopping, meal / food preparation, and dining out patterns, adopting a plant-based diet is just like any other new habit or behavior. At first it may feel a little uncomfortable, awkward or inconvenient. But once you stick with it for at least two or three weeks, it will begin to feel just as normal and comfortable as your old patterns once did.
The Ongoing Vegan Process
Okay, so you’ve made it past the first few weeks. By now your new shopping and purchasing habits have begun to move into an auto-pilot mode. Here are some additional suggestions for your ongoing transformation:
- Experiment with new and different recipes, spices, flavors, and food combinations.
- Try new grains, lentils, vegetables, fruits and other products available on the market and in restaurants (e.g., kale, bok choy, cous cous, quinoa, tahini, tofu).
- Conduct more research. And prepare yourself to discover some additional information about how many people treat animals, not just for food, but in other areas as well (e.g., for science, entertainment, sport, fashion).
- Based on your reactions to the additional research above, decide whether you’d like to take it all one step further to avoid various other forms of animal exploitation (such as rodeos, zoos, aquariums, races, rides, fur, down, wool, leather, honey, silk, products dependent upon animal experimentation, etc.
By now, you should be ready to expand upon this new adventure by exploring new restaurants, new cuisines, new products, and new ingredients — and inevitably starting to make new friends.
The Reactions to Veganism
So you’re the one making a change, deciding to make better choices for your diet and life. Great decision! But brace yourself. Because it’s often your friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors and even complete strangers who seem to have a problem with your decision NOT to do something anymore (consume animal products).
Even though it’s much more commonplace now, and much awareness has been raised about the benefits of a plant-based diet, people can still become defensive, angry, dismissive, belittling, non-supportive or downright hostile in their response to your new diet and lifestyle. Personal relationships can become strained or tested. You may need to establish stronger boundaries in order to navigate the challenges and potential landmines, particularly in co-habitation situations.
The good news is that you’ll begin to feel better physically not long after adopting a plant-based diet. Initially, you may experience some issues with acne or certain unusual bodily emissions (ahem). But this is because your body is detoxing from past unhealthy eating habits; it probably isn’t accustomed to all of the fiber. Once you get through the initial transition (say, after one or two months), you’ll begin to feel more energetic. You’ll feel less aggressive / calmer and more relaxed. And you’ll lose some excess weight, and you won’t get sick as often (e.g., head colds, stomach flus). Your hair, skin and nails will also improve.
Potential Vegan Challenges Moving Forward
As you move forward on your vegan (or mainly vegan) journey, here are some other challenges you may encounter along the way:
- Finding something other than veggie burgers. It’s out there, but you may feel like you’ve gone on a treasure hunt in order to find it.
- Experiencing emotional reactions due to new knowledge, frustration, depression, sadness, hopelessness, anger, isolation, and guilt. It’s not easy to cope with these strong feelings. Seeing a therapist or joining a Meetup or other group of like-minded individuals may help you to work through these very valid and normal emotions.
- Obtaining acceptance from others, especially those closest to you. Again, setting boundaries (and honoring others’ boundaries) is important in order to maintain healthy, respectful relationships.
- Dealing with temptations, especially if you’re not making a change based on the desire to leave animals alone. If it feels like you’ve taken one step forward only to then take two steps back, try not to torture yourself too much if you decide to have a slice of turkey at Thanksgiving.
- Facing difficulty in being around others in situations where meat is served. Again, it will take some time; you may initially decide to avoid those situations if you truly cannot stand the sights or smells. But eventually, you’ll probably be able to find a way to compromise as you discover your personal comfort level. Maybe you decide to join friends or family for dessert after dinner.
Next Steps as a Vegan
As you continue down the plant-based path, here are some additional suggestions to help you become more comfortable and confident about your dietary decisions:
- Attend events, festivals and other health- and/or conscious-awareness types of events scheduled in your area.
- Expand your education and knowledge about the issues facing animals, human health and the planet.
- Volunteer, get involved, take action, join campaigns. Contribute financially to groups whose causes and efforts you would like to support.
- Help spread the word. Let others know about what you’ve discovered, and how you feel about making a positive change in your life. Try not to get too obnoxious about it. Respect others’ boundaries because some people just don’t want to know about it; they aren’t ready to discover more or think too much about it…yet.
- Have a solid plan for shopping, dining out, attending meat-laden events (like barbecues, county fairs, holiday dinners, sporting events). And learn to prepare more of your own meals at home.
- Carry your own emergency stash of snacks.
You’re not alone. There are millions of vegans and vegetarians who have gone or are going through the exact same challenges and experiences. And thankfully, there are dozens of organizations, websites, applications / tools and resources available online to help you answer questions and discover additional information about a plant-based diet.
Remember, this is an ongoing process and it’s not about being perfect. The Vegan Police probably won’t lock you up. And you won’t need to attend a 12-step program or surrender your 30-day abstinence chip if you somehow deviate from your original plant-based diet plans.
But every time that you choose to eat a veg*n meal instead of a meat-based one — even if it’s just once a week — you become part of the solution for a better planet. You also improve your personal health. And you prevent an animal from having to end up on a dinner plate.