How to Go Vegan and Make it Stick: Words of Wisdom
Making the decision to go 100% plant-based and expecting an easy ride can pave the way for a reality check. Irrespective of your motivations for cutting out animal products entirely, doing so comes with certain challenges.
Of course, the benefits and rewards associated with growing plant-based massively augment any hiccups encountered along the way. This is the kind of switch you only make once, after which the prospect of switching back is completely off the table.
On both a practical and emotional level, flipping the switch and cutting yourself off from all animal products is not easy. It’s at this point that you realise just how many of the everyday staples (and even ingredients) you rely on contain animal-derived products of some kind.
The fact that many (if not most) beers and wines contain a form of gelatine made from the bladders of fish illustrates just how widespread the use of animal products really is.
Still, you would have to search long and hard to find anyone who can honestly say that going vegan was a mistake. The overwhelming majority of people who follow plant-based lifestyles genuinely could not imagine doing anything else.
In addition, those who have successfully made the switch can be the ultimate resources of helpful information. Sourced from those who know plant-based lifestyles better than most, these are the eight tips and insights you will need to go and stay permanently plant-based:
1. Wean yourself away from animal products gradually
For some, going ‘cold turkey’ and cutting out animal products overnight is the way to go. For everyone else - i.e. the majority of people - it is much easier to make it a gradual process.
For example, you could cut animal products out of your diet one day at a time. You make Monday 100% plant-based, then a week later you add Wednesday, then Friday and so on. Slowly but surely, work towards a week that is completely plant-based, giving yourself time to adjust as you do so.
Adopting this approach will give you plenty of time to work out which kinds of substitutes you can use to continue making your favourite dishes, without using animal products. Shifting to veganism too quickly has the potential to be overwhelming, making it more difficult to maintain.
2. Make the most of transitional foods
By transitional foods, we mean the kind of stuff that’s designed to replicate meat and animal-based products as faithfully as possible. They may raise eyebrows with some vegans, but can nonetheless be fantastic for eliminating meat without the whole thing becoming a chore.
Some of those who follow plant-based lifestyles disagree with the idea of anything that condones the use of animal products. They believe that by making vegan foods that look, smell, taste and feel like meat, it defeats the purpose of going vegan.
Nevertheless, choosing these products instead of animal products still qualifies as going plant-based. They’re also infinitely better for the environment, significantly better for your health and an absolute godsend during those initial times of weakness you’ll almost certainly encounter.
3. Get adventurous in the kitchen
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that going plant-based immediately means limiting yourself to a scarce few recipes of no real joy. It’s actually quite the opposite, as it’s not until you go vegan that you realise just how much incredible cuisine there is to explore.
Particularly when you set your sights further afield, the scope for incredible international recipes to try out at home is huge. From India to Asia to South America and elsewhere, cultures spanning vast swathes of the entire planet live predominantly or exclusively plant-based lifestyles.
If the British take on plant-based dishes doesn’t inspire you, there’s a whole world of inspiration to be found elsewhere. Treat yourself to a few shiny-new cookbooks if you like, but you’ll find everything you could ever want online for free.
4. Be open minded with vegan ingredients
You will undoubtedly encounter a few vegan recipes along the way that raise one or both of your eyebrows. All seems to be a pretty standard dish, until you’re told to take the weird-looking brine from a tin of chickpeas and whip it up like egg whites.
This is one of many examples of the kinds of vegan hacks you’ll come across, which although odd at first turn out to be absolute lifesavers. Open-mindedness is therefore important, as you won’t know just how great they work until you try them out for yourself.
If in doubt, think back to when you still ate eggs and consider for a moment where they come from. Still think vegan ingredients are weird?
5. Focus on intake of key nutrients
Let’s get one thing straight - it is perfectly possible to eat a plant-based diet that includes all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs. However, nutritionists often recommend the use of calcium, iron and vitamin B12 supplements - particularly when making the switch to a plant-based diet in the first place.
Each of the above can be found in abundance in a wide variety of vegan foods and ingredients. It’s a common misconception that there is insufficient iron in plants, when there’s actually plenty of it in lentils, chickpeas, cashews, tofu, hemp seeds, spinach, dried apricots, raisins, quinoa - the list is endless.
Nevertheless, striking the right balance takes time, during which supplementation could help keep you energised and feeling great.
6. Reduce the risk of succumbing to temptation
If you worry you might stray back to the dark side in a moment of weakness, do what you can to reduce the risk of succumbing to temptation. This means stocking up on all the gorgeous plant-based snacks, sweets, desserts and goodies you can, so there’s always something within reach when the mood takes you.
In addition, people who follow plant-based lifestyles often advise batch cooking - particularly during those early days. If you’ve a fridge and freezer full of super-delicious meals you can heat up in minutes, you’ll always have something healthy available when you don’t have time to cook.
Just for the record, takeout food is by no means off the cards. In fact, treating yourself with the occasional (or regular) indulgence is more than justified when making such a major positive lifestyle adjustment.
7. Don’t take ‘mistakes’ too seriously
Sooner or later, you will almost certainly eat something that contains animal-based ingredients by accident. It’s also just as likely that it won’t be an accident at all - you’ll willingly and happily eat or drink something you know you probably shouldn’t.
When this happens, there are two ways you can respond. One option is to beat yourself up inside, feel guilty as hell and dwell on the whole thing indefinitely. The other is to pretend it never happened and move on.
Only one of these approaches will help you, and it isn’t the former of the two. Mistakes happen, as do moments of weakness and temptation. The worst thing you can do when dealing with such an occurrence is to make a big deal of it. Doing so will not help your progression to a plant-based diet, and even the best of us slip up from time to time anyway.
8. Keep reminding yourself why you’re doing this
Lastly, nobody makes the decision to go 100% plant-based without a reason for doing so in mind. You do not simply wake up one morning and decide to cut out animal products entirely, having previously consumed them as a major part of your lifestyle.
Instead, almost everyone who makes the decision to go vegan has a specific motivation for doing so. For some, it’s about looking after their health and wellbeing. For others, it’s all about animal welfare and doing the right thing for the planet. Either way, it’s something that’s important enough to you to trigger a major lifestyle adjustment.
This motivation is something that should be revisited and considered on a regular basis. Particularly if you find yourself struggling or dealing with temptation, it is essential to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. Motivation holds the key to making positive lifestyle changes stick, so keep in mind why you made the decision in the first place.
The initial transition to a plant-based lifestyle can be challenging, but should never be interpreted as a punishment.
To go vegan is to do something fantastic for your health, your wellbeing and the world you live it. The same also applies to adopting a vegetarian lifestyle - anything that cuts out or drastically reduces the consumption of animal-based products can only be a good thing.
If it’s recommended by environmentalists, conservationists, nutritionists and scientists, it’s probably something more people should be thinking about doing!