So you have thought and thought about it. Now you have decided to pull the trigger; however, you are unsure if you can fully commit to what seems to be a daunting task. Maybe you want to improve your health by eliminating meat and dairy from your diet. Perhaps your love for animals has caused you to lay down your leather accessories and scrutinize your cosmetics more closely. Or maybe you are concerned about the moaning and utterances Mother Earth seems to express on a consistent basis.
Despite the path that led you to this decision, the end result is the same. You have made a powerful and life-altering decision. Any choice that is as weighty as this one will bring difficulty, uncertainty, and obstacles. It is my desire to eliminate as many potential stumbling blocks as I possibly can for you during this journey. With that being said, here are my top 5 tips to help you transition into a vegan diet.
1. Take Baby Steps
When I became vegan, it was totally by accident. Through a process of elimination, I was attempting to heal my extremely sick body. After leaning, gleaning, and learning all I could about the healing power of foods, I had inadvertently eliminated everything from my diet except fruit and veggies.
It did not happen overnight, but it did happen. The reason I did not eliminate all the things at once from my diet is that I did not know to do so. As I learned better, I did better. Because of my personal experience, I feel this is an effective way to transition. I eliminated one food group at a time from my diet while giving myself plenty of time to adjust to the new change. I continued to study and learn more about my condition which eventually led to more elimination and before long, I looked up and I was vegan.
For example, instead of giving up all meat at once, try giving up red meat. Then move on to pork. After you've been successful at that, give up seafood, turkey, and then chicken, and so on and so forth. Even if it takes you 3 months, 6 months, or 9 months to give it all up, it's YOUR journey and no one can tell you how long it will take you to get there.
2. Swap Your Staples
One of the easiest things to do when transitioning into veganism is to change out your pantry staples. Initially, I suggest that you purchase these items store-bought if you are already buying your animal-based staples. However, I highly suggest that you began to make your own later in your journey. Not only will it save you dollars, but it will also save you calories and potential health issues.
For example: swap your milk for a plant-based alternative. As with anything, you WILL come across a brand or a type that you do not like, and that is perfectly fine. Remember, this is a journey. Start with unsweetened almond milk, as it is one of the most neutral flavored plant milks. Soy milk is good for baking and coconut milk lends itself well to making things creamy. Oat milk, to me, is perfect for all lattes whether they are made with coffee or matcha.
Swap your regular butter for vegan butter. My favorites are Country Crock, Myoko's, and Earth Balance. Then, of course, there is the mayonnaise and I am quite fond of Hellman's and Follow Your Heart. While these items are easy to obtain, they are not easy on the wallet. And because they have to be shelf stable, they are packed with unnecessary fillers, sodium, chemicals, and sugars. Making your own vegan butter, vegan mayo and plant-based milk give you more control over your ingredients and over your budget.
3. Veganize Your Favorite Meals First
Do not throw out all of your favorite foods, and then start peering around your kitchen in confusion saying, "What now?" Choose a couple of your favorite dishes or dinner staples and veganize them before completely making the change. A word of advice, when veganizing your meals, do not look for exact replication of texture and taste. There is NO completely healthy plant-based meal that will taste exactly like its S.A.D original. I feel I have to repeat that for the people in the back. If a dish is completely healthy, meaning whole-food plant-based, it will NOT taste like its animal-based counterpart.
If you don't mind swapping processed animal cheeses for processed plant-based cheese, you may come pretty close. If you are ok replacing actual meat with fake plant-based or artificial meats, you may be able to fool your family. However, if you are looking to change your health by avoiding processed, lab-grown, sugar-filled, chemical products, your veganized version will NOT taste the same.
For example, a cauliflower wing will NOT taste like a hot wing. Do not let anyone tell you differently. An oyster mushroom, although very delicious, will NOT taste just like chicken. It will come darn close, but not exact. It will be fulfilling, but NOT a dead ringer.
4. Have Patience. (It may take more than one try).
Have patience with yourself and show yourself grace. Veganism may not take the first time. LOL! At the beginning of my journey, I remember listening to countless stories of vegan converts who boasted of going vegan overnight. I listened to podcasts of vegans who saw a documentary, visited a zoo, lost a pet, had an epiphany, and transitioned in 24 hours. They all stated they had not eaten a single piece of meat since their transition, some of which were 3, 6, and even 12 years. I, on the other hand, had successfully transitioned to veganism for 3 years, and guess what? I had a moment of weakness. Yep. A Kentucky Fried Chicken 2-piece mixed original with mashed potatoes and gravy was my downfall.
This may be your story. You may go 90 days as a vegan and then out of nowhere, stop by Burger King for a bacon whopper with extra cheese and extra bacon. You are human as am I. And as humans, we're doing this thing called life. In it, we will make missteps. We will falter, we will stumble, and sometimes, we will fall. The key is to remember your why. "Why did I start this journey." Your "why" will keep you when the "what" is not working.
5. Eat More of the Foods You Already Love That Are Vegan
Did you know apples are vegan, as are strawberries, pecans, spinach, and basil? Well, add a bit of Romaine lettuce to that, drizzle on a fruit-flavored vinegarette, and voila...you have a delicious salad. Did you know rice is vegan, red beans, bell peppers, and onions? Add some seasonings, and now you have a delicious red beans and rice dinner. Chances are, you are already eating many foods that are vegan, the issue is, you have not had to pay attention to them. Now practice implementing more of those foods into your current diet before you start experimenting. Keep eating your orzo, fettuccini, elbow, and penne noodles before you start branching out to quinoa, freekeh, farro, or buckwheat.
A bonus tip would be to consider meat as your side and not the star of the plate. What does that mean? When thinking of dinner, do not choose the meat and then ask, "What am I going to cook with this meat?" Choose your vegetable first and ask, "What am I going to cook with this vegetable? When preparing your plate, do not allow the meat to be the largest portion. A non-starchy vegetable should occupy up at least 50% of your plate, a healthy fat should occupy 25%, and a protein source should round at the meal as the remaining 25%.
Whatever your journey looks like, remember it's unique to you. Remember the ebbs and flows are what personalize it. Do not compare your journey to someone else's and despite how long it took you to get there or the number of detours you encountered. As long you as arrive at your destination, it will be worth the distance traveled.