Right now, being vegan is trendy. So many people are becoming aware of the falsities in the information that we have always believed regarding food, and people are starting to feel that being vegan would be very beneficial for them, and it would!
However, becoming vegan is not for the faint of heart. I did not do it overnight, and I don’t recall meeting anyone who has. When making such a bold decision about your diet, you must do so well-informed. If not, then the lifestyle change will not be sustainable for you. Three years into veganism, I attribute my ability to sustain the lifestyle to the fact that I transitioned SLOWLY. Very slowly.
I’ve already written a piece about how to sustain the lifestyle for those who are already newly vegan; however, I can’t forget about those who can’t even fathom how to begin doing such a thing. If “What The Health” scared the crap out of you but the thought of life without buffalo wings and cheeseburgers makes you want to cry, this is for you!
First thing’s first: don’t even THINK about going vegan if you don’t know the basics about eating healthy. Because you will end up being a very unhealthy vegan (yes, those exist; that’s a different post for a different day), or you will give up on veganism. Some vegans will tell you that as long as you’re doing what’s best for the animals that’s all that matters; however, after obtaining two degrees in nutrition, I must disagree. If you’re doing this for your health, there will still be pitfalls to avoid, even after you become vegan. The path to healthy veganism will basically be a purge of things that haven’t been beneficial all along, mixed with adopting new and improved habits. Let’s do it!
I’ll post the steps below, but the timeline is up to you. My timeline was three years because my journey happened very organically. The more I learned about food, the more I altered my diet; initially, being vegan wasn’t even my goal. Also, you may have already advanced past some of these steps, that’s fine! Just pick up where you are and keep going.
- Not so fast on fast food. Your body deserves quality meals. Stop sacrificing your health for cheap and easy. The preservatives used in fast food along with the high amounts of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar in those meals are not conducive for optimal health. Just say no. During this phase, you don’t have to give up any foods, you just can’t get them at the drive through. This is a big hurdle for some and will be a difficult habit to break if this is your weakness. But crossing this hurdle is a big success and will be very fundamental in your vegan journey.
- Cook more often. Since you won’t be eating out as much, you will need to get comfortable with grocery shopping, preparing meals, and planning ahead since stopping by the drive through will not be an option. In this stage, you still don’t have to remove any food groups from your diet. However, you should incorporate plenty of vegetables into your meals, and as you shop, you should focus on healthier food options by avoiding microwavable meals, boxed meal components (easy mac, instant potatoes, etc.), and other high sugar and sodium items such as sodas, chips, and processed meats (deli meats, breakfast meats, hot dogs, jerky, etc.). As you advance on this journey and continue to learn about most of the foods on which the Western diet depends, you’ll realize that most packaged snacks and meals contain harmful ingredients in addition to excessive amounts of sugar and sodium. The goal in this step is three-fold: to step away from high sugar/high sodium foods, to learn how to cook real meals using fresh ingredients, and to learn how to make time for healthy meals by choosing health over convenience. This is a critical step that will be very eye-opening for some; however, this step will lay a great foundation for veganism.
- This is the fun step (well, one of many)! Remove beef and pork from your diet. Beef and pork have the highest fat content of all commonly consumed meats. Removing these first will leave you with meat options while getting you into the habit of abstaining from certain foods.
- Next up is fried foods and sweets. This step was great for me and very beneficial in my vegan journey even before I intended to go vegan. Not only did I lose 15 pounds in this stage, but I also learned how to maintain my dietary habits in social settings. After I went vegan, people would ask me how I was able to resist certain foods. However, by the time I went vegan, I was used to resisting! For instance: by this step, if I went to an outing that served fried chicken, cake, and hamburgers, I already did not eat any of those foods and would therefore turn them down. So being vegan wasn’t a big deal in social settings for me because I wasn’t eating quite a few unhealthy foods before.
- Well hello there, “flexitarian”! Your transition is going great! In this step, you reduce your meat consumption, eating meat infrequently while transitioning to vegetarianism. Feel free to do it slowly! Start off by eating one meatless meal per day, and alternate which meal. Once you get good at that, you can have meatless days. For instance, you may decide to only eat meat on Tuesdays and Thursdays or on the weekends. Continue with the reduction in meat consumption until you reduce it to once per week. This step may take the longest, and that’s fine.
- When you take it this slowly, it’s not so bad; you’re a vegetarian now! After eating meat only once per week, you forgot which day you were supposed to eat it and you’re accustomed to meatless options for each meal and for snacks. Good job! While in this stage, slowly dwindle your reliance on eggs and dairy in your meals, and incorporate substitutes like non dairy milk. *FUN FACT* I planned on staying vegetarian until I found out that cheese is basically congealed puss cells from cows. When I thought about it like that, I was done and never looked back (lol)!
- In your final step to becoming vegan, you’ll eliminate dairy and eggs from your diet and will have fully transitioned. This can be the hardest step for some, and is the reason many vegetarians do not wish to become vegan. However, if you incorporate vegan meals during step 6, you should not have much of a problem.
These seven steps are very easy for some and very difficult for others. However, not only is it possible, but it is also very rewarding! I know that I did not mention substituting meat for fake meats much, you can find out why here. Personally, my vegan journey was a health journey before it was a vegan journey. Therefore, I am an advocate of learning what’s best for your body overall.
Even after three years of being vegan, my diet is still evolving. On my transition to becoming vegan, I drank water only (not even juice!), I ate nothing that contained sugar as an ingredient (cookies, ice cream, candy, etc.), I ate no fried foods, and that was before I even cut out meat and dairy! After I became vegan, I’d eat fried foods again (french fries, fried okra) and I started eating sugar sweetened foods again (vegan ice cream, dark chocolate, etc.). But I’m learning how to strictly limit those foods as I can see that they do have an effect on my body. I’m continuously listening to my body to see what foods make me feel the best, and that’s what I encourage you to do as well! It’s a great day to be vegan with so many plant-based alternatives for traditionally animal based foods (there’s vegan cream cheese, ranch dressing, ice cream, mayonnaise, etc.). Some of these substitutes taste great and work well in recipes! However, the main focus should be consuming more healthful foods overall, not replacing all of your animal based foods with plant based versions. It is very possible to rely on fruits, grains, and vegetables for the majority of your nutrition, so take these steps and find out for yourself!
Best of luck on your journey :). Comment which step you started on, and feel free to reach out with questions as well.
Wishing You Much Love and Veggieness,