Tips for New Vegans
Listen on the Go!
The new year usually comes with new goals, new resolutions and new promises to ourselves. It seems to be an almost universal fact that with the transition of a year, a season, after a birthday, etc., we feel motivated to check back, evaluate and especially change. For me, a few years ago, this meant finally taking slow steps to being vegan. Little did I know that just 17 days into the process I would have made it all the way and have never looked back since. You see, I think we all have this very strong belief that it will be difficult, challenging, scary, that it will have many ups and downs, and that can be true, but it doesn't have to be.
What I actually experienced as that the hardest part was actually jumping on the wagon, I had to be motivated enough to finally say I was going to give it a real try, and then start. Once I decided, once I put a date on the calendar and told my husband I was going to give it a real try, the actual "eating and living vegan" part just flowed. It flowed because I followed the two steps I always tell people to start with, when they want to give veganism a try:
Step 1: Arm yourself with knowledge as to the "why"
Why are you going to make such a change? Why is this change important and urgent in this planet, why are so many doctors and nutritionists recommending this dietary change, why does it have such a profound impact on the world we live in? What actually happens (with animals, our environment, our health), when we turn a blind eye and keep eating animal products?
Step 2: Go all in
Make the decision to try it, set a date in your calendar, tell someone so you're accountable and give it a try. Go into it like when you decide to try out a new hobby you're really excited about, only instead of buying the best surfing classes and the coolest new surf board, buy some great books on veganism, join an online program or course, get any tools you might need, get a great recipe book that sounds interesting, organize your kitchen and fill it with delicious vegan foods that excite you. Don't go into it without this sense of excitement over something new. Motivation and the way you approach a big change is EVERYTHING! If you go into it already ready to fail, unmotivated and second guessing everything at every step, guess what will happen?
These are two very important steps I feel are essential before going vegan, but what are some tips for new vegans that will actually help you along the way while you're making all these changes? That's what today's post is all about, and I'm also including a video we did recently for our friends at Vegan Outreach that will also help a ton.
I'm giving you my favorite tips for going vegan, not based on what most people recommend, or what experts say you should do when approaching a new way of eating. These are the tips that helped me personally. The little things that took me all the way to vegan, and especially the ones that helped me stay there.
Ready?! Let's do this thang!
Tip number 10: Knowledge is power
Buy a book, join a program, read your favorite vegan blog, it's so important to be informed. Getting optimal nutrition, learning how to build a balanced plate, understanding why this change is so important, knowing some basics on how to answer people's questions when they ask. All of these are important, but even more so, it helped me (the only vegan I knew) to not feel alone, to understand there were other people like me out there that had the same questions, concerns and motivation.
People always ask me what resources I recommend for new vegans, so I made a little vegan resource library with all my favorites that you can check back with at any time to see what's new. It includes everything from plant based friendly doctor directories, vegan nutritionists, vegan dietitians, awesome nutritional information, my favorite books, cookbooks, podcasts, online programs and courses and so much more. You can access it by clicking the button below!
** If you're a member of our online program My Brownble, click here to access **
Tip number 9: Look for some delicious recipes
There are so many cookbooks, youtube channels, recipe blogs and resources out there that you can now find a recipe for practically every single dish you loved before going vegan. Do a little hunting and try one new recipe a week. In fact, just browsing and reading recipes helps you a ton with ideas on how to assemble vegan dishes.
Tip number 8: Go to a health food store
Although many vegan products are now available in regular supermarkets, the health food store is basically vegan Nirvana. I remember reading my first vegan cookbooks and having no idea where to find nutritional yeast, tempeh, quinoa, chia seeds, almond milk, not to mention vegan cheeses and meats which are really useful when you're making the transition to being vegan. The health food store also carries many more natural versions of traditional products, in their whole food forms, with less additives and preservatives, and it's also a great place to shop for cruelty free beauty products and cleaning supplies.
Although this was one of my biggest helpers when I first went vegan, I can tell you that you'll soon be creating so many delicious vegan dishes with the simple staples you find at your regular local store, so if you don't live near a health food store, you can still have a delicious and balanced vegan diet. Shopping online for anything your local store doesn't carry is also really helpful.
Tip number 7: Use happycow.net and find vegan stores and restaurants in your area
This website is what I consider one of the pillars of veganism! It sounds funny but it's SO helpful! You can browse restaurants in your area that offer vegan friendly options, 100% vegan restaurants, health food stores and specialty vegan stores or markets. Use it, browse it and go and dine at a vegan or veg-friendly restaurant. It will help you so much during your transition to see that there are so many options out there.
Be a little detective and keep your eye out for vegan dishes at non-vegan restaurants, see what dishes at your old-time favorite dining spots can be made vegan by taking out an ingredient or making some simple substitutions.
Trust me when I tell you that your dining out life will still be alive, well, and especially delicious as a vegan.
Tip number 6: Surround yourself with support
Being the only vegan in your family or group of friends can be a little overwhelming at first. It puts the focus on you slightly, especially when you're eating with friends or family. People will ask you tons of questions, make comments, tell you why they've chosen not to eat this way, tell you that they really don't eat that much meat to begin with, tell you why it's natures way to eat animals, tell you that you're going against family traditions... I could go on and on... but the truth is, those jokes, comments and concerns belong to them, not you. It's normal for other people to have these questions if they haven't done the research you've done, if they haven't gone through the process you've gone through.
For me, the social aspects of being vegan took more getting used to than the actual diet because I was simply not prepared for them. I had no idea people where going to suddenly have such personal reactions to the way I ate. Rest assured that it passes, and it passes sooner the more confident you are about your choice (more on that below), and it passes sooner when you surround yourself with support. How do you do that if you don't know any other vegans? Listen to podcasts (here's ours!) or join an online program or course to find community (don't forget to check out our library with the buttons above or at the end of the post for our favorites), find a vegan meet up group near your area through meetup.com, or join forums or communities online. Although there are many facebook groups out there, and you might find one that you love, I've found that some aren't monitored closely and people's comments can range from uninformed to extreme. My favorite way to find community online is to do it in the comments section of your favorite vegan blogs, where many people like you are looking to support each other, and there's the watchful eye of the blogger hanging around to fill in the blanks when you need help. Of course this is always the case below in the comments! I love answering all of your questions and giving you support, as do all of our readers. Support is essential when you're going vegan, and it can come through a podcast, a video, a youtube channel, a course you take locally or online, going to local vegan restaurants, shops or events and talking to people. It will help so much.
Tip number 5: Find your own way to transition
I'm sure you've heard many stories from vegans by now. Some started by leaving land animals off the table, some went vegetarian first but still ate dairy and eggs. Some removed an animal at a time and did it over a period of time until they were fully vegan. Some were vegan except for fish until they stopped eating that too. Some found it hard to give up eggs so they gave those up last. Some went cold turkey and made the shift over night. When I went vegan I first said I was going to simply be vegan at home and only eat animal products at restaurants. This transition phase lasted exactly 17 days, after which I committed to be fully vegan only for 1 month, "just to try it". One month turned into years and I've never looked back. You know yourself better than anyone. Make this transition in a way that makes you feel comfortable enough that you'll stick to it, but that also pushes you out of your comfort zone a little bit so you get the chance to see it isn't weird or scary. Once you hit your first milestone and you feel things are nice and comfy, keep moving forward until you're all the way there.
Tip number 4: Vitamin B-12 is a non-negotiable (and other nutrients you should be aware of)
Taking vitamin B-12 is completely essential for vegans. B-12 deficiency is serious and its effects can cause severe and permanent damage, which is why the first thing you should get as a vegan (next to some delicious nutritional yeast of course!) is a bottle of vitamin B-12 (here's my favorite resource on how to take it and how much each person needs).
Eating 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds daily will give you tremendous health benefits especially when it comes to omega 3 fatty acids. Many vegans I know, myself included, do a little additional supplementation of a DHA and EPA supplement two or three times a week during a few months of the year, just as a little failsafe, although a blood test will tell you if your DHA and EPA levels are ok with just the intake of flaxseeds.
If you receive little or no sun exposure during the winter months, checking your vitamin D levels (and supplementing when needed) is extremely helpful. Vitamin D deficiency is so common in this office and housebound day and age, both vegans and non-vegans alike can sometimes be a little short of this nutrient. Getting some sun is also awesome, and will boost your levels.
Lastly, make sure you're eating plenty of foods rich in iron (especially all my ladies out there) and zinc (especially for all my guys out there). We'll be discussing all these specific nutrients further in other posts and videos soon, and you have so many resources regarding supplements and nutrition in our resource library at the end of this post. Getting proper nutrition and regular blood work done will keep you healthy and happy and help you stay on your vegan journey while feeling your best. Win win!
Tip number 3: Focus on going vegan, not being a food superhero
Nowadays I hear people coming to me saying they tried being vegan once but they went back to eating meat because they were too tired, or they didn't feel well. When I ask what their diet was like, I hear stories of people who tried to be vegan, raw, gluten free, soy free, oil free, nut free, sugar free, caffeine free, processed food free, and yes this also always includes fun free, and enjoyment free, and playfulness free! They try to be food super heroes, start developing severe food fears and with that severe food restriction. Not good.
Being vegan means being vegan (unless you indeed have celiac disease, diabetes, an allergy to soy or another food). It means removing animal products from your diet. Start there. Stay there for a bit. Then you can experiment a little with what way of eating feels good to you or what your own health issues require. Many times you'll discover that all it took was removing animal products from the diet to help you feel your very best. By being too restrictive, you run the risk of being deficient in certain nutrients, not getting enough protein (yes protein is important no matter how many vegan bloggers have told you otherwise), not getting enough calories, feeling fatigued, feeling isolation or too much restriction. Don't be a food superhero. Start by removing animal products from your diet, and eating delicious whole fresh foods, experimenting with new yummy vegan products and finding your vegan sea legs.
Tip number 2: Remember you're the boss
You decide what your plate is going to look like. It can be a plate or bowl filled with different components, it can be veggies for breakfast, or breakfast for dinner, it can mean having vegan versions of familiar foods, or a completely different plate from what you used to eat. You're the boss and you decide.
Same goes for your choice of being vegan. No one, and I mean no one, has the right to make you feel bad about your choice to be vegan. They can make comments ´til all the cows come to farm sanctuary, but you're the boss when it comes to your plate and your way of eating. What would you say if someone started telling you that your choice of gym was a bad one, that your haircut wasn't the best one? You would probably laugh right? Your food is just as much a personal choice as any other you make in your life. Always remember you're the boss of you, and it will help you tremendously while you transition to being vegan.
Tip number 1: Go through this transition with total love, excitement, but especially confidence
The other day I was watching a new vegan documentary and I suddenly remembered what those first days of being vegan were like. I was filled with such excitement and little thrills, I was reading and watching stuff round the clock, I was scared but brave and it felt like a bulldozer had completely demolished all my pre-conceptions about food and animals and now I was building my views around food back up again while having so much fun. I was cooking more, experimenting with new foods.
I found myself thinking fondly of those days and how cool they were, I even laughed at all the mistakes I made, and loved the memory of them and how far I've come. I think it was because of starting off with this sense of love and excitement that I was able to stay vegan and enjoy the ride so much.
The only thing I didn't have was confidence.
At the very beginning I was apologetic, I felt I was putting people out, I would avoid going to certain events so the issue wouldn't come up, I lacked confidence and let me tell you now that the second I found it, EVERYTHING changed.
Starting off with confidence, and that comes with researching, with knowledge, with not taking yourself too seriously and especially with being yourself, will be amazingly helpful on your journey.
Have I mentioned I'm secretly jealous that you're discovering this new way of eating and living and get to try it out for the first time? I'm SO jealous... it's been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Kind of like that bride wanting to re-live her wedding day syndrome.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey, and don't forget to check out our resource library by clicking the button below for lots more support.
** If you're a member of our online program My Brownble, click here to access **
As promised, just in case you want some extra tips on video, you can watch my video with Vegan Outreach below on Tips for Transitioning to a Vegan Diet! Don't forget to ask me any questions or reach out for support in the comments below. I'm always hear for you.