6 tips for making the vegan transition

I’ve been vegan for almost 14 years and I have never once questioned the lifestyle. I first became vegetarian at the age of 13 (veganism came several years later) after watching a program on TV about factory farming, and I remember becoming a very determined kid. This was not a decision I took lightly, because I knew it affected the lives of animals that had no choice. Back then, I didn’t know many vegetarians and my parents struggled with what to feed me.

Today, the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” are no longer the foreign concepts they once were, and these plant-based diets are gaining more and more recognition for their health, environmental and social benefits.

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If you’re curious about the vegan lifestyle and you’re thinking about making the transition, I want to tell you straight-up that it isn’t about restriction or deprivation—you won’t be doomed to a life of lettuce and tofu. A vegan diet is abundant in wholesome, filling foods, as well as what I call transition foods that mimic the flavours you’re used to, like meat substitutes and vegan cheese. When I made the transition to veganism, there weren’t many vegan wonder brands like Gardein or Daiya or Coconut Bliss.

I’ve compiled six important tips that will (hopefully) help make your transition easier. Most importantly, though, think of it as an adventure, enjoy the discovery process, and allow yourself room for error.

1. Make a commitment.

Whether you decide to completely eliminate all animal products or just phase them out one at a time, the key is to think it through and make a firm choice. There are going to be situations where it is a challenge to avoid animal products, and if you’re still waffling on the idea and haven’t established boundaries, you aren’t likely to make it through.

2. Add on rather than take away.

Consider integrating vegan items into your diet one by one before eliminating all animals products. Finding a brand of non-dairy milk or vegan cheese that you really like can be a trial-and-error process. If you completely change your diet overnight and spend a lot of money on products you don’t like, you’ll likely end up frustrated and may give up altogether. Take your time! If you make just a few positive food choices each week, you have done something worthwhile.

3. Focus on variety.

I can’t stress this enough. If you start out by eating salads and smoothies for most meals, with the same set of ingredients, you are going to get bored—quickly. Buy a cookbook or find a blog or website you like. There is a never-ending universe of vegan recipe websites that can provide ideas on how to cook vegan-style, and you will probably be shocked by the amazing variety of choices. A few of my favourites include Post Punk Kitchen, Oh She Glows, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, Vegan Yack Attack, Plant-Powered Kitchen and Vegan Culinary Crusade, or browse through my own recipe index.

4. Stock your pantry.

Keep basic staples on hand to make life easier. Things like bread, tortillas, beans, salsa, brown rice, oatmeal, peanut butter, and pasta are all vegan! Remember that meals don’t have to be complex. Fold beans and salsa into a wrap, or stir-fry a variety of veggies with tamari and serve with rice.

5. Plan ahead.

Making meals at home is easy if you have a well-stocked pantry, but what about eating out? Planning ahead is key to surviving difficult situations. Call restaurants ahead of time to see if they can accommodate you, or speak to your host and offer to bring a vegan dish to the party. Always keep granola bars, trail mix or dried fruit in your purse or backpack for snacks while you’re out.

6. Join a community!

Getting in touch with other vegans is a great way to gain support, learn insider tips and tricks, and stay motivated. Remember, you’re not alone! If you’re facing a challenge, chances are someone else has already gone through it and you can learn from their experiences. Most large cities have established vegetarian groups—the Toronto Vegetarian Association, for example, is Toronto’s go-to resource for all veg. Find out what your community has to offer.

For those who have already gone vegan, how did you do it? Gradually? All at once? Please share your tips in the comments section below so that others can learn from your experience!

      

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10 Responses to “6 tips for making the vegan transition”

  1. A.P. — June 5, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    This article pretty much sums it up. I transitioned ( I am still transitioning) and there is no deadline in that. I may go two months without any animal products but if I’m in an unexpected social situation, or really strapped for time and money I will break for ONE vegetarian treat – beating myself up for intentionally breaking was driving me crazy because whenever I did, it made me not want to be a strict vegetarian at all. So rather than go insane trying to live up to the vegan label, I am content with my best in my journey so far. So for anyone getting heat from other self-righteous, all-or-nothing type of vegans, don’t let them bother you. While It’s very important to make a real effort for animals, take your time doing the best you can. I tried to go full-vegan overnight but I only lasted 4 days!

    I went pescatarian w/o milk, but after watching Earthlings, I cut the shrimp & tuna out, then eggs, then… still working on cheese. I’ve cut down for the most part but the cravings come back and the only thing that hits the spot is Daiya’s wedges, but i can’t buy them all the time, so I end cheating with Kraft Dinner. I am just speaking honestly because I know there are people in a similar situation with their transitioning. But as my cooking progresses those cravings do not come on as often.

    A Tip: I’m finding it easier to eat vegan by not concentrating so much on how your food is lacking whatever animal product. If it’s plant-based, YES, it’s going to taste slightly different. Different doesn’t always mean bad, but you have to acknowledge the flavours based on where they derived from. In other words, while most of us can taste the difference in vegan desserts from traditional ones (or in my case, real cheese sauce from the nut/soy-based ones), I don’t think it’s fair to choose between them: they are both good but the vegan one is made being in-line with your values.

    As time goes on, more and more people will see eating and creating food that is made using ground provisions a great way to help ease much suffering in the world, and by being a living example of that… we make it look “normal” which is the best part. I hoped that helped

    • Nicole — June 6, 2013 @ 11:23 am

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, A.P. I believe we are all on our own journeys, and so it may take some of us more time to make the transition. I like your tip about not concentrating on what a plant-based diet is lacking, but rather, thinking of it as a lifestyle that is aligned with your values. Thanks for that!

  2. Vegan — June 5, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    In my experience, it is FAR easier to stay vegan by eliminating all animal products AND NEVER eating them again.
    By continuing to eat cheese, milk, fish or whatever on an occasional basis, the cravings never end. You never really establish a firm boundary and you never practice setting personal limits and maintaining those limits. One of the most gratifying experiences — at least for me personally — is knowing that I can maintain my beliefs / boundaries.

    It sometimes requires planning on my part. If I am going out with non-vegans, that means I might have to eat something in advance so that I’m not ravenously hungry at an event (in case there is no vegan accommodation – or if the “vegan” food isn’t really vegan); I may have to pack my own food; I may not eat anything. No matter what, I WILL be ok. Also, it is an opportunity to discuss and educate others. I usually feel very gratified by the experience.

    I cannot imagine “dabbling” in veganism. It seems like a frustrating experience. Trust me, it’s far easier to just eliminate. Cravings change IF you allow your body enough time. It’s like salt consumption. If you over-salt your food, everything tastes bland. But after a few weeks of not adding salt, the body adjusts. However, if you keep adding small/moderate amounts of salt to your diet while trying to eliminate added salt, your body and taste buds continue to crave salt.

    • Nicole — June 6, 2013 @ 11:26 am

      You make a good point about cravings, and it is true that our bodies adapt to changes in our food choices. Dairy, and in particular cheese, has been known to cause strong cravings so I can see why eliminating them altogether would help make things easier. So yes, planning ahead and setting boundaries are key! Thanks for your insight.

  3. Andrea @ Vibrant Wellness Journal — June 5, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    I LOVE the redesign, I think it is truly lovely. It’s a great place to highlight your recipes and your words. aloha, Andrea

    • Nicole — June 6, 2013 @ 11:26 am

      Thank you so much, Andrea! :)

  4. veganlisa — June 5, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

    Fantastic post Nicole!

    • Nicole — June 6, 2013 @ 11:27 am

      Thank you :)

  5. Kelly @ Vegan Iowan — June 25, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    I went vegan cold turkey (no pun intended). Once I learned about factory farming, there was no turning back. Your tips to stock your pantry and plan ahead were crucial for me – I felt so clueless and uncreative in the beginning, and I needed the tools and plans to help me succeed at my fingertips.

    • Nicole — June 26, 2013 @ 10:19 am

      Thanks for your comment, Kelly! I’m glad to hear you succeeded with the proper tools and plans. Stocking your pantry and planning ahead makes this so much easier.

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