I have been vegan for almost three years. For some, that means I am a meatless wizard filled with omnivorous wisdom and willpower while for others I'm just a rookie. Amateur or not, I have been asked multiple times how I do it. I admit going from full-blown meat eater to strict vegan was not easy. These tips are for everyone who has ever wondered how vegans stay vegan, for everyone who has ever considered going vegan and for everyone who thinks vegans are crazy hippie people and are just reading this blog to write a snarky remark in the comment section:
Tip 1: Don't Go Cold Turkey (Pun Intended)
Just like any other life-altering decision, going vegan overnight is unrealistic. If you are a carnivore with no dietary restrictions at all, try a 4-6 week program where you take one thing out of your diet per week. Start with red meat, then the next week poultry, the next week fish, the next week dairy and so on. If you need more than a week or even a month for each phase, then take it. If you are vegetarian, start with cheese, then milk, then honey. Don't try to be a superhero, and most importantly, you must be patient with yourself. There's a probationary period similar to the first three months at a new job where you need to train and be trained before you can decide if this is something you can handle for the long haul. Otherwise, you'll end up like I did two months into going pure vegan overnight, relapsing at a concert and eating an entire double cheese pizza only to wake up in the middle of the night sweating, dry heaving and thinking I was going to die. It's not worth it. Take your time, go at your own pace.
Tip 2: Study Your Vitamins
Yes, you do need protein, and calcium, and B12. Eat lentils and quinoa, the perfect vegan protein. Eat almonds and dark leafy greens jam-packed with calcium. As for B12, unless you grow your own vegetables and eat them straight out of the ground with the soil still intact, you need supplements. Some cereals and non-dairy milks are fortified with B12, but you can also get berry-flavored lozenges that taste like candy. Who doesn't want to eat candy every morning in order to get their vitamins?
Tip 3: Eat (Sort of) Healthy
Just because Oreos, Poptarts, Swedish Fish and Teddy Grahams are vegan doesn't mean you can only eat those things for breakfast, lunch and dinner and survive. These foods are just packed with sugar, hydrogenated oil and chemicals that couldn't be pronounced by a linguistics expert with a doctorate degree. Frozen vegan Pad Thai from Trader Joe's is also not something you can eat every day for dinner and expect to keep your metabolic levels at a reasonable state. No one is perfect, and everyone enjoys sweets and fried foods, but you can't have it for every meal. As a continuation of number two, you need to be aware of what you are eating and make sure you get all of your essential vitamins. It's going to take some studying and work. You're going to have to actually think about what you're eating (GASP! I know...) and sometimes you're going to go to a restaurant and not know what to order, and that leads me to...
Tip 4: Eating Out Doesn't Need to Be Difficult
If I can go to Morton's Steakhouse and eat a vegan dish, be satisfied, not have the servers upset with me and have everyone else at the table jealous of my vibrantly colored roasted vegetable platter, then no one should complain about not being able to find vegan options at non-vegan restaurants. Do not be afraid to ask for what you want. You are paying someone to feed you and restaurants are in the customer service business, so the least they can do is listen to your request and cook you a meal. Plus, I have found most servers and chefs appreciate the challenge to venture from their daily routine.
Tip 5: Switch It Up
I'll never forget the time I told my friend I was vegan and he said, "Oh! So you only eat nuts?" If I only ate nuts, I would go nuts. Being vegan doesn't mean you only eat one thing, or you only eat salads for every meal. In fact, you would be very surprised at all of the dishes you can easily "veganize" that were comfort foods from your carnivorous days. All you have to do is think of what you loved eating, take away the meat and add a grain, legume or vegetable.
And there you have the five most important tools to store in your going vegan tool chest. Besides of course patience for dealing with the typical questions such as: "Where do you get your protein?" "Don't you miss cheese?" "Aren't cows SUPPOSED to be milked?" Every vegetarian and vegan deals with the people who ask these questions differently. I choose to be patient, to educate without being condescending and to smile. This always results in me and the person I have spoken with walking away from the conversation feeling happy and positive. Veganism is not supposed to attract or radiate negativity, it is supposed to eliminate suffering and spread love and if you go into it with that attitude you will only succeed.
That is, until you realize your shampoo isn't vegan, your Guinness beer isn't vegan, your leather couch isn't vegan, and that warm wool coat? Not vegan. But tackling a holistic vegan lifestyle leads us back to number one. Baby steps.
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