I’ve had a few conversations recently where people have asked me how to go about switching to a vegan diet. I have also seen several requests inquiring the same on the vegan tag. Though I’m sure many of you who will find this through the tag are already vegan and don’t need my help, I wanted to write this post anyway!
These are my six commandments for going vegan, or basically a crash course in changing your diet.
1. Thou shall learn to cook. This is often the hardest thing for people who want to go vegan. It is nearly impossible to fully enjoy your veganism if you only eat frozen veggie burgers or “chicken” nuggets. You’ll feel deprived and unhealthy, and you’re more likely to go back to meat and/or dairy. If you can barely make toast, get the chef in your life (we all have one) to teach you how to boil some water and go from there. Buy a cookbook (I love Vegan on the Cheap for easy recipes) and Google any techniques or ingredients you don’t understand. I hate when people say, “I can’t cook!” No, silly, you just haven’t learned how yet. This is especially important if you still live with your parents. They may not want to change their entire cooking style for you. Be willing to cook for yourself.
2. Thou shall get enough protein. For long-time vegans, the protein-deprived vegan is a frustrating stereotype. But for newbies, it genuinely does present a danger. Many new vegans and vegetarians give up meat, dairy and eggs, and pick up carbs to fill their newfound hunger. This is a mistake- you’ll gain weight and feel sluggish. I generally recommend that during the first 2 weeks or so of a vegan diet, you should try to have a protein source at every single meal. There are two reasons for this: one, you sure won’t be protein deficient. And two, you’ll force yourself to find as many vegan protein sources possible. When you’ve been vegan a little longer, you can listen to your body and decide when you need to eat protein and when you don’t (a bowl of fruit for breakfast, perhaps), but in the beginning, make sure you’re not filling up on carbs in place of protein.
3. Thou shall read labels. There are some things you know aren’t vegan. And then there are others you may be unsure about. Always read labels, and Google is your new best friend.
4. Thou shall call ahead. Think if you go vegan, you’ll never be able to go out with your friends to dinner again? Wrong! Some places may be off the list, but chances are, there’s a few “safe” places you can dine. Don’t be afraid to call ahead or ask your server what they have available for you. Some of my favorite places with (good) vegan options are: Blue Coast Burritos, Moes, Chipotle (I like burritos, okay?), Pei Wei, Red Robin, Which Wich, Subway, Ghengis Grill, any Mexican restaurant (hold the cheese and sour cream), Indian restaurants, Taco Bell, Mellow Mushroom, and even Papa Johns (hold the cheese- but Garlic Sauce IS vegan!).
5. Thou shall watch thine B6, B12, and Omega Fatty Acids. These are some nutrients that are more challenging to get without animal products. B vitamins are linked to cognitive abilities, so you definitely don’t want to be deficient here! I personally take a supplement, but study up and see what natural sources you can find, if that’s your kind of thing.
6. Thou shall not beat thine own self up over slip-ups or mistakes. No one, no matter what they try to tell you, is a perfect vegan. That person does not exist. We all partake, from time to time, in practices that contribute to animal cruelty. Sometimes it’s on accident- a misread or mislabeled package, an order gone wrong, etc. Sometimes it’s on purpose- continuing to use a hair product you know tests on animals, caving and eating something blatantly not vegan. These things happen, and you will do no good to yourself or the animals by beating yourself up over it. When (not if) these things happen to you, use them as a learning tool. How can you avoid this from happening next time? Additionally, if you are prone to disordered eating, do not let the restrictive nature of veganism push you over the edge. Veganism is all about preventing animal cruelty- and you are an animal. Make sure you treat yourself properly. For me personally, veganism helped calm my obsessive relationship with food by removing a lot of the guilt I associated with food and eating, but every one is different. Take care of yourself.
I hope this is helpful for anyone looking to change their diet! Let me know if I left anything out or if you have any questions. :)