5 Mistakes People Make When Going Vegan, and How to Avoid Them

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Another year, another crop of famous vegan influencers from YouTube and Instagram admitting that they’re no longer vegan. Whenever one more influencer makes a confession about parting ways with veganism, the media goes abuzz with heated discussions of whether or not it’s even possible to be vegan long-term.

Since I went vegan a little over six years ago, I’ve seen countless numbers of people get on and fall off the vegan bandwagon. I’ve observed the trends and made a few missteps of my own, and noticed that the majority of people who quit being vegan do so because of a few particular mistakes.

Even more, almost all of these mistakes often happen soon after we first make a switch, and too often they will lead to quitting.

Today I want to discuss five common mistakes people make when going vegan, and offer solutions to combat those.

5 mistakes people make when going vegan, and how to avoid making them in the first place.

Original image credit: Christopher Campbell via Unsplash

Just a side note: While I stand by what I’m saying below, I also admit that everyone has a right to make their own choices and decisions. If you truly believe that being vegan isn’t right for you for whatever reason, that’s your choice to make.

5 Mistakes People Make When Going Vegan

#1. Confusing “vegan” and “plant-based”.

Both vegan and plant-based diets have a lot in common, but the idea of veganism goes beyond just food.

Plant-based diet primarily focuses on eating as clean as possible for the purpose of improving one’s health. Whole, minimally processed plant-based foods can do wonders for our bodies, as witnessed by people from all walks of life.

As for veganism, its main focus is to do no harm (or as little harm as possible) to animals and all living beings. Vegans don’t just exclude all animal products from their diet – they also aim to buy animal product-free clothing and accessories, use bodycare products that haven’t been tested on animals, reduce their carbon footprint by recycling, shopping local, etc. to protect our planet and thus the habitat of all living beings we share it with.

Can a person following a plant-based diet also be vegan? Of course! I personally came to veganism through being plant-based first: I wanted to improve my athletic performance while training for a marathon, and over the years I embraced the ethical and environmental benefits of ditching animal products.

However, it’s important to understand the difference between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based”, as it is wrong to use them interchangeably.

When you hear yet another celebrity announce that they went vegan to stay skinny or lose weight, please know that most likely they are talking about going plant-based, unless they full-on ditch all non-food related animal products from their life as well.

Knowing the difference will prepare you for the time when that said celebrity announces later that they’re no longer vegan because being vegan is too hard, or it didn’t agree with their health, or they were only doing a “21 day vegan challenge”. If any of these reasons are brought up, that’s definitely because this person was plant-based, not vegan.

Fix this: Know the difference between “vegan” and “plant-based”, and decide how each of these terms apply to your life.

#2. Going too strict with your diet.

The number one thing you hear from the famous ex-vegan YouTubers or Instagrammers is that being vegan has ruined their health.

Whenever I come across yet another “I’m no longer vegan” announcement, I look at what that person’s diet looked like before they quit. And in absolute majority of cases, I find that their diet was way too restrictive.

If I had a dollar for every picture of cucumber juice breakfasts and raw smoothie dinners on their Instagram feed, and talks of their 10-day water fast “cleanses” on YouTube – well, I’d probably have enough dollars to retire by now 🙂

Jokes aside, human bodies need quality sustenance that can provide us with plenty of both nutrients AND calories. No one can maintain an overly restrictive, all-raw, fat-free, etc. diet long-term. No wonder so many juice-sipping, cleanse-obsessed ex-vegans feel much better after they eat a burger or two – their bodies have been craving some calories, starches and fats!

How to avoid common mistakes when going vegan
Image credit: Pablo Merchanmontes via Unsplash

Also, if you’ve read the #1 above, you can easily see that these people were in fact plant-based, not vegan. The moral reasoning of veganism makes it much harder to quit even when one’s health goes awry.

True vegans try to find a way to get better without resorting to eating animals again because it’s hard to look at a cow and say, “I used to care about your welfare, but I’ve been feeling lightheaded lately, so I’m going to eat you now.”

Fix this: Unless you have serious health-related reasons to avoid gluten, oil, starches, nuts, processed foods, occasional pints of vegan ice cream, etc. – don’t! As long as you eat a wide variety of plant-based and some processed foods with plenty of calories (and take vitamin B12 and D), you’ll be fine.

At the same time, I have to say that ultimately you do you. If you are truly convinced that vegan/plant-based diet is ruining your health, or if you’ve developed a serious health condition, talk to your doctor if possible, and make an educated choice about what to do next.

#3. Not having a plan.

I am an obsessed planner, but I understand that not everyone else is. That’s why I’m bringing this up.

Like everything in life, switching to a vegan lifestyle will be smoother if you map out a few important points before going all in.

Say, you’ve finally decided to go vegan. Think of the following:

– Where are you going to look for vegan recipes?

– What are you going to eat for dinner tonight, or for breakfast tomorrow morning?

– What are you going to pack for lunch at work?

– What do you eat for dinner when there’s not enough time to cook anything time-consuming?

– What are you going to do in social situations like going out to restaurants with friends, visiting family during the holidays, talking to skeptical people about your choice to go vegan, etc.?

– How do you go about shopping for non-food things like clothing, accessories, body care products, make-up, furniture, cars, etc.?

How to find solutions to 5 common mistakes people make when going vegan
Image credit: Annie Theby via Unsplash

Here are some posts from my blog that will help you find answers to the questions above:

– I have lots of vegan recipes here on the blog, but Pinterest is another great resource for finding vegan recipe inspiration.

– See my 5 vegan office lunch ideas to get some inspiration for healthy and portable vegan lunches that are perfect for work.

– To get ideas for easy plant-based meals that can be put together quickly on a busy day, check out my post with 10 quick and easy vegan meals.)

– If you’re just now considering a switch to vegan diet and lifestyle, see my post about taking first steps when going vegan in which I share tips on where to start, what to expect, and how to stick with it.

– In case you’re wondering about getting enough protein as a vegan, check out my post in which I answer every vegan’s favorite question – where do vegans get their protein?

– If you’re wondering how going vegan will affect your health long-term, check out my post in which I share what I found out about my health after six years of being vegan.

– If you’re still not sure about why you’d want to eliminate animal products from your diet, see my reasons to ditch meat and dairy, and how this change will resonate with your health.

5 common mistakes people make when going vegan
Image credit: Ben White via Unsplash

Fix this: Do your research before (or as soon as) you go vegan, and you’ll be way more likely to stick to it long-term.

#4. Not being sure about your “why”.

No matter how much information and reasons for going vegan we can find these days, some of them will resonate with us more than others.

However, some of those reasons may have less ground under them, and when things get tough, that ground may disappear completely, leaving us wondering why we went vegan in the first place.

Case in point. More and more celebrities have been announcing that they’ve gone vegan lately. While I think it’s great to get the attention of wider public to the subject of veganism, it can also backfire if and when said celebrities quit their vegan ways.

Those fans who went vegan after being inspired by their idols may find themselves lost. If this star is no longer vegan, why should they be?

Fix this: Look beyond fads and passing trends. Dig deeper to find true reasons for why being vegan resonates with you, and stick with them.

#5. Getting discouraged after a few setbacks.

In a perfect world, everyone who commits to go vegan will do it instantly and for good, never again getting tempted by bacon, cheese or butter. They’ll always have their reasons (see #4 above) and a perfectly set up plan (#3) in front of them to get through any tempting moments.

Newsflash: we don’t live in a perfect world. We real-life mortals are creatures of habit, and forming new vegan habits takes time.

If we’ve eaten animal products all our lives, then it’s totally normal to get a craving for some of those a week after we go vegan. Especially if we’re at a dinner party surrounded by our very non-vegan friends and family who are egging us on to surrender to those bacon-wrapped dates or a juicy steak. Especially if we’re hungry, and vegan offerings don’t go beyond a pile of shredded lettuce.

What’s important to keep in mind here is that giving in to temptations once or twice (or even a few times) after going vegan doesn’t mean that we’ve failed for good, and that our vegan days are over.

5 mistakes people make when first going vegan, plus how to prevent them
Image credit: Patrick Hendry via Unsplash

I’ll admit that when I first went vegan in May 2013, I was tempted to cheat on my diet quite a few times in the first months. Meat didn’t excite me that much anymore, but cheese, ice cream, and some of my favorite baked goods were a different story.

In those days I still identified with being plant-based for health much more than with being vegan. So yes, I gave in a few times. My thought process was, “I’m already very healthy, so an occasional piece of cheese or a non-vegan cupcake wouldn’t hurt, right?”

Eventually my cravings for non-vegan foods faded, or I found good vegan substitutions. At the same time, my views towards an animal product-free lifestyle evolved.

I no longer considered that it was all about me and my health, but rather I embraced the importance of animal product-free lifestyle for ethical and environmental reasons. Finally I was ready to truly consider myself a vegan.

Of course, our journeys will differ, and so will the ways we choose to deal with temptations for foods we used to love. However, we need to remember that nobody’s perfect, and that a setback or two (especially early on in our vegan journey) doesn’t equate failure. There’s always tomorrow to give this vegan thing another try.

Fix this: Learn from your mistakes, and try to do better next time.

Question for you: What other mistakes have you made (or almost made) when you first went vegan? Or, if you’re not vegan yet, – what are the reasons stopping you from making a switch?


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About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

10 Responses to 5 Mistakes People Make When Going Vegan, and How to Avoid Them

  1. Suzy says:

    Thank you Alina for this great post! You’re right. Two vegan blogs that I’ve followed for quite a while are suddenly promoting a meat-of-the-month or some such product. I was very surprised! I especially like that you differentiated between “vegan” and “plant-based.” I would have to say I’m 99% plant-based, basically for health reasons. I don’t like the fact that when the doctor asks what my diet is (and I say “plant-based”), they automatically check the “vegan” box. I try to tell them that there a philosophical aspect to veganism that not all plant-based eaters subscribe to. I try very hard to incorporate the “do no harm” into my everyday living, but I know I fall short in areas. That’s why I don’t feel I have the right to call myself a “vegan.” Your other points are spot on as well. When we travel we have difficulty finding plant-based all the time. We do our best. The same is true when we are invited to graduations, birthdays, etc. I will be the one to bring the plant-based dish, but I don’t expect my needs to be catered too. I just make the wisest choices that I can across the board. Again, thank you for this great post!

    • Hi Suzy! So glad to hear that this post resonated with you! I’ve gone back and forth between vegan and plant-based, especially early on, and I understand that each of us will figure out for themselves what works best. As long as we aren’t 100% stringent all the time, I think it’s all good!

    • Sharon B says:

      Hear, hear! I am also plant-based, 99.5% Vegan. What do we call us? …aspiring vegans?
      I used to be a “flexitarian” eating only organic, grass-fed, free-range, hoping the animals lived a good life at least. But, then I became even more compassionate and became plant-based.
      Now, I’ve been researching Veganism and plant-based eating like a mad-woman discovering so many new insights. Alina, mentions some great things here, especially supplementing w/ B12 and Vitamin D! There’s a great video on YouTube titled “Vegan Dies at 40 from Heart Attack!!!” that goes into detail about preventing deficiencies. Then, I also recommend checking out Viome, for distinguishing which veggies are best in supporting your microbiome.
      Thank you, Alina. Your posts are inspiring and super helpful.
      Have you seen H.O.P.E. yet?

      • Thank you Sharon! My road to veganism looked a lot like what you describe. I agree that we can successfully be both plant-based and vegan – in fact being mostly plant-based may be a good idea to be healthy as a vegan long-term. I just wish more people understood this – the vegan movement wouldn’t have to be under fire so much whenever another high-profile plant-based person quits.

  2. Sandy says:

    Great post, Alina.😺🐾❤🧡💛

  3. Love this. Very helpful. I’ve sent it to a mate who was discussing turning vegan on FB. This may help!

  4. May says:

    I quit dairy and eggs a few months back, and for a while I kept having dreams in which I mindlessly ate animal products and then remembered I wasn’t supposed to and felt bad. Fortunately I texted my veteran vegan friend to ask if that was normal, and she said yes! So… how normal IS that?

    • Hi May! Pretty sure that’s normal 🙂 I think I had something similar – I had dreams about cakes, ice cream, cheese, etc. That was before any decent vegan ice cream or cheese could be found on the market, so I was probably just missing that. Congratulations on your switch to being dairy and egg-free!

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