When my vegan journey started in 2013, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do first. A lot of blogs and YouTube channels sharing tips for going vegan didn’t exist back then. So I did my best researching the subject of how to go vegan, making a few mistakes along the way and learning from them.
I’ve learned so much from my experience of going vegan that today I’d like to share what I’ve learned, and give you the exact step-by-step tips on how to become a vegan and stick with it long-term.
While there are lots of benefits of being vegan, too often I see that people who decided to go vegan experience a number of difficulties, especially at first.
Regardless what brought you on the vegan path – compassion for animals, environmental concerns, search for better health – you should know that you’ve made a noble choice, and starting on a journey towards going vegan will only get easier with time.
It’s easy to get confused in your initial research about the vegan diet and lifestyle. Internet is full of contradicting information.
The reaction of friends and family might be less than approving. Settling into a new shopping and cooking routine can challenge even the most determined types.
However, your transition will go more smoothly if you keep your eyes on the big picture.
A SIDE NOTE: While I love guiding people towards a vegan lifestyle, I acknowledge that I’m not a trained nutrition professional.
If you’d like to have a real vegan nutritionist to “show you the ropes” of going vegan in a healthy and sustainable way, check out the Vegan Starter Kit created by a certified vegan nutritionist.
This starter kit is chock-full of information you’ll need to successfully transition towards a vegan lifestyle. Plus, it comes with an e-cookbook with 40+ delicious plant-based recipes, a dietician-approved 14-day meal plan, a restaurant guide, printable cheat sheets, and much more!
WANT TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF? Check it out and sign up over here.
What You Need to Know Before Going Vegan
1. There is a difference between the notions of ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’. Vegans aim to ‘do no harm’, or as little harm as possible, to all living beings. Diet-wise, they’ll eat anything that doesn’t contain animal products, no matter how healthy or unhealthy.
Plant-based folks may or may not care about animal welfare, but they definitely care about how the food they eat impacts their health. The goal is to eat as much whole, minimally processed plant-based foods as possible.
You may have heard all kinds of miraculous stories about people going vegan and becoming healthier, losing weight, etc. This is a bit of a misnomer – people in those stories go plant-based, not vegan.
It’s possible for a person to be both plant-based AND vegan though if they care about their health and the animals.
Learn about other mistakes people make when going vegan, and see what you can do to avoid them.
2. Vegan food goes beyond boring salads, fake meats, and veganized versions of animal-based foods from Standard American Diet. With so much whole foods available at any grocery store, you can plan your diet without having to resort to processed vegan foods from the store.
New horizons will open to you as you discover delicious cuisines from all over the world. I’ve never been to an Indian restaurant before I went vegan, and now I’m a huge fan of Indian food!
3. There will be challenges on your vegan journey, especially when going out to eat, traveling, visiting family, etc.
(Going out to eat with your vegan kids? Check out my vegan parents’ guide for eating out with kids.)
The good thing to expect: it gets easier. The best thing to do: make a plan. Call the restaurant ahead of time (don’t just check their menu online) and ask them if they can accommodate you.
Bring vegan snacks with you when traveling – fruit, nuts, vegan granola bars, or my chickpea salad sandwich recipe (pictured above) that’s become my husband’s favorite sandwich to bring with us when we travel.
See more tips on how to travel as a vegan, both domestically and internationally.
When visiting family, tell your relatives that you’re OK with cooking something quick for yourself in their kitchen – that will take some stress off of you and the host.
4. If you’re a parent, you’ll need to decide: Do you want to go on your vegan journey by yourself, or would you like your kids (and your significant other) to join you?
Of course, that decision will ultimately be up to them. Please avoid forcing anyone into veganism – that never ends well.
(I sometimes suspect that all the angry anti-vegan commenters on the internet have gone through that.)
Now comes the part aimed at people who are thinking about how to go vegan RIGHT NOW, and are wondering about where to start.
Below are the tips I wish someone had given me when I first switched to a plant-based/vegan diet – they would have saved me a lot of missteps and confusion. Luckily for you, I’ve learned from those missteps, and now you have my blog to help you on your vegan journey 🙂
First Steps on Your Vegan Journey
1. Watch a few lectures on YouTube
YouTube can be a great resource to find more info on how (and why) to go vegan and to avoid making mistakes. From fighting for animal rights and environment to living an everyday life as a vegan, everyone can find a vegan or plant-based YouTuber to their taste.
You can find great lectures on YouTube by renowned plant-based diet researchers and doctors, such as John McDougall, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Neal Barnard, Michael Greger, Milton Mills and others (just enter one of the names in the search field).
Early on in my vegan journey, I found their lectures very helpful to get answers and rebuttals to all those health-related questions and theories every vegan is too familiar with. Humans are carnivores! Where do you get your protein as a vegan?! But what about vitamin B12?!
Yep, all that stuff.
One note: beware people without any scientific credentials who talk about important health-related subjects!
Off YouTube: check out Michael Greger’s informative site, NutritionFacts.org, where he puts up a short video about various aspects of nutrition almost every day, and you can do a convenient search of his past videos using a very helpful system of tags.
Here’s what I found out about my health after six years of being vegan.
2. Go to Pinterest
Our diet is the biggest part of your day to day life that will need to change when you decide to go vegan. Immediately after making the switch, you may find yourself wondering, “Okay… What do I make for dinner TONIGHT?!”
In the near future you will discover lots of amazing vegan recipes, but today, Pinterest can be a great place to start searching for them.
This website is the best place to find tons of vegan and plant-based recipes, discover amazing vegan food blogs, and see a picture of every recipe you find.
It’s true that Pinterest has more pins in English than any other language, but other languages are represented too. I’ve searched for recipes in Russian (my first language) and found quite a few.
Pinterest proved to be incredibly helpful to me when I first went vegan – in fact, so helpful that for the first month of our plant-based vegan journey I made a new recipe EVERY DAY, only repeating once or twice!
I’m still making a few dishes from those days every now and then (see my Pinterest picks here). Verdict: Pinterest is a great way to discover new, delicious dishes when you’re just starting out.
3. Try it out for a week.
If you want to see what your day-to-day diet is going to look like as a vegan, try using a pre-made vegan meal plan for a week.
This free one-week meal plan has been developed by a vegan nutritionist. It’s based around simple and healthy plant-based bowls that make great lunches and dinners.
What I like about it: this meal plan teaches us how to make a variety of simple plant-based meal components, and put them together to create different meals with entirely new flavor combinations.
Besides the recipes, this meal plan includes nutritional information, ideas for leftover lunches, a grocery shopping list, vegan transition tips, and a Sunday meal prep guide.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s free? Go over here to download your copy.
4. Go to a nearby bookstore and look for vegan cookbooks
The abundance of vegan cookbooks on the market today is enough to make your head spin. But I find that some of them are more user-friendly than others.
Here are a few of my tips for finding a cookbook that you’ll surely use over and over.
Look at the layout of each book and the common ingredients in a few recipes. Is the layout convenient enough (the way the recipes are grouped, clear marking of breakfast-lunch-dinner recipes, allergy information, etc.) ? Can the ingredients be found easily in your local grocery store?
If you answer ‘no’ to both of these questions, move on to the next book. You aren’t likely to be using books that confuse you with their layout, or make you run around your town in search of exotic ingredients.
Here’s my post about 5 user-friendly vegan cookbooks that I’ve had in heavy rotation in my own kitchen for years.
When it comes to purchasing vegan cookbooks, I’m all for buying them at small, independently owned book stores. But if you aren’t comfortable with book store prices, find them for less on Amazon, in used book stores, or even at TJMaxx,
5. Stock your pantry right
Okay, you don’t have to undertake an epic, one-time grocery shopping spree to buy lots of healthy, plant-based foods and fill up every drawer in your kitchen – it’s no problem if you take your time with that.
What exactly do you need to buy? See my list of 10 plant-based pantry staples that will help you make countless delicious and healthy vegan meals.
6. Find your vegan community
In case you begin feeling lonely on your vegan journey, look for vegan groups, both online and offline. Internet is now available almost anywhere – so is Facebook, MeetUp.com, etc.
Facebook has lots of groups and pages dedicated to various aspects of vegan diet and lifestyle ( I update Vegan Runner Eats’ Facebook page with interesting info I find all over the web, as well as link recipes and posts from this blog).
MeetUp.com and other sites may help you find a local group of like-minded people – who wouldn’t like a chance to make new friends?
If you’re looking for additional tips for going vegan, see Leo Babauta’s even more detailed Loving Guide to Going Vegan.
And now, a message that might be the most important at the beginning of your vegan journey:
If you slip up, please don’t think that everything is ruined forever. It’s not. Just get up and keep going in the right direction.
In fact, a lot of people go through a transition period on their path to being fully vegan, and it’s OK as long as you remember the exact reason that led you to start your vegan journey (your health, compassion for animals, reducing your carbon footprint, etc.).
Let’s strive to be the best versions of ourselves – ditching animal-based foods and going vegan can be a good start!
Photo credits: image #4 – Christin Hume, image #5 – Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash.
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