After three decades as a vegetarian, this writer leapt into the vegan unknown.
Welcome to Vegan Club. Remember the first rule of Vegan Club is you absolutely must talk about Vegan Club.
So you’ve decided to take the great vegan leap and adopt a plant-based diet. We won’t go too much into why you’ve decided to become a vegan, but not only is it the healthy option; it’s good for the planet and much better for animals.
Adopting any new diet can be tricky. But planning and a few tips can be of great help. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to become, and stay, a vegan.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 8 years old. It wasn’t something I thought about very much, it had become second nature. I can just about remember eating meat but not really. I certainly don’t remember what it tastes like. Why did I become a vegetarian? I went with my mother to a butchers shop and saw a severed pig’s head on the counter and that was that for me. A couple of stand-offs at home and school and I never ate meat again.
I was helping out a friend at a conference he was running and a few people had mentioned a couple of documentaries about the dairy industry and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had become a vegetarian for various reasons and I realised that there was a disconnect between those reasons and by supporting the dairy industry by eating milk and cheese as well all the products that contain them. I decided rather than watch what were probably quite upsetting documentaries, I would just skip that stage and become a vegan.
Deciding to go vegan after about 30 years as a vegetarian, I thought it would be relatively easy as I was already not eating meat but I actually found it very difficult.
After so long without having to think about or plan what I was going to eat every day, it was jolting to have to think so much about my diet. I heavily relied on milk and cheese to fill certain parts of my dietary needs.
Food is a tricky thing. People seem to constantly under-estimate how difficult it is to change your diet. It’s not just a case of will power, your body will demand certain things from you, and no matter how much will power you have, you’ll eventually give in (and be miserable until you do).
There’s no rush
Changing diets is incredibly difficult! Initially, I just cut out the milk, cheese and eggs. But I almost immediately hit a bit of a wall. I was hungry and a bit miserable. Lots of meals were now not available and I wasn’t really happy with the replacement. Sometimes I would just miss out a meal. I was miserable at restaurants. This wasn’t working.
I needed a rethink.
Vegan at home
I decided to be as much of a vegan at home as I could. I would have the time and space at home when preparing my meals to see what worked for me and what didn’t. I stocked up the fridge and cupboards so I would have lots of foods to choose from and experiment with. I cut out eggs and milk. Cheese could wait for now.
For a few months, I decided I was going to stick to what I would usually eat when I was eating out. It was one less thing to worry about and it meant I could wean myself away from milk, eggs and cheese at home first.
You don’t have to be perfect
Some vegans will probably (definitely) disagree with me about this but I think if you decided you want to cut out meat or dairy and you get 50% or 90% of the way there, you’re doing pretty well. You’re being healthier and you’re helping out the planet.
While in the end, I decided I didn’t have to rush in becoming a full 100% vegan, I did want to get there eventually. Here’s what I found.
Do research. Read about it, get a book or search for it online. There are lots of articles out there. One option is to join a vegan meetup or facebook group and meet up with other people for a vegan meal. You can do this as you are cutting your meat or dairy intake.
Habits take time
It takes time to establish new habits, and until you do, you may spend a bit more mental energy that you would otherwise. This extra mental energy can contribute to stress or anxiety. This is something to be aware of.
Over time though, you won’t have to think too much about every meal, what you can order in a restaurant and what your weekly shop looks like. It will get easier!
Exercise and bodybuilding
I wouldn’t say I’m quite a bodybuilder but I was going through a phase of exercising 5 or 6 days a week including 4 or 5 weight sessions. Being a non-meat eater was a challenge with finding enough protein as it was. I was using a whey powder protein powder (non-vegan) and with about a pint of milk, almost every day. What was I going to do?
I investigated vegan protein powders and selected an unflavoured pea- and rice-based powder. I say unflavoured because I didn’t choose the chocolate of vanilla flavouring. It definitely had a flavour though — it was disgusting! Really horrible stuff.
But I persevered with it. After all, I wasn’t eating it for the taste, it was to recover from the gym and build muscle.
The strangest thing happened. Within about a month, I looked forward to my post-workout vegan protein drink. The body and mind are fascinating. I think the body works out that what you’re consuming is good for it and combined with being famished after a workout, my mind got used to looking forward to it. It started to taste pretty good. But there a whole range of slightly sweetened and flavoured vegan protein drinks out there.
I decided to cut down the number of weight sessions I was doing. I found it was very easy to become fatigued if I exercised too much and was not eating enough protein. I eventually did a spreadsheet to make sure I was eating enough protein and getting enough calories. I then gradually upped my weight sessions again. I also looked into what supplements would help. I’m not talking steroids here but things like amino acids that your muscles need if you want them to grow.
I wasn’t looking forward to giving up milk. I had never really liked soya milk but I was to find there was a wide range of non-dairy milks available. Almond, hazelnut, oats, coconut and rice milk are all worth a try if soya milk isn’t for you.
I quickly got used to the alternatives. Now when I think of drinking milk, it makes me feel a little sick. It’s so fatty and well… just not very nice.
Top tip: I love hazelnut or coconut milk with my coffee. Give it a go.
To be honest I’ve never really liked eggs. It’s been years since I’ve eaten scrambled or boiled eggs. I would, however, eat things with eggs in. Mainly cake. This does limit your options but there are increasingly more and more vegan options available.
Cheese. Why would you give this up? It wasn’t easy. In fact, this was probably the most difficult thing of all to give up and it’s the only thing I miss from my old diet, even now. I also think it’s the hardest thing to replicate on a vegan diet. This vegan thinks vegan-cheeses just aren’t that good. After a while, I decided to stop trying to find a suitable cheese replacement and just live without vegan cheese.
I will say though, just recently I found the Violife vegan cheeses pretty good. They add a creaminess to meals that sometimes is just what you need.
Cheese was the last thing to go. I had a margarita pizza and afterwards, I felt… a bit sad really. I didn’t want to eat food like this anymore. It was time to move on. And that was that. That pizza was my last non-vegan meal — over two years ago.
I’m glad I became a vegan. I feel better and I’m healthier. I’ve reduced my impact on the planet and I’m not responsible for the cruelty we sadly subject animals to, often because it’s just cheaper to have terrible conditions for them.
I think the difficulty in becoming a vegan is the difficulty anyone faces in adopting a new diet. I don’t even think about it anymore.