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So you’re becoming a vegan—congratulations! A vegan diet is life-changing in the best way, but there are some things you should definitely know about this big decision before you get too far in. Here are 10 tips that I learned first-hand when I switched to a plant-based diet.
1. Going Vegan is a (Slow) Process
Cutting all animal products out of your diet is not an easy thing to do, no matter what anyone says. It can be smart to make this change in steps. First, cut out meats. Second, dairy. And last, take out things like oils and fats. If you try to stop eating all these things at once, your body may freak out on you (which will make you give up and chow down on some chicken nuggets—speaking from experience here).
Another way to pace yourself into this new lifestyle is to slowly eat the non-vegan products left in your home, while only purchasing vegan things when you go to the store. This way, you won’t throw anything out, and the change isn’t so sudden.
2. Grocery Shopping is a Whole Different Ballgame
When you hit the aisles of your local store, you’re going to immediately find out that not many processed foods are vegan-friendly. A tip for grocery shopping as a vegan is to shop the outside walls. Think about it, the fresh produce, bakery, and “health-nut” sections are all on the outer walls of the store while the middle is filled with pre-packaged, processed foods that you most likely can’t eat. So, stick to the outsides as much as you can and you’ll find shopping way less frustrating.
When you do have to venture into the aisles in the middle, this app will be your best friend. You can scan barcodes of tons of different products, and the app will not only list the ingredients, but will also tell you which ingredients aren’t vegan. You’ll quickly be able to tell if that protein bar has eggs in it, or if it’s going to be your new morning staple.
4. Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep
Maybe the most shocking part about becoming vegan, for me, was the amount of cooking that goes into it. Because your diet is plant-based, and you don’t want to eat raw plants all the time, you’re going to be making most of your meals. Especially because there aren’t many vegan-friendly microwave dinners out there. So, I suggest meal planning like your life depends on it. Choose a day or two during the week when you have a couple hours of free time and make your meals for the next couple of days (or the week, if you want to freeze some of them).
5. Prepare Yourself for Social Situations
Here’s the thing: It’s going to be awkward. You’re going to have to interrogate the cashier when you order at fast-food restaurants. You’re going to have to learn to re-order and send things back to the kitchen. You’ve made this decision for yourself, and it’s your right to werk it. Just because you’re an herbivore now doesn’t mean you have to lose your spunk—get ready to stand up for yourself when ordering!
6. Understand That People Just Won’t Understand
Your friends, roommate(s), parents… everyone will be cracking jokes. “How can you not eat meat?” Yeah, get used to that one. When these questions come your way, learn to be the bigger person. It’s important for all of us to be friendly to those asking about our diet so that we don’t make a bad rep for ourselves (PETA’s already done a good enough job of that). But one way to avoid some of these comments is to just not make a big deal of your decision. Don’t mention it unless you have to.
7. When In Doubt, Watch a Documentary
You’re going to have days where all you want to do is grab some hot wings and ice cream and give up. Listen, there’s only one effective way to curb that desire: Watch those god-awful documentaries where people explain how bad animal products are for you, the animals, and the environment. Remind yourself why you made this choice in the first place. Grab a tub of coconut ice cream, bake up some cauliflower wings, press play on “Forks Over Knives,” and be a dang vegan. You CAN do this.
8. Find Three Staple Restaurants
This is especially important for fast-food restaurants. Sit-down restaurants will usually always have something for you to eat, even if it’s just a salad. But when a group of your friends wants to hit up a drive-thru, you should have options. My favorites are the bean burrito from Taco Bell (minus the cheese and sour cream), a veggie sub from any sandwich place (make sure they don’t use eggs or butter in their bread), or the Beyond Meat Buffalo wraps from Tropical Smoothie (make sure to take off cheese and dressings).
Knowing where you can eat and what you can eat can save you from some of those awkward conversations with friends and cashiers. Also, check out this helpful website that makes vegan menus for popular restaurants.
9. Know What Your Cravings Really Mean
One of the hardest things about going vegan is that we automatically view it as a “taking away” of sorts. All the foods we’ve eaten our whole lives are no longer in the rulebook, and along with that come mad cravings. These ravenous feelings are normal, but giving in to them isn’t going to make you feel better in the long run. Instead, learn what your body is really wanting when you’re feeling that “I want chocolate cheesecake” call.
For example, when you’re craving red meat your body really wants iron (which can be found in beans and dried fruits) and when you’re craving chocolate your body is telling you it needs magnesium (which can be found in nuts and greens). So instead of secretly downing that pint of mint chocolate chip, fill your body with the right vitamins to satisfy yourself crazy cravings.
10. Going Vegan is About More Than The Ingredients
Going vegan takes a little more than knowing whether or not the ingredients include animal products. For example (and this can be a good thing), Oreos and Doritos (the Spicy Sweet Chili kind) are both vegan, but neither are good for you. It can be easy to grab snack foods or simple meals with very little nutrients and miss out on what your body needs to operate.
As a vegan, one of the most important things that’s harder for you to get is complete proteins. You can get them from quinoa or rice and beans if eaten at the same time, but it’s very easy to forget about these—which can make you feel tired and weak and cause your body lots of problems in the long run. Also, watch that you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. Just because sodas and Doritos are vegan doesn’t mean you should eat them for every meal.