Regardless of why you’re going vegan — whether it’s for health, environmental, ethical, or personal reasons — making the change can be challenging, even if you really want to make it happen. So, BuzzFeed Life spoke with a couple of experts — Ginny Messina, registered dietician, and Ryan Andrews, registered dietician and coach at Precision Nutrition — to get their best tips for making the switch to veganism as smooth and sustainable as possible. This isn’t medical advice though, so be sure to talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.
1. Probably don’t go vegan overnight. Instead plan to transition gradually.
Messina says recent research indicates that the more gradually people transition to veganism, the more likely they are to stick to it. Of course, if you’re already vegetarian or not eating that many animal products, you’ll probably be able to comfortably make a quicker transition. But if you have a diet fairly heavy in meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, etc. just know that from the day you decide to go vegan, it’s OK (if not optimal!) for it to take weeks or months until you’re fully animal product–free.
2. Make just one big dietary change at a time.
Instead of making a bunch of huge dietary changes all at once, take it step by step and break it up into big changes (which you make every so often) and smaller changes (which you can do more regularly). Messina recommends that people continue veganifying their diets only once they feel comfortable with the changes they’ve already made.
For instance, a big change might be something like cutting out all chicken or all eggs.
3. Alternate big changes with smaller ones.
So, you’ve made a big change. Like, you stopped eating red meat. And it took a few months but you’re finally used to it and omg actually this portobello burger is actually everything. But it was a rough few weeks adjusting, so instead of making another sweeping change to your diet, Messina recommends making just a small tweak, something that won’t feel too oppressive or difficult to adjust to. Once that feels normal and OK, move on to your next big change.
Some smallish changes include:
• Choosing one meal where you’ll experiment with vegan cheese or nondairy milk.
• Topping a salad with with legumes and seeds instead of meat — like chickpeas and sunflower seeds.
• Ordering the vegan or vegetarian option at a restaurant.
• Choosing a meal that makes vegetables the main attraction and meat the side dish. So instead of having an 8-ounce steak and a cup of veggies, try 4 ounces of steak and a cup and a half of veggies, plus a handful of nuts.
(Find more suggestions from Andrews here.)
4. If a particular change is proving super difficult, put it aside and try something different.
For example, if you’re finding it too tough to give up cheese, stop trying for now and focus on something that might be a little easier to part with, like eggs. “Otherwise people might get hung up on one change they are trying — unsuccessfully — to make, when there might be two or three other changes that they could make with ease,” Messina told BuzzFeed Life.
5. Know that going vegan doesn’t mean you will automagically lose weight.
Both Messina and Andrews say that while vegans as a population are on average slimmer than non-vegans, a vegan diet does not guarantee weight loss. It depends on what else about your diet is changing when you go vegan, says Andrews.
For example, if you’re transitioning from a diet high in processed grains, sugar, and alcohol to a whole-foods vegan diet, there’s a good chance you’ll lose some weight. On the other hand, if you already eat a minimally processed diet and transition to a whole foods vegan diet, or if you transition to a diet high in processed vegan foods, sugar, and alcohol, weight loss is less likely.
6. Expect to slip up but don’t let lapses derail your efforts.
For lots of people, lapses here and there are to be expected — just get back to your routine when it happens. “I think it’s important for people to keep moving forward and understand that they’re probably going to make mistakes and have lapses. Don’t let them stop you,” Messina says.
7. Eat more beans.
Andrews says that some of the healthiest cultures in the world rely on beans — a great source of protein and fiber — as a dietary staple, but most Americans don’t. Andrews says we eat about 216 pounds of meat and fish (yikes) per year and only about seven pounds of beans. So, for most people following a standard American diet, a great step in transitioning to veganism is to replace a few of your meat-based meals with bean-based meals (as long as beans agree with you gastrointestinally speaking). Bonus: Beans are an inexpensive form of protein that you can buy in bulk so they’re a great staple of a plant-based diet.
8. Chill with arbitrary dietary restrictions.
Unless you’ve been told to quit something because of an allergy or an intolerance, Messina recommends against making further eliminations from your diet while transitioning to veganism. Trying to cut out oil or gluten or processed foods (or whatever) will make a vegan diet even more restrictive and difficult to follow.
9. And don’t be afraid to seek out processed foods that remind you of the animal-based products you really miss.
Sure, the more whole foods you eat, the less processed stuff, the better (in fact Messina recommends that about 80% of your diet be whole foods). But that doesn’t mean that some tasty commercial products have no place in a healthy vegan diet, especially because some of those veggie-based meats and cheeses make it easier to transition to veganism. Plus, processed mock meats and cheeses have come a long way in recent years. Even if they don’t perfectly mimic the animal-based thing, they’re at least pretty tasty.
A couple standout vegan products Messina recommends:
• Gardein veggie meat products
• Beyond Meat products
• Field Roast’s cheese
• Daiya’s Cheeze Blocks
• Follow Your Heart’s cheese and mayonnaise
• Parmela cheeses
10. Find some vegan buddies either online or IRL.
Sharing food and a way of life are how a lot of us stay connected to and bond with friends and family, so becoming vegan could change some of your relationships. In fact, Messina says that being “the lonely vegan in the crowd” is one of the most common things that trips up new vegans. Your social life may take a hit or people in your life might give you static for making such a big change — maybe you won’t be eating your dad’s legendary chili cheese dogs anymore or partaking in the wings at happy hour.
But you don’t want to give up on all the social stuff you love or stop hanging out with people just because you don’t know any vegans. So Messina recommends finding local vegan meetups. Failing that, you can find fellow vegans on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.
11. Locate the vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants near where you live, work, and travel.
Going out for delicious, celebratory meals is basically a national pastime, so just because some of your usual places might not be in rotation once you’re vegan, it shouldn’t mean you give up on eating out entirely. Vegetarian Resource Group, VegGuide, and the Happy Cow app have restaurant listings for vegan restaurants all over the world.
12. In the event that you find yourself in a vegan restaurant desert, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, and Indian restaurants are great options.
You might need to ask some questions about hidden animal products in sauces and broths but Messina points out that many world cuisines have vegan dishes (even if they’re not marked as such on the menu). “Every town has a Chinese restaurant and every Chinese restaurant has tofu,” Messina says.
13. Nail a couple of recipes for delicious and celebratory dishes you can bring to potlucks and dinner parties.
That way you won’t feel left out picking at your sad, dry potato while you’re surrounded by people indulging in the most delicious party food.
14. Get comfortable with ordering off menu.
If you find yourself at a restaurant with absolutely nothing vegan on the menu, you still have one more option: asking if the chef will prepare something that’s not on the menu. It might feel a little awkward at first but chances are they’d be willing to whip you up a salad with beans and grilled vegetables. (In an emergency just order the fries.)
15. Take Vitamin B12.
Although some vegans may need vitamins and supplements that other’s don’t, vitamin B12 is non-negotiable and all vegans should take it, say Andrews and Messina. The only place it occurs naturally is in animal foods (or on the soil of vegetables but you’d have to eat a ton of soil-y crops to get what you need). Though you can get some B12 in fortified foods like plant milks and veggie meats, to get as much as you need, a supplement is essential. VeganHealth.org has lots more information on vitamin B12 recommendations and symptoms of deficiency.
16. Make sure you’re still getting enough protein.
Yes, most vegans can still get the protein they need without any animal products. Here are some easy rules from Andrews to help you do that:
• Eat enough calories to sustain a healthy diet. If you’re restricting calories (like crash dieting), you won’t be getting enough of lots of stuff you need, including protein.
• Eat a cup of beans every day (or maybe more — a cup and a half or two — depending on the calories you need for your size and activity level).
• Eat a variety of foods. If you’re eating only cereal or salads, for example, it will be tough to get enough protein. If you’re eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, on the other hand, you’re golden.
And remember, lots of plant-based foods are still high in protein — like these:
• 1 cup edamame: 17 grams
• 1 cup cooked chickpeas: 15 grams
• 1/2 cup tofu: 10 grams
• 1/4 cup dried pumpkin seeds: 10 grams
• 2 Tablespoons peanut butter: 8 grams
• 1 cup cooked quinoa: 8 grams
• 1 cup soy milk: 8 grams
17. Learn the signs that your vegan diet might need some tweaking.
Both Messina and Andrews say that eating well, being healthy, and feeling great are possible for almost anyone eating a healthy, varied, whole foods-based vegan diet. That said, everyone is different! If you notice that you’re fatigued, not sleeping well, not performing well in workouts, or just feeling otherwise off, you might need to make some tweaks to your diet beyond adding in some supplements. Check with your doctor as soon as you notice anything feeling wonky so they can do some labwork and suggest possible dietary changes or supplementation.
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