For many omnivores, it can be difficult to comprehend a life without ever having a cheeseburger. But, there are plenty of compelling reasons to design to transition to veganism if you are currently a dairy and meat-lover: There’s the ethical component (according to PETA, going vegan can save the lives of up to 200 animals per year), the environmental impact (according to University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center, the meat industry produces 1.4 billion pounds of waste per year), and the benefit veganism has on your health. A 2014 study on diet patterns and mortality found that the common factor to a long, healthy life is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Another study compared weight loss between people who were vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous, and it showed that people on a vegan diet lost the most weight out of the four groups and ate less saturated fats.
So, there are more than a few good reasons to go vegan, but it can seem like a big lifestyle change if you currently regularly eat meat and dairy in your diet. Your best bet to a successful transition to veganism is to focus on making mini changes until the vegan lifestyle feels more natural. Below are a few ways to help ease into it:
Do some research and prep.
Make a shopping list every week so you ensure you fill your pantry and fridge with vegan-friendly foods to avoid resorting to old omnivorous habits. Suss out the vegan sections of your grocery store or local shops, and find out if your favorite restaurants serve vegan options ahead of time so you’re stuck with nothing to eat when your family gets take-out. Follow people on Instagram that inspire you to create vegan recipes (we love @vermillionroots who brings a Southeast Asian flair to her meat-free dishes or @edgarraw who’s a chef that makes meatless versions of carnivore meals like burgers and tacos). You can also sign up for subscription meal boxes like Purple Carrot which feature plant-based meals that do all the planning for you.
Figure out which “version” of vegan works for you.
Veganism features a lot of sub-diets that have evolved from the idea of eliminating animal products from your diet entirely. A few include the following:
- The whole-food vegan diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- The raw food diet focuses on raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds cooked at temperatures below 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The 80/10/10 method is where 80% of your calories come from carbs (fruits and vegetables), 10% from healthy fats (like avocados and seeds), and 10% protein.
- The Raw Until 4 diet, which was coined by YouTuber The Banana Girl, involves eating unlimited raw fruits and greens until 4 p.m. (or 2 hours before your usual dinner time), then a cooked, high-carb meal of plant-based foods (think: cooked potatoes, root veggies, rice, or pasta) for dinner.
Avoid going cold turkey (pun, intended).
One of the most common pitfalls is drastically cutting out all meat and dairy overnight. You can have all the willpower in the world, but you’re still putting your body in shock by eliminating animal products in one shot. One of the most successful ways to start living a vegan lifestyle is with one vegan meal a day or by removing one animal product at a time. You can also consider adding to your diet before taking away from it to make the transition easier. It feels less overwhelming to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t. Incorporate more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and switch to non-dairy milk to get yourself more familiar with vegan living. You can also start off vegetarian and then follow up with veganism.
Whatever method you choose, moving in increments is critical and then you can build up to entirely shift your lifestyle from there. Everyone is different: Some people might find themselves fully transitioning to veganism in a few weeks, whereas for others it can take six months. Whatever the case, easing into veganism will help minimize sudden meat cravings.
Make sure you’re not missing out on nutrients, particularly protein.
Just because you transition to a vegan lifestyle doesn’t exactly mean it’s automatically a healthy lifestyle. There are plenty of vegan versions of processed food and junk food that might trick you into thinking it’s healthier just because it’s plant-based. They can also be packed with sodium that might make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Focus on eating more whole and clean foods, as well as incorporating as many fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains into your diet to start your vegan journey on the best foot.
You want to make sure you get enough vitamin B and calcium that’s usually found in dairy products. There are fortified plant kinds of milk, tofu, and fortified, dairy-free yogurts that make excellent vegan-friendly sources of nutrients and vitamins. Alternatively, you can start taking supplements.
Additionally, our muscles are made up of about 80% protein, and we need protein to keep our muscles strong and as healthy as possible. A common misconception is that it’s difficult to get protein when you stop eating meat, poultry, or fish. However, vegans have plenty of food options available that serve as excellent sources of protein: quinoa, legumes, peanut butter, cashews, lentils, beans, and broccoli are all great ways vegans can make sure they’re getting enough protein. You can estimate how many grams of protein you need by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Keep track of your calories.
Going vegan can help you naturally lose weight as you swap out calorie-dense foods for nutrient-dense ones. But for other people, going vegan doesn’t necessarily mean weight loss as there are plenty of vegan versions of processed foods, desserts, and snacks, plus white bread and pasta that make it easy to overindulge. Figure out how your calorie intake is shifting with your new vegan lifestyle. Use a calorie calculator to determine roughly the number of calories you should be aiming for each day.
Make sure to stay hydrated.
Veganism is one of the most fiber-rich methods of eating. When you’re eating a diet that’s rich in fiber, your water intake is extra important. It’ll help your food move safely throughout the digestive tract and reduce bloating, discomfort, gas, and constipation. Just because you’re eating foods with high water content doesn’t mean you should consume less H2O and put yourself at risk of dehydration.
Incorporate veganism into other parts of your lifestyle.
According to The Vegan Society, veganism isn’t just about excluding animal products (meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs, and honey) in your diet, but also finding animal-free alternatives in your clothing, beauty products (Sunday Riley is certified as cruelty-free and most of our products are vegan), and other parts of your lifestyle.
With additional reporting by Christa Lee.
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