If you're reading this you probably already have an idea of why you want to go vegan so I'm not going to go into depth about the reasons why you should. There are many different reasons, some for health reasons (I'm one of them), some to prevent the harm of animals, and some for environmental reasons. Of course, there's also the benefit of going vegan which can lower your risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, and even some cancers. All good reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It can also be said from my point of view as a nurse, that medications are expensive (in the United States) and many medications for high blood pressure and Diabetes come with side effects. Why not buy the food that can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and get off all those pills.
But, once you make the decision to go vegan, the question of where do I start or how do I stick with it will arise. I'm here to tell you that I've had those questions in the past and I've tried being vegan before and because I was not educated on how to do so, I failed and wasn't able to stick with it. Now, on my second attempt, I have been successful and I'm here to share the tips that helped me out.
When you first state to the world that you're going vegan, one of the first questions you get asked is where do you get your protein? I've made a list of all the protein rich plant based food items here. I would also strongly advise you to do this transition gradually.
Doing the overnight vegan thing will not work for most, unless you have a serious plan and have educated yourself well. For this post, I will assume you are in the "I have no plan stage." You can be in this stage for a while and it's ok, there is no rush and no one will throw you out of vegan-land if you mess up a few times. Take a gradual approach and keep working towards it. Here's what I did to make sure i started off with a plan.
Make A List
Make a list of all the foods you like or currently eat that don't involve meat or dairy. I also made a list of meals that I could potentially convert or have the meat removed and still taste good.
Here's a list of some of my favorites that I started off with.
Cheesecake Factory Kale Salad
Beans/Peas and rice
As I made the list I couldn't believe how many options I had (almost a week's worth of meals). I initially thought it would be difficult to think about - I was wrong.
Check out some of my other recipes I've tried here and get your meal list started.
Keep Track of Your Food
As a former meat eater, you are probably getting more protein than you actually need and then some. Once you remove those huge chunks of protein, you have to know if you're getting enough. My first venture into meat-less eating made me feel like crap, WHY? I had no idea what I was doing. Just saying, hey, I'm not eating meat for a week won't work. Removing huge amounts of protein will send your body into a downward spiral of weakness, fatigue, hypoglycemia or as I like to call it, "the wet dish rag feeling." Now, I make sure to keep track of my protein and my calories. Tracking calories isn't just for athletes and weight loss.
Once you get the hang of your meals, you can always ditch the tracking. Check out my post on various apps for tracking calories here.
It would also be helpful to get a blood test a few months after you start to make sure you're on the up and up with your vitamin B-12 and vitamin D levels. They're kind of important.
Choose healthier snacks. I always have snacks with me everywhere.
Once you have your vegan meals planned for a week (trust me you need to plan it out) then you should also have a list of snacks in there as well. These snacks will keep you from having the "I'm hungry RIGHT NOW" feeling which can sometimes lead to eating whatever's in sight. Sometimes, those in sight items aren't always the healthiest.
As a nurse, I am constantly telling my patients to replace the bad foods with better choices, many of them are fully aware that the foods they're buying are not good for them, yet they go to the grocery and buy it every week. WHY? If you've never read a food label before, start today.[expound on this]. Packaged food in bags and boxes should not be the main items in your cart. They're usually loaded with salt (sodium), if you do buy packaged items and the sodium adds up to more than 1500 mg combined, you've gone over your daily limit of sodium for the day. Aim for fresh veggies and fruits and cook your food, it's really not as hard as you think. Check out some of my after work dinners I make here. The leftovers are usually lunch the next day. If there are no left overs then have a back plan in your head or written down of what your lunch is going to be the next day.
Formulate healthier replacements and buy them. It doesn't take very long to find replacements. The internet is full of choices. For example, my little swap list in the beginning was-
Meat replace with ---> Peas, legumes, seeds, etc.
Potato chips and dip, replace with ---> Carrots and hummus or if you're going to choose chips go for organic, non GMO tortilla chips and fresh salsa.
For more info. on how much protein you need and a list protein food items, check out my post here.
Experiment with new meals. Try out new vegan meals on the weekends to keep things fresh and exciting.
Beware of the Naysayers!
They will come in many different forms. When I made the decision to stop eating meat, my favorite line was, "I'm reducing my meat eating or I'm cutting down on the amount of meat I eat." End of story. No one at work caught on to my total removal of meat for weeks until I told them. When you say it like that most people respect that you're cutting down or working on your own personal food thing.
On the other hand, when you say innocently enough that you're vegan, you're probably going to get the awkward pauses, or the questions like, "so, how do you get your protein?" Or "WHAT! "You're not eating ANY MEAT - what DO you EAT?"
Avoid answering in depth, it's a rabbit hole of frustration unless they truly want to learn from you.
STICK WITH IT
Find emotional food support. Going it alone is no fun and it will also feel like you're going agaisnt the grain among you're meat eating friends. Find your vegan buddies, either online or in person. Inspiration is everywhere. Here's a list of places to make new vegan friends.
Instagram - you can follow me here
Supportive Friends and Family members
Watch Vegan documentaries.
Of course, this is just a short list of steps you can take, there's tons more to learn but I hope these steps are helpful to all of you beginning vegans.
Another short but very important tip I forgot to mention is to remember your reasons for going vegan in the first place. It will always put you back on the right track and keep you moving forward. Whether it be for ethical reasons or for health reasons, it should never be far from thought.
Enjoy your new journey.