Congrats! You’ve decided to become a vegan — a lifestyle that promotes healing and overall wellness. But managing the transition the first few weeks or even months can be tricky. Whether you’re a novice or just struggling with the lifestyle change, here are 7 mistakes I and others have made so you don’t have to.
Going cold turkey
I get the all or nothing mentality, but going cold turkey when it comes to anything this drastic will undoubtedly shock your body. Cravings will be heightened. You could even have withdrawals. It’s a surefire way to not stick with it. Smooth, gradual transitions are more natural and give your body the time it needs to adjust. I gave up meat in increments, first red meats, then poultry and finally seafood. It was another year before I gave up dairy. I did it all at my own pace, whatever felt good. Now, if you are adopting a plant-based diet for critical health issues, by all means take the plunge immediately. Otherwise, explore the landscape. Discover how your body reacts to certain foods. Allow it to be an adventure instead of a death sentence. Remember, you are choosing this.
Eating more starchy carbohydrates
Giving up meats made it very easy for me to add an additional helping of carbohydrates onto my plate. Please let the 5lbs I gained in doing so be a warning to you — put the bag of chips down. I should also say that carbohydrates are not the enemy. Just don’t overdo them, especially the processed kinds such as flour, rice, pasta, cereal, etc. Meat is filling, so we look for something similar to fill that void. But that over-satisfied and stuffed feeling we experience at the dinner table isn’t natural. We only think it is because that’s how we’ve been eating for so long. Food is our fuel. It’s supposed to energize us, not debilitate us. Keep your typical serving size of healthy carbohydrates (beans, legumes, etc) and double your green veggies.
Not properly replacing proteins
Many people do feel lethargic and/or moody after making the transition to a plant-based diet. It’s not because of the lack of meat, it’s the lack of proteins and minerals we are used to getting from meat, along with the toxins and the absorbent amount of hormones and antibiotics I’m sure your body doesn’t miss. So what’s the fix? An absorbent amount of greens of course. A good helping of dark, leafy green veggies pack everything your body is missing and then some — protein, iron, calcium and essential minerals you can’t get from meat and vitamins A, C, K, potassium, fiber, etc. Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak and spinach runs neck and neck with chicken and fish. Another great source of hearty greens come from the ocean in seaweed. Although greens are essential, so are your healthy carbohydrates such as quinoa, beans and legumes. If your body is well-fed with these key foods and an assortment of fruits and veggies that span the color of the rainbow, your body will feel better than it ever did while eating meat.
Only shopping at Whole Foods
The age-old myth that eating healthy costs a fortune I’m sure comes from someone who’s only frame of reference is Whole Foods. There are so many other options such as local farmers markets, small farms and local co-ops. Even stores such as Trader Joe’s or ALDI provide more variety. I admit, it's going to require more work on your end, such as finding out which store sells the organic tahini or which farm in your area will let you pick strawberries for a fraction of the store price. But this is an adventure, remember? You’ll be surprised how much you save by cutting out meat and dairy. Although stores like Whole Foods will have more options when it comes to meat substitutes and such, opt to learn more about the fruits and veggies that are grown locally and in-season where you live. If you want to ball out in Whole Foods, by all means make it rain. But it doesn’t hurt to support your local economy and reduce your carbon footprint on your road to cleaner eating.
Not reading the ingredients
I sometimes have to read this portion of the packaging twice just to make sure my eyes didn’t glaze over any essential no-nos. Although something might be advertised as plant-based or as a “meat alternative,” it might still have traces of dairy and/or eggs. If it is certified vegan (bearing a little “V” on its packaging) you’re in the clear. Otherwise, check out all the ways companies choose to hide details in their ingredients.
Not planning ahead when eating out
If you weren’t a planner before, as a vegan you most certainly will be. Don’t expect to go to a restaurant and have the ease and convenience of picking anything off the menu like you’ve done in the past. For most traditional restaurants, your options will be slim to nonexistent. And if you let it, it can be quite depressing. That’s why I make it a practice to plan ahead. If I’m going to a restaurant with friends, I might peruse the menu online before getting there. Or if I have any say so, I’ll make sure to pick a restaurant where I’m not just eating a side of broccoli and french fries. Luckily, a lot of places are catching up with the times and offering a larger assortment of vegetarian and vegan options. And most places do want to accommodate you. If you ask them to hold the cheese or replace the caesar dressing with balsamic vinegar, they surely will. Another cheat for me is to bring my own snacks — "I got mung beans in my bag. Swag." Never arrive famished and drink plenty of water (everyone should do this anyways). Be sure to check out Happy Cow for your next vegan rendezvous.
This is the biggest mistake you can make. Have you seen all the alternatives? We live in a prime age for plant-based living. There’s vegan pizza, hot wings, burgers, tacos, cookies, cakes, all your favorite comfort foods rolled into one. And that’s not even covering half of it. Shoot, I made vegan mozzarella sticks! If you don’t know what I mean, just type #veganfoodshare in any of your social media feeds and discover all the unadulterated goodness for yourself. #BlavityFoodie
Transitioning in any aspect of our lives can be difficult, but don’t let the challenge intimidate you. Enjoy the process and the obscene amount of benefits eating cleaner can give to you. Trust me, you got this. Welcome to Vegan-dom.