A vegan diet is defined as eating no animal products, period. No meat, eggs, or dairy. This is obviously a major break from the standard diet and it can be downright frightening to make this change. Anyone who is thinking about becoming a vegan faces a number of concerns, questions, and apprehensions.
I made this transition myself several years ago (almost 4 to be exact) and it was one of the best decisions of my life. This article offers first-hand advice and addresses some of the primary challenges facing anyone who wants to become a vegan.
How to Make the Leap
Let’s start at the beginning. If you want to make this change in your life, what steps should you take to implement it? While there are a number of methods and techniques, I’ll share my own methods which have worked out extremely well for me.
It is no exaggeration to say that in one moment I was a meat eater, the next I was a vegetarian. I don’t know what caused this change. It wasn’t a health concern or a documentary about animal cruelty, I just woke up one morning and thought I think I am a vegetarian now, how about that! It was total inner inspiration that is still somewhat of a mystery to me.
At that point, I was just a vegetarian, still eating eggs and dairy. It was a total break from meat eating, no gradual reduction or anything like that. After about 3 months of this, I once again felt inspiration, this time to give up all animal products. So again, I quit all at once and to this day I have never had a desire to eat any animal-based foods.
While I didn’t think about it at the time, the technique I used works very well and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of becoming a vegan. Rather than the major shock of going from a standard diet to full vegan, you break it up into two phases: vegetarian and then fully vegan.
Step One is to become a vegetarian, cutting out all meat and fish. I think it is a good idea to do this cold-Tofurkey. Otherwise, you may not have enough commitment to stick with it for a meaningful length of time. Spend some time at this stage becoming comfortable with your new diet. Anywhere from a month to a year or more would be fine; there is no rush.
Step Two is to then cut out dairy and eggs from your diet. For me, this was a slightly bigger change than becoming a vegetarian. Giving up omelets and pizza were a shock for a few days. And, it is surprising how many items have butter, eggs, or milk. But overall, it was a pretty smooth transition. Again, an immediate break is the only way to go. You don’t need to make a lifetime commitment, but choosing to stick with it for at least a month is a great way to get past the initial resistance.
It helps to be prepared ahead of time. Do all your research, go grocery shopping, and plan out meals before you start. As you will see below, it can be confusing for a meat-eater to initially figure out what to eat on a vegan diet. So make sure you have everything figured out well in advance.
I was lucky enough to have almost no detox symptoms when making either switch. I may have had minor muscle aches and a headache for a day or two but nothing like others have reported. Some people have upset stomaches and severe aches, especially when becoming vegan. You can even lose weight as the mucus or stored up animal flesh begin to flush out of your digestive system. These should only last for a few days and the long-term benefits are more than worth it.
Figuring out what to eat is perhaps one of the most confusing issues a potential vegan will face. Is it all salads? Do you have to eat weird soy products with names like Tofurky? Will I get enough calories? There is certainly a right way and a wrong way to approach this, but it is actually pretty simple.
First, becoming a vegan is totally safe. Even the ADA (American Dietetic Association) has stated that a vegan diet can adequately meet one’s nutritional needs. However, it is always good to check with your doctor about any diet changes.
At this point, I never think about preparing “special” vegan food. It is so natural and easy that it takes me no more effort than it would to prepare any other type of food. And, I have never once been unable to find something to eat at any restaurant. Being a vegan is actually pretty easy.
When an omnivore asks me what I eat, the answer is simple: exactly what you eat, without the animal products. That is ultimately how it works. Vegan diets are mostly similar to standard diets with a few exclusions, additions, and substitutions.
Instead of a typical meal of steak, mashed potatoes, and salad, you might have mashed potatoes, lentil soup, and salad. That would be almost nutritionally identical (without the unnecessary fat), equally delicious, and 100% vegan. It is simple changes like this that make being a vegan so much easier and less stressful than many people imagine.
The best advice is this. Look at your current menu and find ways to replace the animal products with equivalents, like the above example. Cows milk can be replaced with soy or almond milk. Meats can be replaced with beans, lentils, or tofu. Eggs have many replacements depending on the need. Everything else (fruits, vegetables, potatoes, grains, cereals, etc.) can be eaten as normal.
This article doesn’t have the space to cover full vegan nutrition or write out sample menu plans, but you can easily search online for “Vegan Menu Plans” to find dozens of great ideas.
One of the most fun and unexpected side effects of becoming a vegan was the creativity it draws out of cooking and meal planning. A popular misconception is that eating vegan is restricted or boring. You will often hear how vegans have a “limited diet” but it is actually the opposite. When is the last time you had rainbow chard, kelp, nori, setas (mushroom) tacos with guacamole, or an arugula salad with artichoke hearts and a homemade dijon/agave dressing? Instead of the same old repetitive meals, it forces you to try new ingredients, get creative, and go down supermarket aisles you never knew existed.
A popular concern of potential vegans is, how much will it cost? Many people think vegans are rich and famous, shopping at fancy health-food stores with specialty vegan products that cost a fortune. But the truth is, most of that stuff is unnecessary.
The great thing about being vegan is that most of your calories come from extremely low-cost foods such as rice, grains, beans, and soy products. Larger amounts of fruits and veggies may be more expensive, but you will save considerably without meat and egg costs.
A nutritionally complete meal of 1 cup cooked rice, 1 cup stir-fried vegetables, and a few oz of tofu would be like $1.50. This is exactly what I had for lunch today, it was delicious and it doesn’t need to get much more complicated than that.
On average, I would say the vegan’s grocery bill is on par with the omnivore. The low-cost items save money, while increased fruits and vegetables might add slightly. And, with the money saved at the butcher counter, you can splurge on some coconut-milk ice cream.
Also, don’t forget to factor in the long-term costs of poor health. How much does heart surgery costs? Or diabetes? Or cholesterol medication? Or time missed from work due to illness? Being sick is expensive. Eating healthy can reduce the risk of many illnesses.
I remember the first time I ordered something vegan at a restaurant… I was almost embarrassed! This was totally ridiculous of course, like what, is the waiter going to start laughing at me? Never once has anyone reacted negatively after finding out that I am a vegan. Sure, I get tons of inquisitive questions, but people are far more curious or impressed than turned off by it.
We’re lucky to live in a time where being vegetarian and vegan is not only easy but totally acceptable and very popular. All major supermarkets carry vegan items like soy milk, soy yoghurt, non-dairy butters, cheeses, and dozens of other things that make life so much easier. And, because of demand, these items have been getting better and better over the last few years. There is a new brand of cheese called Daiya, for example. It is made with tapioca, it melts, stretches, and tastes as good as real cheese. You can make a pizza or mac & cheese that rivals any omnivore’s.
As I mentioned earlier, you can find something vegan at just about any restaurant. They should all carry vegetarian items which can usually be made vegan with simple modifications (i.e. a grilled pepper sandwich without the cheese, or a salad with balsamic instead of ranch dressing).
Alright – so you have decided to make the switch to a fully vegan diet. What are some of the positive results you might expect? Below I will share some of my personal experiences in 3 categories: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual.
For many people, physical health is the primary reason behind their desire to become vegan. I expected my health and overall vitality to improve, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I have always been a regular runner, but after becoming vegan my running endurance is virtually unlimited. I get bored long before I get physically tired. Getting up right now and running 10 miles would be no problem at all. Without extra fats, cholesterol, and mucus clogging up my blood, exercise feels natural and smooth. Additionally, my ability to recover after a strenuous workout is outstanding.
I haven’t been sick (other than one cold) in several years and have not had any other health problems whatsoever. Physically, I couldn’t imagine functioning with animal products clogging my bodily systems.
Here are a number of potential health benefits of going vegan (off the top of my head):
- Lower total calorie intake which can result in weight loss and other health benefits
- ZERO cholesterol consumption (cholesterol is only produced in livers of animals)
- More fruit and vegetable consumption, which has obvious health benefits
- Much lower fat intake, especially dangerous kinds. More consumption of healthy fats
- Generally increased fiber intake for digestive health
- More likely to eat higher-PH alkaline foods, which have great effects on the body
- Greatly reduced mucus buildup for cleaner lungs, blood, and digestive system
The mental changes of going vegan were a bit harder for me to measure than physical results. A lot of people notice a great deal of mental clarity and sharpness when they make the switch. For me, I didn’t see a major improvement in this area.
I do remember noticing a little more mental sharpness, maybe a deeper ability to understand complex data, but nothing as powerful as the physical changes.
To my surprise, this was the area with the most noticeable results. The word that comes to mind is cleanliness. There is an incredible spiritual cleansing effect when you step outside the regular consumption of animal products.
My spiritual awareness was dramatically improved by my switch to a vegan diet. It is almost like the deep clarity you can find through meditation, but all the time. This is something I would have never expected, but in retrospect it makes total sense. The animals that one consumes are often born into a life of abuse and suffering, only to then be murdered. Enjoying the byproducts of this at the dinner table each night leaves an obvious void in one’s spiritual development.
Being a vegetarian helps a bit, but the suffering and murder is just as prevalent in the egg and dairy industries as well. Choosing to remove yourself from that world has spiritual power. It opens up whole new dimensions of compassion and love that enrich all life experiences.
Following Your Inspiration
It is interesting to note that my switch to a vegan diet was never a struggle for me, it never took any discipline, it simply felt like the best thing to do at the time. This is the best way to implement any change in your life. Start from a place of inner inspiration and allow that to be your only motivation. Acting without inner confirmation is setting yourself up for struggle. It is so much easier to create any growth-oriented change when it comes from the inside.
There are thousands of wrong reasons to become a vegan… A friend is pushing you, your doctor thinks it would be healthier, you want to lose weight, even having compassion for animals would be a wrong motive. All of those things may be positive, but the only right reason to become a vegan is because you feel it is the right thing to do – for you – right now. And then, it can be an incredibly positive, healthy, liberating, and empowering change in your life.
- How to Become a Vegetarian, the Easy Way – article by Leo Babauta
- Why Vegan? – article by Steve Pavlina
- VegWeb – a comprehensive recipe databas of vegetarian/vegan recipes
- Forks Over Knives – a great documentary that even convinced my father to become vegan
- Food, Inc. – another great documentary
Image Credit: Frank Kehren