A Pathway: 6 Main Steps of "Going Vegan"
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Going vegan - it's not a "simple" task from a logistical standpoint and a variety of factors may affect an individual's ability to transition to a vegan diet (i.e. - existing dietary restrictions, access to food options, knowledge of cooking techniques, etc). It's daunting! The process can be less daunting if you organize and set the expectations for your pathway for "going vegan."
The 6 Main Steps below help aim you towards success.
Step 1: Decide your approach / framework
This is an important first step! How do you want to approach and frame your decision to "go vegan." Approach & framework questions can be the following:
Why do you want to go vegan? (Answers can be anything from curiosity, to animal welfare; to health, to the environment or somewhere in between).
Do you want to go cold turkey (immediately?) or do you want to try to just eat less meat and venture into veganism organically if it works for you?
Do you have support from loved ones in your household? Hopefully you do, but even if you do not, there are ways to be vegan in a non-vegan household (swaps are a great compromise - such as vegan butter vs. animal butter). How will we approach my goals together (or how will I ensure success alone)?
What are my boundaries about "being vegan" and how will I ensure they remain intact? I.e. - planning, researching, etc.
All of the above are valid considerations and your answers will define your approach. Your approach will become your framework and decide (largely) how you fill in the remaining steps below.
It is extremely important to be honest with yourself and only choose what feels right and comfortable for you. What will allow you the most success and the least stress? Joining those two goals of increasing the chance of success and decreasing your stress will ensure the rest of the steps herein go smoothly. Remember: This is a personal choice and you only have to answer to yourself for how you "go vegan." While your approach may change over time, I do suggest you commit yourself to whatever approach you have decided upon for at least 3 months to see if the "habit" you are forming works for you; you can always reevaluate after you have give it an honest try!
Pro tip: before embarking on your vegan journey, consulting your health care professional is a good idea as a part of this step. Ensuring your health and well-being should always take priority; it's up to you to educate yourself on your options and what is right for your body.
Step 2: Do your homework
A vegan diet takes (most people) considerable effort to adjust to the lifestyle. The biggest impact is to how you view food labels or stock your pantry and kitchen. There are a variety of techniques for cooking and meal planning which deviate from the mainstream cooking shows, books or methods you have learned before. That's okay! It's fun to learn some new things, but doing your homework and research before venturing out and spending loads at the grocery on Kimchi (yuck for me) or high-end faux meats (which I used to transition, but have a very minimal place in my current meal planning), will help you in the long-run.
Check out Pinterest for some meal plans / ideas or ingredient tips and tricks.
Go to your library and rent some vegan cookbooks (Pro tip: find great options via Goodreads.com for honest reviews and "you might also like" leads).
Do some basic Google searches on new ingredients, how to read food labels to spot animal products in the ingredient list, or ideas on making vegan swaps (I had never heard of nutritional yeast as a "cheese" flavor substitute, and now I love it!).
Evaluate how you might want to approach updating your kitchen over time for pantry items, cooking utensils, and small appliances (as needed).
Having your approach and framework is great, but the homework is where you can evaluate what you need to be successful in that approach. It will validate your approach and refine your pathway; don't skimp here.
Step 3: Stay in your (flavor) lane
This one is pretty easy. If you are reading this post, you have likely lived on this Earth long enough to know what you definitely do not like and what you love. For example, I do not like yellow mustard or ketchup. I use vinegar, ground mustard or even stone ground mustard, and tomatoes. All ingredients in yellow mustard or ketchup, but prepared mustard along with ketchup are absolute no-gos; I have no idea why. That said, I don't even attempt to use them (sub out something you DO like) because I'll taste it in the dish and dislike it (a lot!); I'm an adult, I'm done "trying" ketchup & mustard - hard pass! At the same time, be adventurous in your taste bud gray area (i.e. - flavor combinations). Texture, flavor, and spice all make or break a dish and everyone's palate is a bit different. If you like simple foods or comfort foods, start with vegan versions of those. Don't plan to eat a bunch of salads if you don't like salad; don't buy fermented foods if you don't like how they taste, etc. Keep your taste buds happy and the rest will follow!
Step 4: Plan for transition
It goes without saying (or maybe it doesn't, so I'll say it), changing how you eat is a transition. Most intuitively understand that immediately eliminating any animal products from your diet will potentially affect your gut biome. Even if you do not decide in Step 1 to go "cold turkey," your body will need to get used to the "new" way you eat. More vegetables, whole grains and fruits while detoxing your body from animal ingredients WILL take some time and your body will need to adjust. The minimum is around a 1 month mark (for 100% vegan diets) but for many others, it will take 3-4 months to reap the rewards of a vegan diet from a health perspective.
There will be times you may get frustrated in the grocery (i.e. - "why does everything have dairy!" when inspecting labels) or times when you want to give it all up. Change.Is.Hard! It always is and always will be. It requires work and commitment and it's okay to feel like it is a lot of effort. In the beginning, it is a lot of effort. After 3 months, you will gain confidence, after 6 months you will feel like you "got this!" At the 1 year mark, you will be a pro. From someone who has been through it, after the year mark, you will still remember the way you felt before "going vegan" and be able to do an honest comparison of how you feel after "Going vegan." For me, the difference is so great that I say with absolute confidence, this is a life long way for me to live, eat, and be. Pro tip: while you transition, many people lean on vitamins or supplements such as a multi-vitamin or pro-biotics (I still take these!) For all diet transitions, it is a good idea to consult your physician / doctor to make informed choices about your body and your health. If you have any concerns, see Step #1.
Step 5: Keep a journal / tracker handy
Make yourself notes, take stock of the way you feel, how strong your body is becoming, and what efforts are worthwhile for you. Revisit your approach at regular intervals. Evaluate how things are going and readjust as needed. Cultivate your way of "going vegan" and keep the tracking journal or device data (if health is a factor for your diet / lifestyle change). There are apps that can help you track your climate footprint and assist in evaluating how sustainable you are being in your vegan diet. In all ways, it is worthwhile to keep that journal / tracking information available. There will be times along the path (even if you feel you are an established vegan for years!) when you will have doubts. Society has made it easier to be vegan, but it's still far from being "mainstream" (especially if you do not live in or around an urban center like I do). When you have those doubts, look at how far you have come, how you have evolved in what you feel or what you are contributing to sustainability or animal welfare. Looking back on your journey through revisiting the entries in your diary (thoughts / feelings) or tracker in "real time" (data / analytics) will give you that much needed confidence and boost to continue on with your pathway forward.
Step 6: Give yourself GRACE - this is my MOST important step to being successful!!
Grace, by definition, can mean simply courteous goodwill. I want you to give yourself grace and accept that you will sometimes accidentally, or by requirement, need to be flexible. Sometimes, as an omnivore, your body will "crave" animal products and maybe you feel you need to honor that / listen to your body. Sometimes, you might eat a bread or baked good that has honey or milk or eggs if you are traveling and the ingredients are not spelled out. Sometimes, you will not have any options and need to eat what's available (try to minimize that with snacks & planning ahead as possible). It's okay. I'm here to tell you that "going vegan" doesn't require a ride or die commitment every second, minute, hour or day of your life. It IS for some people (and that's okay); for others, it is a once a week commitment (and that's okay). See Step #1 - it's whatever you make of it!
For most, "I follow a vegan diet" is simply honoring their individual right for "it's my body, my choice, my decision" to minimize the amount of animal products I consume, maximize my efforts to support sustainability, and reap all the health (mental and physical) of being vegan. And It.Is.Okay.
My personal Step #1 involved health and sustainability; animal welfare is also important to me, but it was not one of the main reasons I originally went vegan. So, keeping that in mind, my "grace" is that I have an allowance for a "meat cheat" if I need to. For health reasons, my line is no dairy (ever); for sustainability reasons, no honey; for animal welfare reasons, no eggs. But, I leave an opening for meat (usually I lean on fish) as needed. For example, if I'm traveling and my only options are something with a meat product or a dairy product, I'm not choosing the dairy. It's one meal. I feel (mildly) guilty / upset but then I remember to be kind to myself - give myself that grace. I move on and resume my normal programming. And.It.Is.Okay. We must give ourselves and each other that grace. This is all about choosing what is better to make a difference. Approaching veganism in this framework has made all the difference in how little stress I feel being vegan in a largely non-vegan world.
LAST THOUGHTS: "Going vegan" is exciting, fun, and rewarding for so many reasons! I wanted to scream it from the rooftops how much I LOVE being vegan (and I think I might have been a little too amorous in the beginning). Hopefully those around you support your choices, but if they don't, it's okay (I had some nay-sayers too!); they will come around when they see your commitment and joy of "going vegan."
Good luck on your pathway - I'd love to hear your stories!
With love & hope for a better future for us all - Jamie