At the beginning of the New Year, a close friend of mine—who has been vegan for over a year—decided to create a challenge to encourage friends to try veganism and transition to a vegan lifestyle in 40 days. Already being gluten and dairy-free, and also red meat and pork free; I decided to give it a try. What I didn't know was how difficult eliminating those things I eat daily would be.
Here's the thing, the word 'vegan' carries a lot of weight and added responsibility towards what you decide to consume and if you're 100% vegan, what you choose to wear. Never fully understanding the lifestyle, and judging based on the stigma that surrounds it, I avoided it and continued with what I wanted to eat. Growing up in a multicultural home, we ate healthy, but during the holidays and special occasions, we were surrounded by soul food and Italian dishes. The word vegan or vegetarian didn't exist in this space, but as I became older and my body started to adjust and reject certain foods, I did research and begin eliminating those things my body just couldn't handle; so I began to dabble in vegetarianism, but this didn't last long.
Fast forward a few years...
In the early part of 2012, I was diagnosed with IBS and the latter part of 2016 with the celiac gene; having both of these severely altered my lifestyle and what I could consume daily. I now had to be more aware of what I ate and drank; if I didn't, there was a chance I would be sick for days. I slowly started to eliminate [the remaining] animal products from my diet by swapping milk for almond milk and cutting down the number of days I ate chicken or turkey. I ultimately started to feel better, but there was something that still didn't sit right with me. I knew I had to make a shift towards a healthier lifestyle, but didn't know how or where to begin.
FOOD IS FUEL. FOOD IS ENERGY. FOOD IS NOURISHMENT.
The transition begins...
When I decided to join the challenge it was completely plant-based, eliminating anything that wasn't naturally grown—this lasted all of four days. I was bored with the food and also lost with what else I could eat or do with what I was already eating. Naturally, I was ready to move on from the challenge, but what's a challenge if it doesn't challenge you? I decided to recreate the challenge for myself and remain vegan, but not plant-based. I'm happy to say I'm 30 days in and I've [honestly] never felt better. The daily stomach pains I've dealt with for the past few years have been eliminated, I have more energy, and I'm seeing a shift in how I feel mentally. As I continue with this [new] lifestyle, I want to share with you the seven steps that helped my transition.
7 Tips for Transitioning to a Vegan Lifestyle:
Give yourself time to adjust
You're transitioning to a new lifestyle, give yourself time to adjust. Don't expect things to go smoothly; it will be a lot of trial and error.
Do a lot of research and try a lot of different recipes; pick 10-15 of your favorites as your go-to; I found Pinterest and Instagram to be the best places to find recipes. Also, if you have go-to meals that include meat or dairy, swap it out for beans, tofu, and coconut milk; you'll be surprised how easy you can adjust these meals.
I'm a foodie and a snacker, so one of my [biggest] concerns was having snacks that I can enjoy. As your body starts to adjust, you're going to be hungry at different times and have cravings throughout the day. Carry an array of snacks—hummus, fruits, veggies, nuts; this will help with your cravings and help you avoid falling off track.
One of the biggest concerns when transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is protein. Many people fall off track because they're not incorporating enough protein in their diet when they get rid of meat and dairy, but protein is in a lot of natural products. Some of my favorite high-protein options: edamame; green peas; almonds and cashews; black beans and chickpeas; and kale.
Do what works for you
There are a ton of plans, guides, and challenges out there, but you must do what works for you. Everyone's body will react and adjust differently, so be sure you're paying attention to what your body is telling you and needing.
Pay attention to your cravings
Paying attention to your body includes paying attention to your cravings. If you're craving cheese, you could [really] be craving salt. So find a salty snack you can eat instead. The same goes for sweets, replace it with berries or a banana.
Have fun. Don't beat yourself up
So, you slipped up and ate something that's not vegan; it's okay. Don't beat yourself up; you're still new to the lifestyle. Over time you'll determine if you're invested, but slip-ups are natural. Ultimately, have fun.
Favorite Vegan Grocery Items:
Justin’s Peanut Butter
Trader Joe’s Soy Ice Cream Sandwiches (Similar: Love these)
Follow Your Heart Vegan Mayo and Cheese
Van's Frozen Waffles
Barnana Chocolate Banana Bites
Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oatmeal
There is no right way to transition; you must do what rights for you. Veganism isn't for everyone, and my goal is to make this a part of my life and not just a diet, but I hope this post allows you to look at it differently or inspire you to add more healthy options into your diet. Allow yourself to adjust and try different things. Life's a journey and a learning process, enjoy it!