1) Educate yourself.
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already heard something positive about veganism. The more you educate yourself on the topic, the easier it will be to hold yourself accountable for making more plant-based choices. There are three major reasons to become vegan- animal welfare, personal health, and environmental impact. That’s a powerful combination! Documentaries are great resources. My personal recommendations are Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, What the Health, and Unity. Sometimes I watch them over again, just to keep the information fresh in my mind.
2) Make a list of the animal-based foods you think you could never give up, then research to find plant-based versions of them.
I tried this exercise just before transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism, and it was really powerful! A top item on my list was cheesecake. I searched “vegan cheesecake” on Google and discovered pages of delicious make-it-yourself recipes, a local restaurant in my area that sells all types of vegan desserts, and a line of pre-made vegan cheesecakes from Daiya that can be purchased in major grocery stores. I ended up finding recipes and products for every item on my list! Suddenly, switching to veganism didn’t seem like such a sacrifice anymore. It helped me tremendously to know I had options.
Remember- a substitute doesn’t have to taste the exact same as the original food for it to be satisfying. Your taste buds will adjust, and many people find that they start to prefer plant-based substitutes or that they can’t remember what the original versions tasted like in the first place.
3) Recognize the role that nostalgia plays in food cravings, and work with it!
You don’t have to give up cherished experiences because you choose not to consume animal products. It’s natural to crave a burger when summer comes and your neighbors start pulling their grills out. However, more often than not, it’s not the burger you are craving, but the idea of it. You have memories of sitting outside in the sunshine, grilling communally, dressing up a patty with condiments, and enjoying a meal with friends and family. It’s something that makes you happy. Recognizing that you can continue to have this experience with plant-based substitutes is important. When put between a bun and a mountain of toppings, the fact that your burger is made of vegetables and/or legumes instead of beef becomes much less significant. Like I mentioned in tip #2, there are so many vegan substitutes on the market that prevent you from feeling like you’re missing out. You can also spice things up for everyone by bringing new flavor combinations into the mix- like adding guacamole or hummus to your burger.
4) Take pride in your choices!
People often make jokes about things that make them uncomfortable. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term that describes the feeling of holding two conflicting ideas in your mind. An example of this is believing that you love and protect animals, while also eating them and supporting industries that enslave and abuse them. It’s mentally uncomfortable to be in a situation where you may start to question your own actions. This phenomenon helps to explain why people may belittle or tease others who choose to eat plant-based. For this reason, it’s important to remind yourself to be proud of what you are doing and the reasons you are doing it. It feels really good to make choices that benefit the world, as well as your personal health. Let that help you stay motivated and strong. Joining online and in-person communities can help connect you to like-minded people who support you on your journey.
That being said, the majority of people in my life have been very supportive of my veganism. Questions about my choices usually come from a place of curiosity rather than criticism.
5) Don’t label yourself before you’re ready to.
Don’t get me wrong, labels can be very helpful. Reminding myself that I’m vegan and that I committed to eliminating all animal products from my diet and lifestyle keeps me from bending the rules in tempting moments. But you don’t want to commit to something before you are prepared, fail to reach the standard you set for yourself, and give up all together as a result. I was a vegetarian for five years before I became vegan. I wanted to be vegan for a long time, but had to work slowly through personal hurdles until I was finally able to do it. I maintained a vegan mindset throughout this period, educating myself and making more vegan choices as I got closer and closer to my goal. It wasn’t an effortless switch, but I was prepared for success when I became fully vegan.
If someone asks you about your dietary choices, you can always say, “I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based food into my diet.” This will help you make your preferences clear without giving others the opportunity to scrutinize you if you don’t yet eat 100% vegetarian or vegan.
Good luck, stay strong, and keep taking steps in the right direction!
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