So, you’re thinking about going vegan. Congratulations!
You may be full of good intentions, but you’re probably also full of questions.
What is a vegan? What are the rules? Do I have to eat salad my whole life?
According to Google, a vegan is ‘a person who does not eat or use animal products.’ I think it’s a little more than that. Veganism is a lifestyle – to me, it’s about striving to cause as little harm as possible, whether that’s to animals, to the environment or to other people. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be using the word ‘vegan’ simply to refer to eating habits. A vegan does not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy or honey – simply put; anything that comes from an animal.
The vegan lifestyle was once seen as extreme and strictly for hippies, but it’s recently welcomed a boost in popularity thanks to social media sites such as Instagram and YouTube. In fact, the number of vegans in Britain has risen to 3.5 million according to the Independent. A plant-based diet is majorly on-trend, which can only be a good thing for the animals, the planet and our bodies.
Going vegan can seem incredibily intimidating at first. But once you find substitutes for all your basic necessities, things suddenly become a whole lot easier. Milk, butter, cheese – all of these have been veganized and can usually be found at your local supermarket.
Figure out which ingredients you use every day and find replacements for them – I love almond milk for oatmeal and cereal, Violife for the yummiest melty cheese and flax seeds for a great egg replacement when baking. Once you find your own favourites, making the switch to an animal-friendly lifestyle will feel effortless.
Be an accidental vegan
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to realise that many foods are accidentally vegan. This happens when an item is created that, purely by chance, contains no animal products.
People often seem shocked when they see me eating a sandwich, and can’t believe something so common could possibly be vegan. Thankfully for my carb-loving self, a lot of the most popular brands of bread are completely free from animal products. It’s never been easier to be a vegan!
On the flip side, watch out for foods that seem like they should be vegan but have actually sneaked in some milk powder or cream (rant: why do companies insist on putting cream in guacamole?!) I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought ‘Ooh, that sounds nice! Surely it’s vegan?’ and then BAM – crushing disappointment.
Make sure to check the ingredients label of everything that you’re putting in your mouth. It’s the only way to be sure!
Supplement, supplement, supplement
If you’ve ever expressed an interest in veganism to your friends and family you may have been asked ‘But what will you do about b12?’ The only reliable sources of b12 for vegans are fortified foods (such as certain cereals and milks) and supplements. Ensuring that you get enough of this little vitamin isn’t optional – it’s essential. Luckily, it’s easy!
I receive a b12 injection once every three months and take a 1000mg supplement every day. Sounds annoying, right? I thought it would be, but it quickly became a regular habit. I also find it helpful to get a full blood test twice a year, just to make sure I’m getting all the vitamins that my body needs. In terms of other supplements, I also take zinc daily as this is another vitamin that I don’t come across often enough. It’s mostly for vanity reasons – zinc keeps my hair and nails strong, and seems to help my skin too.
Everyone is different, so I suggest doing your own research and then speaking to a trusted doctor who will be able to guide you in the right direction.
Make the connection
As I initially went vegan for my own personal health, it took me a while to make the emotional connection and to realise what I had been supporting all those years. Sure, I’ve always loved animals, but I loved eating them too!
I found that I was still craving animal products (particularly cheese) during the first couple of months, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Then I discovered documentaries, and my eyes and heart were opened wider than I ever thought possible.
Try to watch ‘Earthlings’ all the way through without crying. Okay, halfway through. How about the first ten minutes? It’s impossible. A lot of the footage in these documentaries is gut-wrenching and disturbing, but these things are happening right now in slaughterhouses and farms all over the world. Once you’ve seen what goes on, animal products won’t even look like food to you anymore.
Another one that really hit home was ‘Cowspiracy’, which shows the environmental impact our meat-eating diet has had on the planet. This film flipped my entire worldview upside down – I couldn’t believe what I had been contributing to.
If you’re struggling with cravings, I really recommend sitting down and educating yourself on what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a rough journey, but you’ll come out the other side as a more compassionate, emotionally invested person.
Sometimes, veganism can feel a little isolating. Are you the only vegan in your family? Do your co-workers give you funny looks when you (politely, I hope!) refuse offers of biscuits and cakes? You’re not alone, I promise. It can be difficult to break away from the crowd and do your own thing, but it can also feel incredibly liberating. You’re on your own path, and you may even inspire others along the way!
I find it fun to give vegan treats to my boyfriend, family and friends – in my experience, most people are pretty open to trying them and it’s so satisfying when they can’t believe that it’s vegan!
Don’t be shy to suggest a vegan-friendly restaurant if you’re going out for a meal – there are so many popping up these days that there’s no excuse for you to be stuck with chips and a salad (we’ve all been there!) If you’re worried about being judged, remember that people are a lot more accepting than you imagine. And if they’re not, then they aren’t really the kind of people that you want to be spending time with!
Social media is also a great way to connect with like-minded people – chat to people on Instagram under the #vegan hashtag and join vegan Facebook groups. Remember that just because something is the social norm, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right thing to do. It’s good to be different – in fact; it’s great to be different! Be a leader, be inspiring and do what feels right for you.
Pile your plate
One of the most important tips I can give you is to eat enough! Vegan food is usually lower in calories, so you need to eat a higher volume in order to feel satisfied and to fuel your body adequately. I get so many comments on my portion sizes: ‘Are you going to eat all that?’ ‘That’s a lot of food!’ Uh, hell yeah I’m going to eat all of it. I might even go back for seconds.
I grew up thinking that I had to limit myself to smaller meals in order to maintain my figure, but once I dropped the animal products and discovered a plant-based lifestyle I found that I could eat as much as I wanted and still stay slim and healthy. It’s the best feeling – no more diets, ever! So fill your plate as high as you can and eat until you feel completely satiated at every meal.
Another huge tip is to drink water. Lots of it. I know you’ve probably heard it a million times before, but it’s incredibly beneficial. A few years ago I drank probably half a litre of water a day. Once I upped my intake to 2-3 litres my brain fog cleared, I had more energy and my skin began glowing. Like any new habit it can be tough to start off with, but after a few weeks you’ll be guzzling water without even thinking about it!
Give your body what it needs and it will reward you by making you look and feel amazing.
Experiment in the kitchen
Ask any vegan about the limitations of a plant-based diet, and I guarantee you that two things will happen. First they’ll laugh (we always laugh) but then they’ll recite the vegan motto: ‘Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan!’ Truer words have never been spoken.
Craving junk food? We have hotdogs, burgers, chilli fries, mac and cheese… the list goes on! Or do you have more of a sweet tooth? Cakes, biscuits, sweets, even chocolate can all be made without a single animal being involved. It baffles me that companies continue to put milk and eggs into their products when cruelty-free versions taste just as good.
Since turning to a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve found that I actually taste and appreciate my food much more – I used to shovel in my meals, but now I take the time to really enjoy them. I can’t help but laugh when someone assumes that my diet must be boring – it’s anything but! In fact, I’m much more experimental in the kitchen now than I ever was before. Trust me, you don’t need to live on lettuce and broccoli to be a vegan!
I’m not going to lie – sometimes, it’s easy to lose motivation. Whether your skin isn’t clearing up as fast as you’d like, you’re not losing or gaining any weight or you simply miss eating cheeseburgers, it can be tempting to slip back into your old ways.
This is where YouTube and Instagram come in. Nothing is more inspiring than watching other people thrive on a vegan lifestyle, and they can also give you great advice and recipe ideas. Although vegan influencers often get a bad rap, I’ve found a handful that are informative without being intense and who really motivated me to start and continue on my vegan journey. Madeleine Olivia, Bonny Rebecca and Ellen Fisher are incredibly positive, powerful influences. I can’t help feeling joyful and energised whenever I watch one of their videos!
You’ll find your own inspirations – they don’t have to be the same as mine. Maybe you’ll even start your own channel and become an inspiration to others!
Be the change
Veganism is often seen as a peace-loving, hippie-type movement. And really, that’s how it should be. But I know from personal experience that once you find out what goes on in a slaughterhouse, you get angry. You want to shout your newfound knowledge from the rooftops, grab every non-vegan you can find and shake them until they see sense, and break into all the factory farms to rescue every animal in the world.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of educating (read: lecturing) your friends and family every time you see them, but this can actually turn them away from the idea of veganism. Which is more appealing – someone constantly berating and shaming your diet choices, or someone who lets you do your thing but shares their delicious vegan meals and little bites of knowledge with you?
Making veganism seem easy, normal and accessible (it is!) will win over so many people. Plus, it really works! Anyone can see that my skin cleared up drastically once I changed my diet, and they watch me eat huge platefuls of yummy-looking food while still staying slim.
Being vegan in a meat-eating world can be difficult. But it can also be the most rewarding journey you’ll ever take. No matter what your reasons are for going plant-based – the animals, your health, the environment – you’ll come out the other side more compassionate, more conscious and incredibly connected to our planet.
What’s not to love about that?