You’ve decided to try and go vegan, and that’s awesome.
But it’s also not easy.
The first few months after going vegan for me felt weird. It feels a lot like when you’re traveling to a new place and don’t speak the language well – you feel lost.
And it’s bloody uncomfortable.
Any time you make several big changes in your life it’s going to be.
While it’s going to be a challenging transition, many new vegans make it harder than it should be. They end up getting overwhelmed and reverting back to old habits, even if they make them feel worse about themselves.
Hopefully I can make this transition easier.
Through my personal experience, and the experience of other vegans I’ve talked to, I’ve created this step-by-step guide to making going vegan easier. It’s long, but as simple as possible.
If you have any question at all related to veganism, you can leave them in the comments on this page, or use the contact page to get in touch.
I am very happy to try to help you make a positive change in your life like this.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Should You Transition Slowly or Go Vegan Overnight? Here’s How to Know…
This question is the first one that almost everyone asks.
There’s no right answer, because the best option depends on you and your situation. Specifically, 4 factors affect the answer:
- Personality – When you commit to something, do you stick it through no matter what? If so, going vegan overnight becomes an option.
- Conviction – How important is this for you? If you feel absolutely terrible about eating animal products, you have the motivation to go vegan overnight. If you just feel bad, or that “we don’t really need to eat them, so I’d rather not,” you may not have the motivation needed for a quick transition.
- Money – It’s a lot easier to go vegan overnight if you have a lot of disposable income. Can you afford to shop at “fancy” vegan stores and buy expensive vegan meats?
- Opportunity – Do you have time to spend reading and shopping and cooking? Or are you overloaded with work and other commitments? Make a huge change overnight requires that you have a decent amount of time and energy to devote to it.
All those factors will push you towards one answer or another.
You may feel bad about doing it slowly, but if that gives you a higher chance of making the long-term switch to veganism, it’s the right choice.
If you choose to transition slowly…
How do you do it?
There are 2 main approaches.
The first is to start eating more vegan meals, a little at a time.
A great start is to begin with meatless (or meat-free) Monday (maybe you already have).
Then the next week (or every 2 weeks), increase it to two days of meat-free meals (maybe Monday and Thursday).
Then go to 3 days, 4 days, and so on.
The second approach is to cut out animal products.
Maybe you cut out chicken first, and then a week or two later, cut out beef, and so on. Starting with your least favorite animal products makes this easier. Most stories I’ve heard of this approach end up leaving dairy until the end.
Step 2: Finish Off Non-Vegan Foods that You Have
It can be tempting to “cleanse” your household of animal products.
And while you can do that if you choose to, it doesn’t really make sense.
Being vegan reduces the demand for animal products so fewer animals are killed (or used in certain cases).
But if you’ve already bought something that can’t be returned, the damage is done.
Throwing it away is not going to make any impact on whether or not a company continues to sell a certain product or use animal ingredients.
Move all your non-vegan foods to one side of the fridge, freezer, or cabinet.
Eat away at these while slowly adding vegan foods (which the rest of this guide will cover).
Step 3: Forget the Small “Tricky” Non-Vegan Ingredients at First
I remember seeing tons of articles about tricky non-vegan ingredients you’d never expect (e.g. not all wall paint is vegan).
Forget these articles.
They will account for a huge portion of stress during your transition, and don’t make much of an impact compared to the obvious animal products (i.e., meat, dairy, etc.).
For example, many cereals technically aren’t vegan because they add vitamin D to them that is derived from animals. It’s about the amount of a small human hair.
Eventually, and I really want to stress that it doesn’t need to happen for quite some time (months down the line), you can start revisiting these things.
Step 4: Make a List of Vegan Essentials to Buy
I’m a white dude who was raised in a suburb of Toronto, eating a fairly typical Western diet.
When I went vegan, I had no clue what to eat.
Lentils were unheard of, and now they’re one of my favorite foods.
Hopefully you’re not as clueless as I was. But if you are, take a look at my detailed guide to Whole Foods, it’ll give you a good idea of what your options are.
Otherwise, keep it simple.
Most vegans will keep the following in stock:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Bread (sourdough bread is almost always vegan)
- Plant milk (almond or oat)
- Tofu (most people prefer firm or extra firm)
- Canned beans (e.g., chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans)
- Pasta ingredients (noodles and tomato sauce)
- Nuts and nut butters
Always choose the simple option at first. For example, I now buy dry beans in bulk because it’s cheaper and I like to sprout them. But at first, canned beans (which are already cooked) are so much easier, and still fairly cheap.
Step 5: Find the Best Local Vegan Grocery Stores
Any big grocery chain will have plenty of things that are vegan, although you may not have noticed them before.
If you live in a fairly large city, you may be able to find “health food” grocery stores, which usually have a lot of vegan stuff.
A simple Google maps search for “vegan grocery stores” should reveal your best options:
Whole Foods is awesome if you have one close by, they have tons of vegan things, and still have your standard groceries. Keep in mind that prices are typically higher at Whole Foods than other grocery stores.
If you Can Afford to, Eat Out a Bit
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed about the changes, it can be nice to have someone else cook for once.
Again, Google is your best friend. Look for vegan restaurants.
In small cities, there may be none. However, many ethnic restaurants serve vegan dishes.
Your best bets are:
- Indian restaurants
- Asian restaurants (particularly Chinese food, think tofu, spring rolls, noodles)
- Sushi (avocado, tofu, and yam rolls are usually vegan)
Step 6: Make a List of SIMPLE Vegan Recipes
You may not know a single vegan dish, but they are out there. My bookmarks are currently overflowing with recipes I’d like to make.
For now, stick to recipes that are as simple as possible. Stir-frys, salads, curries, and pasta are all great things to make.
Here are a few or my favorite vegan recipe blogs, and other links to help you find recipes:
- Minimalist Baker (Focuses on simple vegan recipes)
- CookieAndKate (Here’s an awesome simple bean salad that I love)
- The vegan meal prep shopping list
- 150+ High protein vegan recipes (great for athletes)
Once you get more comfortable with cooking, then you can spice things up. Vegan cooking can be really fun, you get to experiment with lots of things, and you can still do things like grilling and barbecuing.
Step 7: Do You Need Any Supplements?
Many new vegans are worried that they’re going to be missing essential vitamins and get sick (or die!).
The only essential vitamin missing from a typical vegan diet is vitamin B12. Yes, you will need a vegan vitamin B12 supplementat some point, but not now.
If you’ve been eating meat, your vitamin B12 stores will last for years, and many vegan foods are fortified with them. So while taking a supplement won’t hurt, it’s something that can be delayed for a while so that you can focus on other parts of the diet.
The other nutrient that vegans often lack is iron. You can easily get it from vegan foods if you pay attention to it, but a vegan iron supplement is always an option. Personally, my iron is higher after going vegan, and I still donate blood.
If you’re ever really worried about your mineral and vitamin levels, go see your doctor and get a blood test done.
What About Protein?
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that I went vegan overnight in the middle of my semi-professional soccer season.
If you weight lift or play sports, it can be tricky hitting your protein targets (although you may not need as much protein as you think).
The one supplement that I do use on a regular basis besides vitamin B12 is protein powder.
There are many plant-based protein powders out there, but a lot of them suck.
A while ago I bought every powder I could get my hands in and tested them. I put together a page on the best vegan protein powders to help other vegans in a similar situation.
Step 8: You’re Going to Make Mistakes, That’s OKAY
You’re accidentally going to buy things that you later realize aren’t vegan.
Don’t beat yourself up about it.
I’m typically very anal about reading ingredient lists and trying to be 100% sure about what’s in the food I eat, but I still make mistakes, nearly 2 years later.
Most recently, I bought a protein bar online from a brand that I thought only made vegan products. Turns out, they make a single non-vegan bar, and that was one of the ones I bought.
If you can return it, great. If not, try to find a friend that would typically eat something like that (so the overall demand levels out).
Step 9: Track Your Nutrition
One of the biggest challenges of going vegan is making sure you’re eating enough, and getting all your vitamins and minerals.
The easiest way to do this is to track your food intake for a while using a food tracker like Cronometer (free).
Secondly, if you notice any deficiencies, refer to this free printable vegan nutrition chart to figure out which foods you should add to your diet.
I Promise – It Will Get Easier
If you follow everything in this guide, the transition won’t be as uncomfortable as going in blind.
But, it’s still going to be challenging. You’re going to run into unexpected things like stomach issues.
But, over time, it will feel completely normal. For me, that took about 2 months or so.
I can’t even imagine eating any other way at this point. It’s a part of me and my values, and trying to be the person I want to be.
And it will be for you too.
When you find it especially hard, remind yourself why you’re going vegan.
For me, that meant reading animal rights blogs and watching related videos.
It was a reminder that no matter how difficult the diet change was for me, the alternative was to make animals suffer so much more.
I also recommend visiting the Vegan Calculator to see how much of a difference you’re making.
Nearly 2,000 words later, we’re at the end of this step-by-step guide.
I hope going vegan seems like a more achievable goal now. If you have any questions at all, just leave them below and I’ll try to help.