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Updated December 2020: I wrote this post three years ago when I was starting out on my plant based journey. I'm proud to say that I have stuck with being vegan for the last two years and am now the proud writer of a vegan blog. So please read this post from when I started this journey and get some tips on how to start being vegan yourself.
As a vegetarian I cut meat out of my diet many many years ago - in fact I haven't eaten meat or fish for nearly 22 years. Yikes! Being vegetarian works for me, but I have noticed that my healthy eating has slipped lately - I've been reaching more and more for biscuits and chocolate and eating toast or cereal instead of meals because it is easier and quicker.
Over the last few months I've been tired, stressed and have fallen ill easily. I know that if I overhaul my diet just a little it would help make me feel better. I'm not bothered about losing weight (although losing a couple of pounds would be a bonus) I just want to exercise more, tone up and eat better.
I'd seen something online over the last couple of years about Veganuary - adopting a vegan diet for January and I thought this was an ideal opportunity to kick start a healthier lifestyle. I don't want to be a vegan long term, but opting to stick to a vegan diet for a month gives me the reason to turn down the biscuits and chocolate and look to healthier options. I'm also quite interested to see if removing dairy from my diet has any positive affect - I eat a LOT of dairy usually.
So, I'm four days in and I thought I would share my top tips on how to start being vegan, based on my experience so far. You may be wanting to approach the lifestyle permanently or just short term like me but the tips remain the same.
Do your research
It is important that you know where to get your nutrients from. What foods have the most iron and what foods you are going to get protein from. As a vegetarian I get most of my protein from dairy and meat substitutes like Quorn so I've needed to look at alternative sources. A vegan diet can be healthy, but only if you do it right.
It's also worth checking the current state of your health. You can get a very simple online blood test done online now which will show you where you are nutritionally deficient. This is really useful as you will know which foods you need to eat more of to boost your health. I would say it is also worth taking another test after a few months of a changed diet to make sure that your vitamin levels are at a good level. HealthLabs have a 15% off code at the moment if you are US based and want to use it.
Stockpile vegan recipes
Find lots of great recipes. You can look online to blogs or big websites such as BBC Food. You can also head to your local bookshop or library to pick up books that particularly appeal. I'd recommend Deliciously Ella's books (here and here) and Niomi Smart. The bonus of these books is that they have great sections on preparing yourself for eating a plant based diet.
Make a vegan meal plan
Go through all those recipes and make a meal plan. Write down what you will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even snacks. If it's written down it will be harder for you to be tempted off track. Instead of looking for that biscuit you can look at your meal plan and go for the healthy snack you have in place for that day. If you are looking for some ideas, here is a vegan meal plan I have made previously.
Get rid off all your chocolate!
If you are easily tempted get rid of all the unhealthy food. Give it away if you are planning a permanent diet change or put it away if you are doing it short term like me. I'm really looking forward to cracking out some of the unopened Christmas chocolates come February!
Get vegan food in before you start
Don't do what I did and do a food shop on the 2nd January. We had very little vegan friendly food in the house and I really struggled! Be aware that some ingredients from some recipes might need to be sourced from the health food shop rather than the supermarket and allow time for that.
Make sure you have the right equipment
Many recipes will call for a food processor or blender to make soups and smoothies. I already have a food processor and nutribullet but I have also just bought a juice extractor. You don't need to spend lots of money, just make sure you have the right equipment to make the recipes in your meal plan.
Eating a restricted diet does require a little planning. I make sure I have snacks made in advance and take some out with me as it can be difficult to find suitable food when I am out. If I am heading out for food with friends I would check ahead to make sure there is something vegan on the menu or call the restaurant to see if they could make something for you - most places will.
Just eat, even if you don't fancy it
I am guilty of not eating at all if I don't fancy it. Of course this is no good for you. The whole point of doing this 'diet' is to try new foods which can hopefully become long term favourites. You might really fancy a cheesy pizza but try a butternut squash based one with pesto topping, you might just be surprised how much you like it. Make sure you have plenty of snacks too. I find when I am eating healthier meals I eat smaller portions so I need extra snacks to get in the calories that I need.
Most of all enjoy! Enjoy eating healthier and feeling the benefits! If you don't like something you have made, forget about it and move on and don't let it destroy your good streak. Make sure that you enjoy the food that you are eating and you are more likely to stick to it.
If you are interested there is a little video on my YouTube channel showing what I bought this week to start me off on my plant based diet.
Update on my vegan journey
I wrote this post three years ago and after a rocky start being vegan on and off for the first year I am proud to say that I have been vegan for the last two years. It hasn't been easy but I have really gotten used to the changes and I'm really happy that I'm not contributing to animal suffering and that I'm helping the environment.
If you are starting a plant based diet and want to some help on how to start being vegan please feel free to leave me a comment to let me know how you are getting on.
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You might like some of these recipes and you can also find lots of recipes on my vegan food blog We Made This Vegan...