Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
Whether you’re the kind of person who has to ease themselves into something slowly, or you tend to jump in head first (and throw in the kitchen sink for good measure!), there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach when it comes to transitioning to a vegan diet.
It’s hard now to imagine a time when veganism wasn’t an integral part of my identity. But it was a good reality check for me when writing this article to recall that my own journey towards Veganism was far from instant. It was more of a gradual process of curiosity, education and growth.
Having learnt about the numerous health benefits of eliminating meat from my diet, I started on the path to veganism by going pescatarian. Feeling positive about the changes I’d made a year in, I then began to consider more carefully whether I should cut out fish too.
A week into 2022 (and about a week into my new vegetarian diet), an intensive period of watching powerful plant-based documentaries and reading books like Animal Liberation by Peter Singer made me ditch dairy pretty much overnight and commit 100% to veganism.
Your transition will likely be different to mine, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! In this post, I want to explore why any kind of change can be tougher than you might first assume. Then I’ll give you my top tips for how to make the transition to veganism as seamless as possible.
Why Is It Difficult to Transition to a Vegan Diet?
I know plenty of friends, family, and work colleagues who have felt conflicted about eating meat and inspired to make the shift to a vegan diet. But despite their best intentions, the motivation dries up within a couple of weeks.
Whenever we recognise that something is important to us and yet don’t follow through, we can’t help but erode a little bit of faith in ourselves. Think about your new year’s gym resolution, for example. Or promising yourself that you’ll get up on your alarm and then hitting snooze.
When you attempt to make any kind of change in your life, it’s helpful to have an awareness of just how difficult transitional periods can be. Ultimately, your thoughts, beliefs and character become hardwired over time through daily repetition. And by the time you’re in your mid-20s, you have less agency than you think. It’s much easier to fall into the smooth, familiar grooves that are your normal patterns and behaviours.
Change means stumbling along, making mistakes, and often painstakingly slow progress. It’s like trying to forge a new path through rough terrain when a tarmac road already exists.
So of course, when you’ve grown up in a meat and dairy-eating household, in a culture which hails meat-and-two-veg as the ‘traditional’ plate of food, then you’re kidding yourself if you think that going vegan is going to be plain sailing.
You’ve got to give it time while your tastebuds change. You’re going to experience resistance when you go out for a meal and there’s only one vegan option on the menu that you don’t really fancy. And it’s going to be annoying when your nan can’t make you a cup of tea because she doesn’t have any oat milk.
How to Go Vegan
The good news is that while habit change may be slow, it’s not impossible. I’m living proof of this. And if I can do it, this should give you reason to believe that you absolutely can, too.
More than half the battle with transitioning to veganism is entirely in your head, so to ease the mental resistance you’ll inevitably experience, have a read through my top tips below. This is the stuff I wish I’d known, so I hope it makes your own experience as smooth as possible!
1. Know your ‘why’
He, who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.
What is the quickest and most effective path to behaviour change? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’ve got to know your ‘why’.
How does veganism align with your core values? For me, it is fundamentally interlinked with my values of ‘Health’, ‘Courage’, and ‘Independent Thinking’. If you can make veganism a non-negotiable when it comes to your self-image, integrity, and (crucially) the person you want to be, then this will go a long way to keeping you accountable on difficult days.
Veganism is also a process of education. The more you can learn about and strengthen your reasons – for example, ethics, sustainability, and personal health benefits – the easier you’ll find it to commit to. If a couple of weeks of intensive reading and watching documentaries meant that I went vegan and never looked back, then having clarity on your purpose can get you through anything.
2. Discuss with your loved ones
When you talk to friends and family about changes you want to make in your life, you instantly become more accountable. It’s easy enough to let things slide when you fail to do the things you say you will. But when it comes to admitting your failings to others, it’s much more painful and embarrassing!
Remember that it’s not uncommon to receive criticism from family and friends, even though you’re being a catalyst for positive change. This may threaten their worldview and make them feel uncomfortable with their own choices, so don’t be swayed if they’re not overly thrilled with your decision.
It also helps to consider the practicalities of who you’re living with, who does the cooking, and how it will affect your household. Discussing ahead of time how you can compromise on meal planning and preparation will save any unnecessary friction your vegan transition may cause.
3. Make easy swaps
If you’re the type of person who prefers gradual change, then just try one plant-based swap on your grocery list each week. There are widely-available vegan alternatives for pretty much every ingredient you could imagine these days, so you might be pleasantly surprised by how quickly small changes can add up to big ones.
For example, switch out your regular dairy milk for oat, almond or coconut. It took me a while to adjust to this change, but now that my tastebuds have become accustomed to it, I would honestly choose oat milk in my cup of tea any day of the week.
Try an olive spread rather than traditional dairy margarine. A jar of vegan pesto in place of regular pesto. Meatless burgers instead of beef patties. Or a bar of dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
4. Give Veganuary a go
Prefer a 30-day intensive challenge to get stuck into, as opposed to gradual change? Depending on the type of person you are and what makes you tick, going all-in might be a better way to keep yourself motivated towards making big changes in your life.
Veganuary is a fantastic introduction to the rich and varied world of plant-based eating. Sign up to make a pledge and keep yourself accountable, as well as receiving access to tips, recipes, meal plans and more. The beauty of Vegnauary is that it is aimed at complete beginners and gives you an all-important community of support on your transition to becoming vegan.
5. Introduce one plant-based weeknight dinner
If going vegan feels overwhelming and you’re heavily dependent on meat-based meals, then consider simplifying the process by introducing just one plant-based dinner a week.
If you care about sustainability and want to reduce your carbon footprint, then eliminating animal products for just one meal can have a huge impact. And if every household was to do this, think about the compound interest that would rack up!
I think we’re all guilty sometimes of an ‘all or nothing’ mindset. Going to the gym even once a fortnight is better than not going at all, but it’s easy to set yourself up for failure by assuming that everything has to be perfect and 100% effort all of the time.
Remember to praise yourself for every small change you make. This is the stuff that sustainable, long-term behaviour is built from, so don’t ever dismiss or diminish it.
6. Go pescatarian or vegetarian first
We all want to make big changes and see instant results in our lives, but these are rarely the things which stick. Like me, you may want to take a staggered approach to a new diet.
It’s not as appealing to think long-term, but Matthew Kelly couldn’t have put it better:
Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.
In other words, a year may sound like a long time to transition to veganism, but it worked out better for me than for many people I know who tried to make the change instantly. This is because I gave myself time to adjust to new things in a controlled and considered way.
7. Make meat-free versions of your favourite meals
Particularly during the transition phase, it can be reassuring and less of a mental hurdle when you can recreate some of your favourite meals with easy plant-based versions.
This means that you can make minimal adjustments to tried and tested recipes. When you’re having a busy week, the last thing you want to do is spend hours hunting for new meal inspiration and learning how to cook with ingredients you’ve never come across before.
For example, buy Quorn mince to make homely bolognese sauces and lasagnes. Try a three-bean chilli rather than your regular mince-based one (much cheaper too!). Or substitute tinned jackfruit for pulled pork (honestly, the similarity in texture is unreal!). Gaz Oakley even has a mean mac-n-cheese recipe when you fancy comfort food at its best.
8. Experiment with new ingredients slowly
Once you’ve mastered the art of meat-free swaps, one of the more advanced teachings of veganism is that you learn to radically rethink a ‘normal’ plate of food. Yep, I am now completely obsessed with assembling healthy Buddha bowls in a myriad of different flavour combinations.
It also encourages you to get creative in the kitchen and try new ingredients and cuisines you may never have otherwise considered. For instance, I remember quite clearly the first time I cooked tofu (I don’t have a tofu press, so I just piled a load of books on top of it!). Basically, I had no idea what I was doing with this weird and wonderful ingredient. But now I use it as a staple of many meals and have learnt through trial and error how to infuse plenty of flavour into it.
Introduce new ingredients slowly and you’ll soon start to grow confidence in the kitchen you never knew you had.
9. Get organised with meal planning and prep
One of the best ways to keep yourself accountable to a vegan diet is planning, planning, planning! Don’t leave things down to chance or expect yourself to make good decisions at the end of a long day when you’re faced with an empty fridge. You will order takeout. It probably involves pepperoni pizza. Hell, it definitely involves cheese!
Planning your meals, buying only what you need, and batching cooking all of your meals a couple of times a week is a surefire way to reduce decision fatigue and mental resistance. When you have a pre-portioned, tasty dinner just waiting for you to pop in the microwave, you’re a lot less likely to be seriously contemplating a McDonald’s drive-thru!
To further streamline the process, you could even consider a vegan meal delivery service. For delivery to your door, pre-portioned ingredients, and easy recipe cards, your vegan transition will be inspiring, simple, and dare I say it… even enjoyable.
10. Use Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen app
You may think that you instinctively know what it means to be healthy – eat your 5 a day, cut out the sugary snacks, etc. But it helps to educate yourself on the fundamental basics of your nutritional needs.
For example, what are good sources of protein and why is protein important? What are ‘cruciferous’ vegetables? Why should you try to eat a handful of leafy greens (like spinach or rocket) every single day?
For the answer to these questions and many more, I’d advise reading Dr Michael Greger’s comprehensive study on plant-based diets How Not to Die. It’s a big book, so if you don’t have the time to commit to it, then try the Blinkist summary or just download the Daily Dozen app.
The Daily Dozen app is a free resource which helps you to incorporate the right number of servings of food groups required for optimum health. And you can easily track your plant-based progress every day.
What I love about the Daily Dozen is that it isn’t restrictive, and it isn’t about macros or strict calorie counting. It simply helps you to start building healthier habits when it comes to your dietary choices.
Go Vegan for Long-Term Alignment With Your Values
Despite all my initial misgivings about cutting out meat and dairy from my diet (and being up there with the world’s greatest cheese lovers), going vegan is one of the best things I ever did. It makes me proud of the person I am, what I stand for, and the kind of world I’m contributing towards.
Do I ever slip up when I’m on my own and no one’s looking? Honestly, no I don’t. And that’s because it means enough to me. The thought of any short-term enjoyment I’d get out of eating meat or dairy is completely overshadowed by the pain I’d feel if I was to do so.
Once you get through the short-term mental resistance, the self-discipline of long-term alignment with your values is the best feeling. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise that for the world! It gets easier, and my moments of weakness get fewer and further between because veganism is how I identify myself now.
Veganism isn’t stumbling along a dirt track anymore. It’s become a firmly established habit which has solidified, quite simply, into who I am. It’s the motorway I’m cruising along at 60mph.
So stop trying to make a fool-proof plan and don’t worry about doing veganism perfectly. Your transition starts whenever you want it to, in ways that are individual to you and work for YOU. It also spills over into an all-encompassing lifestyle choice, so you may want to read more on this here. Let me know in the comments below what you’ve found most difficult and anything that has helped you in your own experience – I’d love to hear from you!