When I first considered becoming vegan, I thought I absolutely had to make this big, absolute lifestyle change: One day I would be someone who consumed animal products, and the next, I just... wouldn’t. But the transition doesn’t always have to be that black-and-white (though it may be for some people).
Going vegan can also be a big challenge; changing your diet takes trial and error, research, and extra planning, so if you’re interested in being vegan, it’s totally OK to do it gradually. If you do decide to jump in at any level, though, there’s some stuff you should know that can make the whole transition a bit easier.
Parties might be awkward (at first).
If your friends are anything like mine, the first time you go to a party as a new vegan, your pals might try to sway you. "Vegan? Why?" they’ll ask. "Why can’t you have this dip? It’s just sour cream. It’s not like it’s actual meat."
You will hear every argument for going back on your dietary goals, and you might even want to indulge your friends. Why not? It’s totally less awkward at a party to be easy-going when it comes to food. You’ll feel bad when the hostess awkwardly offers up some of the few vegan options she might have. But in the end, don’t let this deter you! Before parties, I usually just eat something light but filling, so if the situation for vegans at the party is dire, I’m good to go, but not too full to enjoy a snack if there’s anything good out.
You’ll become a pro at reading between the lines on menus.
If you’ve been vegan for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced accidental animal product consumption at a restaurant with staff who aren’t totally versed in what the term "vegan" means. I don’t blame them, either. When I first decided to go vegan, it blew my mind that honey was no longer an option, but once I read about it, it made perfect sense.
After you learn the ropes, you’ll end up spending a lot of time asking the staff questions about how food is prepared: What kind of oil is used? Is there butter in this? Is there cream in this soup? Is there dairy in the pumpkin spice latte even with nondairy milk? (And yes, there probably is.)
Being vegan can make you feel amazing.
I still don’t know where I stand on the arguments about veganism, TBH. There’s a case to be made for the idea that humans are meant to be omnivores, so we might as well eat everything. But I also believe that since we can sustain ourselves on a plant-based diet, why not do that?
I see truth to both sides; however, the deciding factor for me is how great I feel on a plant-based diet. Plants are a great source of energy, and as long as I make sure I’m getting enough calories, I’ve found that replacing heavy, sleep-inducing food with refreshing veggies has made such a difference in my day-to-day energy levels. Cutting dairy out of my diet has even totally alleviated a number of stomach problems I’d previously accepted as just part of my body.
You might annoy your friends with your vegan cooking obsession.
OK, I don’t know if this is true for all vegans, but I know it’s true for some of my friends and me. What really pushed me to make the change in diet was realizing I could make mac and cheese from sweet potato... and it tastes almost exactly the same. Mind. Blown. Of course, learning this started a several-month-long period in which I invited practically everyone I knew over my house to try my sweet potato mac. The next obsession was vegan pizza, and so on.
Going vegan helped me fall in love with getting creative in the kitchen. Since starting my plant-based diet, I’ve discovered how much I enjoy Brussels sprouts, jackfruit, quinoa, cauliflower... I’ve also learned how plants can nourish me just as well as meat, and which plants to eat to replace the vitamins I’m missing from meat— like eating cauliflower to replace the calcium I’m missing out on from cutting milk out of my diet, or switching out pasta and rice for quinoa, which is rich in protein, riboflavin, iron, and manganese.
Chances are high that you’ll become a vitamin maestro.
I used to roll my eyes at the vitamins my mom would stock in my cabinet when she visited, but since I’ve become vegan, they have been my lifeline. Though I do make a conscious effort to make sure everything I put in my body is nourishing and contributes to those very important vitamins we need daily, I’m not above going the extra mile.
My first vitamin tip came from my mother, who is a nurse. One day I was visiting her in Florida, and she pulled prenatal pills off the shelf and handed them to me. Embarrassed, I told her, "Mom… come on, I’m not pregnant." But she explained that even in the hospital, they give prenatal pills to their elderly patients because they are a great multivitamin packed with everything you might need if you don’t have time to get your nutrition down to a science. But there are plenty of other vitamin options out there that might be better to fit your particular needs too.
You might be super hungry for a bit.
When I first switched from an omnivorous to a plant-based diet, I felt like I was constantly eating. "No wonder cows graze literally all day," I thought, as I pulled out my fifth snack of the day. But honestly, I didn’t have the free hours to stuff my face with veggies and hummus all day long—although that lifestyle does sound heavenly. In the end, I downloaded the "Lose It" app not to lose weight, but because I found it does a great job of giving you an idea of your nutritional intake versus calories burned.
I learned that I burn more calories than I’d realized just living my life, and my diet of carrots, hummus, and salad were not going to cut it. A friend gave me the valuable hint that eating a complex carb with your salad will help you stay satiated longer, so my solution to this preliminary bump in the road was to make sure I had a whole grain or complex carb with at least two of my meals, and to always remember to throw some yummy, easy vegan snacks in my bag.
Of course, this calorie deficit doesn’t always happen: After all, French fries are almost always vegan, and these days, there’s a plethora of prepackaged products on the market that mimic the classic comfort foods we know and love. Lots of these snacks are really high in calories, fat, sugar… everything but cholesterol. Like most things in life, all of these foods should be enjoyed, but in moderation.
Making mistakes is OK.
Being vegan means trying to change a lot of stuff in your life, from your snacking habits to what soap and sunscreen you use, so don’t feel bad if it takes you a few tries or some time to make those changes. And sometimes it’s hard to say, "No more wine and cheese nights ever!" because we all know cheese is the biggest temptation. Quitting cold turkey is hard, so if you want, you can make this change gradually—just listen to your body.
Anie Delgado is a freelance writer, actress, and musician based in NYC. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @anie_delgado and check out her music on Spotify.