Veganism had been on my radar for a few months when I arrived in Jordan. The idea was daunting, scary even. But the things I had learnt about the food on my plate tugged at my heart. So I decided to set myself a deadline. After leaving the country (September 2015), I’d completely cut out animal products from my diet and lifestyle. No matter the challenges, I’d figure out how to turn vegan.
Since then, I’ve made plenty of vegan friends and everyone’s journey has been different. Some turned vegan overnight. Some took months, even a year, to fully embrace the change.
If you’re curious about how to transition into veganism, this post is for you. Based on my experience and that of some friends, I’ve tried to address some pressing questions: How do you stay motivated, mentally prepare to deal with family and friends, eat healthy, travel and connect with other vegans?
Here are my 10 practical tips on how to turn vegan:
- Figure out your motivation
- Do your research
- Transition into veganism at your own pace
- Ensure you eat healthy as a vegan
- Monitor your nutrition, especially Vitamin B12 and D3
- Mentally prepare yourself to break the news to your family and friends
- Connect with other vegans
- Look up vegan-friendly cafes / restaurants in your location
- Learn to read the labels and figure out alternatives
- Subscribe to inspiring vegan bloggers, Youtubers and Instagrammers
- Share your journey and spread the awareness
- *Bonus* When the going gets tough, remember your reason for turning vegan
- Have you ever wondered how to transition into veganism? What are your major challenges?
Figure out your motivation
Veganism is a choice that stares you in the face every single day. Every meal, every visit to the supermarket, every time you buy something, wherever you travel. People often ask me how I stay vegan, especially since I’m always on the road and often reliant on others to feed me.
Over the years, I’ve realised that the only way to stay committed is to figure out your strongest motivation.
For me, the primary motivation is animal suffering. The moment I visualise the pain inflicted on animals so I can consume that little bit of meat, milk, cheese or ghee, I know I don’t want to contribute to it.
You might feel the same way for animals. Or about the environment (the global carbon emissions of raising livestock for food is 14.5%, more than the entire transport sector). Or your own health.
Among my friends, Bhavna Kapoor turned vegan when it helped her deal with some debilitating health issues. Aakash Ranison turned vegan when he learnt about the environmental impact of consuming meat and dairy. Vinita Contractor turned vegan while pregnant, upon realizing how a whole foods plant based diet could ease her pregnancy.
In Iran, I met three generations of a vegan family. The grandmother embraced veganism after it helped reverse her diabetic condition. Her son and his wife turned vegan motivated by their spiritual guru. And their daughter turned vegan after learning about the plight of animals.
Think long and hard about what YOUR motivation is. What tugs at your heartstrings? What drives you? Because when the going gets tough, you’ll need to remind yourself of all the reasons you transitioned in the first place.
Also read: [BBC] Confessions of a Slaughterhouse Worker
Do your research
Whatever your motivation(s), it’s important to learn about the hard truths.
Watch documentaries and read credible articles about the horrors of meat, dairy and other animal products, their impact on the environment and how they affect our bodies. Earthlings, Cowspiracy and Game Changers – though America focused – are a good place to start. Better still, find ways to practically verify what you see and read online.
I’ve lived with small-scale cattle farmers in the Himalayas and visited free-range dairy farms in India and Europe, sheep rearing facilities in Lesotho, animal rescue sanctuaries and horse riding estates. I’ve learnt to ask tough questions and gathered some shocking answers.
When I think of cheese, I immediately remember that it comes by forcefully impregnating a cow and snatching the kid away from its mother – unfortunately even in so called “free range” farms. When you feel like riding a horse again, remember the male horse is often castrated and its spirit broken just for you to be able do that.
If you ask me, in-depth research is the best way to deal with any cravings. They’ll go away once you associate them with animal suffering, environmental degradation and the adverse impact on our personal health.
Transition into veganism at your own pace
There is no right or wrong way on how to transition into veganism. For me, it was both a slow and overnight transition. I gave up meat and seafood overnight as a teenager. After many years of living under a rock, I finally learnt what happens behind the scenes to produce eggs and milk products. It took me a while to digest those facts, then I gave up eggs and dairy overnight.
Your journey could be very different from mine or anyone else’s. Here are some things to consider:
How to turn vegan slowly: If you prefer to make changes in small doses, by all means start slow. Maybe it means eating vegan every Sunday. Or for one week every month. Maybe it means first cutting out all animal products except that one thing you really can’t get yourself to give up (chai or curd in many cases). Or allowing yourself one cheat day a month. Maybe it means setting out a timeline for yourself and slowly eliminating animal products from your diet. Maybe it begins with the commitment to never buy cosmetics tested on animals again. Or silk or leather or wool products.
How to turn vegan overnight: If you believe in all or nothing, by all means turn vegan overnight. But do your research, especially on how to stay healthy through the transition. Which brings me to my next point.
Ensure you eat healthy as a vegan
Many people think that just by virtue of eating vegan, they’re eating healthy. But things like potato chips, coke, maggi and refined sugar are vegan too. Whether to eat junk food or not is your call, but especially as a newbie vegan, try to incorporate major foods groups into your diet. Lentils, chickpeas, beans, leafy greens, veggies, fruits, millets, grains, nuts, seeds. There are tons of incredible vegan recipes online, of which smoothies are my favourite. They’re easy to make, delicious and pack in a ton of nutrition!
While it’s possible and often easy to get enough protein, calcium and other nutrients on a vegan diet, we do need to eat more consciously. This guide by the NHS is a good starting point to work out what to include in your food.
Monitor your nutrition, especially Vitamin B12 and D3
Many people ask if eating vegan is natural since most vegans need to opt for Vitamin B12 and D3 supplementation. So allow me to bust some myths.
First, many non-vegans (vegetarians and meat eaters) are also deficient in these essential vitamins. In my family for instance, I’m vegan, my dad is vegetarian and my mom eats meat and seafood. We all take B12 and D3 supplements. Irrespective of your diet, you must monitor their levels.
Second, the natural source of Vitamin B12 is bacteria in the soil and spring water. Unfortunately much of our soil and spring water is contaminated now. These days even poultry animals are given B12 supplements!
The natural source of Vitamin D3 is sunlight, but not all human bodies are able to process D3 directly from the sun.
As you consider how to transition into veganism, it’s a good idea to do a blood test to monitor your nutrition, including calcium, iron, Vitamin B12 and D3. If you can compare your diet now and 3-6 months after you transition, you’ll discover what food sources to include in your diet.
Also note that it’s important to balance two major amino acids – lysine and arginine – on a vegan diet. While most vegan sources have a higher arginine:lysine ratio, only a few like beans, avocados and lentils offer the reverse. Make sure to incorporate plenty of those into your food.
Mentally prepare yourself to break the news to your family and friends
I won’t lie. When you think about how to turn vegan, you should know that this big transition will likely affect some of your relationships. When people close to me heard that I no longer consume animal products, they either made fun of me or went on the defensive. My food choices were scrutinized way too often – so much that I often wished for a meal where we’d talk about anything else.
Over the past 4 years though, I’ve learnt to pick my battles. I try to make things easier by catching up with friends over tea rather than a meal, or doing my research and suggesting a vegan-friendly place if they’re up for it. When I visit family, I’m super grateful that they go out of their way to ensure that I’m well fed.
Perhaps it was easier for me to adapt my lifestyle because I don’t live with family. But if you live at home, know that after my friend Monica Chopra turned vegan, she convinced most of her family to go vegan over time too! She says what really worked for her was making her family try things they love (vegan variations of cheese, curd, meat etc). She also enrolled in a nutrition course and was able to answer all their questions about calcium and protein scientifically. Her mom ended up reversing her thyroid problems, and that was reason enough to embrace a plant-based lifestyle.
Connect with other vegans
Remember that everything you’re going through – from wondering how to transition into veganism to the challenges and deep anger / sadness / guilt that might follow – someone has already been through it. Being a vegan in a non-vegan world can feel pretty lonely. Join vegan groups in your area on Facebook, follow vegan hashtags on Instagram, participate in a vegan event in your area (or initiate it), go for vegan potlucks, attend vegan festivals and conferences, and meet fellow vegans in person as much as you can. Friendships built on strong common grounds are some of the strongest.
Look up vegan-friendly cafes / restaurants in your location
At first, I was sad to figure out that many cafes / restaurants I frequented in my pre-vegan life could no longer offer me satisfying food. But believe me when I tell you that in the months and years since, I’ve had some of the best food of my entire life! I’m thinking of forest mushroom sandwiches, vegan cheese pizzas, homemade smoothies, chocolate desserts and much much more. It’s not always easy to find such food, but as the vegan movement grows, cities around the world are becoming increasingly vegan-friendly.
As you figure out how to turn vegan, make sure you download the HappyCow App that maps vegan-friendly places near you, wherever in the world you are. Look for cafes and restaurants with vegan options on Tripadvisor / Zomato. Ask for recommendations in your location’s vegan Facebook group. Scout Instagram hashtags for delicious finds.
Learn to read the labels and figure out alternatives
I’m sure most vegans will identify when I say how tired my eyes felt from squinting, trying to read every label of every product in a supermarket! Besides looking for the obvious suspects, I’ve learnt to look for ingredients like whey powder (made from milk), gelatin (obtained from boiling the skin and bones of animals), isinglass (obtained from fish bladder) and casein (milk byproducts).
The good news is that after the first few times, you’ll figure out what is accidentally vegan and what is not. In India for instance, Uncle Chips contain milk solids while Hide and Seek biscuits are accidentally vegan!
Vegan alternatives are pretty contentious in the vegan world. Some feel that we don’t need alternatives for cheese, milk and meat at all. Some are wary of their environmental consequences (almond milk for instance, can be a huge drain on water resources).
Personally, I think it’s important to use local and sustainably sourced products as much as possible. Other than that, it’s upto each individual to decide whether or not to opt for alternatives. If consuming peanut curd and adding some oat milk to your chai makes it easier for you to stay off animal products, go for it.
Subscribe to inspiring vegan bloggers, Youtubers and Instagrammers
Social media can be a treasure trove of inspiration if you follow the right people. And luckily, there are many who’ll inspire you to stay vegan. I love Bite Size Vegan‘s extremely informative Youtube videos and SimpleVeganBlog‘s seriously easy vegan recipes. I follow several vegan hashtags on Instagram. And have started my own #TSSVeganSundays series to answer popular questions on veganism.
Share your journey and spread the awareness
Once you’ve worked out how to transition into veganism and embarked on your journey, chances are, you’ll want to spread the word. Like I said, being vegan is a choice that stares you in the face every single day. If your motivation is strong enough to stay vegan, you’ll likely want to do something more than being vegan on a personal level.
Most vegans I know have also transitioned into work that enables them to spread the word about veganism. Many of my vegan friends are now animal rights activists, health consultants, chefs, vegan business owners, yoga teachers, climate activists and more. Others have weaved in elements of a vegan lifestyle into their existing professions.
Personally, it has been an internal battle to figure out that my strength is writing, even when it comes to spreading the animal cruelty message. I’ve written about my vegan travel adventures for National Geographic Traveller, Travel+Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller. I’ve reported on India’s vegan movement for FirstPost, started #TSSVeganSundays to discuss hard hitting perspectives on Instagram and have many more stories in the pipeline.
*Bonus* When the going gets tough, remember your reason for turning vegan
You know you’re serious about making the transition if you’ve made it so far in this post. So here’s a bonus tip for you. A few days, weeks or months into your vegan journey, the going will likely get tough. You might crave something you loved (or didn’t care for) in your pre-vegan life. You might feel exhausted from all the jokes thrown at you by friends, family and random acquaintances. You might find yourself walking the familiar aisles of your favorite store, realizing there’s nothing there you can eat anymore.
Having survived those phases, I want to tell you that this too shall pass. Don’t be hard on yourself. If you must give into a craving, do it. If you must explode from anger or sadness or guilt, do it. If you must escape it all and seek refuge in a vegan potluck or vegan group or vegan cafe or vegan friend, do it (my Instagram DMs are always open for you, btw).
Most of all, remember why you quit animal products in the first place. Reach within you to find that conviction, strength and compassion again. Remember, if you think that being vegan is difficult, imagine how difficult it is for the animals that you’re not vegan.
Have you ever wondered how to transition into veganism? What are your major challenges?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.