5 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

A while back I came across an article in the NY Times titled How to Go Vegan and it of course piqued my interest. My husband is a personal trainer and all of his clients know that I follow a vegan diet, so one of them cut this article out of the newspaper and gave it to him to give to me. How freaking cute is that? Sometimes I just love people.

Reading this article inspired me to write my own guide on How to Go Vegan based on what worked for me and what feedback I've received from others who have attempted it, both successfully and unsuccessfully. This is just a guide on how to follow a vegan diet. Being completely vegan really goes much deeper than simply what you eat but that's not what this blog is about.

So, here's my advice for those who think they might be interested in giving this plant-based way of eating a try. I'm not sharing all of this information with you all to try and convince you to switch to a plant based diet, but rather to give you the resources to be able to do so pleasantly if that's what you want to do.

1. Gather some information.

"What makes a food vegan?" It must be void of all animal products, including meat (beef, pork, poultry, fish, veal, venison, bison, etc.), eggsdairy (milk, milk fat, butter, whey, casein, cream, cheese, etc.), and other animal products (beef or chicken stock/broth, gelatin, animal fat or lard, etc.).  Here is a good link for you to refer to for more details. You can also type in "Vegetarian Starter Kit" in an internet search and there are a handful of different companies that will mail you a vegetarian starter kit for free. These have great articles, lots of yummy recipes, and (beware) some graphic pictures as well.

2. Assess yourself. 

Are you the kind of person who can make a diet change like this cold turkey and once you set your mind to something then you really commit to it? If so, that's awesome and that's how you should go at this, like it's one big challenge for you to tackle and there's no other option but to succeed.

Or are you the kind of person who needs to ease their way into things so you don't feel overwhelmed, get upset, and quit? There's absolutely nothing wrong with you if you're that kind of person (everyone is different) and that doesn't mean that you're going to fail at this if you try. Your approach should be to take this as a step by step program, two weeks at a time. You can structure it however you feel will be best for you, but it might be red meat and pork first, then two weeks later poultry and fish, then after that eggs.

Once you've got that down then you tackle dairy. This one is honestly much harder than cutting out the meat because it seems like dairy is hiding everywhere! Did you know that some kettle cooked potato chips contain whey, which is a protein derived from milk?

Another thing that will make giving up dairy more difficult than meat is that cheese contains a hormone called casomorphin, which has the same opiate/addictive affect on your body as real morphine. That's why so many people say, "I just love cheese too much to be vegan!"

I'm not judging you for saying it - I said it too! Just remember that it's not your fault you love cheese so much, and after a month without it I PROMISE you will not crave it anymore. Yes, it may still sound good to you, but you will no longer feel the pull towards it that you once did.

Once you've gone two weeks without dairy, then work on the other things like gelatin, and honey if you wish.

3. Do not try to replace the meat and cheese.

If you think that the easiest way for you to cut meat and cheese out of your life is to run out and buy a cartload of alternative meat and cheese products then you're going to end up really disappointed and unhappy with this way of eating. These products are not intended (at least in my opinion) to replace the meat and cheese in your life because, honestly, nothing can do that. There is no vegan meat or cheese product that taste just like the real thing, and that is especially true with cheese.

There are some products, specifically those made my Gardein and Daiya, that do come really close. My omnivore husband buys Gardein crispy chick'n filets on a regular basis and  says, "These are just as good as the real thing," and he says the same thing about Soy Curls (which are a healthier option). Just because they're just as good as doesn't mean they taste or feel exactly like it. I think that sun butter (made from sunflower seeds) is just as good as peanut butter, but that's not because it tastes like peanut butter.

My advice is to focus on eating other foods that are not meat- or cheese-like in any way for a while and then try some of these products if you really want to. I enjoy meat and cheese alternatives occasionally because they taste good (though most aren't that good for you) and they remind me of the original, but they do not taste just like it. If you do decide to buy these products be careful to read the ingredients because some things may be vegetarian but not vegan (i.e. they contain eggs, whey, casein, etc.). 

Ice cream is a whole other story! There are dozens of different kinds of vegan ice creams and sorbets on the market and they are downright delicious. "How do they do it?" you ask. They just use soy, almond, coconut, or rice milk instead of cows milk. Everything else is the same!

icecream1 Sundae from Sweet Ritual vegan ice cream parlor in Austin, Texas
4. Make sure you're eating enough! Don't be afraid of food.

I know it can be overwhelming - you're cutting a lot of things out of your diet and you're not replacing them with faux versions, so what exactly should you be eating now? I've already written one blog post talking about what the hell we're supposed to eat but I want to touch on it here too.  One thing that I commonly hear from people who have tried to switch to a vegan diet but didn't stick with it is that they felt like they were really tired, didn't have a lot of energy, or they were really hungry. This is not because there's a flaw in plant-based eating, it's because they weren't eating enough of the right foods.

Some people think that vegan and vegetarians eat nothing but vegetables. That is completely not true! Vegetables are good for you and should be a large part of your diet but that is not all you should be eating, especially in the beginning because it's just going to make it harder for you. Make sure that you're including enough fresh fruit, whole grains, beans, and potatoes in your diet. These are foods that are going to keep you feeling full longer than a salad will, and the carbohydrates provide you with energy so you don't feel lethargic. Fruit, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, black beans, white potatoes, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, split peas, butternut squash, whole wheat pasta, pinto beans, barley, millet, lentils... You should be eating plenty of these things everyday!

When I was first starting out on a plant based diet I tried to divide my mental plate like this:


This was helpful for me to make sure I was getting a balance in my foods. Vegetables are generally low in calories and really high in nutrients, so half of my meal (in terms of volume) being vegetables seemed good. Then I'd pick out a good grain for the meal, and then sometimes I'd pick a protein. The protein could be beans, lentils, tofu, or tempeh. Not every single meal I ate fit this bill (especially because there's protein in all food), and this isn't a formula for the only way to feel satisfied on a healthy vegan diet, it's just a guideline. 

Once I became more comfortable with this way of eating it started to take less effort to plan my meals and figure out what I wanted to eat. Here's what five days of vegan eating might look like (click to see a larger image):

Sample Vegan Menu

5. Be ready for the detox.

I have a few friends who have decided to give this vegan thing a try, just temporarily, to see how they like it. I almost always get the same kind of question from them: "My stomach hurts a lot now that I'm eating this way," or,  "I'm pooping weird. Is this normal?"

Yes. Well, sort of...

It is incredibly common for people who make the switch to a plant based diet to be uncomfortable for the first two weeks or so. It's not at all because this way of eating is bad for your body or because your body "needs" whatever foods it is that you've stopped eating. Actually, it's the exact opposite.

You're body is in the process of detoxing from all the crap it's used to digesting and this is often an unpleasant process. Think about when a drug addict stops doing their drug of choice - they generally get very sick and grumpy, and their body does some weird stuff. If they indulge in the drug again these feelings and symptoms go away, but it's not because their body needs that drug, it's just because their body is addicted to it and it takes a while for the body to remember how to function properly without it.

The same is true for people who are used to a diet heavy in animal products who are making a change. Just give your body some time (generally two weeks) and you'll feel better. Not just better than the tummy ache you're having now, but better than you felt before you made the switch. Probably better than you've felt in a long time.

6. Progress, not perfection.

It's almost guaranteed that you're going to mess up at some point. You'll be at a party and eat something sprinkled with cheese without even thinking, or be at a wedding and enjoy a slice of cake, or put some non-vegan Baileys Irish Creme in your vegan hot chocolate at your Christmas party...

Or maybe one morning you wake up and just really want some scrambled eggs. If this happens, it's okay. It is not the end of the world, most people will not judge you for it, and it does not make you a failure. Making the switch to a plant-based diet is a big change in your life and it's going to be hard. Most people do not expect you to be perfect all the time, so don't be too hard on yourself if you slip up.

Please, please don't think that you've screwed it up for good and decide that you might as well just call the whole thing off. Recognize what you did and why. If you feel bad about it, identify why you did it in the first place and try to figure out what you can do to avoid it in the future. If you don't feel bad about it, still try to identify why it is that you don't feel bad, so then you have a better understanding of your own reason for wanting to make the switch in the first place and why this slip-up isn't a big deal.

Don't be scared of the label "vegan" and feel like you have to live by someone else's rules, or that this is an all or nothing game. This is your life and you're in charge. If you do allow yourself some leeway there's nothing wrong with that. And if you run into some people who take issue with you calling yourself a "vegan" and not adhering to all the principles of the lifestyle, apologize for inappropriately using the term to describe yourself and clarify that you follow a plant-based diet. I've not had this problem yet but I know it could happen.

7. Spend a lot of time on the internet.

There are a lot of free resources for vegans on the internet. There are countless blogs with great recipes, articles, advice, educational information, FAQs, etc. If you have questions, Google them! I found that the more I read about this way of eating and lifestyle, the easier it was for me to follow it. It made me feel like I was part of a community, reminded me that I wasn't alone in doing this, and kept me encouraged and motivated.

Again, I'm not sharing all of this information with you all to try and convince you to switch to a plant based diet, but rather to give you the resources to be able to do so pleasantly if that's what you want to do.

Of course if you have questions, want advice, need recipes, etc. you can always contact me and I will be more than happy to help you out! Leave me a comment here, email me at or send me a personal message on Facebook. Here are some other great resources you might find helpful and/or enjoyable. Most of the movies and/or books I checked out from the library for free, but they're also available on Netflix or of course you can purchase them.








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