If you’re anything like me, going vegan sounds like a scary process. Where do I start, what do I need to buy, and perhaps most importantly, how will I live without cheese? But if it’s a lifestyle you’re really interested in exploring, we’ve got some tips for you. (And not just where to get the best vegan cheese either, though you probably want to know that too.)
We chatted with fitness and vegan wellness coach Ella Magers, who gave us her top tips to making your transition to a vegan lifestyle easier. She also shared a recipe from her latest book, The Six Weeks to Sexy Abs Meal Plan, which is a hybrid cookbook and weekly meal planner for shedding the dreaded last 6 pounds for defined abs.
By following her expert advice and kicking things off with a surprisingly creamy vegan smoothie that just happens to taste like a cinnamon bun, you’ll be well on your way to making the change to a plant-based diet.
1. Set yourself up for success with a solid plan of action
Everyone is unique in how they will be most successful transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, and for most people, attempting to turn vegan overnight is unsustainable. Creating a plan of action is therefore a must. Depending on where you are in the process, you may choose, for example, to eliminate an animal product every week until you have eliminated animal products from your diet altogether. Or maybe start with eating vegan three days per week for the first month, four for the second month, etc., until you’re eating vegan seven days a week. It’s essential that you also choose a plant-based food to replace the animal product you are giving up every week. That way, you can consistently introduce new vegan food into your diet, adding a variety of nutrients, textures and flavors to your eating routines. Variety is a key component of a healthy, vegan meal plan.
More: Creamy vegan mac and no cheese will fool even the biggest dairy lovers
2. Become comfortable reading nutritional labels
To maintain a healthy vegan diet, it’s important to become proficient at reading food nutrition labels so you can shop with confidence. The first thing to tell yourself when you pick a packaged food from the shelf is, “Skip the marketing, and go right for the facts.” Terms like “all-natural,” “sugar-free,” “low-fat” and “gluten-free” are marketing ploys to convince you to buy something without reading the nutrition facts. Go straight to the ingredient list to first make sure it has no animal products or byproducts. Second, ask yourself, “Is the first ingredient one I want to put in my body? What about the second and third?” Generally, the fewer ingredients, the healthier the item is. Look for whole food ingredients like “dates” or “sesame seeds.” If you can’t even pronounce an ingredient or it sounds like a chemistry experiment, chances are it’s not good for you! If the ingredients pass the test, you can take a look at the serving size (very important), calories, fat, sugar, sodium and protein content, keeping in mind that not all calories are created equal.
3. Watch a documentary at least once a month to stay motivated
Films like Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Cowspiracy and Food Inc. will help educate you and remind you of the reasons you are making the transition to a vegan lifestyle. Being continually reminded of all the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle will keep you motivated to continue on your path until your new habits become second nature. We don’t want the “out of sight, out of mind” principle to take over!
4. Create a support system for yourself
Family, friends and co-workers can play a significant role in either helping or hindering you on your journey. Have a heart-to-heart with the people you care about in your life. They care about you too! If you request their support, explaining that you’ve made a commitment to transitioning to a healthier, more compassionate lifestyle, chances are they will become your cheerleaders. They can provide an environment that reduces temptation to return to old habits. The other part of your support system can include veteran vegans in your community, online forums and chat rooms, and social media outlets. Set out to connect with people and groups that provide you with helpful insight and camaraderie.
5. Stay stocked with vegan staples
Come up with a list of staple ingredients, superfoods and healthy snacks to keep your kitchen stocked at all times so that you never get into the common “I’m starving and don’t have anything healthy to eat” situation. Shakes and smoothies are a great go-to snack, so keep ingredients for your favorite recipes on hand, such as plant-based milk, berries (frozen is fine), dates, hemp seeds, flax meal and spinach. Fresh fruit, leafy greens, raw veggies, hummus, nut butter and quinoa are also great staples to consider for healthy, quick, simple snacks and meals.
6. Take a B-12 supplement
B-12 is the one nutrient a modern, plant-based diet inherently lacks. B-12 is formed from a bacteria found in soil. We used to get enough of the vitamin by simply handling vegetables we grew from gardens before our land was stripped of its nutrients. Now, however, with the pressure washing and sanitizing process we perform on plants, we don’t have easy access to B-12 except through supplements. Luckily it’s easy to get all the B-12 you need with an inexpensive supplement. Many vegan foods, such as nut milks, are also fortified with B-12, among other important nutrients. It’s best to include a supplement in your routine, though, to be safe.