BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO VEGANISM » covering the basics
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Venturing into the world of veganism can be an overwhelming and frightening journey, especially if you're the only one in your social circle adopting such a lifestyle. But with this lifestyle picking up momentum, there are luckily plenty of resources and recipes available to help for a smooth transition. In this article, we'll explore Pick Up Lime's top 12 tips for any newbies to veganism, but before we begin there are some important things to mention:
In no way should you ever feel forced or pressured to become a vegan. The decision should be your own conscious decision; one that comes from a place of compassion and excitement. If there are people in your life who are not ready to join you in the transition, let them be. This is discussed more below.
You don't have to go completely vegan to appreciate these tips. Incorporating more plant-based foods into your life is a win all around.
If you have a medical condition, if you're immuno-compromised, or if you're feeding very young children please speak with a physician or dietitian before you begin.
If you want to know about my journey in veganism, the difficulties I experienced when starting or the fear I had with "coming out" as a vegan dietitian, you can read more about it here.
Alright, that's out of the way - let's get started.
1. Start With an Open Mind
Forget what you've heard about vegan foods being bland, the lifestyle being too expensive, you not getting enough nutrients, or it just being too time-consuming to incorporate into your life. If you start with negative attitude, it's going to feel like a punishment. But it is far from that. Eating this way is nourishing, delicious, and wholesome. It's food that loves you, as much as you love it back. And like anything else: it gets easier with time and practice. You'll find more affordable places to shop, and making meals will be just as quick if not quicker to make in time. So forget everything you think you know, and dive in with an open mind.
2. Don't be a Superhero
Some people feel like when they become vegan, they need to also simultaneously become zero waste, minimalists, gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, fitness warriors, not to mention an "expert" in veganism. Why all the pressure? You'll learn more and more about veganism time, and you can start to adopt other lifestyle practices down the road, if they resonate with you at all. But biting off more than you can chew just leads to indigestion. Slow and steady, friends.
3. Give Yourself Extra Time
Like I said, almost everything we do is harder and requires more of our time in the beginning. So intentionally schedule some extra time when it comes to preparing meals at least for the first few weeks. You'll get faster, don't worry.
4. Keep Stocked
The lifestyle change is going to be complicated if you've got nothing on hand to work with. So start by stocking up on the pantry essentials. I've made a video on this already, so I'll link it at the end of this video if you want to check it out.
And you know what? When you're just starting off, you also don't need to go so extreme and forbid yourself from having any treat foods, only to envy others who enjoy them. Veganism is equally as fun! Have some good quality dairy-free dark chocolate, or a bag of chips laying around for whenever you're in the mood, or enjoy baked goods like vegan banana bread, vegan cookies or vegan muffins.
In addition to the pantry essentials, and you're also going to want to be stocked up on stuff like fresh produce, breads, and the plant-based meat alternatives. I've made a comprehensive grocery shopping list for vegan essentials. If you want a free copy, you can get it here.
5. Consider Adding, Not Taking Away
This is not a deprivation diet. It's an eat-in-abundance lifestyle. A lot of times when people think about veganism, they think of all the things they can't have: meats, chicken, fish, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, milk.
That's not the right mindset.
Instead what we want to do is focus what we are adding more of, and let these foods naturally replace the others. Adding more plant-based dairy alternatives like soy, almond, rice or coconuts milks and yogurts, more whole grains, more fruits, more vegetables, more nuts, seeds, trail-mixes, beans, lentils, tofu. You get the idea.
And one more tip: if you're new to vegan, take advantage of the many "mock meats", also known as "textured vegetable proteins" that can be found at most large-chain grocery shops. Some mock meatballs, mock ground beef and mock chicken helps in your transition for sure. And if you don't know how to cook tofu, they have pre-seasoned tofu available in most shops too. With time you can substitute for other more wholesome plant-based sources of protein if you'd like, things like your own seasoned and prepared tofu, tempeh, lentils and beans. But in the beginning, go ahead and use all the resources available to you.
6. Add Legumes Slowly
When you do start to include more beans and lentils as your source of plant-based proteins and carbs, start slow. A lot of people go from having nothing, to a cup or more a day. That's bound to give you gas and indigestion. Start with as little as 2 Tbsp a day, gradually increasing to 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, full cup, or however much you want. A gradual increase in intake helps to mitigate the whole gas and bloat situation.
7. Learn a Few Favourites
I get that it can be overwhelming in the beginning, especially if you don't know what to make. So start by learning just a handful of recipes that you enjoy, and learn them well. These can be your defaults. With this lifestyle picking up momentum, there is no shortage of plant-recipes on the web. Pinterest and YouTube are two places that will offer your thousands of delicious recipes. Simple type in "vegan recipes" and you'll have more options than you can imagine. And if that still feels like too much work, you can always go to the Pick Up Limes Pinterest page with boards that have already been organized for you into breakfasts, smoothies, drinks, snacks, main meals and more!
8. Listen to Your Hunger Cues
It's common to feel more hungry when you've made the transition. Keep in mind that plant-based foods offer fewer calories for more bulk. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes simply don't offer as much calories as the more fatty meats, butter, cheese and ice cream. So if you find that you're getting hungry, even though you just had a big bowl of food, honour your hunger and eat some more if you feel you need to. It will take a little while for you to get used to this, but trust that your body will find balance and adjust soon.
9. What's Your Why-power?
I say this a lot, because I think it's the most powerful tool we've got. Why do you even want to adopt this lifestyle? For health reasons? For environmental reasons? For the animals? Get even more specific if you can, and write it down. By seeing it and reminding yourself of the why on a regular basis, it'll be more likely it is to stick. So instead of focusing on what you are losing or missing out on, like your ability to have chicken, the why let's you focus on what you gain: like gaining improved health, gaining an improved environmental footprint, gaining the reassurance that an animal life wasn't taken for your meal. Focusing on the why helps you focus on the gains as opposed to the losses.
10. So You Messed Up? Don't Sweat it…
Just do as much as is reasonable to you. There are a few glorified stories of those who became vegan over night and never looked back, and we all envy them, but for most it it's a zig-zagged journey more than it is straight. I mean think about it: you're re-writing years or decades of teachings about how to eat, and re-configuring habits you've lived with your whole life. So the boat might rock a couple times. If you trip, just turn it into a dance and keep smiling. In other words: if you slip up - it's okay. Onwards and upwards!
Yes, a Vitamin B12 supplement is recommended. But how often you need to take it depends on the dosage. I've written a brief article on this. And if you're somewhere in the world where you get no sun exposure, or if you wear sunscreen, a vitamin D supplement is also recommended - but this last one applies to everyone, not just vegans.
12. Share the Message with Compassion
For me, veganism is not just compassion for animals, the environment, or our health, but also compassion to our friends, family, acquaintances... and even total strangers. Unfortunately, there is a lot of judgement and criticism in the world of plant-based nutrition. For example you might hear or read,"If you eat fish then you should really call yourself a vegetarian." Or, "if you eat honey then you aren't a vegan." According to the strict guidelines, this may be true, but you'll be better off to drop the strict guidelines if you're new to it, and just do you your best. Following a plant-based lifestyle the majority of the time is a clear win compared to nothing at all.
For those already following a plant-based lifestyle: offer compassion to all individuals, plant-based or not. Be open and honest to answering questions, and don't judge the choices of others. Lead by example, and those that are inspired will be more likely to follow suit than if they feel pressured or were made to feel inadequate in some way.
You can always go to your doctor and get your bloodwork done before you begin, and again 6-12 months down the road. Although you don't have to do this, it may help increase your confidence and help reassure you and your loved ones that things are going well. In some cases, the lab work may improve (that's kind of the point sometimes), and in other case it may show some signs of deficiences, and that's okay too. It’s a lifestyle change, so don't forget you are in the learning stage of it all, especially for the first few months. You might have just overseen a certain type of food that you're now going to start to include; in this way your blood work can also be used as a tool to help you better understand what nutrients come from what foods.
Regardless of what you choose, if done correctly, there should be no deficiencies following a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
If you're looking for more credible sources to learn more information, you can try these PUL favourites:
The book called Becoming Vegan by two Registered Dietitians, Vesanto Melina & Brenada Davis.
A website called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Remember to offer yourself compassion and honour where you're at. All good things come in time.
Want To Learn More?
Read this previous nutrition article called ADEQUATE VITAMIN B12 » on a plant-based lifestyle
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❤ Written by: Sadia