The choice to go vegan often comes with the pressure to be perfect. There’s no denying that the vegan community has a…particular reputation. And look — I’ve never been someone who is inherently against eating animals. But even for those of us concerned with the meat industry’s impact on climate change and the rights of workers, I understand how easy it is to shrug off the power of individual choice against Big Meat. (Are we all picturing someone throwing starfish into the sea?) At the end of the day, though, I believe that going a little vegan is better than doing nothing at all.
If you’re curious about dipping your toe into veganism, don’t let the pervasive all-or-nothing mentality stop you from making small changes. Whenever you want to make a habit stick, gradual change is often more sustainable than a sudden cold-turkey lifestyle change. So here are some tips for gradually going vegan.
Think about adding, not taking away
This tip comes from our guide to going vegetarian (or eating less meat):
The easiest way to eat less meat is to eat more of everything else. A good first step is to sit down and make a list of non-meat foods you already love. Don’t be afraid to take this assignment extremely literally: Even a list of 10 vegetables you like is valuable, and it’ll make meal planning easier…If you’re used to a meat-heavy diet, you’ll need to eat way more other stuff to make up for it. I’m not talking about nutrient macros — I’m talking sheer volume.
Rather than framing veganism around what you’re cutting out, focus on all the foods you’re adding in.
Motivate yourself with treat meals
Another way to fight the idea that veganism leads to “missing out” is to get adventurous with new vegan recipes or restaurants. (It doesn’t hurt to read up on how to order vegan options when they’re not on the menu).
Broaden your horizons in your own kitchen by exploring YouTube or cookbooks for recipes from all over the world. I recommend checking out the fried rice description under the “make sure you still eat like shit” section here.
Disclaimer: I don’t encourage attaching a reward/punishment mindset to any food. At the same time: Oreos are vegan. Just saying.
Vegan until 6 p.m.
If you’re getting started running, you might incorporate strategic walking breaks — why not set aside times to eat non-vegan? While this is in no way an endorsement of the “VB6 Diet” popularised by Mark Bittman, the idea still stands: Eat vegan all day, then treat yourself to whatever non-vegan foods you miss after the clock strikes 6 p.m. Obviously you can choose whatever time works for you, as long as you create a clear goal (and deadline) around when you get to eat vegan and get to eat non-vegan.
This approach also comes with built-in chance to feel a sense of accomplishment every day, which can do wonders for your motivation. Just be careful that you don’t fall into a buck-wild “cheat day” mentality.
This one is self-explanatory. Baby steps are still steps!
Don’t go it alone
We’ve talked about the benefits of finding an accountability buddy, whether your goal is to save money, workout more, or stay productive working from home. In addition to the accountability factor, transitioning into veganism with a friend (or friends!) helps to frame this change around community and shared experiences. After all, isn’t that what food is all about?
Be easy on yourself
The same tips you might use to introduce your kids to a vegan diet can work on yourself. When I say “feed your inner child,” I mean “feed the most picky and difficult version of yourself.” This means practicing patience when change doesn’t happen overnight. It also means employing sneak tactics to work vegan substitutes into your meals (tofu puffs, anyone?). Take it one meal at a time.
At the end of the day, every little choice can be an opportunity to take a step in the right direction — whatever that means for you.