Congrats! You’ve made the decision to go cruelty-free and plant-based. Now what? First things first, be aware of some common vegan mistakes.
When I went vegan almost 10 years ago, I went all in. It was an overnight decision after being a vegetarian for 5 years. After reading The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone cover to cover in one sitting, I was never more certain that veganism was the right choice for me. I became obsessed with learning more, devouring book after book on the lifestyle.
As a passionate home cook, I completely overhauled my pantry, fridge and cookbook collection. My husband retells the story to friends that I was eating lobster and steak one night and turning my nose up at cheese pizza the next.
My transition was sudden and (what some may consider) extreme. I recall those days and cringe at all the mistakes I made in those first 6 months. That’s about how long it took me to find my plant-based groove. It probably took me another 2 years before I settled into a totally comfortable routine with my non-vegan family.
I didn’t have a vegan community back then, nor did I know anyone close to me who was living the lifestyle. Mistakes were made, but I learned so much. If I had to do it all over again, I’d help my newbie plant-munching self steer clear of these 10 “whoopsies.”
1. Forcing your family to go vegan with you
It can be tough to be the only vegan in your family. I had been married for almost 10 years, and my kids were 1, 4 and 6 ½ when I went vegan. I immediately declared that the whole family was going vegan with me.
My family reacted with major confusion, resentment, and anger. I didn’t understand why my husband didn’t want to go vegan with me. Although he admired my choice, he wasn’t ready to make the same leap.
2. Preaching to your non-vegan friends and family
Although your new lifestyle will have you feeling like a rockstar (and shining like one too!), preaching is the biggest mistake you can make if you want to get your posse on board with you.
My fervent speeches to my unaware loved ones caused many heated, awkward situations. Instead of helping the people I cared about to learn about the animal injustice happening in the world and the positive impact of veganism, I created distance. Instead of positively sharing the lifestyle I was so in love with, I shamed my loved ones.
We can, of course, learn how to have more respectful, patient, and impactful conversations. But in the end, I’ve found that the best thing you can do is live your life and lead by example. Once I figured that out and cooled my preaching jets, friends would start asking me what I was doing to look so good. When I entertained people, they’d rave about my food and ask for the recipes and about the ingredients.
Several months into going vegan, my parents ditched turkey on Taco Tuesday for vegan “beef,” my best friend replaced her butter with a non-dairy version (check out my vegan butter guide if you’re interested in doing the same), and others began telling me how they were thinking differently about their food. My eldest daughter even went vegetarian on her own 3 years ago!
3. Buying every vegan product at the store
My first post-vegan shopping trip to the store was an expensive one. Many vegans say that exploring new grocery stores is akin to a trip to Disneyland. “Wait—there are vegan cupcakes? This store sells vegan marshmallows? You can get 7 different brands of vegan yogurt?” I loaded up on every vegan product I could find, determined to replace everything in my fridge and pantry in one fell swoop. Although it’s tempting, don’t fall for this rookie vegan mistake!
As an enthusiastic home cook, I was determined to master vegan cooking in one shopping trip. Huge mistake! I became so overwhelmed with all of the products that I stressed myself out instead of enjoying the journey. Plus, I ended up throwing out so much food that I couldn’t eat all by myself.
Instead of buying out Whole Foods, give yourself time to sample and find your favorites. I believe cooking should be joyful, not stressful, and plant-based food is the most delicious culinary adventure I’ve ever been on. Have fun discovering vegan products at your own pace.
4. Getting rid off all the non-vegan products in your home
While it may be tempting to purge every animal product you own, resist the urge. You’ll be setting yourself up for major overwhelm (and expense).
You’ll need to find replacements for the staples in your fridge and pantry, as well as figure out alternatives for some of your favorite meals and ingredients. You’ll need time to do this. Not to mention, think of all the waste you’ll create if you throw everything out (or better: give it away) all at once.
When it comes to all the animal products in your home, it can be expensive and overwhelming to replace everything all at once. Instead of an overnight overhaul, make the conscious decision to be animal-free when it comes time to replace those items.
5. Giving up if you’re not feeling the vegan “glow”
Depending on how long you’ve been eating animal products and how clean your pre-vegan diet was, you may experience some detox symptoms when going vegan. This is common and is generally no cause for alarm.
Everyone is different, but some common detox symptoms can include headaches, sluggishness, and nausea. These symptoms usually dissipate within a few days to a few weeks.
Make sure you get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and fill your body with whole foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re consuming enough calories. Since many plant-based foods are lower in calories than meat and dairy filled meals, you may need to eat more (and more often). If you feel lightheaded or tired, make sure you’re eating enough food!
6. Focusing only on your diet
Many new vegans focus only on their diet, but a vegan lifestyle can embrace a compassion for all living things—whether they are on our plate, in our closet, or on our face.
If you’d prefer not to support animal cruelty, don’t forget that animal exploitation extends to the clothing and beauty industries. Educate yourself on the brands that are cruelty-free and do your best to support them in your shopping choices. I wrote an article about common animal products that may be sneaking into your home.
7. Believing it’s healthy because it’s vegan
Living a plant-based life can offer you newfound health, energy, vibrancy, and even longevity if you eat a diet focused on whole foods.
But friends, let’s not forget that Oreos and French Fries are vegan. Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Have fun with all the yummy vegan snacks and new vegan cheeses and meat products now widely available in major grocery outlets and local retailers. But be sure to balance those products out with an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and natural proteins like beans, tofu, legumes, and tempeh.
8. Relying on faux meats vs whole foods
After years of eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), it can be challenging to replace what’s on your plate. If you’re used to eating chicken and rice or meat and potatoes, it’s easy to just swap the chicken for a Gardein Scallopini or the meat for a Beyond Burger. It’s a very common newbie vegan mistake!
That will satisfy you for a few meals and is a great way to transition from the animal products you’re used to, but you’ll be missing out on the abundance of incredibly delicious meal options that a vegan diet offers.
In addition to supplementing your diet with one or more of the amazing plant-based available meat alternatives (hooray for Beyond Meat, Gardein, Field Roast, Yves, Tofurky and so many others!), take the opportunity to look at mealtime in a whole new way.
Vegan bowls became one of my favorite ways to eat after going plant-based, not to mention all of the casseroles, stews, and salads that I discovered. Have fun browsing cookbooks and experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes. Going vegan is an opportunity to ditch the SAD model and focus on the variety of ways that plant foods can be combined.
9. Doing it on your own
Like anything in life, it’s easier and more enjoyable with a friend. If you can find a support system to back you up and help you stay on track, you’ll be more successful on your plant-based journey.
If you can’t find a friend to join you, connect with vegan meet-ups in your area, subscribe to vegan blogs, follow inspiring vegans on Instagram, and attend local vegan festivals and events. You can find community online at first, and before you know it, you’ll find camaraderie in the vegan scene in your area.
10. Doing it overnight
Although this was my path, it was tough! Going vegan is a major lifestyle change, and as in any transition, it takes time to get your footing and find a groove that works for you.
Going plant-based isn’t a race. It’s a wonderful, delicious, fulfilling journey. No matter how long it takes to get there or the choices you make along the way, any step you make to save animals or improve their lives makes a positive impact on them, our planet, and your health.
Stephanie Dreyer helps families cook and eat healthier. Her latest book, Not A Purse, enlightens families about the various ways animals are worn and used at home—and inspires them to explore alternatives.