Since 2014 a UK based non-profit has been spreading the word about veganism and influencing global change by encouraging people to commit to practicing veganism for the first month of the year. Veganuary even has it’s own website with lots of helpful resources for people that aren’t sure where to start. There is a free vegan cookbook available for download. They also have 18 pages of vegan dinner recipes alone right on the site, no email required! You could try a new meal idea for each day of the month if you wanted to.
Today I wanted to do my part by contributing to this incredible movement. A lot of vegans look down on this “challenge” because it can seem like a way for people to feel good about themselves without actually changing their lifestyle, therefore acknowledging the issues, and still deciding not to make a bigger impact. I used to be one of said vegans. It really aggravated me for some reason to see people simply flirting with veganism. Cheat day vegans and meatless Mondays were also pet peeves of mine. I just felt like it was a joke to these people. I felt the ever present pressure of our ever shortening window of time to save the animals, ourselves, and our planet, and demanded more.
Now I see that any amount of change is good. The aggressive, militant attitude of vegans like my younger self are part of the reason people avoid making the change in the first place. It seems very strict and intimidating. People just aren’t sure they’ll be able to do it, and that fear of criticism and failure causes them to look away instead. It creates an atmosphere where people are afraid to make mistakes, afraid to ask questions, and that isn’t serving anyone. Now I highly encourage anyone who’s curious about veganism or even just wants to turn over a new, healthier leaf for the new year to give veganuary a try. With ten years of veganism under my belt now, I figure I’ve learned at least a few kernels of worthwhile advice I can share as well.
One: Make It Easy
Sometimes one of the hardest parts about going vegan is the planning and preparation of food. People that have been vegan for a long time or are used to cooking all the time, may not realize that a large portion of the populations eats out for a lot of their meals. This can be a huge deterrent to veganism if there aren’t vegan restaurant options near you or if you can’t afford these pricier pre-made choices. That’s why planning ahead is essential for new vegans. Take the time to find at least five easy recipes with minimal ingredients. I would recommend looking up some simple vegan versions of your favorite comfort foods. Make a grocery list of ingredients (maybe restock your spice drawer with less common spices such as garam masala) and preplan when you are going to gather these things as well as when you will prepare the meals. This way you won’t find yourself hungry and low on time which could easily lead to a meat relapse.
Two: Give Your Body Time to Adjust
I’ve had people come up to me in the past and say that they tried to be vegan, but it made them sick so they stopped. This was always so perplexing to me, because I know that a vegan diet is the best thing for your body and your health. I just couldn’t understand why it would make them sick. Part of me wondered if it was psychosomatic or if they were lying. I advised that they be sure to take a multivitamin with B-12 since there is no natural source of that in today’s foods. (Animal products are artificially infused with B-12.) However, just the other day I learned there may be another reason a vegan diet could make you feel worse in the beginning: fiber.
Even before I was vegan, I ate healthier than a lot of the population, so I never noticed this issue. But if you’re someone who is used to eating primarily meats, cheeses, and processed foods with little plant matter, a sudden increase in dietary fiber is going to be hard for your body to handle. While ultimately a diet high in fiber will improve your overall health, the gut microbiome will take time to adjust. It just doesn’t have enough microbes that are able to break fiber down when it has gone years without needing them. If you notice symptoms such as bloating, gas, or abdominal discomfort, know that this is likely the cause. Also know that these symptoms will pass with time as your gut microbe population changes to accommodate your changing diet.
Three: Protein & Cravings
Sometimes people begin to feel as though they are denying their body things it needs by cutting out animal products. We’re taught all of our lives that we need these unconscionable parts of our diet in order to be healthy. Even though countless studies have proven that isn’t the case, showing the opposite in fact, it can be hard to overcome this ever-present misinformation. Any vegan will tell you that one of the most frustrating myths we are endlessly confronted with is the idea that a vegan diet does not provide enough protein. A vegan diet has more than enough protein, and it isn’t hard to find. I’ve never made a conscious effort to seek out specific sources of plant-based protein and I’ve been incredibly healthy for the past ten years. Not only that, I’ve built tons of new muscle in that time. I’m more muscular now than I ever was as a non-vegan.
When you find yourself craving meat, or more likely cheese, don’t put too much weight behind those cravings. We are taught to “listen to our bodies” which is normally good advice, but our body’s signals go a bit haywire when we introduce chemical addictions to the mix. If you cut out added sugar from your diet, you will definitely crave it, but that doesn’t mean your body needs it to be healthy. We think we are craving some kind of necessary nutrients from our usual foods, when really we are craving casomorphin (in the case of cheese) and testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones that are pumped into these poor animals before slaughter.
Coming back to casomorphin, it is an opioid peptide that is derived from the digestion of the milk protein casein. This is the culprit when you find yourself desperate to cling to your cheesy foods. All vegans have experienced this challenging withdrawal and overwhelming craving. I promise you, it will pass. One day a block of cheese will look no more appetizing than a pile of gravel.
Four: Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Veganuary isn’t like other challenges. There is no rule that you are out if you slip up and eat animal products before the month is over. So give yourself the grace to try again even if you make a mistake or can’t resist your cravings. Veganism isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying your best to do the least harm you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself or feel like you’ve got to give up if you find yourself unable to stick to the challenge every moment of the month. You can try again as many times as you need to.
I truly hope that this advice and information will help you make in through this first month of the year without contributing to the suffering of animals and the destruction of our world. Regardless of whether or not you plan on becoming fully vegan, veganuary is still an incredible act of kindness and good will. Even though it’s only one month, it makes a huge difference, not only in the economy, but in your body. I’ve mentioned before that it only took one month for me to notice a total transformation of my body and mind. Please feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment if you have any questions or concerns. I will do my best to be as helpful as possible. I am happy to provide support. Good luck! I have such high hopes for you in the new year.