When I first went vegan, I went about it in the completely wrong way. I was inspired by people I saw on YouTube who ate gigantic fruit smoothies for every meal and showed off their flat stomachs while they were doing it. I wanted to be like them.
You can imagine how frustrated my parents were when I started insisting on eating only massive salads and entire watermelons for every meal!
If you’ve done any amount of research on veganism, you’ll know it’s a great way to honor the planet, animals, and your body. But there are also a lot of people out there pushing unhealthy, restrictive forms of veganism as diets or ways to lose weight.
So, if you’re thinking about going vegan, how can you make sure to do it in a way that’s sustainable and actually good for you?
Clarify and Revise Your “Why”
The best way to go and stay vegan is to connect to a deeper reason for doing so. Why do you want to go vegan in the first place?
There are a variety of possible answers to this question, but the most common ones I’ve seen are:
- Ethical – to stop contributing to the suffering of animals
- Environmental – to reduce devastation to our planet caused by animal agriculture
- Health – to improve energy, lower the risk of certain diseases, and enhance general health
These are all great reasons, and you may have one that doesn’t fall into any of these categories (I’d love to hear it, by the way). If, however, your primary interest in veganism lies in its potential to help you lose weight, I want to throw out a word of caution.
A plant-based diet can certainly help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but if weight loss is your primary motivation, it might become more difficult for you to receive proper nutrition.
When I first went vegan, I was excited by the fact that plant foods are far less calorie-dense than animal foods. I listened to the YouTubers and bloggers who promised I could eat as much as I wanted and still lose weight, and veganism just became a way to limit my calorie intake. This was a disaster and resulted in tons of health issues from chronic fatigue to amenorrhea (loss of my menstrual cycle).
If your primary reason for going vegan is to lose weight, I encourage you to come up with a deeper “why.” Connect your decision to be vegan with a worthwhile, noble purpose, and you’ll stay vegan for life.
Listen to Your Body
Going on any type of diet is an attractive idea for a lot of people. Why? Because diets offer you a sense of security. They reduce the experience of eating to a formula – eat X amount of this food and don’t eat that food, and you’ll lose X pounds.
Of course, we know eating is much more nuanced than that. Food is not just fuel – it’s cultural, it’s emotional, it’s even spiritual.
A lot of people turn to veganism because they’re looking for the “perfect” way to eat, but there’s no such thing. Everyone’s body is different, so it’s not smart to blindly copy what you see other vegans doing on the internet. I’m a huge proponent of intuitive eating, or listening to your body’s cues and signals to discern what it needs. Otherwise, “going vegan” will quickly devolve to “crash dieting.”
I trust the science that says you can meet all of your nutritional needs on a vegan diet. But be aware of your hunger and satiation signals, and make sure you eat until you’re satisfied. Don’t just follow along with the foods and portion sizes advertised by unqualified people on the internet.
I highly recommend consulting with your doctor or a nutritionist as you transition to eating plant-based because they’ll help you do it safely. And if you’re struggling with an eating disorder or you have disordered eating habits, take the steps to recover fully before you start thinking about going vegan.
Ditch the Unnecessary Restrictions
For most meat-eaters, being vegan probably seems inherently restrictive. After all, eating vegan means cutting out all animal products – meat, eggs, dairy, and beyond.
I think they’ve got it backward. Being vegan is supposed to be about living a life of abundance, not restriction. Unfortunately, there are a lot of vegans online promoting plant-based diets with tons of additional restrictions, and those representations of veganism have become the norm.
When I went vegan for the first time almost five years ago, a type of vegan diet called “High Carb, Low Fat” was popular. So, I not only cut out animal products, but I also limited my consumption of fat and protein. Yikes.
There are still countless restrictive forms of vegan eating floating around, and a lot of them are dangerous and not based on solid dietary science. What’s more, they encourage a restrictive mindset around food which, as I’ve just mentioned, is not what going vegan is about.
There are so many ways to make plant-based eating work for you, and it doesn’t have to look one certain way. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect diet. Don’t cut foods out of your diet just because someone else does, and always go back to listening to your body’s needs.
So there you have it, my top tips for going vegan intentionally and sustainably. I know from experience that the best way to eat as a vegan is your way, and remembering that is how I’ve been able to happily continue eating plant-based for so many years. If you’re looking to improve your relationship with food, vegan or not, sign up for my five-day audio course, Five Steps to Food Freedom. It’s totally FREE and only requires five days of reflection and action to start making peace with food.