7 Warning Signs Your Vegan Diet Won’t Last

You’re trying hard … but it’s getting harder.

Something compelled you to adopt a vegan diet — your health, the animals, the environment — and you dove in enthusiastically, sure that it would always feel this easy.

“This is the new me!” you thought to yourself, as you pictured health, energy, compassion, and a sense of oneness with the earth.

And for the first few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, it was interesting and new and fun.

But the novelty wore off — maybe it was a family gathering or an awkward conversation with friends — and now you’re wondering …

Is this really for me?

Before You Answer, Consider This

Changing the way you eat is like changing any other habit. Except it’s even tougher.

Your relationship with food is personal. Changing what you eat means feeling new emotions, some of them not so pleasant at first.

It’s also physical. Change what goes into your body, and you’re going to feel it. Hopefully for the better, eventually.

But at first? Look out. (Note: That’s actually not supposed to be a bathroom reference, but make of it what you will.)

And finally, crucially, food is social. And in case you grew up on a different planet, vegan is pretty far from what most people consider normal.

So to change what you eat means changing a lot more than just that.

If you’re new to this diet and you’re starting to feel the friction, you’re not alone. Here are seven of the most common signs that you’re headed for a crash, and what to do to prevent it:

1. You find yourself thinking, “Can I really never eat a cheeseburger / pork BBQ sandwich / buffalo wing again?”

In the moment when you’re craving a food you used to love, your focus needs to be on now, not forever. You can find something to satisfy you now, but if you’re fighting against forever, you’re not going to win.

If you find yourself thinking this way, change the game. Make it a 10-day or 30-day challenge, so that there’s a finish line. And when you get there, then decide if you want to keep going.

It’s way easier to tell yourself, “I can’t eat the cheeseburger now, but all I need to do is make it another week,” than it is to think about giving it up forever. And when that week is over, hopefully you’ll be in a better state to decide than when that Wendy’s commercial was all you could think about.

2. You’re relying on willpower when cravings hit.

Willpower is your friend, but only for so long. We hear over and over that it’s just like a muscle — lean on it too hard, too many times, and eventually it’ll fail.

Instead, you need to make your new diet a habit, one that’s automatic and doesn’t take much effort. And the way to get there is with small wins, repeated daily. So rather than going vegan all the way, all at once, get there gradually instead. Take a few weeks or even a few months to progressively more and more of the foods you don’t want to eat from your diet.

(And a bonus tip about cravings: Yes, fake meats and cheeses are junk food. But if eating a little junk food in the early days is what it takes to stay on a path that will eventually redefine your health, isn’t it worth it?)

3. You’ve started to dread going out to eat.

The experience of going out to eat (at a regular, non-vegan restaurant) changes once you go vegan, but it doesn’t have to be awkward or stressful.

The key is to change your expectations. Eat a little something ahead of time, or plan to do so afterwards. Then, in the worst case when all you can get is salad and bread or a few side dishes, it’s not so bad. Hey, you don’t feel stuffed, you get to know you ate healthily, and it didn’t cost as much!

And don’t forget that what’s listed on the menu may not be your only option. If you’re polite about it (i.e., not militant or demanding), most restaurant chefs are happy to make something vegan for you, even if it’s just some sautéed veggies. And once you’ve learned to feel grateful for even that, you’re there.

4. You don’t really know why you’re doing it.

Look, nobody’s saying it doesn’t take some effort to be vegan. But when your reasons are strong enough, the feeling of struggle melts away.

Get in touch with why you are doing this. Animals? The environment? Your health?

Whichever one (or ones) it is, strengthen it. Watch the documentaries. Read the books. Get some resolve.

5. You resent that you have to cook multiple meals for your family now.

If you’re the cook in your family, and they’re not on board with the new diet, I have some advice you may not enjoy hearing.

You have to suck it up. 

It’s not fair to expect them to change, just because you have. The best thing you can do, if you really do want your family to eat like you do, is be an example. Let them see how you survive — or even thrive — on the food you’re eating. (And check out books like The Flexitarian Diet, which will help you keep everyone happy.)

Over time, you’ll be able to get away with replacing the butter with olive oil, and increasing the size of the salad and vegetable portions. One day, maybe they’ll even be cool with Meatless Monday, and you can go from there.

Just like with your personal change, it takes small steps and a lot of time. But it’s worth it.

6. You expect to be catered to.

It’d be nice if everybody felt the way you do about food, but they don’t.

One approach is to fight to change that, to be as loud, visible, and demanding about your choices as you can. The other approach, the one I like better, is to slowly change the world’s perception of what it means to be vegan.

Offer to bring your own dish (and enough to share!) to the party or the dinner — and make it a good one. Be open, honest, and humble with your friends and relatives. Invite them to your place … but make it fun, not weird (hint: lay off the sprouts for this one).

As normal as vegan seems to us, this is bizarre to most people. The more you can acknowledge that yes, it does make the shared meals a little bit tricky, and then go the extra mile (rather than expecting them to meet you even halfway), the more you do for your relationships and for this movement.

7. You’ve started listening to your co-workers (who have mysteriously become nutrition experts).

Of all the tips and tricks out there for changing habits, there’s one factor that all of them depend on: belief.

You have to believe two things if you want to succeed: what you’re doing is healthy, and you can make this work. And sometimes, when the rest of the world is telling you the opposite, that’s hard.

Rich Roll says that even after his first strong finish at Ultraman (essentially a double Ironman triathlon), there was a little piece of his brain that continued to ask if this diet could really work, especially for athletes. Our cultural conditioning is so strong that this is going to happen, almost no matter what.

But you can drown out that voice.

You can listen to podcasts like Rich’s. Read books like Scott Jurek’s. Watch Dr. Greger’s videos at NutritionFacts.org. Read The China Study, Prevent and Reverse Heart Diseaseor my personal favorite, Super Immunity.

I’m not saying you should cover your ears and block out the warnings from well-meaning friends and co-workers, and especially not your doctor. What I’m saying is you should equip yourself with information on the other side, and make an educated choice about what’s right for you.

The Bottom Line

If you think about it, every one of these warning signs is simply a symptom of one of two broader problems. Either:

  1. You feel alone, or
  2. You took on too much, too fast.

The good news is that both can be fixed.

If you feel alone, it’s up to you to find your tribe — trust me, we’re out here. The internet has made it so easy, and if you’re reading this post, you’re getting warmer.

Is there a No Meat Athlete group in your area? A vegan meetup? Even if you’re geographically isolated, you can still make deep connections with like-minded people online. Find a blogger or podcaster who really gets it, and gets you. Leave comments and interact. Maybe even start your own.

If instead you took on too much too fast, no problem. Stick with it for as long as you can, and if it fails, resort to Plan B, the gradual, smaller-steps approach to change.

It’s not always easy, especially at first. But it’s worth it.

Be passionate, but be patient.

Find your tribe.

Embrace your weird.

Eventually, you’ll find the way that works for you.

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Comments

  1. Great tips, Matt! I definitely think that remembering why you were motivated to become vegan is key. I don’t have a clear-cut answer to the “why are you vegan” question, because I was first drawn to veganism when I read performance books such as Finding Ultra and Eat & Run. And while those were instrumental for me becoming vegan, my shift in perspective on animal rights has really been the driver of solidifying my choice.

    Everyone is different, and thank you so much for doing your part in helping people stay on track for their health, for the animals, and for the environment!

  2. I think the social aspects are the hardest for many.

    However, I want to remind others you CAN have “cheese burgers” even “Buffalo wings” just done in a vegan style.

    I don’t agree all vegan patties are junk food. Some are more processed than others but many are very OK for you.

  3. I have never heard a good answer why I should eat meat. (Lifetime vegetarian, vegan since 2009).

  4. Nice post Matt. I’ve been vegan for 5 months now, and I get the cravings sometimes, mainly for soda, and chicken fingers and I’m in a small Texas town that kinda frowns on eating vegan. So thanks to your website, Rich’s website, and many others I have a voice I can turn to to help keep those cravings and my mission in focus.

  5. I went Vegan in 2012 and it was easier than I thought it would be. Last year my son moved away and I got depressed. I relate to the alone feeling. No one else ate like me, so I started to eat like everyone else. It started with some dairy, then chicken, then everything! I gained 30 pounds. I honestly feel crappy all the time. SO last week I decided I have to go back to Vegan . My husband went Vegan too, but quickly quit. He was the type that figured out Oreo’s were Vegan and he ate Boca Burgers every meal. I enjoyed beans and a lot more veggies. It was just easier for me. He ate my mushroom fajitas a couple of days ago and liked them. He says he will eat Vegan at home. It makes me not feel so alone. My transition is a little more difficult this time. I’m fine without the meat & cheese. I’ve been eating the chocolate chip granola bars. I’m going to allow myself to eat them this week, but once they are gone that’s it! Long winded comment, but I have never found a tribe yet and just needed to have my say.

  6. Jennifer Little says:

    Good post with good links – I like your approach. Not that I am struggling or even have second thoughts about going vegan – but will admit that eating out is my “dread” – so good to get some perspective and options to the approach – other than avoiding, like I do now!! Thanks.

  7. I have found it not that hard to go vegan, you get the usual jokes an ribbing for awhile, then the meat eaters leave you alone. . When you go out to eat just order sides or the entree an give the meat away. I’ve found most eateries do offer a vegan selection on the menu. on family an social events I just hit the vegetables an fruits there is always a great selection. I don’t push being a vegan, but people will ask you all about it , For me it’s one of the life choices I’ve ever made

  8. Elyse Sokoloff says:

    I especially like #7 about all your friends being “experts” all of a sudden. It’s so true!

  9. Thanks, Matt

  10. Needed this!

  11. I’d be with you on #5 if I was a nicer, more selfless person. But I’m not.
    IMO, if you’re the cook you’re the boss! When I switched over to cooking 100% vegan about 2 years ago I told my partner he was welcome to continue to eat whatever he wanted, as long as he cooked it. Guess who decided to go vegan with me? Same goes for kids. Hey, at the worst it will motivate them to learn to cook!

  12. These are great! I also found there was a point around the 2 month mark where I stopped craving things I thought I’d miss forever (and was willing to miss forever, after seeing Forks Over Knives and Vegucated). It made more sense to me after I re-visited Doug Lisle’s work on The Pleasure Trap, he explains really well why those unhealthy food cravings disappear, and why moderation sometimes backfires because they shock our taste buds into wanting the high sugar or high fat items so suddenly other foods taste bland. Strawberries, grapes, and peaches tasted so much sweeter a few months after giving up refined sugar for all but the most special occasions. I was shocked to lose all desire for cheese, but a few months into my vegan diet, I stopped wanting it. Now I don’t want to be near it, but because it makes me sad, not because I find it tempting (that’s because I really took the advice Matt offers in #4 to heart, and immersed myself in the why). It’s a beautiful thing when the food you eat is kind, leaves a lighter footprint on the planet, and makes you healthier.

  13. Although I will never go back to meat or even cegetarian, what makes this hard at times is the social stuff at work. People will order food and order special vegetarian food, but it has invariably cheese in it. I feel bad saying that I won’t eat that….any ideas?

  14. Sandra, Italy says:

    GREAT post, Matt! Though I have no problem whatsoever about my resolve to stay vegan, it’s very helpful to be reminded of ways to approach issues that may come up. 👍

  15. Thanks Matt – good post. I’ve been vegan about 15 months, and can’t imagine I’d want to go back. Addressing item two has really helped me. I used to just show up at a work event without my own food, or without telling anyone I was vegan GF. DUMB! Now I bring stuff or speak up, and it’s much better! And I use Colleen Pattrick Gudreaus advice as a secret weapon to keep my husband from eating meat at home. She says that when you think you’re crazing a particular food, it’s not literally the meat or dairy that you’re craving – it’s the flavors, seasoning, texture or mouth-feel that you’re really after. She

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