Before You Go Vegetarian, Think About This

Note: This is a guest post from Emily Levenson, who writes {Custom Made} Life.

You wouldn’t sign up for a marathon and run it the next day, would you?

Of course not.  Instead, you’d select your goal, plan your training, and work your way up to the big day.  That way when race day comes, you’re ready, and you own those 26.2 miles.

You should treat going vegetarian the same way.

Why do you want to go vegetarian?

Of course the obvious reasons of why you’re making the switch are important:

  • For the environment
  • For your health
  • For the animals
  • For your family
  • For the challenge

Whatever your reasons are, they are your own. The longer you stick with a plant-based diet, the more those reasons will evolve.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have this patience.

They sprint into a vegetarian diet, then beat themselves up because they cannot sustain such a change.

Worse, they fall into the junk-food vegetarian trap. Just because you’re not eating meat does not mean that french fries, deep-fried tofu and fake meat alternatives are healthy.

It’s about more than just wanting to be vegetarian

Some other things to consider as you are making the switch:

  • Is cutting out meat (and other animal products like eggs and dairy) cold turkey the best option for you?
  • How will you handle the often intrusive questions from others?
  • How will you deal with cravings for your favorite non-vegetarian foods (bacon, anyone)?
  • Do you have people to support you and help you navigate through the misinformation?
  • What on earth are you going to eat now?!

The more energy you put into planning for this life change, the more successful you will be in the end. And the healthier you will be in the process.

You’re not alone.

The good news is that internet and social media make it easier than ever to get advice from vegetarians and vegans who were once in your shoes.  To get a glimpse of what lies ahead, check out what these awesome Twitter friends had to say when asked what they wished they had known when making the switch to a vegetarian diet:

@gorideyourbike That Caesar dressing and Worcestershire sauce aren’t vegetarian (although you can find some vegetarian Caesar dressings)

@redpenmama I wish someone had told me that the second-guessing and “good natured” ribbing (on others’ parts) never ends. You really need to have a sense of humor about it.

@PickMyBran Bacon is the most addictive food in the world.

@Morgan_Lua It’s not as hard as you think it will be. And your body adjusts to not even wanting the other food anymore.

@mangledweb I wish someone told me that there are other forms of veg protein besides beans and tofu. I might have converted sooner!

@JaciMalecki I wish I knew how to handle holidays (like upcoming Easter ham dinner)… is it rude if I bring my own food?

@DoseofCre8ivity How little stuff you can eat in restaurants that isn’t fried and/or covered in cheese 😉

@noteasy2begreen That it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You don’t need to hold yourself to someone else’s label.

@MyMindInspired I wish someone would have told me how hard it would be to resist meatloaf, and how important supplements are!

@crrome That people are forever asking “Why?” and trying to prove why (in their opinion) it’s a bad idea!

@HipsterSazzles I wish I knew how many people would still try to feed me poultry, because evidently, that’s vegetarian? “But it’s chicken!” no.

@PVLavender It gets better. In 1980 we had no boca burgers, no Morningside farms, no Amy’s. It got better & it will keep getting better

@msjennylin I wish people understood the difference between dairy and eggs for those of us who can eat one but not the other.

@FriedChk2Tofu I wish someone had told me how many people would be offended at the fact that I don’t eat meat!

@teramc Easy: expect to gain weight! Thankfully, I now understand life beyond “just eat more carbs”!

@caralyngreen That processed faux-meat products are NOT the way. Real, whole foods are much healthier…and tastier.

@NoetheMatt I wish I had realized just how little support my campus offers for vegheads…so sick of grilled cheese

There are also more resources at your disposal than have ever been available.  For more about how to make the change as enjoyable and healthy as possible, check out these great articles on going vegetarian:

If you’ve tried (successfully or unsuccessfully) to go vegetarian or vegan, help us out.  What’s one thing you wish you had known before you took the leap?

About the Author: Emily Levenson is a health coach, reluctant vegetarian, bookmaker, blogger, twitterer, food photographer, lover, wife, friend, crafter, leader, follower, organizer, and overall fun person. You can find her online at and on twitter by following @emilylevenson.



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  1. Absolutely love this post. I live in a very vegetarian-friendly area, but travel recently has shown me some of the challenges I don’t have to face everyday, and how lucky I am. One of the best things that has helped me continue to live and love my vegetarian lifestyle is forming a community of support via blogs and social media. It sounds kind of silly, but it is so important to have resources and solidarity freely accessible at any given time. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Second the gaining more weight thing! It took me a long time to learn better. Love these Tweets!!

  3. Oh, man… the weight-gain is so true! I was pretty much 75% vegetarian for a while, but in the past 3 weeks I’ve been eating about 75% vegan (100% vegetarian) and have definitely gained some weight and inches! It’s so frustrating and totally shocked me! For me, it’s nut butters and soy ice cream. That stuff is not health food when eaten in excess! Whoops.

  4. This post is so true. I transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism in much the same way and I was surprised at just how easy it turned out to be – I slowly reduced the dairy and eggs in my diet but didn’t beat myself up over the occasional pizza or hot chocolate, until the day I saw an ice-cream van and went “oooh… actually, no, eww” and I’ve been a happy content vegan ever since.

    I wish I’d known just how much mockery you get for asking “is this vegetarian/vegan?” as it was a real shock the first few times – being laughed at by bartenders for asking if the beer/cider is vegan (good pubs too, not cheap student pubs!), for example, and the following memorable conversation with the server in the cafeteria at work:

    me: “Are these chips vegetarian?”
    them: “Well, yes, they’re just potatoes.”
    me: “I mean, what are they fried in?”
    them: “Um… a chip fryer?”

    I also wish I’d known just how stunningly tasty good vegan food can be – there are so many wonderful flavours and textures and combinations that most other diets just don’t explore!

  5. I “tried it out” for 6 months before I made the official commitment and I’ve been doing this for almost 2 months now officially. Get a pantry list together, a fresh/raw list, etc for what you CAN eat and make your menus from that. That way you focus on what you CAN have and not what you can’t have.

  6. I wish I’d known how many delicious, easy-to-prepare vegetarian meals there are! We have explored preparing all kinds of food that we never would have looked for otherwise.

    And am I really the only person who could take or leave bacon?

  7. Great article! So true that planning is very important. The weeks where I plan ahead time are usually a success for me, if I try to just wing it, vegan junk food will often find itself on the menu. Planning is KEY!

  8. My husband and I have been 99% vegan for the last six months. We changed our diet for health and cholesterol reasons. I couldn’t agree with this article more… research, read, and research some more! I’m still finding new recipes, sources, and information six months in. One of the best things to know is that vegan does not necessarily = healthy. The key is to eat WHOLE FOODS and limit (or cut) the processed stuff. Oh yes, and I wish I had known which supplements to take. Once we started on B12, it was amazing how much better we felt.

  9. Michelle says:

    Research websites and buy a few cookbooks. Didn’t realize how easy some recipes can be. If you need to sub an ingredient…look online. Read no meat athlete site……and lots on twitter…
    Also how people think you can only eat salads…no flavor to Vegan foods. Crazy how wrong they are.
    How many times people ask where do you get your protein ..cuz apparently meat is the only place you can get that

  10. I LOVE this post.

    Advice for new vegetarians??

    -You don’t need to buy a cookbook — check out websites like and

    -It’s easier to be veg/vegan in Boston than in Montana. But that’s why sites like exist! Use them!

    -It’s okay to go cold turkey if that’s your thing. I tend to jump into life changes ‘all-or-nothing’ because that’s my personality and it works for me. It is SO EASY to be a vegetarian.

    -Vitamins are your friend. Make sure you take a multi with iron and get a chewable or sublingual B12 supplement.

  11. I completely agree with Jolene that focussing on what you CAN eat will make it much easier; what you’re moving towards rather than what you’re leaving behind.

    I’ve found a simple (but obviously not complete) way to explain to non-veges what I eat: Nothing with a face.

    Hearing of the hassle other vegetarians get from meat eaters makes me realise how fortunate I am not have had to deal with that – I’ve never yet had a comeback for my reason for turning vege: I’m repulsed by the thought of eating a corpse. There are other high-minded considerations but fundamentally, cooked cadaver is not for me.

  12. People ask, “How can you be a vegetarian?”. But it’s really not that hard after a while; it just doesn’t appeal to you any more. It’s just a part of your lifestyle.

  13. Annabananabomb says:

    Ditto to: @DoseofCre8ivity How little stuff you can eat in restaurants that isn’t fried and/or covered in cheese.

    Also, how judgemental other vegetarians (and weirdly, non vegetarians) can be when you “fall off the wagon”.

    There’s no shame in going gradual, I tell people all the time that I’m a “sometimes” or “naughty” vegetarian because I just haven’t been able to go 100% yet. But, every little bit counts, I’m MORE vegetarian than I used to be and continue to get MORE vegetarian everyday. And for me that’s better than eating the way I did before (environment wise and health wise).

    • A big YES to getting judgment from others when you “fall off the wagon.” I was at a cookout last year and was told by another vegetarian that I could have the veggie burger that had accidentally been flipped by the meat tongs because “I had already been cheating” and that she hadn’t eaten meat in a year. I totally support people who want to eat a completely vegetarian diet all the time, but it weirds me out when it suddenly feels like I’m supposed to be competing for the Ultimate Meat-Free Lifestyle or something.

      Same with people who want to tell you in detail about how long it’s been since they’ve eaten meat, exactly what they had last time they DID have meat, when it was, etc. Again, I fully support your decision to not eat meat…but I realllly don’t want to try to determine which one of us is the most awesome vegetarian or something. Weird.

      • Jon Weisblatt says:

        I also couldn’t agree more. I think if anything I can be harder on myself. Sometimes I just crave a little tuna or pizza so I eat it and then the craving is satified and not making me mental. These carings have come less and less over tiem and eventually I’m sure they be gone forever. We are all a work in progress.

  14. 1. Plan plan and plan again! When I first went vegetarian I ended up stuck on a long-haul 7 hour flight with no vegetarian option because I hadn’t selected it when I checked in online.

    2. Don’t ever let yourself get bored. Always be on the lookout for new recipes and variations to try. Don’t fall into a rut. Although this goes for meat-eaters too. 🙂

  15. Weight gain? Yes. I went vegetarian in college in the early 90’s. Between college and about 5 years ago, I gained at least 50 pounds. I’ve lost them all and then some mostly by interval training/speed walking and eating way better. I didn’t research at all about being a vegetarian initially. I became one out of trying it out for about a week and feeling amazing. It was downhill from that point. Now, pretty much no dairy and definitely no soy (tofu), for health reasons. More beans and rice and countless other foods that when added up provide my much needed protein that all the carnivores, who eat too much protein, ask me about.

  16. Great post, especially for me! I just became a vegetarian last week. I’d been considering it for quite some time, and I spent the last month learning about this new lifestyle. It does seem like lot’s of people become vegetarian for the wrong they think it might help them lose weight, and then their diet ends up becoming much less healthy than before.

    It’s awesome that there are so many resources online to help with making this diet change! Thanks for the post, Emily!

  17. The China Study really made a difference in the way that I viewed meat and a plant based diet. I am really excited to go and see this movie, it looks like it will be getting to the heart of the matter in an easy to understand format.

    Thanks for sharing the review!

  18. Robert Como says:

    Jason sent this to us. Thought you might be interested.

  19. 1. Always bring snacks. ALWAYS.
    2. Have a go-to, easy-to-cook, vegetarian meal planned out. Always keep the ingredients on hand. (This is for when you are totally uninspired and have no idea what to make for dinner that doesn’t have meat in it.) One of my favorites? Gnocchi, (frozen) spinach and pesto.
    3. You don’t have to be vegetarian to eat less meat.

  20. I was just a kid and so I didn’t worry about any of these things. People make everything so complicated when they get old(er). Just go with it, man. Don’t mind people that say anything, after a while it just becomes who you are and people get over it. There’s always soooomething to eat on the menu (you won’t starve, I promise). Sometimes you can’t eat anything at weddings though, that’s the only place I’ve ever gotten pretty hungry, but then you just make up for it at the open bar and things are okay. Peace.

  21. The Beau and I got a good laugh out of this. We’ve been vegans for over five years now. We didn’t “slowly” transition into it. We went from being omnivores to vegans overnight. And guess what. It wasn’t hard. At all. Not even a little bit.

    Because it particularly irritates me when I hear other vegetarians/vegans say, “Don’t just become a vegetarian overnight!! Oh noes!!” I related this article to the Beau. His response couldn’t have been more perfect, or more apt.

    “If you want to stop abusing your wife, don’t just stop beating her overnight. Just pull your punches a little bit. Maybe hit her with your weak arm. Switch to backhanding her.”

    I’d say that sounds about right.

  22. Rhianna A.L. says:

    Understand your own personal reasons for going vegan/vegetarian and have your answers prepared! I doubted my reasons for the decisions I made because I was unprepared, yet it was being unprepared that left my beliefs to falter as the beliefs themselves were there.

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