On the surface, it seems obvious: isn’t the answer to “how to go vegan” just to stop eating animal products?
But the truth is it’s not so simple: unfortunately, most people who go vegan will eventually fail.
Not because the diet isn’t healthy or because it doesn’t make them feel great. Not even because it’s too hard to follow (it’s really not).
The majority of people who attempt to eat a plant-based diet give up because they haven’t set themselves up to succeed.
That’s not fun for us to admit, but it’s true.
Fortunately, your experience can be different.
In fact, right now it’s easier to start a plant-based diet than ever before. There’s more support, better meat and dairy alternatives, increased restaurant options, and a lot less pushback from others.
The struggles and temptations that have caused people to fail in the past are increasingly less of an issue.
Still, it’s good to have a plan and approach any major diet shift like going vegan with intention.
In this post we outline the way our team at No Meat Athlete recommends going vegan. This isn’t the only way, and it might not even be the best way for you.
But after years of working with new vegans, this is the way we’ve seen the most success, and I believe it can work for you too.
How to Go Vegan [Video]
In a recent episode of No Meat Athlete Radio, we broke down a few different approaches to becoming a vegan and the pros and cons of each. If the article below feels daunting, here’s a good way to capture the major themes in video or audio form.
Check it out here:
How to Transition to a Vegan Diet: Our Recommended Approach
While there are countless ways to go vegan, you can categorize all approaches into one of two groups:
- The all-in approach: Going 100% vegan overnight.
- The small steps approach: Gradually making steps towards a vegan diet over the course of days, weeks, or even months.
The All-In Approach
Going all-in right away is often the most attractive… you watch a documentary, get fired up, and immediately want to go for it.
A massive diet shift like this has the benefit of riding your enthusiasm while it’s strongest, plus allowing you to experience rapid results.
It can also make things harder over time, by courting perfectionism.
Once the enthusiasm wanes, you’re left without many of the tools or experiences that would have come with a more gradual approach.
And when the inevitable slip-up happens, it often means the end.
The Small Steps Approach
Instead, we tend to recommend a more gradual approach — and so do most habit-change researchers.
With the small steps approach, you move towards a plant-based diet slowly. The first step could be as small as filling your plate with more veggies than normal, or drinking a smoothie for breakfast instead of eggs.
For Matt, it meant gradually eliminating animals based on the number of legs they had — first four legged animals, then two, and finally fish before going vegetarian.
The downside of the small steps approach is that you don’t experience the rapid transformation you might through the all-in approach, and because of that, you may lose sight of your motivation.
The major benefit is that it feels like much less of an obstacle and you have plenty of time to work out the difficulties (eating at restaurants, navigating social events, not being able to cook your favorite dish, etc.) by starting with the easy ones (“I can only order off of half the restaurant menu”) before dealing with harder ones (“There’s nothing on this restaurant menu that I can eat; I’ll have to ask the waiter if they can make something special for me.”)
For both of us, it was a gradual approach, paired with a “go vegan” challenge, that ultimately helped us to go vegan.
Why We Love 7-Day / 30-Day ‘Go Vegan’ Challenges
Who doesn’t love to gamify their life?
That’s what you’re doing with a challenge.
A vegan challenge allows you to take advantage of your enthusiasm and go big, while also giving you an out.
Here’s how they work:
For a set number of days — say 7, 10, or 30 — you eat a vegan diet. Easy as that.
The end date removes much of the doubt or pressure you may feel from going all-in, plus it’s a great way to learn and see how it feels to live a vegan lifestyle.
And, just as importantly, it prevents thoughts like “I can never eat a cheeseburger again,” which often spell the end of an attempt to try a plant-based diet.
At the end of each of our vegan challenges, we both realized that we weren’t quite ready to be vegan yet, and went back to eating some cheese here and there. But even though that looks like failure, it’s not: we landed closer to vegan than we were before, and found it very natural to gradually become completely vegan a few months later. That’s exactly the benefit of challenges like these.
Other similar “part-time” approaches to a challenge include:
- Vegan before 5:00, or eating a vegan diet before 5:00 pm when you can have whatever you want for dinner.
- Vegan certain days of the week, say Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
- At-home vegan, where you eat a vegan diet vegan diet at home but allow for non-vegan foods at restaurants.
That last option is where Doug ended up after a 7-day challenge. After a few months he realized he was eating fewer and fewer non-vegan foods at restaurants, and officially made the switch.
There’s no wrong way to design a challenge or part-time approach if you strike a good balance between challenge and approachability.
How to Plan Your Meals on a Vegan Diet
With the different approaches out of the way, what about the practical “how do I eat as a vegan” advice?
One common mistake a lot of new vegans make when cooking a meal is simply removing the meat from the plate and focusing on the sides.
While this works, usually not very satisfying, fun, or nutritious. Instead you can make small adjustments to the meal (like adding beans or tofu) to enhance the meal without much extra work or knowledge.
But meal plans aren’t required. Here are a few additional resources for how to build your meals:
- The Healthy, Practical Plant-Based Diet: A Typical Day
- What Do Vegans Eat?
- What We Eat in a Day (Plant-Based Meal Structure)
- 7-Day Kickstart Meal Plan
The Social Effect: How to Stay Motivated as a Vegan
The final component to successfully going vegan is having some sort of support network.
This may sound too hand-holdy for you, but we can’t stress enough how valuable it is to have a person or group of people you can ask questions, express doubts or challenges, or rely on to not think you’re crazy.
That last one is particularly important.
Maybe it’s a spouse, friend, vegan community group, or total stranger you met online.
Or hell, maybe it’s your grandma.
The point is to embrace a non-judgmental support network to help you through the transition (and beyond).
If you can’t find anyone, there are always documentaries, books, and podcasts. But there’s really no substitute for human-to-human interaction.
How to Eat Vegan: A Quick FAQ
The below FAQ isn’t really about how to go vegan, but instead addresses a number of concerns many veg-curious people ask when they’re on the fence. We’re sharing them here as a way to knock out some of the concerns.
1. Do you need to supplement a vegan diet?
Yes, there are a few vitamins and minerals that are either not found or hard-to-find in vegan diet, including B12, DHA/EPA Omega-3s, and K2. Check out this supplementing a vegan diet article to get a full picture of what you should and shouldn’t supplement as a vegan.
2. Do I need more calories on a vegan diet?
You don’t need more calories on a vegan diet, but when transitioning to a vegan diet many people eat fewer calories.
By default, most plant foods are higher in nutrients but lower in calories than animal foods, filling your stomach up with relatively low-calorie foods.
In some cases — weight loss, for example — this might be a good thing. But if you’re an athlete or otherwise looking to maintain you current calorie intake, you’ll need to make an extra effort to eat higher-calorie foods or eat more frequently.
3. Should athletes approach the transition differently from non-athletes?
Not really. The biggest concern is related to the calorie question above. Just make sure you’re meeting your calorie requirements throughout training.
4. What happens when you transition to a vegan diet?
Anecdotally, most vegans we talked to report both long- and short-term health improvements, weight loss, increased energy, more balanced moods, and even better sleep. You may also find yourself more passionate about animals or the environment.
But in reality, everyone is different and will feel different. Our advice? Just go for it!
5. How do vegans eat at restaurants?
The same way non-vegans eat at restaurants! At first you’ll find it takes a little more effort, but over time searching the menu for a vegan or easily adaptable vegan option gets easier. These days, eating at a restaurant is rarely a problem.
There’s No Wrong Way to Go Vegan (as Long as You Give it a Shot)
Ask a dozen vegans how they did it and you’ll hear a dozen different stories and motivations.
Which goes to show you:
There’s no wrong way to transition to a vegan diet.
Take the path that resonates with you most. And if you fail the first time… so what?
You can take a different approach next time.
And when you take the pressure off yourself, you’ll be amazed at how successful you will be.