You’re trying hard … but it’s getting harder.
“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. Drink a smoothie or 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 Disease, or 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:
- You feel alone, or
- 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.
Eventually, you’ll find the way that works for you.