I remember the exact day I went vegan. It was the day after my wife and I moved from Washington, DC, to the mountains of North Carolina.
Big move, big diet decision.
And my guess is that most people have no problem remembering their veganiversary either. Even if it doesn’t feel like a huge day in the moment, it’s the start of something that will change your life.
It has been five and half years since I made the switch from vegetarian to vegan, and over the years, I’ve learned a lot about eating a healthy plant-based diet, and how my personal decision has affected others around me (hopefully, in a positive way).
But I’ve also discovered a few common mistakes that could have derailed the entire thing.
Mistakes you can easily avoid making yourself — and be better off because of it — if you know to look out for them.
3 Mistakes that Could Have Derailed My Transition to the Plant-Based Diet
1. I Didn’t Own It
By the time I went vegan, I had been working for No Meat Athlete for a while, but even though my voice would appear on the podcast each week and my name on some blog posts, I very rarely talked about my diet with anyone I knew.
In fact, a lot of the new friends I was making in my new town didn’t even know I was vegan. I just didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up, which means I missed some opportunities to introduce people to the lifestyle.
Now don’t get me wrong, listen to any NMA Radio episode, and you know Matt and I aren’t the preachy type.
I wasn’t and never will be one to introduce myself as Doug Hay, the Vegan. I like the conversation to come to me.
But there’s probably a better way.
What I Should Have Done Differently
If I were able to do it over again, I wouldn’t have been so scared to bring it up.
Because what I’ve discovered is that the more I mention that I’m vegan — in a casual, non-judgmental way — the more I hear of other people either actively trying to go plant-based, or who are maybe considering going vegetarian.
Contrary to popular memes…
It seems like the more I open myself to talking about it (outside of the bathroom, in appropriate situations), the more people want to talk with me about diet.
And that process has actually built bridges instead of breaking them down like I was afraid it would. It’s helped me grow stronger in my food beliefs, and helped others learn about what’s possible.
2. I Assumed All Vegan Food Was Health Food
I’d be rich if I got a nickle for every time I justified eating a cookie because it was vegan.
How unhealthy can it be? It’s vegan! 😉
But, of course, vegan food does not equal health food.
It’s now easier than ever to get a vegan burger or doughnut, and these convenience foods will only become more visible as the plant-based meat, cheese, ice cream, and everything else industry is exploding.
These are processed indulgent foods, not whole health foods.
Even though I had been vegetarian for years before going vegan, I still found myself justifying more vegan junk food simply because I felt like I could.
What I Should Have Done Differently
There’s a place for indulgent vegan food, and I’ve loved grilling up Beyond Burgers this summer, but as a new vegan, I should have been more focused on getting most of my calories from nutrient rich whole foods.
Had I taken the time to understand the different considerations or challenges one faces as a vegan, like difficult-to-find nutrients, I might have been more focused on what I was putting (or not putting) inside my body.
By better preparing myself and not simply following a, “well I’m vegan, what could go wrong?” approach, I would have been healthier, my wallet would have been happier, and my training would have likely flourished.
3. I Was Too Hard on Myself
Once you go vegan, there’s no room for errors. Slip up once and the vegan police come and take away your V-card (that is what V-card stands for, right?).
Or so I thought, anyway.
When I first went vegan, I was so hard on myself. If I found out a cracker I thought was vegan wasn’t because of some unintelligible ingredient, I’d be disappointed for days.
I’d end up wasting hours at the store reading labels or doing research before going to the store, or be too scared to try new foods at restaurant or event out of fear of what could be in them.
What I Should Have Done Differently
I can confidently say that I haven’t had any animal products in a long, long time, and that I haven’t knowingly eaten any animals products for years.
You just get better at it with time.
But I also know that no vegan is perfect.
I don’t mean that we’re sneaking steak in the bathroom, or guzzling dairy milkshakes when no one is looking, I just mean that stuff happens.
Maybe a friend brings over a dish they thought was vegan, only it ended up containing honey or some other ingredient they didn’t consider.
Or you go to a restaurant, do all your due diligence to find the best option, only to realize mid meal they forgot to leave an ingredient off your salad.
So what do I do in those situations?
Let them go.
To me, while I should and always do the best I can, being a vegan or plant-based athlete isn’t about perfection. It’s about making a conscious decision not to participate in the consumption of animal products. For my health, for the Earth, for the animals.
And you know what? If something happens and I take a misstep, that tiny mistake doesn’t change who I am or what I stand for.
The One Thing I Did Right
Looking back, there is at least one thing I did right when I went vegan.
I had support.
I may not have been super open about my diet with new friends or people I met, but I did rely heavily on the vegans I did know and the ones that knew me.
Like when I had questions, I’d turn first to Matt and the NMA team to give me advice. Or look towards the greater No Meat Athlete and NMA Radio communities on social media or inside the Academy to hold me accountable and on track.
I read books, cookbooks, and pulled from countless resources to answer questions from what the hell nutritional yeast is to how to handle my first vegan Thanksgiving.
That support was priceless in my success in going vegan, and is still wildly important in keeping me informed and always on top of my health and fitness.
You Don’t Have to Make Mistakes
They say you grow from making mistakes.
I say save yourself the trouble and learn from mine.
Right now, more than ever before, we have access to resources and support around the plant-based movement. Take advantage of what’s available — whether that’s through NMA or another program — and keep changing your life and moving forward with confidence.
But what if you gave your body just 15 minutes per day — no weights or equipment needed — for as long as this situation lasts? Could you turn this into an opportunity to start a fitness habit (maybe for the first time ever), and come out of it in better shape than before?
We're running a free, at-home fitness challenge to encourage you to make the most of the situation. A short workout each day, free access to our incredible vault of plant-based diet and fitness resources, and some accountability and new friends built right in. We'd love to have you be a part of it.
So what do you think... are you in?
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