19 Mar How to transition into a vegan diet and keep your sanity
Not enough good things can be said about the benefits of eating a vegan diet. People who don’t eat animal products and particularly those who eat a low-fat version of the vegan diet live longer and weigh less. It is good for the environment and a vegan diet avoids so much of the cruelty that is endemic in our food environment. And yet, the question of how to transition into a vegan diet does not have an easy answer. The short answer is that it may not be ‘easy’ for everyone.
How to transition into a vegan diet?
One possible first step is to first transition to a mainly vegetarian diet (or a flexitarian diet), then a predominately vegetarian diet, and then a vegan diet. Others would disagree with me, and say that we should just jump in headfirst and change our diet radically and completely so that we can appreciate all the physical benefits of eating a vegan diet and therefore get the ultimate psychological reward for our behavioural change. 
While noticing the benefits straight away would be wonderful, I have had a lot of success in my life of gently transitioning to new modes of behaviour, such as quitting smoking, reducing medication or other psychological addictions. For this reason, I am taking the gentle transition into a vegan diet route.
Some of the challenges you may face – cheese
One of my biggest challenges with the question of how to transition into a vegan diet is mourning the flavours of the foods that I will miss. Cheese is probably the biggest challenge, and I am sure this is difficult for many people. It is really hard to find decent vegan cheese. All the varieties I have tried so far, taste like something very unsavoury.
And yet it is obviously possible to live without cheese – or so many of us wouldn’t be vegans already. My advice to you is to stay on the lookout for vegan options that DO taste nice. Nutritional yeast, for example, has a lovely cheesy flavour that can be added to sauces and other dishes. There are some tastier versions of cheese on the market.
But to be honest, cheese is not all that good for you. The MIND diet recommends one serving or less of cheese a week to help prevent neurodegenerative disease, and so, it was on the way out anyway!
Cheese is filled with saturated fat, so it is not good for your brain health and it is not good for your heart health either.
Some of the challenges you may face – eating out
Another challenge with the process of transition into a vegan diet, that is really tricky is the practice of ‘going out’ to eat. It can be very hard not to bend under peer pressure when everyone else at the table is ordering the kind of food that is music to your evolutionary ears to consume, – protein, sugar and fat in other words.
My advice for this challenge is to always look at the menu before you go so that you can make a healthy choice without being swayed by peer pressure. It is so much easier to stick to a healthy choice if you have planned your meal beforehand.
I did this the other day at a New Orleans inspired restaurant. I ordered a vegetarian gumbo when everyone else ordered the chicken and sausage gumbo. However, I did treat myself to a side of cornbread, as a way of making up for the disappointment of the rich flavours my friends were consuming.
In the end, it wasn’t the end of the world, and the cornbread was a good bribe. The flavours in my gumbo were pretty sensational anyway. And I didn’t fret about not finishing my meal, because it was a small psychological protest for a meal that wasn’t as ‘tasty’ as the ones my friends were eating.
One of the people at the table said that because she eats exclusively vegetarian at home, she allows herself to eat some meat when she goes out. That used to be my strategy too. But I have been getting tired of how sick I actually feel after eating meat out, and so, while it is a good transition strategy, I need to do some work on my mindset to fully value the flavours of vegan restaurant meals.
I guess that is why it can be so good to eat out at vegetarian or vegan restaurants. I think this is one of the best ways to learn how to transition into a vegan diet, actually.
Some of the ways to make the transition easier or more appealing
Eating at vegan restaurants helps you to taste for yourself just how delicious vegan food can be. And that is a direct gateway into the attitude of being able to cook and eat vegan (or vegetarian food) for yourself.
It also allows you to experience just how good it feels to eat a healthy meal that is both nutritious and delicious. There is certainly a certain happiness that can come from a combination of delightful flavours and healthy food. It always puts me in a good mood.
That is why I say to seek out vegetarian and vegan restaurants whenever you can to try and sample some of the delights of vegan eating.
Friends of the Earth in Melbourne was my gateway into eating a flexitarian diet. Their vegan lunch bowls are so delicious that they gave me so many ideas of what delicious vegetarian food could taste like and the confidence to try to make it for myself.
This would be my number one tip for how to transition into a vegan diet. Seek out vegan restaurants and eat at these places either on your own or with friends, and take note of what they do to make vegan food so tasty.
Other helpful tips for how to transition into a vegan diet
In terms of planning your weekly meals to transition into a vegan diet, don’t be afraid to search far and wide for recipes that appeal to your taste buds. I have found some lovely collections of vegan-based recipes that don’t use oil. When searching on Google search for ‘low fat vegan recipes’ and see what you come up with.
The other thing that I find helpful is not to beat myself up if I slip up. Eating a vegan diet can feel pretty restrictive, so I think that it is important in your transition into a vegan diet to treat yourself sometimes.
You might find like I did that a vegetarian diet is just as flavoursome as an omnivore diet. And this can inspire you to keep going. The trick is to find recipes that are really delicious and stimulate your taste buds. When you build a collection of these, then you will find it workable to eat a vegan or (mostly) vegan diet.
- Ornish, D and Ornish, A, 2019, ‘Undo It: How simple lifestyle changes can reverse most chronic illnesses’, accessed online, Amazon.com, viewed 19th March 2021.