Why do some people stick with veganism while others go back to eating animal products? After 10 years of eating vegan, I’ve learned how to eat vegan without feeling like I’m missing out.
A high number of people who go vegan end up jumping ship, and many say it’s because they felt like they weren’t getting good nutrition or felt like vegan food was boring. Some ex-vegans even make headlines talking about how they “escaped” veganism.
Many ex-vegans were on dangerously restrictive diets, like the Blonde (ex) Vegan’s 800 calorie a day starvation diet. Going vegan for health can be incredibly beneficial. It’s when we take pure eating too far that we get into trouble, whether we’re eating vegan or restricting our diets in some other way.
I am not saying that all ex-vegans were doing it wrong. When you’re dealing with chronic health problems, for example, you may become ready to try anything to heal. Sayward Rebhal wrote a great piece on her own health struggles and how they caused her to question her veganism. It was her ethics that kept her searching and led her to the true root of her health problems, even when doctors told her to eat animal products. Not everyone has that resolve, especially in the face of debilitating health issues.
What I’m saying is that we need to stop thinking of veganism as a weight loss plan. Veganism is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle. And if you truly want to adopt a vegan lifestyle, you have to do it realistically. That means expecting some hiccups along the way and learning to adapt, not to restrict.
There’s certainly an adjustment period when you go vegan, and I think that focusing on a balanced diet is one of the keys to eating vegan without feeling deprived. I don’t mean just balanced in nutrients, though. You have to have a balance of textures and flavors to keep from getting bored.
These are some of my favorite ways to keep my vegan diet balanced and interesting.
1. Make sure you’re getting enough calories. When you go vegan, you’re cutting a whole food group out of your diet. A lot of new vegans lose weight simply because they’re not eating enough calories. Going vegan isn’t just about cutting foods out—it’s about replacing animal foods with plant alternatives. Slice some avocado onto that veggie sandwich! Add a handful of cashews to your grain or noodle bowl! Top that salad with beans and sunflower seeds! If you’re eating vegan and feeling tired and hungry all the time, chances are, you need more calories.
2. Take a B12 supplement. B12 is the one vitamin that you can’t get enough of from plant foods. If you’re worried about getting proper nutrition, get yourself a good B12 supplement. Yes, you can get some from nutritional yeast and seaweeds, but chances are they’re not fulfilling all of your body’s requirements. Take a B12 supplement. Do it. Here’s some solid advice on how to choose the best one.
3. Embrace fat. There are benefits to a low-fat vegan diet, but that doesn’t mean no fat. Those cravings we have for meat and cheese are often cravings for fat. Your body needs some fat to be healthy, so drizzle a little oil on your salad, toss your veggies in oil before roasting, and pass the cashews, please!
4. Eat that protein. Once you get the swing of how to eat a satisfying vegan diet, you don’t really need to worry about protein, but if you’re used to getting most of your protein from animals, you might need to be a little bit mindful at first. Add some of these protein-rich vegan foods to your meals.
5. Embrace umami. Chances are, you’ve heard of umami, also called “the fifth taste.” Umami is what makes foods satisfying, and incorporating plant-based foods with an umami punch helps make any vegan meal more satisfying. Some common vegan umami foods are: onions, scallions, mushrooms, tomatoes, miso, tamari, nutritional yeast, balsamic vinegar and sauerkraut.
6. Don’t be afraid to substitute. Chances are, you can adapt your favorite recipes to be vegan. Miss sweet and sour chicken? Meet sweet and sour chickpeas! Craving bacon? Welcome to the wonderful world of coconut bacon! Craving nachos? Cashew queso to the rescue! Getting the hang of substitutions takes time, but once you have them down pat, it’s easy to satisfy cravings, veganize recipes and even find great vegan food at almost any restaurant. To adapt recipes, check out this guide to egg substitutes, these milk alternatives (beyond soy!), and this recipe for homemade vegan butter.
7. Focus on what you can eat. It’s easy, especially when you’re eating out, to dwell on the food you can’t order as a vegan. Eating vegan means re-imagining your plate and those glossy restaurant menus. Animal foods are off your menu, so skip on past animal-heavy dishes. If you do get stuck on a dish, think about substitutions you could make to “veganize” it. Could you have avocado or nuts (or both!) instead of cheese? Mushrooms or beans instead of meat? Oil instead of butter? If you can’t veganize something, move on to the things you can have.
8. Dive into the community. The vegan community is a wonderful, supportive place. There is no way I’d have stuck with veganism for a decade without amazing people sharing their recipes, tips and substitutions. I’ve compiled my favorite vegan sites into an all-vegan search engine. No need to even specify “vegan” when you’re searching. Just type in what you’re looking for, and enjoy the bounty of vegan results. You might also check out the Facebook group What Fat Vegans Eat. It’s full of vegan eye candy and savvy vegan cooks who can answer questions about substitutions.