Let me start this post off with the assumption that you already want to go vegan – or at least adopt a more plant-based lifestyle. My goal here is not to be preachy, but to help those who are veg-curious (ha!) or already willing to change. My sister gives some pretty good reasons as to why we shouldn’t use animals in the interview I did with her. Also, the resources mentioned as part of step one could be of interest if you’re wondering “what is this whole veganism thing about anyway?”.
So without blabbing on much further, here’s a step-by-step guide to easing yourself into the vegan and plant-based lifestyle. Take the following steps as guideposts on your journey, moving to the next one when you feel ready and motivated. Some people go vegan almost overnight, whereas others take years to get there. No matter how far you get, any step you take to reduce your consumption of animal products and move towards a plant-based lifestyle will bring great benefits for your health, but also the animals and the planet.
(Note: this post contains Amazon affiliate links. I only recommend products that I like and either currently use or would use. If you make a purchase, you support this blog: I earn a commission at no cost to you.)
Step one: get inspired
There are generally three main reasons people choose to go vegan: for environmental, ethical and health reasons. If going vegan is something you are interested in doing, it is worth exploring which ones speak to you (it could be all three!) and tapping into that to keep you motivated.
If you are interested in the environmental impact of animal agriculture, I recommend the Cowspiracy documentary as a good starting point. Though studies are coming out all the time showing the devastating effect of using animals for food on a massive scale, so they should not be too hard to find. Feel free to generally share any resources in the comments section below!
If you are drawn to veganism because you love animals, one way of reinforcing your motivation to keep going is to inform yourself about animal “welfare” (or lack thereof) in animal agriculture. There’s some pretty graphic footage out there of what is done to animals and films like Earthlings have shocked a lot of people into turning vegan. If you don’t feel up to watching that kind of thing, you can choose to tap into your empathy and just imagine how animals are treated. Podcasts you could listen to that explore this (and more!) include Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack, The Chickpeeps and The Bearded Vegans. Start with Chickpeeps episodes if you’re not 100% on board yet, as the other two are a bit more radical.
Another reason people go vegan is the health benefits. There is no denying that the standard Western diet is causing massive damage to people’s health – and a lot of that is down to eating processed foods made from animal products. This is why I am keen for this guide to not only be about going vegan, but also to be an introduction to a more wholefood plant-based diet. That way, no animals are hurt and you’re healthier, win-win! Anyhoo, if you are into the health benefits of going vegan, I strongly recommend No Meat Athlete Radio (and the blog), which is one of my favourite podcasts, along with the No Meat Athlete book. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “athlete” these resources provide great, approachable content on how to be a healthy vegan.
There’s no denying that the vegan lifestyle is gaining traction. Everywhere you look, there’s a new celebrity or athlete who has decided to go vegan. Some may dismiss this as a passing trend, but you can choose to draw inspiration from those that are the top of their game on a plant-based diet. My favourite example is Serena Williams – who would be brave enough to ask her if she gets enough protein? Anyway, have a quick google and take your pick – it is always useful to remind ourselves that vegans aren’t all skinny and weak, ha!
Step two: connect with others
Veganism has been growing these last few years, but vegans are definitely still a minority. So there’s every possibility that you don’t currently know anyone who is vegan and people around you may think it is a bit of a strange thing to do. You may have questions and feel a bit alone in the process.
The solution here is to find and connect with fellow herbivores! A good place to start is Meetup: many cities have regular meet-ups where vegans (and sometimes vegetarians) come together in a veggie-friendly restaurant or café. Search for vegan / vegetarian / herbivore / veggie on there and on Facebook. It could be that where you live doesn’t have a meet-up yet, but you could still benefit from online conversations in Facebook groups.
Most vegans remember what it was like starting out on their veganism journey and would probably answer questions from “newbies”. Bear in mind that there a few bad apples everywhere who may be judgemental or a bit harsh to those who aren’t entirely vegan yet. I found that in a vegan humour group on Facebook – please ignore them and move on with your life!
If you’re in the United Kingdom and a runner (including beginners!), do check out Vegan Runners UK – one of the largest running clubs in the country and very welcoming, in Oxfordshire at least! They tend to visit local parkruns and share some vegan goodness in a café afterwards.
Also, if you do have questions about eating out or you have doubts about nutrition or some other aspect of veganism, feel free to reach out to me in the comments section below or by popping me an email. I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction!
Step three: gain awareness of what is in your food
Right, hopefully you’re inspired about this whole veganism thing and you’ve joined a few groups either in person or online. Now it’s time to confront reality and start figuring out what is vegan and what isn’t. I’m not asking you to act upon this information just yet (though of course you are welcome to), but the general idea is to start creating more awareness of which food options contain animal products.
In some countries, vegan options are often clearly marked in restaurant menus and café displays. In other places, you would have to ask if the food contains dairy or eggs. In many cases, allergens are written in bold on ingredient labels in supermarkets – so it’s easy to do a quick scan for eggs, milk (and derivatives), fish and shellfish during your shopping trip. A sneaky one, if you like sweets, is gelatine, which will probably be from animal sources if the product you are looking at isn’t clearly labelled as vegetarian / vegan.
So treat step three as a gentle easing-into-veganism exercise and start making a conscious effort to read labels and establish how much of what you are eating is non-vegan. Bonus points if you find easy vegan alternatives in the process!
Step four: try meatless Monday
Step four is to test the waters and go vegan – or at least vegetarian – one day a week. Meatless Monday is an international initiative that is quite easy to join. As it’s only once a week, it’s quite easy to plan ahead and think of options for all your meals for the day. What would you normally have for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a Monday?
If you’re eating in, you can look for a veggie version of the meal by searching for recipes online, e.g. “vegetarian pasta recipes”. Now would be a great time to invest in a vegan recipes book too. I don’t have any personal favourites, but if you do, please share them in the comments below! The No Meat Athlete book mentioned above isn’t only a recipe book, but it does include simple recipes in it so that could be a good starting point.
If you tend to eat out for lunch for example, you can see if the place you normally go to has veggie options. If not, I would recommend checking out HappyCow, a website that lists vegan-friendly restaurants around the world.
Trying the veggie diet out for a day a week will build a healthy foundation for you changing your lifestyle. Take note of how you feel: were you excited to try out new recipes? Did you feel less bloated than usual after lunch?
Step five: focus on nutrition
As I alluded to earlier, the point of this guide is not just for you to cut things out of your diet, but to help you integrate more plant goodness in there too! A lot of people find they eat a more diverse and exciting array of foods after going vegan.
One of the keys to getting all the nutrition you need is to incorporate a variety of fruit and veg to your diet… Turns out our parents were right all along! If you’re not familiar with the plant-based diet, it can seem a bit overwhelming to ensure you get everything you need on a regular basis.
But fear not! One of the easiest ways I have found to ensure I get most of the building blocks of a healthy diet on a daily basis is the Daily Dozen app. It is available for Android and Apple devices. The app is simple and pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re curious about the logic behind it, it’s presented in this video:
At this point, it may be a bit ambitious to check off all the recommended servings in a day. What I recommend is to start opening the app a few times a day and checking things off as you eat them. It might give you ideas of what to eat next based on what you’ve already had that day. Much simpler (and in my opinion healthier) that counting calories or following complicated macro ratios!
Step six: stop eating four-legged animals
There’s no way of becoming vegan without becoming vegetarian, so here we go: if you’re ready, it’s time to reduce and eventually cut out eating the flesh of four-legged animals. This includes cows, pigs, sheep, goat and any other animals that walk on four legs. This is the first thing we are reducing, so it should be pretty easy to find substitutes when you eat out or cook something at home.
Draw inspiration from your Meatless Monday experience when it’s time to order or cook food. If you are craving the taste of barbecue or are very accustomed to the “meat, potato and two veg” meals, it’s perfectly okay to substitute fake meats to ease into the vegan diet. Depending on where you are in the world, there’s some very tasty ones available – sometimes freakishly similar to the real thing. Eventually you’ll probably develop a taste for lentils or discover cool bean burger recipes. Fake meats are processed foods, so they’re not ideal in terms of nutrition, but perfectly fine as a treat and to ease you into this lifestyle change.
Step seven: add fruit and/or vegetables to your breakfast
Let’s start adding more healthy and yummy things into your diet! An easy place to start – and a good way of ticking some of those Daily Dozen off early – is breakfast. Adding one or several servings of fruit or vegetables to your breakfast will get you nutrients when you need them and help you feel fuller during the day.
A great way of doing this is to start having smoothies for breakfast. I’ve shared a few recipes on the blog (refreshing berries, carrot & greens smoothie and my favourite: coffee, oats & banana smoothie), but feel free to find your personal favourites online. You’ll soon discover that it seems like having a blender is almost a must-have when going vegan. You don’t need anything fancy though – this is the one we use on a daily basis and it does the trick! If you’re in the United Kingdom, I know that the grocery delivery service Abel & Cole does a weekly smoothie box. They deliver all the ingredients so that you get varied smoothies without even having to think about it!
If it’s cold or you fancy a warm breakfast, it’s easy to add some fruit to your porridge or to cook up some spinach with garlic as a side to whatever else you’re having. Or just dive straight into the vegan stereotypes and have some avocado on toast.
Step eight: stop eating birds
Now that you’ve cut out eating meat from our four-legged friends (and hopefully two-legged mammals if need be… kangaroo?), it’s time to move onto reducing the consumption of birds. Again, draw inspiration from veggie recipes you looked up a few steps ago to find alternatives for your bird-based meals.
Here again, depending on where you are, there are good veggie alternatives if you’re craving the taste of chicken for example. Many places will sell vegan nuggets – my little brother even said the ones I fed him tasted better than chicken nuggets! Removing all meat from your diet might take some getting used to, but you don’t have to go cold turkey (sorry, I just had to…).
You can progressively diminish the amount of meat-based meals by adding to your repertoire of vegetarian dishes. We find it helpful to theme days to help come up with meal ideas, for example Mediterranean Monday, Stir Friday etc. If you do this too, please share your ideas in the comments!
Step nine: add more veggies to your lunch
Right, moving our way through the day, it’s now time to improve lunchtime! Depending on where you are, there might be several naughty but nice vegan options available, such as vegan sausage rolls or other pastry-covered goodness. While these are definitely tasty and I would never advocate cutting them out all together, it’s worth building a habit of having a “most of the time” lunch that is healthy and won’t send you to sleep in your early afternoon meeting / work session.
My favourite way of doing this is having a big salad. I call it a big salad because it needs to be big. I’m not talking a 200 calorie starter salad here. You want a normal-sized plate to be stacked quite high in order to get enough food to carry you through the afternoon. Here’s Sid Garza-Hillman giving you an idea of the order of magnitude to aim for (bear in mind that he is quite active and that his salad is almost exclusively vegetables so it needs to be particularly big):
Ideally if you were making the salad yourself you would combine a simple green (like romaine lettuce) with something a bit darker and nutrient-dense (spinach for example) as a base. Then add vegetables to your heart’s content! I like to add fruit to mix things up, as well as nuts, seeds, beans and croutons (a fancy way of saying toast cut into squares) and vary the dressings I use. Have a look around for yummy recipes, be creative and share how you adapt non-veggie versions (e.g. Caesar salad, salade niçoise) in the comments below!
A cold-weather alternative to this is having a big soup. Try to check as many of the Daily Dozen off by incorporating cruciferous vegetables, beans and grains into your base of water and vegetable stock (+ a can of tomatoes if you want).
Step ten: stop eating fish
I’ll be honest, it does drive me a bit bananas the trend of adopting reusable straws as *the* solution to saving the oceans. Avoiding single-use straws is definitely a good idea, don’t get me wrong, but it does seem like a bit of a token effort in light of the massive overfishing of the seas and oceans. Our current worldwide rate of fish consumption – and the fishing methods involved – are far from sustainable or ethical.
Hopefully by now you are growing in confidence in your vegetarian options while eating out and at home. When you do cut out fish: congrats, you are now officially vegetarian! Again, there are vegan versions of “fishy” dishes available either to buy in stores (for a cheeky fish finger sandwich) or as recipes online (I’m thinking of trying “crab” cakes at some point).
Step eleven: try an easy dinner formula
Not sure what to have for dinner when meat and fish are taken out of the formula? Enter the grain, green, bean formula! This isn’t my invention – it was (probably) developed by No Meat Athlete Matt Frazier. (This post is starting to turn into a No Meat Athlete love fest, ha!) It involves combining some kind of grain – pasta, rice, quinoa, etc. – with a “green” – which could be your dark leafy greens (spinach, rocket, etc.) or a cruciferous veg (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) and a bean – which includes things like lentils and tofu.
You can be as virtuous or as “naughty” as you want with this combo: you could have a healthy buckwheat, kale and lentil soup or you could make tacos that incorporate all three elements, sprinkled with some vegan cheese. Here is a blog post that outlines ten different meals that can be made with the grain, green, bean formula. They include stir fry, curry and pasta – difficult to run out of dinner ideas when you start from this formula! You don’t have to use it for every dinner you have from now until the end of time, but it does help when you are tired and hungry, staring at your fridge and unsure of what to make for dinner!
As I wrote a few steps ago, we’ve just started theming our dinners based on the day of the week. Our current meal plan is: Mediterranean Monday (couscous / pasta), Taco Tuesday (wraps / chili), Italian Wednesday (risotto / pasta), Comfort Food Thursday (soup / chili / fries), Stir Friday (stir fry), Pizza Saturday and Roast Sunday (roast veggies). Doing something similar might help you to brainstorm grain, green, bean combos!
Step twelve: stop eating eggs
Depending on how many vegan (versus vegetarian) meals you are already eating, this may an easy or a daunting step. It’s quite common when removing meat from one’s diet to substitute it with higher amounts of other animal products, namely eggs and dairy. The good news at this stage is that people tend to crave things like cheese more than eggs. So removing eggs from your diet may be as simple as focusing on the meal ideas provided earlier: smoothies, salads and the grain, green, bean combo.
If you’re not sure why eggs are such a bad thing, it is worth listening to this podcast episode about why eggs are definitely not vegan and how cruel the industry is (spoiler: it involves blending male chicks as they are “worthless”).
If you bake regularly – please be my friend! – you will be glad to know that there are easy vegan substitutes for egg. I’m not a pro at this, but it can involve easily-obtainable ingredients such as bananas or the liquid from a can of beans / chickpeas – sounds gross but you can’t taste it. You’ve got two solutions here: directly look up vegan recipes of your favourites (coffee cake for me!) or follow “mainstream” recipes and do a bit of research on egg substitutes you could use.
Step thirteen: improve your snacks
Hopefully you’re enjoying your new main meal options! Some people find that when they transition to a vegan diet, they are hungrier. This could be for several reasons, for example your metabolism getting faster or having eliminated a lot of calorie-heavy foods from your diet. (Try comparing the calorie content of vegan versus meaty meals at restaurants – it can be quite shocking!)
You could also just be a pro snacker like me! In any case, intentional snacking can be quite healthy. When I say intentional snacking I don’t mean emptying the fridge at 2 in the morning or grazing on sweets non-stop. Be guided by what you’re craving, but try associating a fruit or vegetable with each snack. So maybe you have a cup of coffee and some biscuits as a mid-morning pick-me-up: that would easily pair with an apple. If you snack on peanuts in the afternoon, have a carrot with that, etc. You’ll get to your Daily Dozen in no time!
Step fourteen: switch to dairy-free options
This step is the one that many struggle to imagine themselves taking [insert chorus of “buuut cheeeese”]. A little research into the dairy industry will help convince you of how unhealthy, unsustainable and cruel it unfortunately is though.
An easy switch to make is to get rid of milk (on cereal, in coffee, etc.) by switching to one of the yummy – and healthier – vegan alternatives. I have personally tried store-bought almond, rice, oat, coconut and soy milk. My favourite is having a combination of rice milk and “barista” oat milk in my coffee, as the former adds sweetness and the later is lovely and creamy. Almond is quite neutral and would work well in savoury things (e.g. white pasta sauce) instead of cow’s milk. You can also make your own plant milks at home – feel free to share any experience of that in the comments section!
Depending on where you live, you can also obtain vegan alternatives to other dairy products, such as yoghurts and cheeses in supermarkets and health / organic shops, as well as independent vegan shops. The vegan wave is only just starting, so expect these to be more and more available and tastier still in the years to come. There’s also lots of recipes online, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Milk is designed to be addictive – so that the calf feeds from his mother. Therefore don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving dairy products, even though you’re intellectually convinced you shouldn’t eat them. Do also bear in mind that often cravings are signals that we want familiarity or comfort, rather than the food itself. So try to either reflect about why you’re feeling this way or find a vegan alternative.
Step fifteen: stop buying other animal products
You’re almost there! I have bundled a lot of things in this penultimate step as many may not apply to you or may be easy switches, depending on your situation.
Lots of people don’t know that honey isn’t vegan, but as it’s regurgitated by bees, it counts as an animal product. Honey isn’t in that many things, so it is easy to skip it altogether or choose an alternative, like maple syrup.
Another thing people don’t think about is alcohol. Many spirits are vegan, but the processes involved in making beer and wine often include animal products – things like fish bladder for the former and eggs or gelatin for the latter, yum! Some drinks will be explicitly labelled as vegan, but the best place to start is the Barnivore website, which lists a lot of different drinks and crowdsources information about whether they are vegan or not. You will be glad to know that Guinness (my favourite beer) is vegan and that many companies are making vegan alternatives to their products, such as Baileys Almande!
Veganism extends beyond food to consider how our lifestyle and consumption can be as “uncruel” as possible. Most people who identify as vegans therefore abstain from buying products that contain fur, wool, leather and silk for example. Fortunately that information is often found on the label and alternatives are often available. It is up to you to decide where you draw the line: would you buy second-hand products that contain those materials?
Health, hygiene & beauty
Many health, hygiene and cosmetic products unfortunately contain animal products or were tested on animals. I’m not advising you refuse life-saving treatment because at some point it was tested on animals. However in cases where you have more of a choice, say when choosing a supplement or some kind of make-up, there are few things you can look out for. The Leaping Bunny symbol means that the product wasn’t tested on animals, whereas the Vegan Society sunflower means that it doesn’t contain animal products. Ingredient lists on health / beauty products can be quite difficult to decipher, so it might be worth doing a bit of research on cruelty-free / vegan brands before heading out shopping. I personally love Orly for nail polish and the B. line at Superdrug for make-up and skincare.
Some things are also more difficult to find vegan alternatives for: I believe that entirely vegan cars are rare, but that isn’t something I have had to look into personally. In general, bear in mind that the Vegan Society defines veganism as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. The bit in the middle, “as far as possible and practicable” is where you get to exercise common sense along with compassion!
Step sixteen: share the love!
Many people, upon learning about the cruelty inflicted to animals to make food and other products, want to raise awareness and “convert” other people to veganism. And while there’s nothing wrong with going to protests or sharing things on social media, a lot of people are put off if someone is “in their face” and denouncing a lifestyle they have been following for decades. One of the gentler ways of spreading the veganism message is by doing it through acts of kindness.
Some people in my local vegan community take part in “caketivism” at parkrun and other events: providing free vegan cake as a way of showing that vegan food can be yummy! Baking yummy treats for your friends and family is a gentle way to help them get on board with the changes you’re making. Another way to help the vegan movement is to support vegan brands, for example when you’re buying gifts for others. You don’t have to immediately tell people that the cake / beauty product you’re giving them is vegan, but if they tell you they like it might be a good time to casually slip the fact that it’s vegan into the conversation.
Anyhoo, thank you for sticking with me this long! Feel free to share your experience of transitioning to a vegan / plant-based lifestyle in the comments below. And if this post was of any help to you, I do accept payment in vegan cake / pies! Other ways to take part in the community and support the work I do include:
💖 Sharing this post with a friend you think might like it or benefit from it;
🤗 Joining our friendly community that I recently started on Facebook to chat about similar topics;
💌 Signing up to receive related content on a weekly basis from me (no spam I promise);
☕ Considering buying me a coffee over at Kofi!
- A blog post I wrote on what I typically eat in day – it might help you come up with meal ideas!
- Vegan on the Cheap: Great Recipes and Simple Strategies That Save You Time and Money by Robin Robertson – the clue’s in the name, this little book will help you to start your vegan journey with recipes and cooking methods that won’t break the bank (not that vegan cooking generally does!);
- Conquering Cultural Stress: The Ultimate Guide to Anti-Aging and Happiness by Howard Murad – despite its strange title, this book is all about eating more fruit and veg, and what that does to your body and life;
- The Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Seyward Rebhal – I’ve just read this one myself and will be doing a “lessons learnt” post on it soon, subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it;
- Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek – this book is about the veganism and running journey of “one of the most dominant ultramarathon runners in the world” – if eating plants works for him (and the Williams sisters!), it will probably work for you!