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How to go vegan (and actually stick with it)

Going vegan is a healthy choice for you and the planet, but how do you get over the lure of bacon and burgers to stick with a plant-based diet for the long haul?

In theory, it’s never been easier to go vegan. A decade or so ago, deciding not to eat animal products any more was a mission – friends would give you funny looks, restaurants wouldn’t have much to offer except undressed salad, and every vegan sausage on the market tasted like mashed up mushrooms and sweetcorn.

Now, with a parade of celebrities on the bandwagon and Veganuary happening every year, those problems have mostly disappeared – so going plant-based has never been more tempting. But changing your hashtags is the easy part – once you’ve started, how do you actually stick with veganism as a lifestyle?

Sadly, knowing you're doing 'a good thing' isn't enough to keep you on the vegan wagon. Thankfully, good old behavioural science has got your back! 

Don’t focus on what you can’t eat

Yes, vegan products have improved hugely in the last few years – you can even find burgers that ‘bleed’ beetroot – but by sticking with tempeh bacon and tofu steak bakes you’re always going to be on the defensive, explaining why your daily menu is almost as good as an omnivorous one instead of making it better.

A good way to start, if you’re into the traditional ‘meat/carbs/veg’ mindset for what constitutes a main meal, is to look at Asian cuisine, which features lots of veg-centric dishes. And on that subject…

Find new foods you love

Instead of just cutting the meat and dairy out of your existing diet, look on veganism as a chance to experiment with all-new foods – and find a few you’ll never look back from. You’ll discover early, for instance, that mushrooms have a great texture flavour for cooking – but branch out from your usual chestnuts into cremini or Portobello for their chunky, savory punch. Also: save yourself some time by trying out jackfruit now – it’ll give a satisfying heft to everything from sandwiches to stews. 

Commit more time to cooking

Apart from the fact that off-the-shelf meals are harder to buy when you’re avoiding animal products, cooking does tend to take a bit longer – it takes longer to make something delicious out of lentils than it does to sear a steak.

For at least the first couple of weeks, plan to give yourself more time in the kitchen to familiarise yourself with new vegetables and recipes. Make things easier by investing in some tupperware (for easy leftover storage) and restocking your spice rack (to ensure you’ve always got plenty of tasty options on the go). 

Reassess your cravings

In your first weeks of going vegan, you’re likely to crave old stalwarts – especially cheese and other dairy products – but rather than jumping to substitutes, ask yourself what it is that your body really wants.

Have a glass of water and take a step back – it’s likely that what your body really needs is a hit of salt, fat or protein, in which case a bit of avocado or a handful of nuts will do the job. 

Lean into chickpeas

The humble chickpea – one of the earliest cultivated legumes and an excellent source of protein, since you’re asking – should be your new best friend as a vegan. You can use them to make everything from faux-meatballs to crispy snacks, and aquafaba – the water from the tins they come in – foams up like egg whites when it’s whisked, making it perfect for pancakes. Load up, and try out a few recipes.

Find your easy go-tos

One of the biggest problems with being vegan is that it’s tricky to grab an off-the-shelf snack – especially on unfamiliar ground. To save yourself from reading ingredient lists while hangry, keep some fruit (with vegan nut butter) to hand, or whip up some homemade trail mix from nuts, seeds and dried fruit. 

…and don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong

You’re bound to fall off the wagon occasionally, especially in the beginning – and the moment every new lifestyle change fails is when it starts to feel like a chore – so instead of dropping the whole thing the first time you make a mistake, keep moving forwards.

If it’s all too much, you could even consider dropping the ‘vegan’ label entirely – some nutritionists prefer the term ‘plant-based eating’ to talk about a diet that is mostly vegetable based but includes the occasional (free-range, grass-fed) steak or nibble of cheese.